Our Team

Ken Woody  – Partner

As President of Innova, Ken leads our team focused on finding, funding and growing startup technology businesses in Tennessee and helps them achieve commercial success.  Using his extensive operations and sales background, he provides strategic guidance to portfolio companies both in times of need, as well as times of opportunity.  Ken currently serves on the boards for Cagenix, S2 Interactive, Tensor Surgical, ACT, and BioNova Medical. He was a Director for ExtraOrtho when it was acquired by Zimmer Orthopedics.

Before founding Innova Memphis, Ken was Senior Vice-President for Global Sales with Smith&Nephew Orthopedics. Prior to this role, he served as Vice President of Sales for DePuy Spine, a J&J Company. He worked for GE for more than 16 years, serving as a VP and General Manager in Healthcare and Capital businesses. Ken has enjoyed great success as an Army Officer, an entrepreneur and a Fortune 500 Executive. He has successfully owned and operated his own businesses and managed multi-billion dollar global enterprises.

He serves on the Entrepreneur Advisory Council at Vanderbilt University’s Center for Technology Transfer and Commercialization, and as a Board Member at Tech 20/20. Ken is also part of the Advisory Panel of the Boyd Venture Challenge at UT Knoxville.

Ken received his BS as a pre-med student from North Carolina State University.

Jan Bouten – Partner

Jan joined Innova in 2010 after working with the Innova team in an advisory capacity. He is currently active on several Boards, inlcuding DEVCON, Glanris, Preteckt, SOMAVAC, SweetBio, and Swinetech. At his prior firm he was board member or observer at Digitalsmiths (acquired by TiVo), Mobile-Mind (acquired by: WorldCell), Resolute Games (acquired by Lokion), Nextreme Thermal (acquired by Laird Technologies) and Covelight (acquired by Radware).

His professional experience includes founder and executive of two startups, 10+ years of high tech industry experience in engineering, marketing and sales, and more than 15 years as a seed and early-stage VC. This solid, diversified experience base allows him to provide advice and mentoring to companies and entrepreneurs.

Prior to Innova, Jan spent 7 years at Aurora Funds, a $235MM seed- and early-stage venture capital firm based in Research Triangle Park, NC. Here, he was involved in negotiating, structuring and monitoring 11 investments, and was involved in 3 IPOs and 3 acquisitions in the healthcare and technology fields.

Bouten serves on the board of the FedEx Institute of Technology. He is a recognized expert in the field as a Wall Street Journal Startup Guru, as well as Master Mentor for LaunchTennessee.

Jan received his MBA from Duke University, and also holds a MS degree in Human-Computer Systems (AI & UX) from the United Kingdom, and a BS in Computer Science from The Netherlands.

Dean Didato – Partner

Before joining Innova as a partner in 2017, Dean had worked with the Innova team  on several due diligence projects focused on qualifying new technologies, patents, competition, and market acceptance. Prior to joining Innova he spent eight years as an international executive in the specialty chemical and bioengineering segment focused on food safety fields; Didato has extensive expertise in pathogen intervention mechanisms as they relate to food processing and consumer health. He currently serves on the Board of AgriSync, Beta Hatch, EarthSense, and HerdDogg, and also served on the Board of Growers before its acquisition by ICI Inc. in 2020.

He has worked with AgBio startups such as BioDimensions, Infinite Enzymes, BioNanovations, and most recently Secure Food Solutions, where he remains a Board Member. This experience gave him a wide span of knowledge ranging from remediation of bacterial spec and spot on crops, to enzyme manufacturing through genetically modified maize, to rapid aflatoxin detection using hyperspectral imaging. Didato has assisted startups orchestrate strategic plans to accelerate revenue growth, dramatically improving value propositions that have resulted in acquisitions, strategic alliances, or licensing opportunities.

Immediately prior to joining Innova, Dean was a Strategic Accounts Manager for The Vincit Group, one of the country’s largest providers of vertically integrated food safety solutions. During his 35+ years of professional experience he has held executive positions at Synergy Technologies, OmniLytics and Buckman Laboratories.
He was recognized by the Wall Street Journal and was featured in “Virtual Teams: People Working Across Boundaries with Technology ” by Jessica Lipnack.

Dean received a BS in Biology-Management from Marietta College. He also completed several post graduate management programs, including The Leadership Development Program at the Centers for Creative Leadership, and the Program on Negotiation at Harvard University. 

Brandon Wellford – Chief Financial Officer

In September 2004, Brandon Wellford became the Chief Financial Officer of the Memphis Bioworks Foundation and is responsible for the financial and real estate functions for the Foundation and several related organizations: the Memphis Academy of Science and Engineering, Innova Memphis, Memphis Specialized Laboratory, TriMetis Life Sciences, TMA Development Corporation, MidSouth Sustainable Energy Solutions, Vaxent, MidSouth eHealth Alliance and Tennessee Charter Schools Association.  He is a Board Member of Vaxent, LLC and CirQuest Labs, and is on the Investment Committee for Innova Memphis.  In October 2013, he was selected as the CFO of the Year for Nonprofits with less than $30 million in revenue by the Memphis Business Journal.

Since 2004, Mr. Wellford managed the demolition of a 1.3 million square foot vacant hospital facility, master planning activities, implementation of a utility master plan, and design of initial facilities for the UT- Baptist Research Park.  He has led the renovation of approximately 35,000 square feet of incubator space and closely works with several start up companies operating in the Foundation’s buildings.  Brandon is responsible for the Foundation’s incubator business support and technology initiatives.  In 2011, he secured financing for the Memphis Specialized Laboratory which opened for business in 2013.  He directs the New Market Tax Credit program for the Foundation that has deployed $30 million of tax credits to date, and assists with grant compliance which has aggregated to about $116 million including nearly $100 million in Federal, State and local grants.

Prior to this position, Mr. Wellford worked for 15 years for a real estate development firm located in the Washington, D.C. area and managed the development, leasing and sale of investment grade commercial and warehouse projects, multifamily property management, property liquidations and financial management.  He has also worked in real estate accounting for a large regional bank and in the Residential, Planning and Internal Audit Departments for a New York Stock Exchange listed company which developed real estate throughout the United States.  Mr. Wellford is a Certified Public Accountant and holds a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree from the University of Tennessee at Martin.  He was born in Memphis and was raised on a farm in Cordova.

Nate Smith – Associate

As Associate at Innova, Nate gets the first look at all new deals Innova reviews.  He researches the idea or technology, analyzes the business model and commercial potential, and works to determine if it fits within the Innova investment strategy.  Nate also manages the documentation and reporting required under the Tennessee  Small Business Investment Company Credit Act (“TNInvestco”) for Innova and works to ensure that Innova remains compliant with all aspects of TNInvestco.

Nate graduated with honors from University of Michigan.

Board of Directors

William Evans, Pharm.D.  – Board member

Dr. Evans joined St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a student in 1972, chaired the Pharmaceutical Sciences Department from 1986-2002, served as Scientific Director & EVP from 2002-2004, and as President and CEO of SJCRH from 2004-2014. He was the inaugural holder of the Donald Pinkel Chair of Childhood Cancer Treatment at St. Jude and previously held the First Tennessee Bank Chair of Pediatrics and Pharmacy at the University of Tennessee Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy.

Evans received his BSc and Pharm.D. degrees from the University of Tennessee Center for the Health Sciences (1974, 1975). He has received honorary doctoral degrees from Rhodes College, the Ohio State University, the University of Florida, and the Medical University of South Carolina.

For the past 38 years, his research has focused on the pharmacogenomics of anticancer agents in children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, for which he has received three consecutive NIH MERIT Awards from NCI. Dr. Evans has authored over 350 articles and numerous book chapters. He has received several national awards for his research, including the 2009 Pediatric Oncology Award from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (shared with Mary V. Relling of SJCRH), the 2009 Team Science Prize from American Association of Cancer Research (shared with colleagues at St. Jude), the 2012 Remington Medal from the American Pharmaceutical Association and the 2013 Hunter Award from American Society of Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. He is recognized by ISI as a “Highly Cited Scientist” in pharmacology, based on citations of his research publications ranking in the top 1%. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences in 2002.

He served on the Board of Trustees of Rhodes College (2005-2014), as a member of the Memphis Tomorrow (2010-2014), on the Board of Scientific Counselors for the US National Cancer Institute of NIH (2007-2012), and currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Tennessee (2014-present).

During his ten year tenure as SJCRH CEO, St. Jude has been ranked annually in the top 10 best places to work in academia by The Scientist magazine (#1 in 2006), ranked #1 children’s cancer hospital by Parents Magazine and US News and World Report, and listed by Fortune magazine among the top 100 companies to work for in the US (annually since 2011).  St. Jude is the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center devoted solely to children, and received the highest designation of “exceptional” from NCI in 2013.

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Matt McKenna – Board member

Until recently, Matt was senior advisor to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. In this role, he developed public-private partnerships for rural investment to create economic development and growth. Previously, Matt served as chief executive officer of Keep America Beautiful, which focuses on volunteer leadership to build and sustain vibrant communities. He also brings 16 years of experience in senior management positions, including senior vice president of finance at PepsiCo and as a partner withWinthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts, a law firm in New York. He is a graduate of Georgetown Law and is an adjunct professor at Fordham University’s School of Law.

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John Pontius – Board member

A native Memphian, John Pontius received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1977. He initially joined the international accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand where he completed his requirements as a CPA.  After several years as an audit manager, Mr. Pontius pursued a career in financial management, ultimately becoming the Director of Finance and Administration for the City of Memphis.  In 1991 John joined AutoZone as a special assistant to Founder, Chairman and CEO Pitt Hyde.  His responsibilities for investment, family business and philanthropic management led to the formation in 1998, with Mr. Hyde, of Pittco Management, LLC where John is President.

He currently serves on the Board of Directors for GTx, Inc. and serves or has served on numerous community and civic organizations including The University of Tennessee, The J. R. Hyde Family Foundations, Christian Brothers University, ArtsMemphis, Idlewild Presbyterian Church, the Riverfront Development Corporation and the Memphis in May International Festival.  John is married to the former Patricia Bistolfi and they have two sons.

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Spence Wilson Jr.– Board member

Spence is VP of Kemmons Wilson, Inc, a 3rd generation family office in Memphis.  Mr. Wilson started his career at the company in 1995.  He is responsible for private investments.  His focus is to seek out, analyze and recommend investment opportunities, particularly operating businesses. Additionally, he has oversight responsibilities for the company ownership of the Family of Orange Lake Resorts headquartered in Orlando, FL. He works closely with that company’s senior leadership on business, management development and its long-term strategies.

In addition to serving on the Innova Memphis Board of Directors, Mr. Wilson is also a director for the Christ United Methodist Church Foundation, Baptist Memorial Hospital Community Foundation, and St. Mary’s Episcopal School.