The Skinny blog is written by Rick Smith, editor and co-founder of WRAL Tech Wire and business editor of

DURHAM, N.C. – Dr. Charles Hamner, the “biodad” of North Carolina’s growing biotechnology industry, and Epic Games stole the spotlight at WRAL Tech Wire’s first “Full Steam Ahead Awards” Thursday night.

Dr. Hamner, a driving force behind North Carolina’s becoming the third largest biotech cluster in the U.S., received two honors – the only person to do so. (“Biodad” or “biofather” is The Skinny’s nickname for Dr. Hamner. The late James Graham was North Carolina’s “sodfather” in agriculture, so The Skinny came up with a nickname that Dr. Hamner told us he does enjoy.)

First, he received a lifetime achievement award.

Jane Smith Patterson, the longtime director of e-NC, former science advisor to Gov. Jim Hunt and a tireless visionary who helped bring broadband access to North Carolina, also received the achievement award.

Later, Hamner received the “Yardmaster” honor for his visionary leadership in the state as the long-time chief executive officer at the N.C. Biotechnology Center, his continuing role as an advisor to state and industry leaders, and also his efforts to expand The Hamner Institutes in RTP.

Epic Games, meanwhile, received two honors.

Dr. Michael Capps, Epic’s president, and Tim Sweeney, the company’s CEO, chairman and technical director, shared the “Engineer” award, which went to the top CEO as nominated by a panel of independent judges from the Triangle’s entrepreneurial community.

Capps, Sweeney and their team have built Epic into one of the world’s top video game companies with its “Unreal,” “Gears of War” and “Infinity Blade” franchises. Epic also has created a series of videogame engines, called Unreal, which is used across all major game platforms and by companies around the globe. Unreal also is being used for virtual reality training. Their Gears franchise alone has produced more than $1 billion in sales.

Epic’s other award went to Cliff Bleszinski, who shared the “Inventor” award with Dr. Joseph DeSimone, who teaches at both UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State when not discovering inventions and launching new companies. Bleszinski is the creative director at Epic where his task is to invent and create new universes for game play.

An overflow crowd of more than 250 people packed the Fullsteam Brewery for the event, which was a salute the best companies and technology leadership North Carolina has to offer. We played off a train theme, thus the “Full Steam” name, and every award winner received an engineer’s hat. Why railroads?

Well, they were America’s original broadband.

Special Recognition

Because immigrants played such a key role in the building of the transcontinental railroad, we chose to recognize to immigrants to America who became successful entrepreneurs – true examples of living the American Dream.

  • Ping Fu, the chairman and CEO of 3-D software firm Geomagic
  • Vivek Wadhwa, now a professor at Duke and Stanford as well as a widely published columnist 



The other winners:

  • People’s Choice Award

Troy Tolle, co-founder and chief technology officer at educational software firm Infinity Learning Solutions, sped all the way from Atlanta to Durham to receive the People’s Choice award. Tolle edged past Joe Carr, chief executive officer at solar energy firm Semprius.

However, Carr did not go home empty handed. Semprius did receive the Subway award as the emerging tech success story.

The Mogul

  • Jim Goodmon and Capitol Broadcasting

The Conductor

  • Jim Goodnight, SAS

The Engineer (shared)

  • Dr. Michael Capps and Tim Sweeney, Epic Games

The Fireman

  • David Spitz, ChannelAdvisor

The Brakeman

  • Charlie Peters, Red Hat

The Signalman

  • Gail Roper, City of Raleigh

The Rookie/top entrepreneur

  • Jesse Lipson, Sharefile

The Steward/Mentor

  • Joan Siefert Rose and the Council for Entrepreneurial Development team

The Yardmaster

  • Dr. Charles Hamner, The Hamner Institutes

The Inventor (tie)

  • Dr. Joseph DeSimone, UNC and NCSU plus multiple companies
  • Cliff Bleszinski, Epic Games


The Express – Non-stop on way to success:

  • Appia

 The Turnaround – (The railroad turntable, turning engines around to run in opposite direction) – A rebuilt, refocused or restructured company:

  • SciQuest

The Golden Spike – A solid, grind-it-out day-to-day company:

  • Bronto

The Subway – A company emerging from stealth mode or relative obscurity:


Riding The Third Rail – A company achieving success on a deadly “third rail” where other companies have tried and failed:

  • MCNC