The Mercer Innovation Center has named a 14-person advisory board to help guide its mission to inspire a culture of entrepreneurship among Mercer students and faculty while fueling a vibrant startup ecosystem in Middle Georgia.

The Center plans to orchestrate connections to coaching, capital, campus resources and talent for aspiring entrepreneurs to help them take their ideas from conception to market.

Working in tandem with organizations such as the Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority, Atlanta Technology and Development Center and the Atlanta Technology Village, the Mercer Innovation Center aims to do its part to make Georgia one of the leading startup centers in the U.S.

The Center’s advisory board includes:

  • Stewart Vernon (chair), founder and CEO of ASP Franchising LLC
  • Rob Betzel, CEO of Infinity Network Solutions Inc.
  • Leonard Bevill, president and CEO of Macon Occupational Medicine
  • Dan Drechsel, CEO of HireIQ Solutions Inc.
  • Paul Gianneschi, managing principal and founder of Hatch Medical LLC
  • Robbo Hatcher, CEO of H2 Capital Inc.
  • Dwight C. Jones, entrepreneur and real estate developer
  • Hughes Pinson, president of the Central Georgia Division of Renasant Bank
  • Jimmy Puckett, CEO and founder of Specialized Information Environments
  • Josh Rogers, president and CEO of NewTown Macon
  • Wade H. Shaw, dean and Kaolin Chair of Engineering at Mercer
  • Blake Sullivan, president of Sullivan Forestry Consultants Inc.
  • Jean R. Sumner, M.D., associate dean for rural health in Mercer’s School of Medicine
  • Cliffard Whitby, chairman of Macon-Bibb County Industrial Authority Board of Directors

In addition to serving as chair, Vernon has been appointed as the Center’s entrepreneur-in-residence for the 2015-2016 academic year. His duties include leading a one-credit course in spring 2016, hosting a speaker series and mentoring students who are or aspire to be entrepreneurs.

“Mr. Vernon is a perfect role model for Mercer students. While a college student, he realized he had a passion for entrepreneurship during a senior seminar at the College of Charleston. Now, he wants to help young people realize their dreams of being their own boss and achieving financial and personal success,” said Dr. Susan P. Gilbert, dean of Mercer’s Stetson School of Business and Economics.

Vernon founded ASP – America’s Swimming Pool Company – in Macon in 2002 and has developed it into the nation’s largest swimming pool cleaning, repair and renovation franchise system. Currently, ASP has 72 franchise partners who own and operate more than 176 franchise territories in 20 states.

“As a lifelong entrepreneur and business owner in Middle Georgia, I am honored to now be associated with Mercer University and the great things being done there,” said Vernon. “By creating the new Innovation Center and the Entrepreneurship Seminar, Mercer will be adding invaluable resources, to which aspiring entrepreneurs will have unprecedented access.”

Vernon has served on the boards of the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce, the Macon Better Business Bureau, the Central Georgia Children’s Hospital, the Macon Rescue Mission, Stratford Academy and the Macon Economic Development Commission.

He holds a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications from the College of Charleston and has been featured as a speaker at various academic and business venues throughout his career, including Georgia Tech, College of Charleston and Wesleyan College.