Our Summer 2024 NextGen Cohort starts June 3rd.

Meet Our Team

Hardware Park's leadership team is a blend of designers, engineers, educators, and industry experts.

Executive Director Mark Conner brings decades of experience in engineering education and program development, while Director of Innovation Derrick Austin contributes his expertise in network growth and ecosystem enhancement.

The team is bolstered by Lloyd Cooper's industrial design prowess, the engineering and manufacturing excellence of Matt Fitzgerald and Arnar Thors, and Stacey Kelpke's biomedical engineering leadership.

Mark Conner at Hardware Park
Mark Conner, PhD

Mark studied mechanical engineering and earned a bachelor's degree from UAB and master’s and doctoral degrees from Duke University. His first career focused on engineering education and included 26 years as a high school teacher and 12 years teaching undergraduate engineering courses at UAB.

He started The Engineering Academy at Hoover High School, created the four-year engineering curriculum, and grew the program to over 275 students with 4 engineers as full-time faculty members. He also started Catapult Engineering Academy in 2010 to offer online engineering courses to students across the country.

Mark uses his expertise in engineering education, building programs, and connecting with high school and college students to design and grow programs that support physical product innovators and train the next generation of designers, engineers, and manufacturers.

Derrick Austin at Hardware Park
Derrick Austin

Derrick holds Applied Mathematics and Mechanical Engineering degrees from Birmingham-Southern College and Auburn University, respectively. Upon graduation from Auburn University, he was accepted as a 2021 Venture For America Fellow and accepted placement at Hardware Park as Director of Innovation.

Over the course of his tenure at Hardware Park, Derrick has endeavored to further the mission of Hardware Park through company recruitment, community and ecosystem building, organizational planning, and more.

In 2021 he became an inaugural member of The Birmingham Business Journal’s “Inno Under 25” class and in 2022 was bestowed with the publication’s “NextGen” status. He also holds a seat as an advisory board member for the nonprofit organization, Prosper Birmingham.

Lloyd Cooper at Hardware Park
Lloyd Cooper

Lloyd studied mechanical engineering and industrial design at Auburn University.

As co-founder and principal of PUSH Product Design in Birmingham, he currently holds 17 patents.

PUSH has provided full industrial design services for the past 20 years, taking on a range of challenges from advanced jet-skis to new medical technologies. Among PUSH’s diverse clients are Altec, Yamaha, Gibson, John Deere, University of Alabama at Birmingham and Wake Forest School of Medicine.

Stacey Kelpke at Hardware Park
Stacey Kelpke, PhD
Design Lead

Stacey is an experienced biomedical/bioengineering researcher who leads Fitz-Thors’ medical technologies initiative.

Previously she served as Program Manager for medical technologies at Southern Research and oversaw a program that aimed to accelerate the development of early-stage medical device technologies to commercial products through prototyping and market validation.

She earned a master’s and a doctorate degree in biomedical engineering from UAB, as well as a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Auburn University.

Matt Fitzgerald at Hardware Park
Matt Fitzgerald, P.E.
Board Member

Matt holds an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alabama, is licensed to practice as a Registered Professional Engineer, and is the co-founder of Fitz-Thors Industries in Bessemer, AL.

In 2019, he was a member of the Birmingham Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 class. As an Alabama Launchpad “Launch Advisor,” Matt regularly lends his expertise to finalists in the program, helping them with operations, product engineering, and preparation for the competition and beyond.

He has been recognized for his excellence in engineering by The Engineering Council of Birmingham and USA Today.

Arnar Thors at Hardware Park
Arnar Thors
Product Manager

Arnar has a Master’s in mechanical engineering and is the co-founder of Fitz-Thors Industries in Bessemer, AL.

His broad engineering experience in advanced manufacturing, product development, and prototyping is key to providing the knowledge and experience to rapidly move a product from idea to marketable in the most economical way.

Arnar has co-founded other notable ventures including AerBetic, which is developing a wearable, non-invasive alert device for diabetics that uses human breath (not blood) to infer glucose levels. This revolutionary invention won the Alabama LaunchPad startup competition in 2018 and twice received worldwide accolades at CES in Las Vegas, including “Best in Show” in 2019.