N.C. A&T Center of Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Innovation Names Executive Advisory Board

By Jackie Torok / 12/21/2020 Research and Economic Development, College of Business and Economics

EAST GREENSBORO, N.C. (Dec. 21, 2020) – The Center of Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEE&I) at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University has established an Executive Advisory Board.

The board, which held its inaugural meeting Sept. 25, provides strategic guidance to the center, led by Thaddeus McEwen, Ph.D.

N.C. A&T alumni Joel Wiggins, president and CEO of The Joel Wiggins Co., and Damian Mills, president and CEO of Mills Auto Group, serve as co-chairs of the 23-member board.

Wiggins is an experienced business owner in several industries, including automotive, real estate and apparel, and a passionate advocate of personal and leadership development. An entrepreneur at 11, his career included corporate manager with Ford Motor Co. and investor/counsel to business leaders and owners.

“I see this role on the board as a legacy work for me,” said Wiggins. “What the Center of Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Innovation represents is the next level for A&T, the community and our society in a bigger way, tapping into the creativity of our people.

Mills began his career as a part-time sales associate at Crown Automotive in Greensboro while attending A&T and worked his way up to become a partner. After the company went public, Mills started Mills Auto Group in Smithfield, North Carolina with 28 employees. Today it is the fifth largest African American-owned dealer group with more than 13 locations in North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia and more than 700 team members generating more than $500 million in revenue annually.

“Being co-chair of this board is not only an opportunity for me to give back to my alma mater, but also contribute to the development of her students and create a sustainable movement,” said Mills. “I’m humbled and excited to be a part of this because the people involved represent the great minds of A&T, our country and our global community.”

The board has identified five strategic goals: establishing a venture lab, creating an innovation academy, engaging the community, providing a research and grant-writing lab, and initiating an innovation fund. Early efforts are focused on the first three of those goals.

“What the world is demanding of us now is to change our way of thinking from corporate- and job-focused to ownership-focused and creating opportunities to serve as catalysts for transforming the community,” said Wiggins.

The venture lab includes plans to provide in-house business incubators and develop an Entrepreneur- and Executive-In-Residence program that allows business leaders to teach based on their experiences. For the innovation academy, board members have already found the tools and resources needed to launch a financial literacy program for students and alumni in January.

“When it comes to community engagement, classroom learning isn’t enough. True learning includes being able to review and understand financial statements and set payroll,” said Wiggins. “We want students to have the opportunity to learn these aspects of entrepreneurship and innovation while in school and help small businesses that need human capital.”

Subcommittees have been formed among the board members, who include:

  • Manwell Bynum, president and CEO of Connectivity Concepts LLC based at Charlotte Research Institute; founding member of Queen City Venture Partners LLC; advisory board member for the Charlotte Engineering Early College; member of the Economic Inclusion Task Force in Washington, D.C.; holds a B.S. with honors from A&T, completed Dartmouth University Business Minority Executive Development Program; American Leadership Forum Fellow
  • Brunson Cooper, managing director and owner of Corenic Construction Group in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area; serves on several boards including the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce and the Washington, D.C., Economic Partnership; holds a B.S. in civil engineering from A&T
  • Thornton Edwards ‘72, owner and president of the Edwards Companies; graduated cum laude with a B.S. in business from A&T and earned his MBA from The Bryan School of Economics at UNC Greensboro in 1974
  • John D. Englar, retired attorney; former general counsel and chief financial officer of Burlington Industries; served as director of Burlington and of Delphi Automotive; Distinguished Practitioner in Residence at Elon University School of Law, Executive-in-Residence at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and as Executive in Residence at The Bryan School of Business at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro; served on the Board of the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro and Say Yes for Education Guilford and chaired the investment committees of both organizations
  • Jack Ezzell, A&T graduate; founder and CEO of Zel Technologies LLC (ZELTECH) and ZelTech Training Solutions (ZTS); MBA from The Ohio State University; retired Air Force colonel
  • Geoff Foster, president and CEO of CORE Technology Molding Corp. founded in 2006; S. in 1990 and M.S. in 1996, both in industrial technology from A&T; attended Babcock Graduate School of Business at Wake Forest University; MBA with a concentration in marketing management in May 2001
  • Anthony Goins, who was appointed Director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development by Gov. Pete Ricketts in August 2019
  • Herb Gray, CEO of Life Enhancement Services, a behavioral health care agency based in the District of Columbia; an A&T graduate; an active member of Omega Psi Phi
  • Sonya Hines, president, CEO and owner of H&S Resources Corp. dba Akata Global, an SBA certified 8(a) minority owned business incorporated in 2006;S. in industrial technology with a concentration in occupational safety and health from A&T; M.S. in safety and systems management from the Viterbi School of Engineering at the University of Southern California
  • John Holdsclaw IV, executive vice president of strategic initiatives at the National Cooperative Bank in Washington, D.C.; board chair of the National Coalition of Community Development Financial Institutions; board member of Self Help Venture Fund, Charleston LDC, Global Communities, and the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking
  • Janice Bryant Howroyd, A&T alumna; founder and CEO of ActOne Group whose accomplishments include Presidential appointments and recognitions from world-renowned business organizations like Forbes, BET and others
  • Darryl Klugh, president of Axis of Engineering; B.S with honors and M.S., both in electrical engineering from A&T; led the 1999 Aggie football team to the MEAC championship, voted an Associated Press NCAA Division I-AA All-American and inducted into A&T Sports Hall of Fame in 2014; nominated to the A&T All-Academic Team as a freshman, junior, and senior and voted to the Academic All-American Team in 1999
  • Cornelius “CC” Lambreth, president and CEO of C2 Contractors LLC in Greensboro
  • Kathy Welborn McLean, president and CEO of the Welborne McLean Group LLC; B.S. with honors in industrial engineering from A&T; MBA from Wharton School of Business; certified by the International Coach Federation; facilitator for the Center of Creative Leadership Benchmarks 360 Suite
  • Jerome Myers ’05, founder and chief inspiration officer of DreamCatchers and The Myers Development Group
  • Nick Piornack, general manager of Revolution Mill; Downtown Greensboro Person of the Year 2014; spent seven years as a member of the Board of Directors for Downtown Greensboro Inc., serving as chairman in 2018
  • Nishaka Proctor, president and CEO of Events by Nishaka; A&T alumna with a degree in business administration
  • James H. Sills III, president and CEO of Mechanics and Farmers Bank and M&F Bancorp Inc.; served appointment by Delaware Gov. Jack Markell as Cabinet Secretary and Chief Information Officer (CIO) for the State of Delaware, Department of Technology and Information in January 2009
  • William Solomon Jr., District Court Judge for the 7th Judicial District and owner of Solomon Law Firm in Rocky Mount, North Carolina; served as attorney advocate for the Guardian ad Litem in Judicial District 8 and adjunct instructor at various community colleges; serves as a member of the Board of Adjustment for the city of Rocky Mount, Board of Directors of Reach, the Boys and Girls Club of the Tar River Region, United Way, and the Rocky Mount Chamber of Commerce; graduate of A&T and Campbell University Law School
  • James “Smitty” Smith, president and CEO of Dejas Management (dba) McDonald’s; served on the Southeast Economic Development (SEEDS) Board, United Way Board of Directors, Sickle Cell of the Triad Board, Eastern Music Festival Board of Directors, Hayes-Taylor YMCA Board of Management, The International Civil Rights Center and Museum Board, president of Greensboro Men’s Club and the UNCG Board of Trustees
  • Jeff Smith, director of innovation and equity for the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship

Media Contact Information: jtorok@ncat.edu

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