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Elite Innovations’ First Year Reflection

Looking back on our first Elite year

Wow, a year gone by already for Elite Innovations?! For a startup, it’s hard to say whether you are more surprised that you still exist or that you have actually done quite well!A little over year ago, Ed Hall and I were setting up shop on 18th street, literally, a big a$$ shop known as a Makerspace. The goal there was start serving Wilmington’s “inventrepreneurs” by giving them access to 3D printing, Computer-Aided-Design (CAD), metal fabrication, textiles, electronics, and more. Our Grand Opening was October 18th, 2014. I’d say it was quite a success given the turnout, mostly attributable to Ann Revell Pechar and Emilyanne Atkinson’s exhaustive event planning skills (Also Vittles was there, that was my contribution to the effort). It’s also exciting to see that those are two increasingly popular names around town, well deserved of course. Our partnership with UNCW’s Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship (initiated by Jim Roberts) introduced us to various local product ideas and opened the doors for really making an impact on the entrepreneurial ecosystem in town. Ron Vetter got us engaged with the Center for Marine Sciences to get our first R&D project under our belts. The month’s to follow certainly proved there was a need for a product development service in town, our doors were flooded with inventors who needed help turning their concept into a reality. I’m not one to “toot my own horn,” but I can at least say we’ve made some solid traction over the past 12 months. Did that traction come easily, or without pain? Nope… So what did we learn?

Our original plan happened in reverse order… As we used to say in the Marine Corps, “Don’t fall in love with the plan,” or “a plan is great until the first round goes down range.” Remember the unknowns also play a part in every outcome. I expected more product-focused entrepreneurs, full of energy and motivation, to knock down the doors of the Makerspace. While many did show, what we saw most was product development customers. Basically, this meant we needed to scale personnel sooner and faster. It would be one thing if the first batch of customers had simple ideas; they didn’t… We first brought in an industrial designer (Jonathan), TacLace sales rep (Jay) and two programmers (Andrew and Jason). This kept our capacity up through the present day.

We came across things we were unfamiliar with, imagine that! That’s why we have Barnes & Noble, the internet, and a local research library.

We had internal disputes. Go figure, we are humans.

We played corn hole, A LOT!

Hosted the Wired Wizards build season in the Makerspace. The Wired Wizards, headed by Jazmin Caprezza, are an NCFirst robotics team comprised of local high school students (geniuses).

Our pace increased, yet again. We brought in our Director of Operations (Liz) to manage our pipeline and functional responsibilities. Since then over 60 product ideas reviewed and scoped, 24 prototypes complete, four in production or ready to start.

In the past quarter, we have seen a surge in IOT related projects. One additional designer (David) and a web developer (Ken) was added to the team. Project management is now more than just a collateral duty for some team members, but essential serving our clients well. We are thrilled to say that six of our team members are UNCW graduates and one is a CFCC Graduate.

We partnered with Edison Nation out of Charlotte, NC. This landed us in front of SVPs at Amazon where we were able to pitch TacLace for their Launchpad and Vendor Express programs. They loved it and we were awarded both opportunities.

We have been honored to speak at various local entrepreneurial events and play a strong role in this year’s Cucalorus Connect.

Most importantly, we have had the opportunity to embed ourselves in Wilmington’s entrepreneurial community. We have met some excellent thought leaders, networked with other local startups, and seen firsthand the progress being made in town. We cannot express our excitement for where this scene is headed and sure hope we have made some impact on helping Wilmington get there.

Now for a few things I find important at Elite that I hope help others:

Team – there is no I in team, unless you ask Jonathan Dineen, our industrial designer. He likes to doodle a “designy” TEAM where he emphasizes the negative space in the “A” and it inherently makes an “i.” I digress. One of the toughest calls in a startup is when and who do I hire? Initially, it’s great practice to bring in team members that tie directly into the revenue streams. However, at some point you have to identify some administrative positions that have less “tangible” impact on the business. Who can manage your pipeline and how much time does that save you? Once you analyze this, you start to realize that these impacts are quite a bit more “tangible” than you thought.

Tools – You’re a manager, right? Your job is to provide resources to your team; that includes time, money, personnel, the list goes on. Sometimes these tools have that same “intangible” impact on your business, but at the end of the day, they empower your team to excel in their jobs. The obvious firsts include accounting tools, better yet an accountant. Hire one… Spend a couple hundred a month, the amount it costs comes back in a matter of hours. The next thing is a CRM tool. Get one… Salesforce, Sugar CRM, there are tons. The first time you see your opportunity pipeline as real potential, you’ll quickly realize what you are missing otherwise. Combine some of these formerly “intangible” items together and you’ll be pretty excited about what it does for you. The next thing needs to be a billing tool. Just think about it, you handle business with similar people. We are all busy and it’s easy for bills to be put off. Invest in a billing tool to cut down on your receivables, you’ll sleep better at night.

Leadership – You might be able to manage a fortune 10, but if you can’t lead your way out of a wet paper bag, the startup scene isn’t for you! The startup environment is transient and chaotic at best. Take the beatings, but motivate and inspire your team. Know that they could have chosen the status quo and not the path less traveled. My favorite leadership quote didn’t come from a General, Politician, or Business Tycoon. It came from a U.S. Marine Corporal who said, “Think of leading people like using a lasso. If you throw that lasso around your team and push it, the lasso loosens and they scatter to the winds. If you throw that lasso around your team and pull them through, it tightens and they follow you as one.” This is not saying management skills are unimportant, after all, you have to conduct business. I am saying that leadership is not easily learned if it isn’t inherent, but management skills are. Know your strengths as well as your team, be humble, and leverage both accordingly.

Pivot – As previously mentioned, unknowns will surface and you will be forced to change. First off, never have knee-jerk reactions. Always take the time to assess your situation and determine whether the current obstacle is isolated, or representative of a trend. If it’s the latter, pivot. Stress is the body’s natural response to change, the good news is you’re already stressed in a startup so a pivot is not going to make it any worse! That’s sort of a joke, basically, don’t be afraid to stand by your perspective on where your business is headed. Update your plan and communicate this clearly to the team. In high-velocity markets, your ability to adapt as markets and technologies change is instrumental to your future (I learned that in MBA school).

Network – You are strong as your network, plain and simple. Also, build your Alma Mater networks, I don’t care where you went. On average, you’re one degree of separation from that connection you need to take it to the next step. Attend our local events, expand outside of them then share your local networks outside the area.

Sense of Pride – I don’t see our area as just a vacation town and being at the beach is not an actual employment benefit, so don’t tell your employees that it is. Also, I hate the term “Wilmington prices.” Let’s not show up to outside events and expect others look at us like we are just “figuring it out.” Rather, let’s lead the charge and expect others to look to us as the example. Please don’t confuse the word “pride” here with its negative connotation, and obviously being humble is equally as important.

So here is to an Elite year and we hope for many more.

We would like to thank those within the community for ongoing support, now for my Oscar line up: Our Clients, Jim Roberts, Ron Vetter, Laura Brogden, Anne Revell, Adam Burke, George Taylor, Ed Wolverton, Craig Snow, Rob Kaiser, all the Wilmington Biz Journal folks, The Star News, Dr. Arch, Corey Heim, Geoff Fox (FLIPPZE), Ted Zoller, Chuck Whitlock, Elijah Huston, Tek Mountain (Audrey, Derrick, Sean, Jason), Cucalorus and Dan Brawley, Roger Johnson, Allen Davis, Doug Tarble, Mike Hunter, Mike Rhodes, Mickey Finn, VMI Alumni Chapter, and so many more.

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Women in Business – Wilmington’s Women to Watch

A Salute to all of the area’s Women in Business

In a nation where women make up more than 55% of college students, but only 57% of working age women are in the workforce compared to 70% of working age men, encouraging women to seek a fulfilling and profitable career path is more important than ever. Creating an equal workplace advantage for men and women is also critical for employers pursuing to be the best in their industry.

Looking ahead to WILMA’s Women to Watch awards coming up this Friday evening, we decided to ask some of Wilmington’s most interesting women in business a few questions.

Ann Revell, Founder of a. revell communications and VP of Communications at Cloudwyze, a 2014 W2W finalist offers experience and insight into working in a male dominated workplace.

Stephanie Lanier, Co-founder of Lanier Property Group, gives her spin on what women should strive for in their career.

Fanny Slater, Founder of FanFare Catering, a 2014 W2W finalist gives tasteful advice and insight into working in a fast moving industry as a young entrepreneur.

Emilyanne Atkinson, Senior Database Manager at CastleBranch Corp., is a 2015 W2W finalist and offers her thoughts on perseverance in the work place.


Q: What did you want to be when you were a child?

SL: A country music star

FS: When I was a kid, I had one answer for that question and no backup plan. I was going to be a famous Hollywood actress. That dream didn’t entirely change, but it morphed at 28 when I realized that I could still be in front of the world—and I could do it as myself.

EA: I don’t think I had a firm grasp on what I wanted to be when I grew up.  I still don’t.  I’ve never viewed science, technology, engineering, art, or mathematics as truly independent fields of study.  Rather, they give each other context.  There isn’t one thing or one profession that I want to be.  I just want to be free to study and create the things that intrigue me.

Q: How did you get into your industry?

AR: I was a theatre major, and while working on my Master’s I learned to program and so was hired by GeVa Theatre in Rochester NY to run their computer department. While there, we opened a new facility and I became enamored with the work being done by the PR team. I was stuck in the “computer room” while they were out managing lights and cameras and actors… man, I knew I was not destined to stay behind the screen forever…

FS: I was always a Food Network-aholic. I never wanted to go to culinary school or owned a restaurant, though, so I had to figure out how to do food in my own way.  After a brief stint in Hollywood, California—I moved back east to Wilmington and opened a small catering company, Fanfare. I was able to be my own boss and hone in on my craft and creativity in the kitchen. My other passion is writing, and I was lucky enough to eventually be able to combine those two skills and become a food writer. Having that background certainly came in handy when the Rachael Ray Great American Cookbook Competition came along two years ago. I not only had kitchen skills, but the ability to write about food in a way that was playful and always came with a story.

Q: Did you go to college? What was your degree in college?

AR: I went to Seattle Pacific University for undergrad – BA in Theatre. I subsequently received my Master’s in Public Administration from SUNY Brockport.

EA: I went to CFCC.  My degree is in Computer Engineering Technology.


Q: Best advice you have for women in college looking for a career path?

College Career Path

SL: Remember what you were good at when you were in elementary school, what you loved to play, the times when you lost track of time. Look at the little girl you once were for the clues about the woman you should become. It is all there, and when you find “the job” all the pieces will come together. It is like falling in love with someone, it clicks. Keep trying till you find it.

EA: Treat college like a monetary investment rather than a spiritual walkabout or intellectual finishing school.  I see so many people my age crushed under the debt of their student loans.  They’re angry that they can’t find a job with a PhD in first century Latin poetry.  Don’t gain personal enrichment at the expense of personal freedom.  Enjoy the journey, but make sure you obtain knowledge that others will pay you to use on their behalf.  That will get you the best ROI.


Q: What are your future aspirations?

AR: I would love to play a significant role in helping Wilmington become a real center for innovation. We should be a place where knowledge workers abound and we have 100s of growth companies headquartered here.

EA: I’m a big proponent of S.T.E.A.M. I’m launching a website called which will document my exploits and experiments in an entertaining and educational way.


Q: What is the least glamorous job you’ve ever had?

SL: Being the housekeeping boss at a summer camp for teenagers.

FS: In Hollywood, I was a personal assistant for one day. I was asked to place a glass of water in each room for my boss so that if he walked into a room and was thirsty, there was already something for him to drink. I was also asked to clean all of the windows in the mansion. It was a house made of glass.

EA: Corn detasseling.  It’s basically running through cornfields and wrestling the tops off of the female stalks.


Q: What makes you unique from your colleagues?

FS: I would say that my peers are those in the food world. I admire many of them for their culinary degrees, but I would say what makes me stand out is the fact that I have no formal training so I’m able to be a bit less technical. Although that is certainly a disadvantage in some ways, there are a lot of perks to being self-taught in your profession. I think that everyone in this field is spectacularly diverse in their own way, but as for me—well I’m the only one who gets to be Fanny. That’s what my parents would say.

EA: Empirically speaking, from my encounters with other people in IT, my knowledge base is broader and deeper than most.  I owe this in part to my autodidacticism.  But I have found my educational tutelage from private school and home schooling by tutors to be a treasure beyond measure.  For better and worse, the road that I took was less traveled.  Being non-traditional has given me a different perspective of the world. I also have chickens.


Q: Have you ever had any issues working in a male-dominated work place?

AR:  Oh, man, yes. I’ve had so many experiences helping men understand that women are “greater than or equal to” men in the work place that I’m not sure where to start. With the boss that hit me with a ruler each time he didn’t like the way I wrote? Maybe with the first time I was on an all-male Board and had to explain why blonde jokes and women driver jokes didn’t elevate the conversation (as a blonde woman driver)? Or back to that temp job where the boss made me lick the envelopes in front of him … I can go on and on.

FS: Seeing as I’ve worked in many kitchens, which are typically male dominated, you’d think that I would have had issues with this. But I’ve always been a very confident, take-no-shit kind of person so men have seemed to respect that about me. I’ve certainly had some bosses who I could have done without, but as for co-workers, I’ve always been lucky to mostly work with very polite men.


Q: What is your advice for young career women working in an environment that is predominantly men?Success for Women in Business

AR: The key is to stop giggling, don’t talk like a little girl, stop flirting, and first and foremost, see yourself as a professional. Then, take none of their crap. Nip it in the bud – quickly, and quietly at first. Then, get louder and go up the ladders until it’s resolved. But be sure you keep your sense of self and sense of humor throughout.

EA: Poise is power, so maintain your composure.  The moment your voice starts climbing in pitch is the moment they tune you out because you have forfeited your credibility.


Q: Do you believe the WILMA W2W is an important event in Wilmington? How so?

AR: We so seldom celebrate women as professionals. W2W is one of the only times we in Wilmington have a chance to say “woman, you rock,” and call out key leaders (and leaders-to-be) in our community for being really great at what they do. I believe this could be one of a handful of events that helps us get to Wilmington’s next FEMALE Mayor!

SL: It helps promote the great work of women in our community. I especially love the Rising Star category, so that we can help invest in the next generation of female leaders.

FS: Absolutely. The Women to Watch event is not only encouraging for those involved, but it inspires those who aren’t to want to be part of it. It’s a wonderful feeling to be recognized for your accomplishments in your specific field, and this event does exactly that. It empowers such a large amount of women in so many versatile professions. It also brings so many people in the community together. Wilmington is a small town where everybody runs in the same circles, so it’s fun to all celebrate together in one place.

EA: WILMA’s Women to Watch is a great event that showcases the amazing local women in the area.  Women tend to be self-effacing.  By contrast, this even shines a spotlight on their accomplishments.  I think it’s also good because it gives other women something to aspire to and role models.  If they can do it that means it’s possible to do it, that means I could do it! I’m also a part of WILMA’s inaugural leadership initiative.  I can’t recommend being in that enough!  We’re a small band of eight go-getters who serve as each other’s personal board of advisers.  There is safety and insight in a multitude of counselors.


Q: How did W2W help your career or exposure? What would be your advice to other women who are hoping to be part of W2W in the future?

AR: I can’t really point to anything in particular – like, there’s no ‘new business’ that came from the award, however I certainly got a lot of “atta-girls” from colleagues. It could be that it’s because I didn’t win… Ha! What I really think is that those of us who win these awards need to position the award as critical. When other women point to the award as symbolic of success, it will have even more meaning.

FS: Right around the time of my nomination, I was just starting to get a lot of press for my win on the Rachael Ray Competition. The W2W event was specifically rewarding because I was acknowledged alongside of so many peers that I respect. It was a wonderful feeling to be nominated in a category, Rising Star, which felt so true to who I was and what I was currently experiencing. In regards to helping my exposure, a lot of people who just knew me as a local foodie saw me on the cover of WILMA and realized that I had just taken a huge leap forward in my career. One minute I was interviewing other chefs about their success, and the next everybody wanted to write about me! It was pretty surreal.


Q: What’s on your reading list?

AR: My bookshelf is full, but here’s what I’m buying next: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time; Pitch Anything; Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World; Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; Common Sense (Paine); The Rebels of Ireland; New York (an historic novel).

SL: Anything by Brene Brown, Jim Collins or Seth Godin. I always recommend The Confidence Code for young women…it has wisdom you can directly apply to your career. For small business owners the #1 book is E-Myth Revisited.

FS: I’m glad you asked. Orange, Lavender & Figs by Fanny Slater is currently available for pre-order on Amazon right now! The book hits shelves March 1st.

EA: Tesla: The Life and Times of an Electric Messiah by Nigel Cawthorn, The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath,Signature in the Cell by Stephen C. Meyer, Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki.


We are looking forward to WILMA’s Women to Watch awards and the spotlight that it brings to all of the amazing women in business that are making Wilmington better and more innovative.

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Elite Innovations Ribbon Cutting with Mayor Bill Saffo

Elite Innovations Opens 2nd Location 10 Months after Grand Opening
Ribbon Cutting Ceremony with Mayor Bill Saffo 9/3/2015

EI logo

Elite Innovations will host a ribbon cutting with Mayor Bill Saffo on September 3rd at 11:00am at the Chandler’s Wharf to celebrate their 2nd office space. Open to the media and public.

Please RSVP to: 

Headed up by local entrepreneur and champion for Wilmington small businesses, Elite Innovations, LLC. (EI) opened a second location in July in the Chandler’s Warf in downtown Wilmington, NC. El is a veteran-owned company that specializes in design, prototyping and engineering services. Just 9 months after Wilmington local and CEO Andrew Williams opened El, the company expands its business into a second office space in the historic riverfront downtown district. This second office space houses the growing staff including a Lead Designer, Sales Manager, Operations Manager along with a number of interns. The space also houses space to showcase EI’s completed products. “We have many new clients with various needs. We hope the new office space will allow us to take on more projects that do not necessarily need to utilize our MakerSpace prototyping services,” says Andrew Williams.

The company will maintain its flagship MakerSpace on 18th Street for the growing demand of their product development services as well as 3D printing and prototyping. In addition to expanding into a second office, the company continues to make its mark on the local entrepreneurial community through strategic partnerships with like-minded groups and businesses such as the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at UNCW, Cucalorus Film Festival, UNC Chapel Hill, Wired Wizards, TekMountain and many more.
I see our new space creating businesses, creating jobs and impacting the regional economy,” said Williams. “I think MakerSpaces are the new industrial revolution.” EI hopes to increase its impact by growing the company more in the next year by creating new businesses that will in turn, hire more Wilmington locals. CEO Williams is proud to have 4 full-time UNCW graduates, 2 contracted UNCW graduates and 1 CFCC graduate on his staff and hopes to hire more in the future as Elite Innovations grows.

The MakerSpace on 18th Street and the new office in Chandler’s Wharf are open for scheduled tours. Elite Innovations is also taking on new clients. To schedule a meeting, or for more information about the Ribbon Cutting, please contact Director of Operations, Elizabeth Wilson,