You Be the Judge

Meet the Judges of the 2019 Innovation Challenge

The Innovation Challenge is right around the corner! On Wednesday, June 5 at Locust Grove in Poughkeepsie, four contestants will pitch their products and services for a chance at landing big investors and a cash and services prize package valued at nearly $9,000.

You can be part of the decision-making team. Those in attendance will help our esteemed judging panel select the first and second place winners in a live vote. Tickets are selling out fast to support leading Hudson Valley innovators. Purchase your tickets here to secure your seat!


Our judges:

Sheila Appel- U.S. Regional Director, Corporate Citizenship at IBM

Ms. Appel is responsible for leading the US team and overseeing a range of programs helping to establish IBM as a leader in a new breed of corporate philanthropy — an approach that promotes systemic social improvement largely through investments of technology, services, employee skills and volunteerism. Holding various management roles at IBM throughout her career, Ms. Appel is recognized as one of the top 100 women leaders in the Hudson Valley region and a key leader throughout New York State.

Ms. Appel was appointed by the New York State Commissioner of Education to serve on the NYS Standards and Practices Board for Teaching, appointed by SUNY Chancellor to serve on the Strategic Planning Committee for Higher Education in New York State, and serves on the NYS Education NextGen Science Standards committee and a member of the Empire State STEM Network.  Ms. Appel is the past Chair for the United Way of New York State and currently a board member of the Public Policy Institute of New York State. She also serves as board chair of the Dutchess County Workforce Investment Board, board member of the Westchester Business Council, Women’s Enterprise Development Corporation and was recently appointed to serve on the board of trustees for Dutchess Community College.

Ms. Appel has been recognized for numerous professional and community accomplishments including New York State “Woman of Distinction”; Future Business Leaders of America with the “Business Person of the Year”, YWCA Salute to Women Award, Dutchess Community College Hall of Fame Alumni of the Year in 2009; Marist College President’s Award in 2011, and received an award from Pattern for Progress, for a career supporting innovative education programs such as P-TECH schools to give high school students access to technical skills training.

Johnny LeHane- Managing Partner, Hudson Valley Start-up Fund; Head of Growth, Accel7; Co- Owner/Co-Founder, Co.; Co-Owner, Director of Sales and Operations; CLUBWAKA

Johnny is the Managing Partner of Hudson Valley Start-up Fund, Head of Growth at Accel7, Co-Owner and Co-Founder of Co. co-working space in Rhinebeck, and the Director of Sales and Operations at CLUBWAKA. A proven leader in business and technical vision, creating and managing partnerships and assisting in the development of culture, brand image and service, Johnny excels at understanding and developing business solutions, helping technical and non-technical people understand each other, advocating ideas and bringing people of diverse backgrounds and philosophies together to achieve common goals. His specialties include: Business planning and development, process improvement, due diligence, brand identification, technical infrastructure, mobile workforce, social media, technology in education, franchising, online and offline social networks.

Chris Shaw- Vice President, Commercial Banker Mid-Hudson Region Chase Bank

Chris is a relationship banker for Hudson Valley-based middle market companies.

Before joining Chase, Chris founded CORE Leader, a leadership development company. While running CORE, Chris also founded the NYC chapter of Bunker Labs, a national non-profit that helps veterans start and grow businesses.

Previously, Chris served in the U.S. Army as an aviator in the 82nd Airborne Division. He flew OH-58D armed reconnaissance helicopters and deployed twice to Afghanistan.

Chris earned a BA from Cornell University in History and an MBA from NYU Stern. He lives in Garrison, NY with his wife, Alison, and son, Henry.

Noa Simons- Executive Director of Upstate Capital Association of New York.

Noa is the Executive Director of Upstate Capital Association of New York, a non-profit dedicated to increasing access to capital in Upstate New York. In her role, she manages a robust membership network and convenes events on technology, trends and best practices for deal-making to a wide-ranging audience including investors, entrepreneurs, service providers and professional advisors. In 2018, she took over running the statewide intercollegiate business plan competition (NYBPC), which lays the foundation for entrepreneurship for students. She is also co-founder and manager of the Hudson Valley Startup Fund, a member-managed seed capital fund investing in companies with high growth potential. Prior, Noa was a partner at TD Growth Capital based in Shanghai, China. Her investment work included worldwide technology sourcing, market analysis and diligence on deals both inside and outside China. Before joining that firm, Noa was interim CEO at Norton Motorcycles in Portland, Oregon and built and launched the digital archive housed at the Mary Ferrell Foundation.  She holds a B.A. in Political Science and minors in Economics and Latin American Studies from Brandeis University.

The Prep Team

Our semi-finalists had assistance from the following leaders who generously donated their time while preparing for the competition:

Eric Egeland

Mr. Egeland and Capacity Consulting have been helping clients accelerate success since 1999. We have consulted on and/or conducted hundreds of engagements in the private, public, and non-profit sectors. A published author and thought leader; Eric’s personal values are Caring, Candor, and Confidence. He insists on honesty and accountability and has an innate “need to know”.


Tony Fareed

With over 25 years of broad experience as a corporate executive & intrapreneur, deal-maker, advisor, entrepreneur, and investor, Tony Fareed spent the first 16 years of his career as a capital markets professional working within dynamic global financial institutions, including The Northern Trust Company, CME Group, and Société Générale Group.  In 2007, Fareed founded Bridge Global Capital Group, an independent investment banking and strategic growth advisory firm focused on assisting companies of all sizes and stages optimize market positioning, substantiate value, obtain capital, accelerate growth, and achieve successful exits.  To provide clients with more complete solutions, Fareed spun out 360accel, which is an innovative consulting platform that provides value creation solutions for companies, investors, and boards. Clients leverage 360accel’s proprietary system and pool of domain experts to help assess opportunities, design winning strategies, build stronger businesses, and accelerate sustainable growth.

He taught Entrepreneurship at Marist College (Adjunct Professor) and is an Advisor to and SUNY New Paltz’s HV Venture Hub. He also volunteers as a mentor to Marist College’s IDEA Center and USMA/West Point’s entrepreneurship program.  Fareed has a Bachelor of Commerce degree from DePaul University in Chicago, Illinois; he is also a Certified Public Accountant and holds FINRA registrations 7, 24, 63 and 79 equivalent.

Thomas Hendrix

Thomas Hendrix is Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Decisive Point, a venture advisory firm providing bespoke Government Contracting expertise to the DoD Innovation Community. Previously, Thomas was an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Zx Ventures and has served as an advisor to multiple early stage ventures.  He began his career in the private sector as an Analyst at Blackstone, the world’s largest alternative asset manager and before that served in the U.S. Army for nearly 10-years as an Infantry and Special Forces Officer.  Thomas earned an MBA from Columbia Business School and holds a BS in American Legal Systems from the United States Military at West Point.

Helene Lesterlin

Helene Lesterlin is the Managing Director of Programs and Startup Services at The Trillions Co. and Idealab NY, focusing on impact investing and social innovation startups; Co-Founder and Managing Director of CO., a co-working co-op in Rhinebeck NY; advisory board member and mentor for, an accelerator for cooperative startups; volunteer and parent at Primrose Hill School; former professional curator, artist, and producer in the contemporary arts and performance.

Lauree Ostrofsky

Lauree Ostrofsky helps women leap into meaningful careers and businesses. Clarify what they want and feel more confident putting themselves out there. She is the founder of Hudson Valley Women in Business with 2400 members in the region, and growing. Her books are, “SIMPLY LEAP: Seven Lessons on Facing Fear and Enjoying the Crap out of Your Life,” a happy how-to about reinventing yourself, and “I’m scared & doing it anyway,” about reinventing her own life after being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Find out more about her writing, speaking and hugging at and @SimplyLeap on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.


This event would not be possible without our sponsors:

Partner  Sponsors   

Innovation Challenge Leader Sponsor Central Hudson

Advocate Sponsors

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