Six-month cohort kicks off this month with all-star cast of mentors and mentees

Orlando, Fla. (November 2, 2022) – One of the keys for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses is to have a team of advisors helping guide them along the way. In many cases, it’s simply finding the right mentor.

The UCF Business Incubation Program has been focused on pairing its client companies with key mentors for several years. This month, the program kicks off a new style of mentorship – one that is structured and utilized over just a six-month period.

“The entrepreneurs who are involved in our program crave the advice of people who have been where they are and understand what it takes to grow a business,” says Rob Panepinto, director, Innovation Districts Strategy and Partnerships, University of Central Florida. “We believe adding in this structured approach helps expand the pool of mentors available for our clients and gives the clients that advice they are asking for.”

The first cohort includes some of the most successful businesspeople in Central Florida. The mentors and the companies they are working with are:

  • Ken Hall, vice president of DeepWork Capital; paired with Vijai Padmanabhan, co-founder & CEO of Seed Incubit
  • Werner Barkhuizen, CEO & founder of DRWRNRB Holdings; paired with Diego Sampaio, founder & CEO of Globalfy
  • Kim Lopdrup , former CEO of Red Lobster; paired with Eva Palatinsky, COO/CFO of Globalfy
  • Rizwan (Riz) Hussain, CEO of Noble Wireless Group and managing partner of Noble Capital Group; paired with Vijay Krishnan, founder & CEO of iSportz
  • Chris Baeten, CEO of Knight Federal Solutions; paired with John Riley III, vice president of Orion Innovations
  • Donna Mackenzie, CEO of GroupLM3 and managing partner of Orlando Opportunity Fund; paired with Marc Asselin, founder & president of Orion Innovations
  • Khalil Anjarwalla, area general manager of Sonder, Inc.; paired with Maryann Kilgallon, founder & CEO of Pink Lotus Technologies
  • Heath Hensley, co-founder & CTO of PowerDMS and head of product innovation of NEOGOV; paired with Joyce Johnson, president & CEO of CCI WADR

“UCF’s Incubation Program is very effective at helping start-ups succeed and it allows us to work together to diversify Central Florida’s economy,” Lopdrup says. “Every successful business leader can point to people who helped guide them early in their career.  It is a privilege to work with some of the talented entrepreneurs in UCF’s incubation program to help them realize their dreams.”

For this program, the matching process was formalized. Companies had to create a video to present to possible mentors. Mentors were found through connections within the Incubation program and through existing partnerships with the Entrepreneurs Alliance of Orlando and YPO Orlando.

Then, the Incubation Program held a matching event to ensure there was a level of comfort between all parties before starting the program.

“I simply love being an entrepreneur, but it is among the toughest things to do and be successful because of all the hats you have to wear and the stress of knowing it is all about what you can do in the beginning,” Kilgallon says. “I am truly looking forward to learning from Kahlil and utilizing his expertise as we continue to push forward.”

During the program, the mentors and mentees will be meeting once a month for six months. During that time, there will be at least one group function and a graduation event at the end of the program.

While many mentorship relationships focus on the business, one key area of expertise requested by participating companies was lessons on leadership.

“For many people, developing the key traits of leadership can be among the most difficult concepts to grasp even though it is one of the most essential traits for any entrepreneur to have to grow their business,” Panepinto says. “All of our mentors are key leaders, not just in business, but in the community and in their lives.”

After this first program, the Incubation Program will adjust where needed and continue to host one to two similar programs every year and will be recruiting more mentors for future programs.

If interested, individuals can click here.


For more information, please contact:

UCF Business Incubation Program: Rob Panepinto, 407-467-5689, or Alan Byrd, Alan Byrd & Associates, 407-415-8470,

About the UCF Business Incubation Program: The University of Central Florida Business Incubation Program is a community resource that provides early-stage companies with the tools, training and infrastructure to become financially stable, high growth/impact enterprises. Since 1999, this award-winning program has provided vital business development resources resulting in over 300 local startup companies reaching their potential faster and graduating into the community where they continue to grow and positively impact the local economy.

With eight facilities throughout the region, the UCF Business Incubation Program is an economic development partnership between the University of Central Florida, the Corridor, Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Volusia Counties, and the cities of Kissimmee, Orlando and Winter Springs. For the 2017/2018 fiscal years, the activities of these participating firms have helped to sustain more than 6,725 local jobs and have had a cumulative impact of over $725 million on regional GDP and over $1.3 billion on regional sales. During the same period, the program has returned more than $12.00 in state and local taxes for every $1.00 invested in the program. In addition, for every $1.00 of public investment the firms also produced $118 of additional regional GDP and $226 of regional sales. For more information, visit