Speakers 2023


At our January lunch, Dan Oliver, founder and CEO of the Dan-O’s Seasoning, shared what it was like to grow his startup more than 3,000% in just one year. Dan’s entrepreneurial journey began with some chicken thighs he got from his mother when he was in college. Unsure what to do with them, he experimented with an original blend of herbs and spices that he then perfected over 15 years — what is now Dan-O’s Original Seasoning. He shared his “aha” moment, and the successes and challenges that followed as he worked to get his spice blend to market. Ranked No. 1 on Business First’s Fast 50 this year, Dan-O’s has grown to 65 employees and $6.2 million in revenue in 2021, up from just under $2 million in 2020, with more expansion on the way. The brand is available in more than 12,000 retail stores across the country.


Our February lunch featured Jose Gaztambide, CEO of GoodMaps, who shared how the company’s unconventional story turned into one of the Kentucky’s fastest growing startups. He talked the company’s social enterprise ethos, its recent $3.5 million funding round success, and the challenges GoodMaps faced along the way. Founded in 2019 out of the American Printing House for the Blind, GoodMaps’ mission is to improve the accessibility, safety and productivity of indoor spaces through digital mapping and its navigation app, GoodMaps Explorer.





Our March lunch featured Greg Baker, CEO of EmsanaRx, who shared how the early-stage company built a better solution by identifying bad business practices across the health care industry. He talked about how the company spun out of EmsanaHealth and the Purchaser Business Group on Health (PBGH), and the successes and challenges his team has faced along the way. He also shared about EmsanaRX’s unique partnerships, and its journey to become one of the first Canopy-certified companies.




At our April lunch, Buddy Bockweg, CEO of Vsimple, shared how his company is forging a new path forward to focus on people, not products. Buddy shared how his team at Vsimple came together, how they developed a recipe to create great value delivered with a personal touch and high-quality service — and how this approach has driven their success. He discussed why a focus on value has to start at the foundational level of the business, requires unwavering belief and self-sacrifice, places relationships over transactions, and MUST be instilled in the culture.




At our May lunch, Bryce and Jill Morrison shared the origins of Mom Water and how they have experienced explosive success in an incredibly competitive industry with zero experience or beverage industry knowledge. They shared the mistakes they made along the way, how they learned from them, and how they became one of the fastest growing brands in the industry. Mom Water is a ready-to-drink cocktail made with lightly fruit-infused vodka and water. Unlike many hard seltzers, it has zero carbonation, zero sugar and zero carbs, and weighs in at just 90 calories per can.



At our June lunch, Dan Murphy, Executive Director at Slingshot Ventures, offered his personal perspective on the human experience of entrepreneurship, and why cultivating a healthy “inner experience” can reduce the stress created from your external environment, allow you to see more clearly and experience a higher level of peace.




At our August lunch, Dr. Dawn Forbes shared how she and her colleagues went from addressing a critical need in her patient population to founding NASCEND, a public benefit corporation (PBC), certified B Corp and Canopy-certified company that transforms the quality of care and medical outcomes for opioid exposed infants (OEI) and their families.





At our September lunch, Vitale Buford Hardin shared her personal story of struggle with perfectionism and addiction, and how it’s now turned into her purpose and business, The Hardin Group. She also discussed her new national research on the impact of perfectionism in the workplace – how it shows up for leaders, employees, and the different work environments – hybrid, remote, and in-person. 




At our October Lunch, Venture Connectors was pleased to host a panel discussion on the franchising experience featuring Chad Coulter, franchisee/franchiser in the restaurant industry (Biscuit Belly, LouVino); Melissa Richards-Person, former Global Franchise Chief Marketing Officer for leading hospitality, consumer, food & drink brands; and Jay Pitts, RE/MAX real estate and mortgage company franchisee. The panel was moderated by Ellie Puckett, business broker and small business expert.




Our November lunch featured the team behind Louisville-based eyewear maker, Shady Rays. Chris Ratterman, Founder & CEO, and Dan Ratterman, COO, shared the company’s journey from startup to one of the fastest-growing lifestyle sunglasses brands in the nation, as well as how they incorporate philanthropy and community impact into their mission.