October 12, 2022

We're excited to announce the 2022 Judges for the 10th Big Launch Challenge Pitch Competition. On November 17, 2022 at the NC Biotech Center, 10 innovative companies from the Southeast will share their pitches with a panel of 5 judges representing multiple investor groups.

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Krista Covey

Krista Covey, MBA

President, First Flight Venture Center

Krista’s passion is serving high-impact entrepreneurial ventures and helping them achieve success. She has been supporting the development and growth of early-stage companies through her work building and leading award-winning innovation hubs in Florida, Texas and North Carolina. She has an extensive background in banking and finance and has experience in business incubation and acceleration, strategic management, business development, marketing, economic development, economic gardening for high-growth science / tech companies, and public relations.

As an entrepreneur at heart, she has also grown her own successful finance business with a profitable exit. Krista is a certified Business Incubator Manager with the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) and currently serves as Chair of the InBIA Executive Board of Directors. She is part of the Startup Champions Network, driving long-term change by supporting innovation and entrepreneurship and working to reduce barriers for entrepreneurs, and has served on numerous community, startup and industry boards. Krista is a regular speaker on topics relating to business innovation, technology transfer, incubation, acceleration, mentoring programs, economic development, funding vehicles and other programs designed to transition ideas into profitable ventures that significantly impact our nation. Krista holds a B.S. in Business Marketing from Southeastern University and her Master’s in Business Administration from Saint Leo University.

Patrick Gouhin

Patrick Gouhin

CEO, Angel Capital Association

Patrick Gouhin is presently serving in his fourth year as the CEO of the Angel Capital Association. ACA is a professional society for accredited angel investors, North America's most prolific early-stage investment class. ACA represents 15,000+ member accredited angel investors, 250 angel groups, accredited platforms and family offices and more than 30,000 entrepreneurial companies that are in ACA member investment portfolios. Before joining ACA, Mr. Gouhin spent 12 years as the Executive Director and CEO of the International Society of Automation (ISA) and then 15 years with the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). During his tenure at ISA he provided leadership toward the creation of many new initiatives and companies. At AIAA, Mr. Gouhin served as the Chief Operating Officer whereby his leadership contributions resulted in significant revenue growth and the successful management of 300+ project teams through development and delivery of multiple products and services.

Mr. Gouhin also served as the first Vice President of Operations and Technology Transfer for the National Institute of Aerospace (NIA) at Langley Research Center. This was a start-up resulting from $69 million government contract award to build a world-class research and education institute. Mr. Gouhin has experience in corporate divestitures and acquisitions, business construction and relocation, strategic standardization management, business planning, project management, process mapping and reengineering, and serving as a company wide change agent. He has served on the board of directors of multiple non-profits including the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives (CESSE) where he is a past president.

He has a bachelor of science in aeronautical and astronautical engineering from The Ohio State University and a master’s in engineering management from George Washington University. He has also completed the executive development program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School and the advanced management college of Stanford University. Mr. Gouhin is a Certified Association Executive or CAE.

Shawna C. Lemon

Shawna C. Lemon, J.D., Ph.D.

Co-Founder xElle Ventures, Co-Founder, Stanek Lemon Crouse + Meeks, PA

Shawna C. Lemon, J.D., Ph.D. is a patent attorney, angel investor and diversity advocate. She is a co-founder of xElle Ventures, an angel fund for women providing loans to female founders and women-led businesses. Shawna is also co-founder of Stanek Lemon Crouse + Meeks, PA, a majority woman-owned intellectual property law firm. She is admitted to practice law in North Carolina and New York.

As an experienced patent attorney and board director, Shawna brings more than 20 years of legal and business experience to various organizations. Shawna’s board service has included: RTP Capital Associates; Dress For Success Triangle; North Carolina Arts in Action; R.O. Harrell Trucking, Inc.; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Visitors; and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Health Foundation. She is also an advisor for several startup companies. Shawna is a recipient of the 2020 Triangle Business Journal Women in Business Award and has been listed in Best Lawyers of America (2015-2023), North Carolina Legal Elite (2014, 2021 and 2022) and Super Lawyers (2021-2023). Shawna has a B.S. from Wofford College, a Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina, and a J.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Marco Rubin

Marco Rubin

Senior Investment Director, Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation; Board Chair, The Launch Place Seed Fund Advisory Board

Marco is responsible for sourcing, diligence, and closing seed and early-stage investments on behalf of the Virginia Innovation Partnership Corporation. He serves as a board representative to numerous portfolio companies. Marco divides his responsibilities between managing the GAP Tech Fund and the Commonwealth Energy Fund. He also founded and currently serves as Advisory Board Chairman for Exoventure Associates, LLC, which is primarily engaged in emerging market activity.

Marco mentors entrepreneurs and serves as an expert judge in global business plan competitions sponsored in part by the World Bank and/or State Department. He has invested in over 150 early-stage technology companies throughout his career and has held leadership roles with funds recognized by Entrepreneur Magazine's Annual VC100 list since 2002.

Before forming Exoventure, Marco was a founder of Monumental Venture Partners, LLC (MVP), making investments in security, information technology, telecommunications, software, and medical devices sectors. Substantial exits were made to Dolby Labs and Level 3 Communications.

Prior to Monumental, he ran New Ventures, MCI's venture capital unit, until the company's acquisition in 1998, where investment exits were made in both Cisco and Alcatel. Marco also worked for Booz Allen & Hamilton, where he served as a project leader for clients in the energy, telecommunications, and information technology industries. Clients included names such as Mobil Oil and NASA. He began his career as an engineer at NASA Johnson Space Center, where he trained and certified astronauts and flight controllers to operate spacecraft. He holds an MBA from George Washington University and a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from the University of New Mexico.

Autum Visser

Autum Visser

Principal, Woods Rogers PLC, The Launch Place’s legal counsel

Autumn Visser is a member of the Business and Corporate and Emerging Growth practice teams at Woods Rogers. She concentrates on mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, contract drafting and negotiation, and venture and seed capital financing. Autumn also works on real estate issues, government contracts, and licensing. Autumn is admitted to practice law in both Virginia and California.

Prior to joining Woods Rogers, Autumn spent five years in-house as Corporate Counsel for a global consumer products manufacturing company headquartered in the United States with offices in Australia, Canada, France, and South Africa. In this role, Autumn managed the legal functions for seven diverse business lines and was the key contact for all outside counsel.

Autumn is a graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communications/Public Relations and a minor in journalism. She earned her law degree from Pepperdine University School of Law in Malibu, Calif., where she worked on the Journal of the National Association of Administrative Law Judges and was a founding member of the Legal Waves. She is a member of the Virginia Bar Association and the Virginia State Bar Board of Governors where she is Chair of the Business Law Section. She is also affiliated with the Virginia Women Attorneys Association and the National LGBT Bar Association. Autumn has been recognized by Virginia Business magazine as a Legal Elite attorney.

Autumn serves on the Board of Directors for Goodwill of the Valleys and has chaired the annual Biggest Night in Business for Junior Achievement of Southwest Virginia.