Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year to be Named Friday, Aug. 6

Thursday, August 05, 2021

While Olympic athletes strive for gold in Tokyo, one of the region’s top entrepreneurs will score the ultimate prize of southeastern North Carolina entrepreneurship – the Coastal Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the 13th annual Coastal Entrepreneur Awards breakfast. The event will begin at 7:30 a.m. on Friday, August 6 in UNCW’s Burney Center. 

Sponsored by the Greater Wilmington Business Journal and UNC Wilmington’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the CEA breakfast will celebrate 11 standout startup companies and nonprofits that have been recognized as 2021 Coastal Entrepreneur Award recipients. Of these winners, the Entrepreneur of the Year will be selected by a panel of judges and announced by last year’s winners, Brad and Andrea Walker, owners of Lighthouse Films 

“The Coastal Entrepreneurship Awards are an important way to recognize and honor entrepreneurial success in our region,” said UNCW Associate Provost for Research and Innovation Stuart Borrett.  “Wilmington’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is vibrant and growing, and critical to the success and economic development of the region.” 

Award recipients are selected in 11 categories, including a new minority-owned business category added in 2020. The categories are biotechnology, emerging company, film, health care, internet-related business, manufacturing and distribution, minority-owned business, nonprofit, retail and hospitality, professional services and technology. 

The 2021 Coastal Entrepreneur Award winners are: 
• Biotechnology: SeaTox Research Inc. 
• Emerging Company: SmartFox Technologies 
• Film: Blue Roll LLC 
• Health Care: OpiAID 
• Internet-Related Business: Hybrid Athlete Foundation 
• Manufacturing & Distribution: SOS Life Sciences Corp. 
• Minority-Owned Business: MeMa’s Chick’n & Ribs 
• Nonprofit: Pender County Christian Services 
• Retail & Hospitality: Topsail Steamer 
• Professional Services: Genesis Block 
• Technology: Vantaca 

Several of the 2021 award recipients are alumni of UNCW or have ties to the university and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, including Blue Roll LLC, Hybrid Athlete Foundation, and SeaTox Research Inc., a company based at UNCW’s Crest Research Park. SeaTox Research co-founders Jennifer McCall MBA '13 and UNCW faculty member since 2011, and Sam McCall '02, hope to improve global health and well-being by specializing in drug discovery using natural marine resources and toxin testing methodology development.

"We are honored to be among this year's amazing group of entrepreneurs for the 2021 CEA awards," said Jennifer McCall. "We are fortunate to be surrounded by a nurturing ecosystem of support here in Wilmington. It is imperative for the success of small business startups to be mentored by people who can provide expert assistance to entrepreneurs because they have been there. They know the path, and they know what it takes to succeed. That support and mentorship, provided by UNCW and our community, has been invaluable."

Notable past winners associated with UNCW and CIE include Lapetus Solutions (2016), a company specializing in Artificial Intelligence for life and health insurance and for life expectancy. Lapetus Solutions co-founder and chief executive officer Karl Ricanek Jr. is a UNCW computer science professor and director of the UNCW Institute for Interdisciplinary Identity Sciences (I3S).  

“To have my passion, my academic research, translated into a commercial product acknowledged by my peers was a tremendous moment in my life’s journey,” said Ricanek.  “Winning a CEA award validated my choice to step out of the comfort of the university to enter the world of business.” 

Considered one of the most successful UNCW CIE startup companies, Lapetus Solutions has raised more than $10 million since beginning in 2015. The company has expanded into the global marketplace with a focus on Asia, Middle East and South Africa and has grown to nine full-time employees, four part-time employees and 16 contracted doctors. 

“This would not have been possible if I didn’t have the tools and support provided by the Office of Innovation and Commercialization and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” Ricanek added. “I am proud that my university, UNCW, had enough foresight and belief in its faculty, staff and students to invest in the OIC and CIE. My hope is that more faculty, staff and students will engage with the OIC and CIE to develop their businesses and nonprofits.” 

The CEA breakfast is open to the community, and more information on purchasing tickets can be found here. Please be advised that UNCW’s latest face covering guidelines require masks indoors. 

Update: The 2021 Entrepreneur of the Year Award was presented to Topsail Steamer, founded in 2017 by Danielle Mahon. The rapidly growing seafood steamer pot company now has six locations including Wrightsville Beach, Topsail Beach, three in New Jersey and one in Delaware with plans for a seventh to open in Florida. Mahon’s long-term goals are to add two to three locations per year. 

-- Krissy Vick