Entrepreneur spotlight: Ancil Lea publishes “Common Grounds”


Ancil Lea is an entrepreneur, a coffee drinker, and he loves people. 

For most of his career, consultant Lea of Conway has supported physicians, clinics, outpatient surgery centers, and hospitals across the Mid-South as they navigate the healthcare marketplace. He helps medical practices find appropriate solutions for protecting patient information in compliance with HIPAA, with risk management, and with patient engagement and retention. His practice also provides a suite of marketing and communication services including web design, social media promotions, media communications, branding, app design, and more.

Lea has written guest columns for the healthcare section of TalkBusiness and Politics. In 2016, Ancil published an ebook, CYBER WAR: Securing Patient Health Information in Today’s Electronic Environment, endorsed and promoted by the Arkansas Medical Society.

Ancil’s latest project is a book, Common Grounds: An Entrepreneurial Guide to the Coffee Shop Office, a reflection on his experiences, insights, and successes while engaging clients and working from coffee shops such as Blue Sail in Conway. The book was an outgrowth of both his personable nature and his business model as an independent consultant.

The forward to Common Grounds is written by Dr. Jeff D. Standridge, author of The Innovator’s Field Guide, whose bio includes serving as “chief catalyst” for The Conductor, UCA’s entrepreneurship center.  Standridge observes, “one overarching characteristic that Ancil lives out daily…is his innate ability to build and maintain strong relationships. I think that is at last one of the reasons he identifies so well with the modern coffee shop.”

“Ancil and his team have compiled stories, thoughts and other musings on life in the local coffee shop office. From the perspectives of the college student and young professional, to the solo practitioner, seasoned business executive, and the barista, Common Grounds has it all.”

If you conduct life and business while plugged in at a corner table at Starbucks or Midnight Oil, perhaps Ancil’s stories will resonate with you, and remind that you that, like many, you are conducting business seated in the modern marketplace of ideas.

Common Grounds releases on Amazon this week.

Lea previously served as executive director of the Regional Extension Center for the Office of the National Coordinator under the HiTech Act for Arkansas.     


Entrepreneur spotlight: Tracy Simpson’s Clinicpass app manages Sunshine Law red tape

simpson headshotFayetteville native Tracy Simpson started her journey in founding Clinicpass in 2014, after 16 years in the pharmaceutical industry. The Affordable Care Act included the Physician Payments Sunshine Act, which went into effect in 2013. It was designed to disclose any financial relationship a doctor had with a manufacturer. It required medical product manufacturers to disclose to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) “transfers of value” made to physicians. Such gifts would have occurred frequently and invisibly in the past. Now payments or transfers of value have to be reported to the CMS by the giver, and are available and searchable in the Open Payments database. The American Medical Association now recommends that providers keep their own records of money spent on them to comply with the Sunshine Act.

Such reporting generates bothersome red tape for manufacturers, and Simpson thought there was a solution for the problem that could benefit both manufacturers and physicians. Clinicpass not only facilitates pharmaceutical rep reporting, but also allows medical providers to verify the accuracy of the records and to prepare to respond to possible questions from the public.

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The Clinicpass platform also functions as a scheduling tool for physician meetings with product reps, who in times past simply waited in medical offices until a doctor could make time to see them.  During Simpson’s career, she observed as regulation and reporting requirements for doctors drastically eroded the amount of time physicians had to interact with reps. Clinicpass provides structure and a record of who has called on a practice and when. Simpson believes the platform will ultimately accrue benefit to the patient, as easier scheduling keeps clinic doors open to insure that reliable information and patient assistance programs are conveniently moved into the hands of doctors.

Simpson and business partner Padgett Mangan beta-tested the tool for a year and a half in a Memphis-based medical management group, while four hundred pharmaceutical representatives used the site. Clinicpass was one of five finalists for the Delta Regional Authority Delta Challenge Sept. 13. Simpson will be traveling to New Orleans in November for Entrepreneur Week 2017.

Simpson was the Harding chapter of the Sigma Nu Tau Entrepreneurship Honor Society’s 2016 distinguished honoree. Her best advice for entrepreneurs looking to solve problems with an app-based solution? “The best advice I can give is to test your idea,” Simpson said, “and surround yourself with positive people. My biggest hurdles turned out to be my biggest blessings.”


Entrepreneur spotlight: Ice Cube Putters Matt McJunkins and Josh Turner, owners

FullSizeRender (7)Matt McJunkins and Josh Turner are golfers and entrepreneurs. Their lunch info-session sponsored by the COBA Center for Professional Excellence was an ideal case study for entrepreneurship students. The bearded pair were entertaining and engaging as they explained their journey as new owners of what began as a garage-workshop product, and the challenges before them in scaling the company up. By the end of the hour, students were pulling for their success.

The Ice Cube Putter is a 400-gram, clear acrylic putter head with a stepped shaft and Karma Jumbo grips. It was first manufactured in singles out of inventor Wes Mickle’s workshop in Texas. The elderly hobbyist had managed to get five different patents — four for design and one for utility — on the putter head, and had persevered seven long years to obtain USGA approval for it. But he was in his seventies now, and needed a buyer who could take his project to the next level.

Turner, who was already using the putter himself, got a call from someone who thought he might be interested in buying the rights to it. He and McJunkins were interested, and Mickle was willing to provide the structured buyout on which the purchase depended. They did the deal. Mickle and his wife drove from Texas, set up the shop in Searcy, and trained McJunkins and Turner in their production process. Now it was up to them to make it successful.

Now that they owned the product, the critical issue became how to mass-produce it. Turner had an acquaintance traveling to China for personal business, so he sent a putter with him. Two weeks later they had a manufacturer that would reduce their per-item manufacturing costs considerably. The components are still assembled locally. Sales are increasing, but the next big step is how to expand into overseas markets. “Shipping is a big hurdle,” Turner said. “I sold one putter to a buyer in South Korea. I explained that the shipping would make the $149 item cost $400, and it was fine with him.” But they know they still need to find the right channel to facilitate overseas sales in larger numbers. Canada and the UK are the priorities right now.


Turner owns an oil field company, Environmental Resources, which remediates saltwater and hydrocarbon spills on site. He is also on the Physical Resources staff at Harding University. He is more oriented to the production arm of the company. Turner passed a prototype around the room for students to examine as he spoke. He displayed the original lackluster packaging and poor quality head cover that had been sold with early iterations of the putter, and explained their process for revising the branding. The new logo design includes a stylized polar bear. Turner demonstrated how it was interpreted on shipping boxes, a slick black head cover, and golf bag. “Ice the competition” is the new tagline on the website.

Serial entrepreneur McJunkins in the sales side of the pair. He owns a trucking company and does oil and gas consulting through his company Legacy 7 Surfsol. His relationships in different markets allow him to identify future partnerships that might benefit Ice Cube Putters. The company has been approached by those who want to affiliate, but he and Turner enter those relationships with caution. “We want partners, of course. But from experience I can say that you need to be careful who you choose for those business relationships.”

 They are working to affiliate with businesses interested in promotional items, since the putter head can be customized with laser-engraved logos or other art. Their website features clubs engraved with the autographs of pro golfer John Daly and entertainer Toby Keith. “Licensing is a big deal,” Turner said. They are pursuing sports licensing relationships that ultimately will benefit sales.

One new component of their marketing strategy is the decision to sell through Amazon. The process of being accepted at Amazon took two months. “You have to send all kinds of information to prove you are a legitimate company. We had to provide patent information and so forth,” Turner recalled. Eventually, they partnered with Domazon, a marketing firm providing consulting for sellers who want search optimization for their products on the Amazon platform.

Other challenges? McJunkins said they recently became aware of someone overseas who was knocking off their product. “Patent infringement lawsuits are expensive,” and “you have to decide how important pursuing a particular case is to you.” Ice Cube now manufactures a second USGA-approved putter, the Face-On putter, and sells logo golf hats and head covers as well. In the meanwhile, they are pursuing their expansion strategy while balancing other jobs and projects.

McJunkins had some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in his audience, “If you have a dream to start a business, don’t be afraid to do it. Get some experience in the corporate world if you need to, but go ahead and do it. You’ll probably make mistakes, but if you have a family later on, it gets much harder. I’m most proud of taking the risks I’ve taken and not just taking that corporate salary.”


Entrepreneur spotlight: Cariloop “Because no one should go through the process of caring for loved ones alone.”


On the hallway where the Waldron Center is located, five of us are caregivers for loved ones. We make phone calls and fax documents between classes, run out at lunch to take care of business items that can’t wait, and take days off to assist with transportation to doctor appointments or during emergencies.

Being a caregiver can be a frustrating, exhausting life, periodically consumed with searching for appropriate services with limited time. Sometimes the need for critical services arises abruptly, creating immense pressure to make decisions quickly. Estimates are that 26.1 million full-time employees in the United States are caregivers for a loved one. The average caregiver-employee misses 350 hours of work a year due to the responsibilities of caregiving, and protracted caregiving frequently has negative implications for the wellness of the caregiver.

What if companies could help valued employees more easily honor commitments to their loved ones while maintaining more of their productivity and sanity during this stressful season of their lives? The “why” statement Cariloop staff recite in their weekly meeting says, “No one should go through the process of caring for their loved ones alone.”

Dallas-based Cariloop is a digital health company that provides the world’s first fully-integrated, tech-enabled caregiver support platform to help working caregivers and families plan for and manage the care of a loved one.  The Waldron Center staff first met Cariloop co-founder and CEO Michael Walsh, and Jeryn Laengrich, Cariloop CSO, on a recent visit to campus. I had lost my 91 year-old father two weeks earlier, and immediately related to the problems the company’s business model addresses.

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CEO Walsh said, “One out of every five people in the workplace today is a caregiver, and most people are Googling their way through it.” Originally Cariloop was like an “Open Table” for finding available nursing home and assisted living beds.  The second iteration became more a dynamic decision tree, walking caregivers through a series of steps where they could match caregivers with needed services. Finally, they realized people needed not just a platform, but a user experience where a caregiver and family can video chat with a certified healthcare coach who understands what customers are going through. Cariloop retooled its business model when data indicated the majority of users were accessing its website between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays, during work hours. They began to market the platform to companies as part of a benefits package.



Michael Walsh, Cariloop CEO, and Harding alum Jeryn Laengrich, CSO. Laengrich is Harding’s College of Allied Health Outstanding Alumnus of 2017. 

I was pleased to learn that Cariloop now also provides a secure space within its website for family members to upload important documents such as medication lists, power of attorney documents, advanced directives, insurance policies, and more. Family members always have them available for meetings, and can collaborate with one another in a secure space. As my father’s power of attorney and now the administrator of his estate, it has been my experience that having documentation archived would be a powerful tool for a caregiver who has to eventually shift gears settle a loved one’s estate.

The aging of the Baby Boom and increasing life expectancy is creating a “Silver Tsunami” that challenges our healthcare system, stresses our families, and places new demands on companies to manage and support employees who are losing focus and productivity due to the distraction of honorable caregiver concerns. As the first in the market to directly address those employer concerns, innovator Cariloop is well-positioned to grow as they continue to refine their service.

Update: CEO Michael Walsh was recently selected Longevity Network’s Entrepreneur of the week!

Entrepreneur spotlight: Nick Kennedy and Surf Air


Nick Kennedy knows time is money, and air travel is stressful. And he’s a problem solver. If you consistently spend unproductive time in airport traffic and waiting to check in at busy terminals for the same short commercial hops, might an all-you-can-fly subscription membership interest you? What if it provided a private terminal where you could check in as little as 15 minutes before your flight on well-appointed, custom-designed executive aircraft? What if employees knew you by name, and concierge services were available? And what if all this were available at a fraction of the cost of flying private? Pure fantasy? Not anymore.

California disruptor Surf Air, sometimes called the “Netflix of private airlines,” provides unlimited flights between a menu of U.S. destinations for one monthly price, and Harding alumnus and Surf Air president Nick Kennedy was on campus this week to discuss life, his journey in business, and how their business model is helping customers reclaim hundreds of hours of wasted time.

Surf Air was founded in 2012.  Its genesis was in MuckerLab, a Los Angeles-based business incubator. Surf Air announced the sale of its 3,000th membership in June 2016. In June, Surf Air acquired RISE airlines, a Texas subscription service founded by serial entrepreneur Kennedy, increasing Surf Air’s subscriptions by about 25 percent and adding flights to and from six Texas destinations. This summer, the company expanded operations to Europe.

The energetic Kennedy (‘99) spoke at a lunch-and-learn info-session for a packed crowd of COBA students. He recalled his journey from San Diego to Searcy, “a foreign place,” on a last-minute baseball scholarship. His early time at Harding was not smooth sailing. There was a period of adjustment, “students here had gun racks in the backs of their trucks and I looked like a surfer,” during which he considered not returning. He met his future wife during his second semester, however, and stayed for the long haul. “My wife was a Zeta Rho president and Sprint Sing hostess for two years. I worked at Regions Bank in Walmart. She worked at the Dixie Cafe. Weekends were a 99 cent movie from Hastings and a $5.99 pizza special.”

Kennedy competed on the COBA business team. Accounting professor Dr. Phil Brown recalls those years, “Often students want to discuss their entrepreneurial ideas about how business processes could be done better. I tell them if they are serious enough to put their thoughts in writing, I’ll devote the time to help evaluate them. Nick was one of only a handful who would actually do that.”  

His career began at EDS, after which he helped found Galvanon, a startup that developed software for kiosks to expedite patient check in at hospitals–an early approach to what patient portals now accomplish. The venture later sold to NCR. A later innovation in healthcare informatics was startup eviti, an evidence-based, web-based oncology platform, recently named #1 Clinical Decision Support solution for 2016 by Black Book Market Research. eviti was later acquired by NantHealth.

Kennedy explained that being a little naive can actually benefit an entrepreneur with a novel idea, because “you don’t know what you can’t do.” He counseled future entrepreneurs to focus on ways to solve problems for people, and to always start with ‘why?’  His next venture was in another area in which he had no business familiarity, but much end-user experience. Kennedy was traveling thousands of miles per year, burning time in airports away from his family. “I was an American Airlines Platinum member with all the upgrades.” The “why” for his idea was to create a less frustrating, more efficient venue for frequent flyers.

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He did the research, and set out to solve the problem. The average private plane flies 300 hours per year. Buyers purchase planes for personal convenience, and often assume they will be able to recover part of the cost through charter fees. They rarely do. So Kennedy and some colleagues founded RISE, which employed unused capacity from private planes to create a subscription air travel service. RISE later sold to Surf Air.

Regarding integrating faith and business, Kennedy advised students not to attempt to hide their spirituality. Business is about solving problems, and “meeting the needs of people is an inherently spiritual process,” he told students, and works best when you love people and have their interests at heart.