For the first 20 years of my career, just after graduating from the University of Texas with an MBA, I helped small or startup software companies design their strategy, get funding and execute their business plans. Most of the companies grew and were eventually sold. I learned as much from the few that didn't do so well as I did from the successes. Each company focused on a different market, including educational software, business process management, social media and healthcare revenue management. Verint Systems purchased the last company I worked with, and for the past six years I have traveled the world to help companies use our software to engage with their customers more effectively.
Outside of work, I have a small non-profit that helps fund learning opportunities for students who need a little financial assistance to achieve their dreams. I also serve on the board of Sea Mercy, an organization that delivers disaster recovery and educational programs to people on remote islands in the South Pacific. But most importantly, I have a wonderful family that supports me and makes all of the work I do worthwhile: my wife Jenny and our children Lacey (and her husband, Brian), Dema and Sager.
Laura lived on both US coasts and in between as a child, then settled into Vanderbilt University for her undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Science.
After being awarded the highly competitive Walter Wattles Fellowship at Lloyd’s of London, Laura worked in the aviation insurance industry in New York City. Deciding to follow her calling into the world of education, Laura returned to Nashville and earned her Master of Education at Peabody College. This led her to her work at the Oklahoma Arts Institute, creating fine arts education programs for teachers and talented high school students.
Laura married Jeff Sandefer and is the happy mother of Sam and Charlie and step-mother to Taite. It is the inspiration of these children that led Laura and Jeff to co-found Acton Academy.
Her greatest hero is her mother who was a Master Teacher. Her wisest mentor is her father who sent her off to college with two words of advice: "Be curious".
Zay Collier is a technologist, and educator, and a serial entrepreneur with a passion for education, personal transformation and community development. Zay has founded multiple technology startups and lead technical teams in various roles including: CTO of Cubus Corporation (acquired by Citadon), Chief Architect at Bitfone (acquired by HP), CTO of Remend Corporation (acquired by Fidelity), Senior Consultant with Like.com (Acquired by Google) and Senior Architect at Emergent Game Technologies. Earlier in his career, he was part of the core teams at Autodesk and Electronic Arts. Zay has been an entrepreneur since before the formation of his first publishing company at the age of 16.
Zay is currently the President and Chairman of Phoenix Arising, which he co-founded with his wife Tasha Collier, to provide educational opportunities for economically disadvantaged students in Austin. Zay is also the Founding Partner of Saije Ventures and his own consulting practice, Saije Consulting, where his clientele includes companies such as Intel, Freescale, Comcast, Cablevision, Accenture and others. Zay studied Electrical Engineering as an undergraduate at Cornell University.
Jeff Sandefer lives a dual life as an entrepreneur and a Socratic Guide.
As an entrepreneur, he founded his first company at age 16 and went on to found or co-found seven successful businesses.
As a Socratic teacher at the University of Texas, Jeff’s students five times voted him the school’s Outstanding Teacher and week named him one of the top Entrepreneurship professors in America. Jeff went on to co-found the Acton School of , an MBA program perennially ranked by the Princeton Review among the best in the nation. In 2012 The Economist honored him as one of the top fifteen School professors in the world.
Jeff is a graduate of the Harvard School, where he served for over twenty years on the school’s governing committees. He was a longtime director of the Philanthropy Roundtable and National Review magazine and one of the youngest members ever elected to the Texas Hall of Fame.
Michael has advised and directed senior executives for nearly twenty years as a line operator, CEO, advisor, board member, and investor. In particular, Michael has worked closely with numerous founders and management teams to strengthen their organizations, grow, and position their businesses for an exit event. He brings Barton Creek Equity Partners (BCEP) deep experience in business services, manufacturing, healthcare, and publishing.
After several years in management consulting and an operations role with Harcourt Education, Michael joined Audax Group, a renown Boston-based middle market private-equity firm, to help build an internal advisory group. In this role, Michael recruited and hired a team and led EBITDA-enhancing efforts for organizations in Audax’s portfolio of ~35 companies. Just prior to founding BCEP, Michael was CEO of a $35 million, private equity-owned, business services company in Denver, CO.
Outside of work, Michael enjoys time with his family and in the outdoors. He has scratched his entrepreneurial itch by launching a unique program called the Restoration Project in Zhytomyr, Ukraine. The Restoration Project trains former orphans in construction and life skills and, over time, participants earn the right to rehabilitate uninhabitable homes (for former orphans who are now young mothers or married couples), exercising their new skills and generating an income. When not in Ukraine or Austin, Texas, Michael enjoys being in the mountains with his family in Colorado and New England and finds that guiding week-long outdoor experiential education trips for high school students during the summer generates better returns than the private equity business.
Michael earned his BA from Middlebury College and MBA from the Tuck School at Dartmouth College where he was named an Edward Tuck Scholar.
A native of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Amy originally wanted to go into medicine. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Psychology at Tufts University in Boston.
While in school and after, she worked at Steve's Ice Cream, launching new stores in Manhattan and Coconut Grove, FL. When Steve's Ice Cream was sold to a publicly traded real estate company, Amy decided to start her own company where she could focus on the quality, community, and customer service values that first lured her into the ice cream business.
Finding Texas most hospitable, she opened Amy's Ice Creams in 1984 in Austin. She attended the University of Texas and received her Option II MBA in 1992, where she received the Dean's Award. In 1986, Austin Business Journal voted her Entrepreneur of the Year!
Based on the philosophy of "making people's day," Amy's Ice Creams has grown to 15 stores in three cities. Through her stores, she inspires young people to have a lifetime of community participation. The success of Amy's is known worldwide from featured articles in Inc., Southern Living, Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, People, Fast Company, features on Food Network, ABC, and multiple reference university textbooks.
In 2003 she founded Choose Austin First, an alliance of locally owned businesses dedicated to fostering and promoting the city's unique lifestyle and sense of community.
In 2007 Amy founded Phil's Ice House, a burger concept which also thrives on being a gathering and giving place for the community. Her deep rooted concern for community motivated her to run for and be elected to Westlake Hills City Council Place 3 in May 2007 where she served as Mayor Pro Tem.
In addition to her businesses, Amy's personal time is also a priority. She has three children active in sports and education. She runs marathons and was the first female professional boxer in the state of Texas. She is a frequent speaker for and supporter of non-profit and educational organizations and mentors others in small businesses.
Allan is a newcomer to the education industry. He began his career in Hollywood, producing short films which appeared in numerous festivals and directing commercials which aired during the Superbowl and Academy Awards. He later managed studio relations for a boutique box-office research firm in Beverly Hills. In 2003, Staker created Yoostar, an entertainment console and a series of Xbox games that the NBC Today Show listed among “Hollywood’s Hottest Gifts” and UberReview dubbed one of the “Coolest Toys on the Planet.” He has worked as a Product Marketing Manager at Apple, the Director of Transformation at Hawaiian Airlines, and a Marketing Director at Dell Computers.
In 2013, Allan and his wife Heather co-founded Brain Chase, an online learning company that the New York Times described as “Hollywood meets Harvard.” Brain Chase produces blockbuster after-school and summer enrichment programs wrapped up in massive global treasure hunts.
Staker graduated magna cum laude with University Honors from Brigham Young University in Film Directing and Management, and earned his MBA from Harvard School. He lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and their five children.
Matt has over 20 years of experience in brand development, public relations, marketing and design with a focus on technology companies. Prior to Carnegie Technologies, Matt was VP of Marketing and Communication at M87. He has co-founded and held executive positions at award-winning creative agencies Action Figure and Exopolis, where he led creative campaigns for brands like IBM, Microsoft, Rhapsody, DIRECTV, and HBO.
Heather Staker is the founder and CEO of Ready to Blend, an organization that certifies facilitators to guide their own schools in setting up blended-learning environments that improve the achievement and well-being of K-12 students. Prior to founding Ready to Blend, she co-authored the Amazon bestseller Blended: Using Disruptive Innovation to Improve Schools (San Francisco: Wiley, 2015). She has appeared on radio and television and in legislative hearings nationwide as a spokesperson for student-centered learning. Heather is also the co-founder of Brain Chase Productions, which develops and produces online-learning adventure challenges disguised as worldwide treasure hunts for children and adults. Prior to these roles, Heather was a senior research fellow for the Clayton Christensen Institute and a strategy consultant for McKinsey & Company. She served for one year as the student member of the California State Board of Education during Governor Pete Wilson’s administration, taught U.S. history as a teaching fellow at Harvard College, founded a co-op preschool, and marketed Oil of Olay for Proctor & Gamble. She holds a BA magna cum laude in government from Harvard University and an MBA with distinction from the Harvard School. She is the mother of five children and lives in Austin, Texas.
Paul Carrozza is an accomplished All-American athlete and a seasoned coach with many years of experience in creative, community-based programming. He is a dynamic and energetic entrepreneur who has aided many renowned Austin-based organizations such as The Trail Foundation and Marathon Kids. Paul has also served on a number of community boards and advisory councils, including the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports during the George W. Bush Administration.
Paul describes himself as a “fitness philanthropist". He is committed to developing quality programs and events that contribute to economic growth and increased quality of life in the greater Austin community.
Joel Rasmussen is the author of the Amazon #1 bestseller, "Vacation Rental Success,” and President and Founder of the Austin Rental Alliance, one of the largest non-profit vacation rental owners associations in North America. Mr. Rasmussen has been interviewed by or featured in The New York Times, CNN, USA Today, Fox Business News, The Washington Post, National Public Radio, SiriusXM, and The Wall Street Journal. Mr. Rasmussen owns and manages investment properties with his wife in Austin, TX.
Nat Miller is the Director of Education and Artistic Director of the Family Series at ZACH Theatre in Austin, TX.
In the spring of 2008, he received his M.F.A. program in Drama and Theatre for Youth at The University of Texas at Austin. He feels passionate about teaching theatre, developing curriculum, and directing. His other research interests including devising performance with middle and high school students, using Augusto Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed techniques to work with K-12 students on conflict resolution, and working with teachers to incorporate drama-based learning in their classroom.
His training began when he attended the Milwaukee High School of the Arts in Wisconsin. After that, he received a B.F.A. in theatre studies from Southern Methodist University, ranked as one of the top ten theatre schools in the country.
His professional experience in the field includes ten years of teaching a variety of drama classes for First Stage Children’s Theater, the second largest children’s theater in the country. For the past three summers he has been the director of a youth theatre at Next Act Theatre in Milwaukee. He worked with a diverse group of teenagers to devise an original musical that we toured around the community.
On the university level, he has taught Introduction to Improvisation and was a teaching assistant for the courses Introduction to Theatre, Curriculum Development, and Theatre for Young Audiences. He directed the AATE award-winning play The Wrestling Season, under the supervision of the playwright, Laurie Brooks.
Justin Keener’s diverse experience in public affairs includes working on the floors of the Texas House and Senate, and directing campaigns for corporations, advocacy organizations, and charitable foundations.
Prior to launching Granite Public Affairs with his longtime friend Kris Heckmann, Justin oversaw legislative, research, and communication initiatives for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. In this capacity he led state and national campaigns on energy, transportation, health care, taxes, transparency, criminal justice, and spending.
Justin’s legislative experience includes serving as an advisor to Texas Speaker Tom Craddick, and as communications director to Senator Florence Shapiro and the Senate State Affairs Committee. His public affairs background started at the Greater Dallas Crime Commission, then as a lobbyist with a small firm in Dallas. As vice president with two of the nation’s largest public relations firms, Justin oversaw corporate communications and public affairs campaigns on behalf of Fortune 500 companies and high-profile initiatives in transportation, technology, health care, education, and defense. Justin is a sixth generation Texan from Brownwood, and graduated from Colorado State University.
Jamie Jones is the owner and operator of American Land and Minerals, LLC (ALM), a company that invests in oil and gas mineral interests throughout the continental United States. Mr. Jones joined ALM as its president in 2002 shortly after startup, and acquired the company in 2004.
Prior to ALM, Mr. Jones worked as a management consultant for two and half years at McKinsey & Company, where he served Fortune 100 clients spanning a wide range of industries on marketing-related projects. Before joining McKinsey, Mr. Jones worked at American Airlines for three and half years in its marketing department.
Prior to American, Mr. Jones received his MBA at the University of Texas and his bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Jones commits a substantial amount of his time to volunteer work aimed at protecting the freedoms that have made America the most prosperous nation in history.
Mr. Jones lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife, Alejandra, and his nine-year-old daughter, Ellie.
Tasha has been a self-made businesswoman since the age of 19. Even while attending Howard University in Washington, DC she was building her client base for her new venture. She successfully opened the doors of “Tasha’s Tresses Hair Studio”, after doing everything from securing funding and building out a facility to developing a marketing plan and hiring a full staff. She grew her business to profitability and had a widely established clientele before she reached the age of 22. Tasha has always been passionate about sharing her experiences with others, and helping people practically. Tasha is now applying her problem-solving abilities and practical nature in every aspect of the operation of Phoenix Arising Aviation Academy. She strongly believes in Phoenix Arising because she truly wants to see kids, including her own, getting excited about learning, and turning that excitement into passion, and that passion into a career that yields profitability and service to the community and beyond. She feels that with this hands-on approach to learning, together she and Zay can impact how kids view education.
Kelvin King is the CEO of StrategyAxis, a firm that provides software and services to help companies accelerate new product development and strategy implementation.
Prior to founding StrategyAxis, Kelvin was a product manager for Lombardi Software (acquired by IBM) where he developed Lombardi’s enterprise software adoption program and went on to scale the program across IBM’s global process and decision management product lines.
Kelvin’s professional background includes over 20 years of experience with early-stage software startups and management consulting firms, including Accenture. He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in Electrical Engineering with a specific concentration in Computer Engineering.
Kimberly Watson-Hemphill is the founder and CEO of Firefly Consulting, a boutique consulting firm that specializes in innovation and operational excellence. Firefly Consulting has been voted one of the top women-owned businesses in Austin by the Austin Business Journal three years in a row. She is also on the faculty of the Acton School of Business, where she teaches operations.
Her first book, Fast Innovation (McGraw-Hill, 2005), hit Business Week’s Top 10 Business Booklist. Her most recent book, Innovating Lean Six Sigma (McGraw-Hill 2016), shows companies how to achieve breakthrough results with operational excellence.
Previously, Kimberly was a partner with Accenture and a Vice President of George Group Consulting. Her goal is to drive high-impact, sustainable results for clients. Kimberly has led Lean Six Sigma programs in multiple manufacturing and service industries, including a deployment with a global Fortune 500 company that generated over $1B in savings. Kimberly has a passion for helping clients significantly reduce their product development cycle times while developing innovative, customer-focused products. One company cut time to market by 50% and product cost by 26%, while increasing market share and customer satisfaction.
Kimberly is also on the board of Impact India 360, a non-profit dedicated to eradicating poverty and improving education in rural India.
Her educational background includes a BSE (Aerospace Engineering) and BA (French) from the University of Michigan, as well as a MSE (Engineering Mechanics) from the University of Texas.
Maria Dance Clayton enjoys a multifaceted career as a soloist, recording artist, symphony violinist, and violin teacher. She looks at her high school years as the most formative time in her musical journey - where she often found herself practicing 5 hours a day, traveling all around the world to search out the best teachers, and spending months each summer at music academies surrounded by other talented, ambitious peers who were working just as hard as she was to attain their musical dreams.
At age 16, she made her solo debut with the Seattle Symphony, the Seattle Philharmonic and the Coeur d'Alene Symphony. She chose to attend the Shepherd School at Rice University in Houston, Texas to earn her Bachelor of Music degree in Violin Performance and then attended the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, Utah to earn her Master of Music in Violin Performance.
While living in Salt Lake City, Utah, she performed extensively with the Utah Symphony-Utah Opera, Ballet West and the Orchestra at Temple Square and played as a recording artist for movies, commercials, musicals, and CDs. Prior to that, she taught as an Adjunct Professor of Violin at BYU-Hawaii and performed with the Hawaii Opera Theater.
She now lives in Austin, Texas with her husband and daughter, Eden, and plays with the Austin Symphony and Austin Opera in her free time. She regularly tours with classical-pop pianist William Joseph and has recorded for or shared the stage with Andrea Bocelli, Itzhak Perlman, David Foster, James Taylor, Michael Buble, Josh Groban, Alfie Boe, Lindsey Stirling, Jackie Evancho, David Archuleta, and the Transiberian Orchestra. She recently checked an item off her bucket list by completing the Coeur d'Alene Ironman.
Started my first business when I was 12, Boat Monkey Cleaners.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist (swimming). Four-time World Record Holder. Eight-time American Record Holder. 2009 ESPY winner for the "Best Moment". International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame inductee (2015)
Bootstrapped AthleticFoodie from $9,600 in the bank, to $250,000 in revenue. Identified, sourced, and implemented a manufacturing solution for AthleticFoodie snacks. Shipped snacks nationwide, to individuals and to top university athletic departments. Built and negotiated an elite athlete ambassador program, with five U.S. Olympians.
Board Member at USA Swimming. Chair of the National Team Advisory Counsel. Organized and hosted a fundraiser dinner, in New York City, for the USA Swimming Foundation that brought in over $40,000 in profit. Curated and recruited world-renowned chefs Daniel Boulud, Daniel Humm, David Bouley, Tom Colicchio, and Florian Belanger, to each make a course at the dinner.
Apprenticed in four of the top kitchens in the world, learning how to make world-class food, using classic techniques and ingredients of the season. The apprenticeships included La Maison Troisgros (France), El Cellar de Can Roca (Spain), Noma (Denmark), Daniel (New York City). My time in these kitchens was widely publicized, including features in Sports Illustrated magazine, USA Today, Food & Wine magazine, Yahoo Sports, Bon Appetit, Huffington Post, and Texas Monthly.
Spoke at the White House (2013), to national leaders about physical fitness, nutrition, and sports.
Dr. Joel Littles is an anesthesiologist in Austin, Texas and is affiliated with multiple hospitals in the area, including Seton Medical Center and University Medical Center Brackenridge. He received his medical degree from Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine and has been in practice between 11-20 years. He served as class president during Medical School.