9th Annual Symposium
June 8-10, 2020 in Lowell, Massachusetts

Keynotes 2019

Keynote Speaker


Amy Nelson

CEO, Venture For America

Amy Nelson was appointed CEO of Venture For America in 2017 after building the organization alongside Andrew Yang, VFA’s Founder, for four years. Amy led efforts that have more than tripled the organization’s fundraising, and drove VFA’s investment in building out its regional efforts. Amy is deeply committed to having VFA become the go-to path for aspiring entrepreneurs, having conceptualized the organization’s Accelerator program and Seed Fund.

Prior to VFA, Amy held business development positions at B Lab, Relief International and Cambodian Children’s Fund. She has helped dozens of nonprofit organizations with fundraising and strategy over the years as a consultant and advisor. Currently, Amy sits on the boards of Venture For America and Safe Haven Medical Outreach in Cambodia. She is a member of the Nationswell Council and Forbes Nonprofit Council. Amy is a graduate of Claremont McKenna College and NYU’s Stern School of Business. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.

Morning Plenary Session


Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande

President and Chairman, Sparta Group LLC

Gururaj “Desh” Deshpande is a Trustee of the Deshpande Foundation along with his wife, Jaishree. He is also the President and Chairman of Sparta Group LLC, a family investment office, and Chairman of Tejas Networks.

Dr. Deshpande has pursued an entrepreneurial career for the last three decades. He is involved either as the founder, a founding investor or chairman of several companies including Cascade Communications, Sycamore Networks, Coral Networks, Tejas Networks, Cimaron, Webdialogs, Airvana, Sandstone Capital, A123 Systems and Curata. He lives in Boston, and serves as a life-member of the MIT Corporation. His support has made MIT’s Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation possible.

The Deshpande Foundation strengthens ecosystems that create significant social and economic impact through entrepreneurship and innovation. Leveraging the experience gained at the MIT Center, the Deshpande Foundation has facilitated the setup of five other centers: the Deshpande Center for Social Entrepreneurship in India; EforAll (formerly known as the Merrimack Valley Sandbox) in Lowell/Lawrence Massachusetts; the Pond-Deshpande Center at the University of New Brunswick in Canada; the Dunin Deshpande Queens Innovation Center at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario; and the Gopalakrishnan Deshpande Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, India. The Foundation launched and cohosts the annual Deshpande Symposium on Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education. The Deshpande Foundation also provided the founding grant for MassChallenge in Boston, the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™), Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), and the UPOP program at MIT.

Dr. Deshpande holds a B. Tech. in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Madras; an M.E. from the University of New Brunswick in Canada; and a Ph.D. from Queens University in Canada. From 2010–2015, he co-chaired the National Council to support President Obama’s innovation and entrepreneurship strategy.


Deborah Hoover

Burton D. Morgan Foundation

Since 2007, Deborah Hoover has served as President and CEO of Burton D. Morgan Foundation, Northeast Ohio’s philanthropic champion of the entrepreneurial spirit. Morgan Foundation seeks to build the entrepreneurial mind-set in students through educational and experiential opportunities that target problem solving and innovation skills. For adult entrepreneurs, the Foundation works with its ecosystem partners to provide new ventures and access to knowledge, mentors, and financing for founders. Deborah received the Northeast Ohio EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2014 in the Educational Services & Nonprofit category. She serves on the Team NEO board, as board chair of the Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron, and on the national board of Candid, a global organization dedicated to sharing information and insights that fuel deeper impact in the social sector.

Deborah earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College, as well as a Master of Arts in Art History from the University of Chicago. She continued graduate studies at George Washington University National Law Center, where she earned a Juris Doctor degree. She is a member of the bar in the District of Columbia, New Hampshire and Ohio. She also holds an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Baldwin Wallace University. In December of 2018, she received a second master’s degree in Cultural History from Kent State University.


Julie Messing

Kent State University

Julie led the development of the Kent State NEOLaunchNET program (originally Blackstone LaunchPad), which serves students and faculty from all disciplines. She also led a grassroots initiative to create a connected innovation ecosystem across the university. She continues as a steering committee member of this core initiative, and works closely with entrepreneurs and business leaders to bring opportunities to students and support entrepreneurial development across Northeast Ohio.

Julie joined Kent State in 2004 to design, develop and lead The Center for Entrepreneurship and Business Innovation in the College of Business (which includes a major, two minors, a living-learning community, speakers’ series, an Entrepreneurship Extravaganza and an entrepreneurial lab). She is one of the founding directors of the Entrepreneurship Education Consortium, and is the recipient of the Paul L. Pfeiffer Creative Teaching Award and the Non-Tenure Track Teaching Award — both of which recognize faculty for excellence in teaching.

Julie is also the president of her own consulting organization, Transitions Advisory Group, Inc., and serves on a variety of economic development and community service boards. She and her husband have three grown children and live in Aurora, Ohio.