Meet the Newest INCLT VMS Cohort Members

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you than you see in yourself and helps bring it out of you.” — Bob Proctor

The path of entrepreneurship is many things: exciting, inspiring, and all around breathtaking. But with many peaks comes many valleys. Venturing out on your own, taking an idea from concept through the design phase, and then launching it for all of the world to see can be nothing short of terrifying. Having a community of individuals who have experienced the joys and challenges of the entrepreneurial expedition is a priceless resource, which is why Innovate Charlotte has set out to connect members of the community at every stage of their journey. 

Since launching in June 2018, the Venture Mentoring program offers participants an opportunity to undergo group mentoring as they move through the various stages of the entrepreneurial journey. Based on the MIT Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) offers a fluid structure that makes it easier for both mentors and founders to meet and collaborate over an indeterminable period of time.  

Let’s meet the latest INCLT Venture Mentoring cohort.

Bart Cant, Founder & Managing Partner of Rethink Ledgers 

As a consultant with more than twenty years of experience in the Financial Services industry, Bart Cant it wasn’t until he was introduced to Bitcoin that his focus on Blockchain Technology quickly took off. After becoming the Blockchain Lead for Capgemini in 2014, he joined IBM to co-lead their Bitcoin Consulting Business just three years later, which quickly grew to be the number one rated Blockchain Services Business throughout North America. 

In 2019, Cant launched Rethink Ledgers, an advisory, consulting, and development firm that specializes in Blockchain, Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), and Centralized Ledgers. But starting a business in late 2019 brought on its own, unique challenges. “Shortly after I started Rethink Ledgers, COVID-19 happened,” says Cant, “And I realized that banks would be scaling down on testing and learning about newer technologies due to the uncertainty of the situation at the time.” 

Rethink Ledgers focuses on all aspects of business strategy and technology, from the seed of an idea through its final development stages at launch. “In light of the circumstances, I decided to explore new opportunities in the healthcare sector and quickly realized that this industry has just as many — if not more — opportunities to leverage new technologies as the financial sector,” Cant explains. This realization has allowed Rethink Ledgers to recently open its first international office in Pune, India, which will help to serve its larger financial and healthcare clientele in addition to smaller fintech and heathtech startups. 

When asked what he looks forward to most about the INCLT VMS program, Cant shares, “I look forward to not only gaining insights from the team of members but also from the larger startup community in Charlotte. I think Charlotte can become a real innovation hub in a few sectors like Financial Services and Healthcare, and I am looking forward to becoming a part of that community — and contributing to it.”


Justin Dues, Founder & CEO of Prohuman Technologies 

Described as an inventor, envelope pusher, avid reader and learner of all things, Justin Dues is a serial entrepreneur, offering a proven track record in technical leadership within public, private, and military settings. As a Marine Non-Commissioned Officer, Dues served for nine years, leading teams ranging anywhere from two to 45 members, and deploying to countries all across the world. These experiences honed his leadership skills, sharpening his understanding of basic human motivations that can lead to success across a variety of complex situations. 

After active duty, Dues served as the Interim CEO of a family-owned manufacturing business, quickly tripling both the company’s revenue and workforce in just three years. This experience, coupled with his personal encounter with post-service pain inspired the start of Prohuman Technologies, a breakthrough pain management wearable that provides pain relief and optimal recovery. 

“By applying a customizable temperature therapy — all thanks to electromedical technology — Prohuman Technologies provides therapeutic pain relief when, how, and where customers need it,” Dues explains. 

The device can be heated up to 116 °F and cools to 36 °F, offers self-selected timing cycles, and combines novel passive and active compression at the point of care. They are also designed for long-term use and acts as a mobile solution that doesn’t come with a laundry list of frightening side effects. “It’s a NASA spin-out technology that we are repurposing to provide pain relief and optimal recovery for our customers,” says Dues. 

Collaboration and shared learning are two elements that Dues has always felt as important to his life, particularly with those who operate in different industries or come from different backgrounds, as it tends to generate a more diverse set of possibilities. “While serving in the Marines, we learned early to seek out continuous improvement and I think mentorship is an avenue that will help me to prioritize and execute on the actions that are best suited to reach our next goal,” Dues shares. 

So, what two things is this founder looking forward to most about the INCLT VMS program? “The random moments of collision when a group of people generate something new — whether that be an idea, process, product, or action — it’s something that will add value to both the company and also to the individuals who are in collaboration. I’m also looking forward to the wisdom I will gain from working with other professionals who all know something I don’t!”


Nicole Hawthorne, Founder of Jayla’s Heirlooms

Every child deserves a doll that looks like they do, which is what inspired Nicole Hawthorne to co-found Jayla’s Heirlooms with her four-year-old daughter, Jayla. “This passion project took on a real meaning for us when we realized the lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion available in the toy market,” says Hawthorne, “Now, we desire to be a brand that not only looks like those who they are attempting to represent, but also one who authentically desires for a variety of other underserved cultures to have a chance to be represented as well — there’s room at the table for all of us to share our rich heritage with the world.” 

As an agile project manager by trade, Hawthorne has worked with several startups in recent years, paving the way for the creation of a brand that can resonate with other parents and children of color who have similar experiences in a lack of representation when it comes to the toys available on the market. But the mission goes even deeper: Jayla’s Heirlooms is committed to sustainable sourcing of goods, fair wages, the utilization of women-owned or managed workshops, and the overall ethical treatment of others. 

Hawthorne explains, “This is something that takes time and needs to be vetted carefully in order to ensure our higher standards of production and workforce treatment are always being met, which can be highly challenging as far as international logistics and supply chain diversification goes.”

Hawthorne is excited to join the INCLT VMS program, particularly because it means she will have a community around her, rooting for her success at every step of the startup journey. “I cannot wait to grow and learn from people who are interested in what Jayla’s Heirlooms is doing,” says Hawthorne, “We need the good, the bad, and the ugly as entrepreneurs because we’re often dreamers and can see things through rose-colored glasses at times — I can’t wait for people to tell me like it is and guide me along the way.”


Brian Iversen, CEO of Vertical Solar 

Solar energy has steadily gained popularity across the United States, moving away from large, solar powered fields, and allowing the flexibility of use right in our own backyards. It’s mobile and can be used just about anywhere for a wide range of purposes: hoisted on a pole for apartment renters or moved from home to home as its owners do. And it’s often far more attainable to invest in solar power than originally thought you can even finance solar power panels much like you would a vehicle loan. 

Deconstructing these older, preconceived notions around solar energy is a passion for Brian Iversen, which is why he launched Vertical Solar LLC, a company that offers turn-key solar powered systems, such as solar power on a pole. By locating solar power right where the load is, no transmission lines are needed!

As the former Chief Operating Officer with a solar panel manufacturer that made over 90% of the United States military solar panels — panels that are lightweight and can withstand being fired upon with interruption — Iversen is dedicated to educating customers about this particular energy solution. “Since we are so innovative in vertical solar power, we have to provide the customer with an education before we can even begin to show them how it can satisfy their needs,” Iversen says. 

But starting a business is no small feat, particularly in light of recent world events such as the pandemic. “I was inspired to seek mentorship with INCLT by others who have started businesses and faced similar challenges that we are facing today,” shares Iversen, “After all, we know what we know and need to know more!”


Greg Safko, Founder & CEO of Rogue Learning

As Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 

That’s exactly what Greg Safko, founder, and CEO of Rogue Learning, intends for his business to do. Using modern instructional-design theory, Rogue Learning is helping manufacturers to educate the world on how their products work and apply the benefits to their everyday lives. 

After spending the last fifteen years heavily involved in every aspect of retail product education, Safko has been instrumental in creating and implementing national training programs for automotive manufacturers, launching more than thirty new vehicles to their dealership networks. 

With the introduction of COVID-19, Safko made the decision to create his own agency, Rogue Learning, leveraging the latest technology to broader the reach and scope of manufacturer-based training programs. Safko explains, “I hope to make the old-world models of in-person training a thing of the past by utilizing technology in order to reach more brands in an effective, efficient way.”

Since launching, Rogue Learning has already witnessed just how in-demand training like this can be. “Scaling has continued to be my biggest challenge,” says Safko, “There are new contracts available, and clients are excited to work with Rogue Learning, but now it’s time for me to find the right people to continue to grow.”

The INCLT VMS program offered Safko a step in the right direction, with the ability to push the founder to focus on these bigger goals and develop a strategic roadmap to be able to achieve them. “I am excited to meet other business owners who can help guide me through the waters I’ve never sailed before,” Safko explained, “Leveraging a mentor’s experience can help to avoid unnecessary mistakes, gain feedback from a new perspective, and offer accountability for those times I stray from staying on target.”


William Ward, Cofounder & CEO of PettyGigs Inc. 

As a native of Liberia, West Africa, William Ward, founder, and CEO of PettyGigs Inc. moved to the United States more than two decades ago, in pursuit of a peaceful and better life — one that shaped not only his future but the future of many others. 

His passion for computers and technology all started with the introduction of MS-DOS while he was still a young boy in Liberia. This passion grew with his entrance into the US as he pursued first an Associates of Science degree in Computer Science before later going on to achieve both his bachelor’s and the master’s degrees in computer information systems. It was after that time that his passions met his entrepreneurial spirit, and upon graduation, Ward created his first side venture, The Ward Innovation Group, LLC, a tech consulting firm for small to medium sized businesses. 

After working his way up the corporate ladder with global companies such as United Technologies and Honeywell International, Ward decided to follow his passion for helping others and founded PettyGigs, a platform that financially empowers others by allowing them the flexibility to earn their free time and save for the future. 

“It’s my vision that PettyGigs helps financially empowers millions of people around the world, especially teens and young adults, while also providing needed help to the elderly and incapacitated, and busy people,” says Ward. 

But like all things, entrepreneurship can be an isolating career path in many ways, particularly if the founder is not surrounded by a strong support system. That’s where the INCLT VMS program has come in. Ward shares, “I was intrigued to learn of a mentorship program right here in Charlotte. I am looking forward to getting mentoring and advice from former business owners, leaders, and entrepreneurs who have once traveled down this path and can offer some valuable insights which I can use to grow and scale PettyGigs, as well as avoid common pitfalls that can lead to failure.”

But it’s not just about what INCLT can give to Ward and his team at PettyGigs. “I want to help other entrepreneurs eventually, so I am looking to obtain any value that I can pass on to someone, someday as well as my personal experiences of being an entrepreneur.”

Other latest INCLT VMS program participants include Philip Carter of Allium Gardens LLC. 

“This looks like a very diverse group of founders and ventures: blockchain, solar energy, medical device tech on the one hand, and gig economy marketplace, automotive industry training, and POC dolls on the other.   I’m looking forward to hearing more of these founders as they continue their mentorship journey” said Olga Muller, CEO at Kepler Team.

Interested in getting mentored by Charlotte’s leading executives and entrepreneurs? You can learn more and start your application here

Interested in becoming a mentor? Submit your application here