Speakers

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE DISTINGUISHED SPEAKERS LEADING THE CONVERSATION

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Rob Phocas

Director of Corporate Social Responsibility for AvidXchange

Rob Phocas is the Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at AvidXchange, which includes oversight of the AvidXchange’s Foundation and community engagement. A leading voice on sustainability, Rob looks to bring all parties together to create collaborative solutions to community issues. Prior to joining AvidXchange, Rob was the Director of Sustainability for the City of Charlotte for ten years. He received his BA from Vassar College and his JD/MEM from Duke University.

Michael Praeger

Michael Praeger is the Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of AvidXchange, the leading provider of accounts payable and payment automation solutions for the middle market. Since founding AvidXchange more than 20 years ago, Michael has led the company to more than 6,000 customers and 680,000 suppliers nationwide.   
  
Before establishing AvidXchange, Michael was Co-Founder of PlanetResume.com, a technology career enhancement and recruiting site that successfully completed its merger with CareerShop.com in November 1999. Prior to that, he was Co-Founder and CEO of InfoLink Partners, a software company specializing in automating the tax billing and collection functions for municipalities. Michael also served as an Associate with Summit Partners, a Boston-based Venture Capital and buyout partnership with more than $1 billion under management.   
  
Michael is currently active in the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and serves on the advisory board of the North Carolina Technology Association (NCTA). He is also a board member of Charlotte City Center Partners, Kare Partners and E2D.   
  
Michael received a B.S.B.A. in Finance from Georgetown University and is a graduate of the “Birthing of Giants” executive entrepreneurship program at MIT.  title of Global Unicorn by CB Insights three years in a row, with a $1 billion-plus valuation by investors, 6,000 customers and 680,000 suppliers nationwide. 

Chief Executive Officer & Co-Founder, AvidXchange

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Melissa Hovey

Marketing Director for SHARE Charlotte

Melissa Hovey leads marketing for SHARE Charlotte which is an online engagement platform through sharecharlotte.org that connects the Charlotte community to more than 450 local nonprofits. SHARE Charlotte offers simple ways for neighbors, nonprofits, and businesses to come together through good to support our local community. Prior to SHARE Charlotte, she was a global marketing leader for Dell, Inc for 20 years.

Seth Ervin

Chief Innovation Officer at Charlotte

Mecklenburg Library

Seth Ervin is the Chief Innovation Officer for the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library. He leads the Innovation activities for the Library in his role, seeking to pioneer new avenues for the library to remain essential within the digital information ecosystem of the Charlotte community. Interests and focuses include digital equity, local/community journalism, customer and community engagement, service design, and disruptive technologies. In addition, Seth serves as the current convenor of the Charlotte Digital Inclusion Alliance. The CDIA is a
volunteer coalition of institutions and non-profit organizations committed to eliminating the digital
divide in Mecklenburg County.

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Bruce Clark

Executive Director of Digital Charlotte 

Bruce Clark is a seasoned executive and expert consultant adept at infusing order, urgency and purpose into complex endeavors. Having served across public, private and nonprofit sectors, he brings senior level perspective on how disciplined planning, cooperation and execution can bring even the loftiest of goals within reach.

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Derek Root

Chief Technology Officer, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools

Experienced Chief Technology Officer Skilled in ITIL, IT Service Management, Cloud migration and security, IT Strategy, Data Center, and Virtualization. 

Caroline Sullivan

Executive Director for the North Carolina Business Committee for Education

Caroline Sullivan is the Executive Director of the North Carolina Business Committee for Education, which is a nonpartisan educational nonprofit in the Governor’s Office.

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Kathleen Evans

Regional Director of External Affairs

Kathleen Evans has extensive experience in AT&T’s sales organizations, including the wireless and consumer operations. She moved to North Carolina and joined the external affairs organization in 2014. Kathleen has served on numerous local boards and committees including the North Carolina Partnership for Children

Vi Lyles

Mayor, City of Charlotte

Vi Alexander Lyles, a Democrat, is now in her second term as Mayor of Charlotte. As the nation’s 16th largest city, with nearly 900,000 residents, Charlotte is one of the top five fastest-growing large cities in the United States and one of only three cities to have grown by double digits each decade from 1960 through today. Job growth has flourished under Mayor Lyles’ leadership, with the creation of more than 27,000 new jobs. Among its recent accolades, Charlotte is the #1 fastest-growing TechTown in the U.S., a top 10 rising city for startups, and the #1 city in America for growth in female-owned businesses.

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Deb Socia

President and CEO of The Enterprise Center

Deb Socia is President and CEO of The Enterprise Center, a nonprofit that nurtures innovation in Chattanooga with the goal of connecting people to resources and building an inclusive community. Growing the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the Innovation District, building digital equity, and supporting research and implementation of smart city applications are all a part of the organization’s focus.Prior to her current role, Deb was the Executive Director of Next Century Cities, a nonprofit that supports community leaders as they seek to ensure that all have access to fast, affordable, and reliable Internet. Previously, Deb was the Executive Director of the Tech Goes Home program in Boston whose mission is to ensure digital equity. Deb’s early career included 32 years as an educator and administrator. She was the founding principal of the award winning Lilla G. Frederick Middle School, a Boston Public School where she led the one-to-one laptop initiative.

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Janet La Bar

President & CEO, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance

As President and CEO, LaBar is leading CLT Alliance in a new direction to ensure the Charlotte region is the most vibrant, innovative and healthy economy in the nation. Through collaboration, the CLT Alliance is advancing a region that creates economic opportunities and prosperity for all. 
Prior to joining the Alliance team in April 2019, LaBar held the same position at Greater Portland Inc (GPI), a regional public-private partnership that markets the Greater Portland metropolitan and helps companies expand and relocate to the region.

Charles Thomas

Program Director, John S. and James L.

Knight Foundaiton

Raised in Charlotte, Thomas is the former executive director of Queen City Forward, a hub for entrepreneurs who have business ideas that address social needs. As founding executive director, he was responsible for launching the organization and building programs to catalyze and support social entrepreneurship, college entrepreneurship and civic innovation. Prior to leading Queen City Forward, he served as the director of education of The Light Factory Contemporary Museum of Photography and Film. During his tenure he expanded the museum’s outreach program, increasing impact and earned revenue. He began his career working as a consultant for Andersen Consulting (Accenture).

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J’Tanya Adams

President and Founder of the Historic West End Partners

J’Tanya Adams is the president of Historic West End Partners, an organization that advocates for a higher quality of life in Charlotte’s Historic West End through economic and cultural development while honoring its rich heritage. Founded by Adams in 2010, the mission of Historic West End Partners Inc. (HWEP) is to celebrate, promote, honor, and educate and inform the public about the cultural and historical heritage of the community known as the Historic West End. HWEP also seeks to preserve, support and demonstrate the continuing influence of the Historic West End’s history and cultural heritage in greater Charlotte by developing social, cultural and educational programs and facilities within its service area. Adams also co-founded the 5 Points Community Collaborative, a neighborhood lead organization dedicated to guiding the growth and maintaining the integrity of the 5 Points Cultural Arts and Education District. Adams received NeighborWorks America’s 2018 Dorothy Richardson Award for Resident Leadership.

Adrienne Martinez

Board Member of the North End Community Coalition

Adrienne Rose Martinez is a Vice President and Business Support Manager at Bank of America. She has served in the COO function since 2018, currently supporting Data Platform Services and previously the Third Party Information Security team. Prior to joining Bank of America, she was Director of Corporate and Foundation Relations at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Upon graduating from Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management with her MBA in 2008, she joined Deutsche Asset Management, where she managed relationships with institutional clients and investment consultants.

Martinez and her fiance, Kinson live in Charlotte, NC where she serves as a resident leader and as a board member on the North End Community Coalition. Her other current volunteer leadership includes membership to the City of Charlotte's Community Relations Committee, Alumnae Advisor to the Alpha Gamma chapter of Latinas Promoviendo Comunidad/Lambda Pi Chi Sorority, Inc. at Davidson College, Administrative Board Member for the Cornell University Council and a Big Sister through Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Central Carolinas.

Originally from a suburb of Los Angeles, California, Martinez is a first generation college graduate. She earned her Bachelors of Science from Cornell University’s College of Industrial and Labor Relations. She and Kinson own and operate Academic Landscaping, a lawn and landscape company serving the city of Charlotte.

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Banu Valladares

Executive Director, Charlotte Bilingual Preschool

Banu Valladares joined Charlotte Bilingual Preschool (CltBP) in August 2017. Under her leadership, CltBP expanded Preschool Program capacity from 108 to 144 children in 2018 with the Green Room pilot, enrolling English-speaking students alongside Spanish-speaking students for the first time to accelerate language acquisition and facilitate the flow of social capital. In 2019, Valladares established critical strategic partnerships with MECK Pre-K and ParentChild+, enabling CltBP to provide an extended day Preschool Program and a home visiting intervention for the first time, deepening impact for students and increasing accessibility for working families. 

Anthony Calloway Jr

Senior at Philip O’Berry High School

Anthony has worked for the nonprofit E2D for four years and is one of their top employees and helps to train new students. The mission of E2D is to ensure that all students have affordable access to essential
at-home technology and digital literacy training to support academic success and prepare students for college, careers, and beyond.

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Rebecca Hefner

Data & Analytics Officer at City of Charlotte

Rebecca Hefner leads the City’s efforts to get our data organized, shared and put to good use – to improve services, inform decisions and solve problems. She is passionately curious and loves helping people use data to work together in new ways. Her super data skills include asking good questions, discovering new solutions to old problems, conducting data analysis and program evaluations, and helping others be their most awesome selves. 

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