Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia

An entrepreneur is someone who bounds into the unknown, creating the future.

When we first honored four forward-thinking entrepreneurs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1986, we had only just begun to recognize the forward thinking that is the hallmark of American business. Now, Entrepreneur Of The Year® reaches across the country to encompass nearly 10,000 distinguished U.S. alumni, celebrated in 25 U.S. regional programs. We also extend to 145 cities and 60 countries worldwide.

We’ve come together to celebrate those dynamic entrepreneurs who are propelling forward toward a brighter future for us all.  They are visionaries who launch and reimagine businesses, employ millions and endow their communities, leaving legacies of accomplishment and enrichment while setting the pace for generations of entrepreneurs to come.

We salute the finalists being honored tonight and congratulate the award winners!

Mike Denove
Partner and Entrepreneur Of The Year® Co-Director

 

 

 

Matt Lizanich
Partner and Entrepreneur Of The Year® Co-Director

 

 

 

Quick Links:

FAMILY BUSINESS (WINNER) Jeff Broadhurst, Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc. | (FINALISTS) David Heckler & Brendan Heckler, Comfort Supply, Inc. | Nancy Bruns, JQ Dickinson Salt-Works | Kristy Knichel, Knichel Logistics
TECHNOLOGY (WINNER) Lalit Chordia, Thar Process, Inc. | (FINALISTS) Robbin Steif, LunaMetrics | Vince Cersosimo, Webbula | Shawn McGorry, Jonathan Rosenson & Kenneth Hill, Expedient | Barbara VanKirk IQ Inc.
COMMUNITY SERVICE (WINNER) Anna Zaydenberg, ComForCare Senior Service/a> | (FINALISTS) Brad Childs & Jonathan Plesset, Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue TeamJeremy Resnick & Tina Chekan, Propel Schools
BUSINESS ADVISORY SERVICES (WINNER) Patrick Cozzens, Modern Transportation | (FINALISTS) Danielle Cuomo, Virtual Assist USA | Stephen Moritz, Encentiv Energy Inc. | Mark Gleason, Gleason & Associates
REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION (WINNER) Joe Calloway, RE 360 LLC | (FINALISTS) Reed Mahany, RECO Equipment, Inc. | Gregg Perelman & Todd Reidbord, Walnut Capital Management, Inc. Jeremy Leventhal, Faros Properties
RETAIL & CONSUMER PRODUCTS (WINNER) Lani Lazzari, Simple Sugars | (FINALISTS) Tommy Wang & Henry Wang, TMD Holdings, LLC | Scott Baker, 5 Generation Bakers
DISTRIBUTION & MANUFACTURING (WINNER) Sean Marszalek, SDC Nutrition | (FINALISTS) Brett Randall, Aliner | J.D. Ewing, Jr., COE Distributing
SERVICES (WINNER) Mike Wagner Target, Freight Management & TFM Truckload, LLC | (FINALISTS) Ron Eggert, Inspira | Mark Marmo, Deep Well Services

 

 

Here are the Entrepreneurs Of The Year® for Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia

Family Business

Winner


Jeff Broadhurst
President and CEO
Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc.

Nominated by: Luke Skurman, Niche.com, Inc.

Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc. remains committed to the family values instilled in the organization’s culture from the beginning.
Serving 50 million guests annually in restaurants, college and corporate campuses, and an online store, EPHG is still 91 percent family owned. However, President and CEO Jeff Broadhurst sees his 9,500-plus employees as family.

The low turnover rate in a difficult industry is evidence of that; over 450 employees have been with the company more than 25 years. Where the average turnover rate for hourly employees is 112 percent, EPHG has maintained a turnover rate of 50 percent.

Broadhurst has put in place training and education programs to help employees grow, such as the entire management team going through 360 training last year. In addition, EPHG donates at least 5 percent of its annual pre-tax earnings to local charities and employees have spent thousands of hours in the community.

Broadhurst’s motto is “if you’re going to fail, fail fast.” Shortly after coming to work for EPHG, he started a new diner-style concept restaurant. When it was clear his idea wasn’t a success, he didn’t let the costly mistake bother him. Broadhurst learned from the experience and over 15 years later, still brings it up in employee meetings.

Broadhurst’s entrepreneurial spirit, such as new restaurant concepts like Hello Bistro and The Porch, weren’t always popular in a conservative, family-owned business. But the idea of resisting change has gone away.

The Parkhurst Dining division, serving universities and businesses, also has the potential for tremendous growth. But Broadhurst doesn’t want to enter into bidding wars that will require innovation to slow down in order to cut costs.

The company’s ultimate goal is to serve 200 million guests per year across all of its concepts, expanding geographically and innovating locally in already established locations.
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Finalists


David Heckler
President
Brendan Heckler
Vice President
Comfort Supply, Inc.

Nominated by: Dione Sommer Cahillane, University of Pittsburgh – IE

The Heckler family has been in the heating industry since the beginning of the 20th century. Today, Comfort Supply, Inc. is owned and operated by President David Heckler and Vice President Brendan Heckler.

The father and son don’t always see eye to eye, but their communication and diverse views have brought balance and have been the success behind the business.

CSIpgh serves both commercial and residential contractors, and the Hecklers consider their company like a small-town hardware store where the owner knows your name and always has just what you need.

CSIpgh provides numerous opportunities for contractor training, including equipping older staff with the knowledge to comfortably sell and repair new industry technology. Technical advisers are on call 24 hours a day, and before cellphones, CSIpgh employees even had their home phone numbers on their business cards.

David leads by example, describing himself as the company cheerleader. He cares deeply for his employees, which is evident in the way he proudly talks about them.

Brendan grew up in the business, sweeping floors and loading trucks as a high school student. After going to school, Brendan came back to CSIpgh about eight years ago. He saw an opportunity to strengthen the company’s marketing, which has helped CSIpgh build a stronger presence in the region.

CSIpgh’s revenue has nearly doubled twice over in the past couple of years. David and Brendan believe their success comes from the products they sell, the people working for them and the customers that they’ve acquired.

However, the company has faced challenges along the way. Not only have the Hecklers made a foreign product, Mitsubishi, well-known and trusted, they convinced all of their dedicated Comfort Systems brand contractors to go through training and start using American Standard — when it’s seldom that contractors will even give a thought to switching brands.
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Nancy Bruns
CEO
JQ Dickinson Salt-Works

Nominated by: Brian Kraus, Huntington National Bank

Nancy Bruns is a seventh-generation salt maker who returned to her family’s 200-year-old farm to harvest a rare salt from deep below the majestic Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. The history of Appalachian salt is deeply personal to her family. Her ancestors, the Dickinsons, first drilled for brine in 1817, using a hollowed-out tree trunk for piping. They established the family’s farm along the Kanawha River. By the 1850s, there were hundreds of wells along the river producing more than 3 million bushels of salt per year by the Dickinsons and others. It made Kanawha Valley the largest salt-producing region of the U.S.

By the mid-20th century, the salt-producing activities began to consolidate into larger conglomerates. The Dickinson family followed and closed the operation. In 2012, while in North Carolina and having recently exited her restaurant business, Bruns and her husband, who has a passion for history, began researching the history and importance of salt as a commodity in the settlement of the U.S. They stumbled across the heritage of the Dickinson salt operations and began the investigation into transforming it into a commercially viable, yet environmentally sustainable, business. The couple researched extraction and natural processing techniques to restore the family’s salt farm.

JQ Dickinson Salt-Works is currently owned by Bruns, who serves as CEO, and her brother, Lewis Payne. It was a risk to restore an operation that had been vacant for more than 70 years and do it using an environmentally friendly processing technique. Bruns’ realized that she had a viable operation when the first batches of salt were sold in 2013. The company completely sold its inventory in the first year.

As the business evolves, Bruns is always looking for individuals who have a passion for the company. She is also continually evaluating the next leaders within her network to ultimately be groomed for the CEO role.
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Kristy Knichel
President
Knichel Logistics

Nominated by: Ashley Caloia, Knichel Logistics

When Kristy Knichel graduated from high school, she had no interest in working either for the family business, Knichel Logistics, or for her dad. She went off to find her own path at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she studied criminology.

After two years, however, she realized it wasn’t for her. She left IUP and enrolled at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh while also working for a pizza shop. During her time at the pizza shop, the owner decided it was time to look at selling the business. He was impressed with Knichel’s work ethic and the ideas she had brought to the business, so he approached her about buying it.

Knichel told her father about the opportunity and asked if he would help her to purchase the pizza shop. He responded with a different opportunity — join him and work in the family business. After much consideration, she decided to take him up on his offer and go to work alongside her father. She received no special treatment and worked in every department of the company to learn the business.

In 2007, when her dad was ready to retire, Knichel suggested that she was ready to take on the role of president in the company. He agreed it was the right position for her, but he wasn’t willing to give up his ownership or his voice within the business. Knichel has always worked extremely hard to prove to her father that she has what it takes to be a leader. By 2009, she had grown Knichel Logistics to a point where she could buy out her father’s shares and take full control.

Knichel has set a high standard for herself as a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry. Her innovation and expansion efforts as president have helped keep the company in growth mode and earned the loyalty of her team.
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Technology

Winner


Lalit Chordia
President and CEO
Thar Process, Inc.

Nominated by: Raul Valdes-Perez, OnlyBoth, Inc.

Lalit Chordia began his entrepreneurial journey as a doctoral student when he co-founded his first company, Suprex, successfully raising over $12 million from venture capitalists. When he discovered his shares of the company were diluted, he left Suprex. Faced with limited personal funds and access to capital along with a growing family, he started Thar.

The Thar group of companies — Thar Instruments, Thar Pharmaceuticals, Thar Process, Thar Energy and the forthcoming Thar Water — employ supercritical fluids to address needs in the instrumentation, pharmaceutical, energy and water industries to solve complex issues such as providing potable water worldwide. The group also designs, manufactures and sells equipment, and offers contract-processing services.

Chordia slowly built Thar by starting small, establishing strong customer relationships and obtaining non-dilutive funding. A one-person equipment company expanded into four companies in distinct market areas, two of which have been acquired.

Instead of keeping everything in one company, diluting effort and mixing messages, Thar was strategically built and staffed to gain market recognition via separate corporate entities that ensure proper positioning of technology and market direction.

To monetize its technologies, Thar moved away from just selling hardware to a technology and service provider of concept-through-commercialization solutions. For example, Thar Process established one of the premier contract processing operations for customers that do not have production capacity and do not want to invest in it. The new offering not only allowed Thar to gain customers, but also generate a recurring revenue stream in addition to its equipment business.

Thar’s competitive advantages include its vast experience in the field of technology, dedication to advancing the core technology into new markets, deep understanding of both process and equipment technologies, achieving maximum output efficiencies and a focus on customer needs. Thar continues to expand by providing outstanding quality, service, new products and value to customers.
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Finalists


Robbin Steif
CEO
LunaMetrics

Nominated by: Ilana Diamond, Alphalab Gear

When Robbin Steif left her position as CFO at Maya Design, she did not have a new job lined up. Through 2003 and 2004, she networked with other entrepreneurs and professionals and was impressed with how many people went out of their way to help her. She wanted to repay the kindness and give back the goodwill she was receiving. One person who stepped up to help happened to be in charge of a website, so Steif asked him to let her perform web analytics — it was the start of Steif Enterprises.

The company was launched from her home in 2004 as a single member LLC. She continued to network and even offered her first project at no charge to build experience. Today, she remains the sole owner and CEO of the company now known as LunaMetrics, a name that combined her core business passions and philosophies: enlightenment and metrics.

Steif has built LunaMetrics to stay true to its focus of specializing in data and analytics, and has turned away opportunities that do not match her vision. The company faces four primary competitors and each business offers something different than the others. Steif has been able to focus on what she does best by paying close attention to quality, service and personalized attention.

She surrounds herself with talent and her team exemplifies her belief that it is important to encourage diversity in thought and personality type. Steif’s director of digital marketing is a scientist, her director of analytics and insight is a giver and her technical marketing manager is a popular helper. The strong, diverse culture that has been developed reinforces a feeling of camaraderie and a commitment to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. As evidence of her culture-building prowess, a number of employees who had left the firm came back, while others have been with her since the beginning.
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Vince Cersosimo
Founder
Webbula

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

Vincent Cersosimo and his business partner started Webbula as an email marketing company. They recognized the importance of email marketing and that most email marketing campaigns were sending advertisements to outdated or ineffective email addresses. Today, the company focuses on analyzing the quality of data that companies use for marketing purposes, as well as selling verified, reliable data to companies for advertisements.

Cersosimo leads Webbula by example. He has performed all the tasks that employees are now doing and understands what it takes to succeed at all levels.

The interview process at Webbula is inclusive, with multiple people interviewing prospective employees. Each interview ends with a dinner outside of the office so that Cersosimo and his team can get to know the interviewee as a person.

But, the other side of that, firing an employee, is what Cersosimo considers the most difficult part of running the business. In the early days of Webbula, Cersosimo had to let several employees go in order to continue to operate, including parting ways with his founding business partner, which thrust Cersosimo into the role of CEO. Webbula either had to borrow more money, which was unrealistic, or change the outlook of its employment force.

The company operates on the strategy of hiring slowly and firing quickly. Webbula offers new employees one full month of training followed by two months of on-going training. While Cersosimo believes in giving employees the tools to succeed, he lets them know upfront that he or she has three months to perform.

Cersosimo’s father helped him understand that in the early days of Webbula it was necessary to let some employees go in order to operate more effectively and efficiently. Without this advice, Webbula may not be as successful as it is today.
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Shawn McGorry
President and COO
Jonathan Rosenson
SVP, Strategic Initiatives
Kenneth Hill
Chief Technology Officer
Expedient

Nominated by: David Saliba, Expedient

Prior to beginning college, Jonathan Rosenson, SVP of strategic initiatives, created a website for a local folk rock band and met Shawn McGorry, president and COO, an established member of the cable television industry. McGorry decided to take a chance with the youthful Rosenson and left his safe position for the uncertainty of a startup, then called Stargate Industries Inc. Over 15 years later, that company today is thriving and known as Expedient.

When Kenneth Hill, CTO, joined the company shortly after its inception, the three realized they could all benefit from each other’s strengths. Hill’s conservative, big-picture outlook balances the more aggressive decision-making styles of Rosenson and McGorry.

Their strong, yet unique personalities and leadership styles enabled them to transform an idea into a successful service provider with over 1,600 clients in seven U.S. cities, spanning several industry sectors. The cloud and data center infrastructure service provider, which has more than 350 employees, allows its clients to focus on their core competencies and strategic innovation.

Expedient utilizes a full-time internal talent acquisition team to recruit both youthful college graduates and experienced professionals. Expedient’s breadth of services and product offerings makes it attractive because new hires can rotate into various positions prior to specializing in a defined role. The team also established the Executive Product Steering Committee, which focuses the talent pool on the next obvious layer of customer demands.

The company is not focused on being solely reactionary and often predicts the needs of its clients before they even arise. Most notably, Expedient’s research and development team is putting the finishing touches on a service known as the Push Button Disaster Recovery System (DRaaS) that would seamlessly backup client data in a matter of minutes.
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Barbara VanKirk
President and Founder
IQ Inc.

Nominated by: Paula Grendys, IQ Inc.

Barbara VanKirk’s entrepreneurial spirit has been with her since she was a young girl. At the age of 8, after watching her dad quit his steady job and start his own successful business, she knew then that she wanted to make an impact in the world.

When she launched IQ Inc., a software development, verification and validation, and consulting services firm, in 1994, she quit a secure and salaried position to launch a company where employees could have work-life balance and flourish. It would also be a business where her personal and company principles would align.

She started IQ in her spare bedroom with a single, personal investment of $5,000. Over the next 23 years, IQ has grown to employ people across the U.S. VanKirk attributes her success to bringing the right solutions to her clients at the right time while providing opportunities for her employees to succeed in their careers and personal journeys.

Hiring the right people involves the entire IQ team coming together to get to know both the technical abilities of the candidate and their personality traits. The biggest factor in hiring is to determine whether the people will fit with the culture of the company. Once the right people have been found, employee benefits become key to retention. VanKirk’s father always said, “Take care of your employees first. Make sure they get paid, even if you have to go hungry.”

That was a key reason why when other companies were reducing benefits for employees during tough times, IQ preserved or even enhanced benefits.

As president and founder, VanKirk never lost sight of the work-life balance that she was passionate about early in her career. The result is a team that is loyal and committed to building lifelong careers at IQ.
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Community Service

Winner


Anna Zaydenberg
President
ComForCare Senior Services

Nominated by: Gene Leyzarovich, ACNC

In 2007, President Anna Zaydenberg purchased a franchise of ComForCare Senior Services, with her 401(k) savings, loans from the local community and money from a state program. The company provides nonmedical services via caregivers to seniors, such as housekeeping, meal planning and preparation, hygiene services, companionship and other daily tasks.

While the first year or two were difficult financially, thereafter the business became self-sufficient. Her husband and daughter both joined the team and Zaydenberg drew on the experiences she had when her own family members needed care in order to manage and grow the business.

One of her first changes was moving the business from Fox Chapel to Squirrel Hill. That way, clients, families and employees had easy access via bus and the office was approximately 20 minutes from almost everywhere in the metro area.

Zaydenberg made a point to accept immigrant elder clients and obtain quality caregivers with the same cultural knowledge and language. She takes time to pair caregivers and clients based upon personality matches.

In the caregiving business, there is a naturally high turnover. However, ComForCare performs extensive background checks because a quality hire is the first defense against employee turnover.

Today, ComForCare offers services with caregivers who speak 13 different languages, more than any other caregiver company in Allegheny County. If a new client speaks a language for which Zaydenberg doesn’t have a fluent caregiver, she’ll hire someone who does.

Another way ComForCare differentiates itself from its competitors (and other ComForCare franchises) is programs like ComForMusic, ComForFitness and ComForEducation. The programs are free and open to all, regardless of diagnosis or socioeconomic background.

Zaydenberg defines ComForCare’s success by the volume of customers served and the number of complaints received. In addition to having a hotline to report complaints, Zaydenberg’s team performs monthly quality calls with each client.
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Finalists


Brad Childs
Jonathan Plesset
Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors
Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team

Nominated by: C.J. Pascarella, PNC Bank

In the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee using a Keurig, at least one animal is euthanized. Brad Childs and Jonathan Plesset set out to break these troubling statistics by co-founding Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team. The nonprofit organization, which they lead as pilots and co-executive directors, is dedicated to providing animals a second chance by transporting them from danger to safety through air and ground rescue missions.

Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team is networked with shelters, pet adoption services and smaller rescue groups that inform the organization of dire situations involving animals that have run out of time. Within hours, a rescue mission is coordinated utilizing volunteers to transport animals by air or land from a location of peril to a trusted and safe receiving location, and then ultimately to a permanent new home.

Childs and Plesset are long-time friends and adventure seekers who set out to become certified in aviation. However, flying without a purpose didn’t sit well with these results-driven businessmen.

In 2006, they reached out to the community for answers and received a call that would change their lives. They were asked to transport a 90-pound deaf bulldog named Monte to an adopting family in Philadelphia. Without hesitation, the two partners flew into action. Along with their flight instructor, they took to the air with Monte. While in flight, with excitement building, Monte escaped from the back of the small plane and onto Childs’ lap. It took the plane into a complete nosedive. Despite almost losing his life, Childs was captivated by the pairing of the dog with its new family and set out to create a new genre of an animal welfare organization. To date, the organization has rescued more than 5,000 animals that were in life-threatening situations.
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Jeremy Resnick
Executive Director and Founder
Tina Chekan
CEO and Superintendent
Propel Schools

Nominated by: Raul Valdes-Perez, OnlyBoth Inc.

Jeremy Resnick, a math teacher who began his career in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, recognized a flaw in the school system that limited many underprivileged students’ choice of school. When a new state law passed that permitted charter schools, Resnick saw an opportunity and founded Propel Schools, a not-for-profit federation of charter schools, and brought on Tina Chekan, who also was passionate about educating underprivileged students.

Propel was the first of its kind, so not many people were aware of its concept. That meant educating the community on the concept of a charter school.

Then a physical school had to be built, and built efficiently since its funding from the state was less than its peers.

As Propel attempted to obtain real estate and charters, it was thrust into long legal battles with school boards and municipalities that were concerned Propel’s poaching of students from existing schools would lead to shutdowns.

Then came the challenge of attracting and retaining talent in what were considered less-desirable urban communities. Resnick and Chekan incentivized staffers with 30-day professional development; a teacher immersion program; a teacher career path program; and the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps, a three-year immersion program, developed in partnership with Chatham University, through which candidates obtain a master’s degree in teaching and apply the newly learned concepts in their classrooms. This helped guarantee retention as candidates had to sign a contract to work with Propel schools for at least three years after the program ended.

Having started with only 170 students in a basement of a hospital building, together, Executive Director Resnick and Chekan, whose hands-on approach to meeting all challenges saw her rise through the ranks to become CEO and superintendent, built Propel Schools into a network of 11 schools, serving 3,700 students, broadening education options for parents and students.
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Business Advisory Services

Winner


Patrick Cozzens
President
Modern Transportation

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

With trucks carrying upwards of 80,000 pounds of petrochemicals and other materials at all hours of each day, the safety risk of the work done at Modern Transportation is great. Patrick Cozzens, the company’s president, says an 80,000-pound vehicle traveling at 55 miles per hour is equivalent to a Ford F-150 traveling at 315 miles per hour. One can only imagine the damage that could result from such an impact. It’s why radar dishes have been installed in the grill of each truck in order to tell the driver when he or she is following too closely to another vehicle, among other safety measures taken by Modern.

While safety risks are inherent to the business, the most difficult challenge faced by the company came in the wake of the downturn of the oil and gas industry. With the struggles of the Marcellus and Utica shale came difficult times. Drilling rigs served by Modern fell from more than 100 to eight during the downturn. There were layoffs, equipment was sold at drastically lower values than prior years and fuel surcharge revenue fell with the steep decline in diesel prices. Despite these challenges, the company remained profitable.

Modern has a mission that is recited at the start of every meeting, and then repeated and explained by Cozzens for everyone’s understanding. The mission is discussed each week as activities are categorized in comparison to it — whether the mission was lived up to, exceeded or not met. If the mission was not met, an analysis is performed to understand why.

Cozzens leads Modern with an entrepreneurial approach rather than a bureaucratic mindset. One of his inspirations is the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. Cozzens respects Jobs and his fundamental approach to leadership, never accepting mediocrity and being aggressive in challenging the status quo.
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Finalists


Danielle Cuomo
President
Virtual Assist USA

Nominated by: David Ferguson, Merrill Corporation

At 23 years old, Danielle Cuomo found herself unemployed. When her bankcard was declined at a gas station, she became determined to build something for herself. From discussions with her aunt, who at the time had a virtual assistant, Cuomo saw an expanding business and a variety of ways she could make the experience of having a virtual assistant better. She started Virtual Assist USA in October 2008, and by December the company was profitable and had employees.

Virtual Assist USA offers small business owners, entrepreneurs and other organizations access to assistants who help with a variety of business tasks, including, but not limited to, web design, marketing, social networking and administrative tasks.

As its president, Cuomo has faced a number of challenges since she started the business. Most recently, a competitor went out of business overnight, which immediately brought a large influx of small business owners to Virtual Assist USA. The problem was the competitor’s contracts with these customers, who were seeking replacement assistants, were at lower rates than what Virtual Assist USA charges. Cuomo had to decide between honoring the previous rates or tell the customers that they now needed to pay her higher rate. She ultimately honored the lower rates for a trial period in order to help the small businesses that just lost their assistants.

At Virtual Assist USA, employees are the company’s greatest asset. Cuomo greatly values feedback from her clients, but even more importantly, values her employees’ morale. She offers her employees an extremely flexible work arrangement that includes no set work schedule and unlimited vacation. In 2013, she gave up her office space in Pittsburgh to allow all employees to work from home. The company hires slowly as it tries to bring on employees with the right skill sets and fit for the company’s culture.
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Stephen Moritz
President and CEO
Encentiv Energy Inc.

Nominated by: The entire staff of Encentiv Energy Inc.

In 2009, approximately 5 percent of companies took advantage of energy incentive rebates, even though 100 percent were being taxed for them. While working as an energy analyst for an energy-consulting agency, Stephen Moritz identified this problem and seized the opportunity.

The president and CEO used his nearly 20 years in the energy industry to launch a new, more transparent and efficient method for businesses to capitalize on energy rebate incentives — Encentiv Energy Inc.

Moritz’s product is not simply a database of available energy incentive rebates. Rather, it’s a tool to connect the end user with instant, quantifiable cost savings, as well as rebate and financing options for any size project through the Encentivizer software. As the market was untested, his team’s agility has been instrumental to the company’s success.

Also, to inspire his employees to feel engaged and connected, Moritz offers stock-based compensation.

As a startup, the company has seen its share of trials, but Moritz has never laid off an employee to cut costs — a feat that he is extremely proud of.

One of those trials came in 2013 when Encentiv’s co-founder left unexpectedly with valuable proprietary information. This sparked more than a year of legal battles and corporate turbulence, which could have been the demise of the company. Even in such trying times, Moritz fought and maintained every one of Encentiv’s clients, investors and employees.

More recently, Moritz led a complete restructuring of the Encentiv business model. The company transitioned from an industry-normative consulting business to a subscription-based, multifaceted service provider.

As rapid changes in technology occur and unforeseen challenges within the industry arise, Moritz never discounts his competitors. Though the path of an entrepreneur is not always smooth, Moritz has the experience and instinct to set the right goals for his company and the unshakable passion to achieve them.
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Mark Gleason
President and Managing Director
Gleason & Associates

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

Integrity, excellence, growth, teamwork and work-life balance are the core values at Gleason & Associates, established by Mark Gleason, president and managing director.

The company started as a one-man accounting and consulting firm, where Mark rented out a one-room office.

Mark believes that risk taking with confidence is one of his biggest strengths. With the pressure of providing for his wife and four kids, he knew failure wasn’t an option. Some of his first services were advising various constituents involved in restructuring events, which had been his specialty for the past eight years.

After nine months of working on his own, Mark hired his first assistant and gradually grew Gleason into a reputable firm with a national reach.

Mark set the foundation for the individual success of his employees by creating four service lines: experts, trust, intellectual property and advisers. He then hired vice presidents to run each line. This structure provided his employees the opportunity to be entrepreneurs through growth of the business and addition of new practice areas.

From the beginning, Mark had a knack for finding new business and opportunities where his competitors have not. For example, in 1999, Mark was appointed as a trustee on the HK Porter asbestos bankruptcy. Asbestos litigation quickly became a billion-dollar market, and since then, Mark has been appointed trustee to four additional trusts.

Mark believes some key factors in the firm’s success have been treating people right, providing opportunities and trusting his team. Mark realizes that the people make up Gleason and it is important for him to create a culture and a vision for the future in which they want to stay and grow.

Mark is also highly involved in the community and spends much of his time and effort outside of work focused on philanthropy.
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Real Estate and Construction

Winner


Joe Calloway
Owner
RE 360 LLC

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

Headquartered in Allentown, RE 360 LLC, led by Owner Joe Calloway, is a property management and construction firm that provides affordable housing in the region’s underserved communities. By purchasing and renovating properties for rent or repurchase, the company has helped significantly increase the value of the community.

Raised in a low-income, single parent household and recently out of the Navy with no job, Calloway felt there were few opportunities for him. He took the plunge into real estate after finding inspiration reading about real estate moguls in business magazines. He had no experience and little savings but envisioned the potential of the real estate market in his own backyard.

Commercial banks, however, saw risk in funding investments in distressed properties in poor neighborhoods, so Calloway acquired individual investors. The initial investments from 2003 to 2005 failed to generate income, and business disputes with his then-partner forced Calloway into a buyout.

He redirected his company the subsequent years and developed the Allentown area into a growing market that has welcomed competition from bigger real estate companies. RE 360 has the largest inventory of modern housing in South Pittsburgh.

Calloway is now in a position to give others their start. He emphasizes an applicant’s potential, work ethic and passion for entrepreneurship more than a degree or work experience when hiring, which helped one staffer with little industry experience climb the ranks at RE 360 from an administrative role to office manager. He’s kept attrition rates low with healthy compensation and catered incentive pay to each employee based on individual motivations.

RE 360 has itself climbed the ranks to become one South Pittsburgh’s top real estate companies. Calloway and his team are paving their success story one property at a time.
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Finalists


Reed Mahany
President
RECO Equipment, Inc.

Nominated by: C.J. Pascarella, PNC Bank

When RECO Equipment, Inc. expanded its Ohio-based business to Pittsburgh, the parts, services and equipment company needed an assistant for the main warehouse to handle basic tasks such as sweeping the floor of the parts warehouse. But Reed Mahany, the new hire, approached the position with an enthusiasm that would carry him much further.

Early on, Mahany was asked to deliver an order to a customer. When he returned, he brought with him a new order that was even larger than the one he delivered, despite having no sales experience. That earned him a promotion to the sales division.

In his new role, Mahany found novel ways of generating sales. For example, he would stop at local repair shops on his way to appointments and inquire about their largest customers, which were scrap yards. He discovered that when scrap yard machines broke down the only option was to replace the defective parts with new ones. So, Mahany harvested old machines for workable parts, offering refurbished parts and equipment for a low price — a new revenue stream for RECO.

Then, Mahany approached the RECO’s owner about purchasing the company. He found partners and was mentored through the process by the outgoing owner, and eventually bought all the company’s shares. He’s now the company’s president.

Seeing that many of his employees were approaching the age of retirement, he brought in young people from trade schools through an apprenticeship program. The students were able to help employees learn new technologies, and employees provided the students with hands-on experience and technical knowledge. Several of the apprentices are now being considered for full-time employment.

By building a company based on relationships, trust and kindness, Mahany is creating a culture centered on the values that helped him succeed when he delivered his first parts order.
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Gregg Perelman
CEO
Todd Reidbord
President
Walnut Capital Management, Inc.

Nominated by: Luke Skurman, Niche.com, Inc.

CEO Gregg Perelman and President Todd Reidbord, who have been friends since college, formed Walnut Capital Management, Inc., a full-service real estate development, brokerage and property management firm, in 1997.

After Perelman sold his previous business, a large distributor of specialty medicine, he needed an outlet for his energy and creativity. Reidbord had been investing in small apartment buildings, often taking in investors, such as Perelman. They decided to put their talents together and rented an office on Walnut Street, which became the start of Walnut Capital. With the help of Perelman’s marketing background, the firm became one of the best-known apartment owners and managers in Pittsburgh.

Walnut Capital has made taking on difficult projects central to its business. Walnut Street, as well as many others, were built on old gas station sites, which pose development issues. But its willingness to take risks and expand the market helped the firm become a market leader in both office and residential development.

From the beginning, the partners saw opportunities in the new, emerging Pittsburgh economy. Walnut Capital created a new class of rental properties when it undertook the renovation of historic, dilapidated townhomes in the Squirrel Hill and Shadyside neighborhoods. They anticipated a new market of residents, mostly young families and professionals, who wanted to be close to the universities and medical centers. Walnut Capital acquired over 100 townhomes and spent more than $5 million on renovations that created modern living in historic buildings, which meant higher rents and above-market returns.

As the market in Pittsburgh improved over the past decade, Walnut Capital undertook the first significant new construction of apartments in almost 50 years with Bakery Living. Walnut Capital also invested heavily in its people and systems. The firm continues to be a market leader with concierge services and full, online capabilities.
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Jeremy Leventhal
Managing Partner
Faros Properties

Nominated by: Rich Lunak, Innovation Works

With a long family history in real estate, Jeremy Leventhal began gaining experience in the field while in high school. He later worked at large brokers and financial services firms, but his entrepreneurial spirit yearned for something more.

Leventhal and his partners purchased a note for a distressed property in New York City, and in 2009, Faros Properties was founded. The three managing partners have a mission to acquire distressed and underutilized property. Today, the business has grown to more than 120 professionals working in four states.

Originally focused on the New York and Boston markets, Faros entered Pittsburgh in 2011.

The company purchased two apartment complexes on the South Side. Then, despite advisers telling the partners to walk away, Leventhal signed personal guarantees to purchase the Allegheny Center Mall and adjacent properties, including an apartment complex.

With this 2015 purchase, approximately 25 percent of the downtown Pittsburgh apartment market is owned and operated by Faros.

Faros has always renovated and revitalized distressed properties. With the mall, now Nova Place, Leventhal and his partners took that vision one step further, focusing on the surrounding community at the onset. For example, Nova Place has spaces that can be utilized for multiple purposes. The risk was deemed too high for others, so Faros formed its own co-working/collaborative workspace company, Alloy 26.

Leventhal and his partners always take this approach: partner with a strong candidate with a shared vision, and if no viable partner exists, push forward and make it happen on your own.

Alloy 26 is fully occupied and the remaining office spaces are almost fully occupied. Plans are underway to also open a beer garden and restaurant in Nova Place — a partnership with Smallman Galley that will be sure to flourish as the two companies share a vision of incubating startups and emphasizing a sense of community.
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Retail & Consumer Products

Winner


Lani Lazzari
President and CEO
Simple Sugars

Nominated by: Danielle Catteau, Smart Business Magazine

After years of visits to the dermatologist, where she was prescribed the same “white cream” over and over again, Lani Lazzari decided it was time to take matters into her own hands. She was just 11 years old, but online research and experiments in her kitchen had taught her that the answer to her problems was as simple as sugar. She tested her product on friends and family with similar skin issues and after finding success, Lazzari decided to hit the road.

At 17, she organized and executed a six-week cross country promotional tour to gain national distribution of her products. At 18, she was sought out by the producers of the TV show, “Shark Tank,” where she pitched her business to a panel of celebrity billionaires. With a $100,000 investment from Mark Cuban, Lazzari’s life changed literally overnight. She increased her employee count immediately and had to quickly locate new office space as she began building Lanibaloo Creations LLC, more commonly known as Simple Sugars. She developed a plan and with her new team in place, she started to scale up her business.

All of her products are made by hand. From mixing to packaging, every step is done by one of her employees. The strong personal touch shines through every layer of the business and Lazzari is not willing to sacrifice that as she continues to grow.

Her leadership and maturity as president and CEO is showcased when she talks about her relationship with her mom, a former corporate executive who dealt with many challenges in the corporate world. Her daughter didn’t want that life. Rather, Lazzari wanted to provide a positive, open environment where women could feel empowered and successful. After starting the business using her mom’s credit cards, her mom now serves as vice president and one of Lazzari’s strongest advocates.
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Finalists


Tommy Wang
Henry Wang
Owners
TMD Holdings, LLC

Nominated by: Danielle Catteau, Smart Business Magazine

TMD Holdings, LLC is a family business run by brothers, Owners Tommy and Henry Wang. The company manufactures products that include drinking glasses, hats, notepads and clocks, and offers in-house design services and global supply chain expertise, which allows it to manage the manufacturing process from design to delivery.

Being a family business offers a competitive advantage, allowing the company to act quickly on potential opportunities by placing decision-making responsibilities with the brothers, bypassing a traditional chain of command that could otherwise delay the process.

The manufacturer is a one-stop shop that can see the entire process through from design to delivery. Whether the company finds a way to manufacture the product at a lower cost than its competitors, or find cost savings through logistics, TMD is constantly looking for and identifying ways to maximize efficiency.

Tommy and Henry also know that their reputation is the best asset that they have, and they have to maintain that reputation even if it means taking a loss on a project. For example, a factory was having difficulty achieving production outputs that aligned with a customer holiday deadline. Rather than disappoint the customer and break the terms of the deal, the Wang brothers spent 10 times their potential profit on the purchase order to ship by air three full 40-foot containers to the customer in time for the holiday season. While TMD took a loss on the purchase order, it led to the customer recognizing that it could trust the company to overcome challenges and deliver regardless of circumstances. Today, that customer is one of TMD’s largest.

TMD places relationships above all else, and provides supply chain and procurement consulting to its customers free of charge, seeing it as a way to prove the company has only its customers’ best interest at heart.
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Scott Baker
President
5 Generation Bakers

Nominated by: Dustin Klein, Smart Business Magazine

5 Generation Bakers President Scott Baker stands out as an entrepreneur with his efforts to give back to the community of McKees Rocks, a depressed area of Pittsburgh. In 2016 when Baker was searching for a new location, it would have been easy to move to an up-and-coming area with more foot traffic or a suburb with more room. Instead, he had his family roots and community in mind and kept the bakery in McKees Rocks.

The baking traditions of the Baker family date back to the mid-1800s, and Baker founded 5GB in 2009 with a desire to continue the family tradition. He also continued to produce Jenny Lee Bakery products, one family business that closed in 2008 due to the economic downturn and a facility fire.

Baker, however, found ways to differentiate 5GB, making food safety a priority and reworking the family recipes to use natural and non-GMO ingredients. The bread is delivered frozen, decreasing distribution costs as it has a one-year shelf life, and is thawed once it’s ready to be sold.

Not only does Baker serve on McKees Rocks’ community boards, he donates thousands of loaves, created a scholarship fund and started a fresh foods market that accepts all government assistance programs. Although this market continues to underperform, Baker plans to keep it open to serve the community.

Baker works alongside his employees daily, but he uses a hands-off management style and embraces an open discussion environment. He also requires employees to participate in a minimum one-hour training session each month to further their personal and professional development.

At 50 percent capacity, 5GB’s new facility has room to grow and is up for the challenge. With several large deals in the pipeline and the recent addition of an e-commerce site, Baker expects to double 5GB’s 45 employees in the next six months.
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Distribution & Manufacturing

Winner


Sean Marszalek
CEO
SDC Nutrition

Nominated by: Patrick Colletti, Net Health

Though a golf scholarship allowed Sean Marszalek to get a full ride to college, his arrest and conviction pulled him out of school into a five-year stint in federal prison. While difficult, it provided the wake-up call he needed.

Marszalek dedicated time to researching kinesiology, fitness and nutritional science. His tarnished record made it difficult to find employment, so he began his own fitness practice.

His breakthrough came when he identified deficiencies in supplements and recognized the lack of protein products marketed to women. Working with a client who had a culinary degree, they produced protein bars from scratch. That led to the start of SDC Nutrition.

As the company grew, it began producing products for other companies though outsource agreements. Unhappy with their quality standards, Marszalek, who is CEO, brought the manufacturing process in-house and took on other companies’ contract work. SDC began offering custom formulation, which along with its quick quote and sample turnaround times, served as a cornerstone of its B2B revenue stream.

Building out the new manufacturing facility after SDC’s first profitable year was a risk, requiring huge investments equipment and sales staff. But it was a choice between improving safely or taking a risk to expand the business significantly.

While a successful acquisition and manufacturing plant upgrade led to profitability, the acquisition was not without issues. The leadership transition was rocky and it was difficult meeting the newfound demand acquired through the purchase. Marszalek had to work 15-hour days throughout the week and help out on the production line to fill orders.

Marszalek has since assembled an independent board and ceded a lot of his control in the interest of bringing the company to the next level by acquiring talent and gaining insights. Through work ethic and leadership, Marszalek has positioned his company for continued success.
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Finalists


Brett Randall
President
Aliner

Nominated by: Robert Stein, University of Pittsburgh – IEE

As the president of Aliner, Brett Randall has transformed a financially distressed company into a positive cash-flow business over the course of just three years. Prior to Randall’s 2014 hiring, the manufacturer of camping and travel trailers was on the verge of failing and its relationship with vendors and customers was falling apart.

Randall noticed that many of Aliner’s failures were due to the lack of basic business disciplines, which he equates to “blocking and tackling” in football.

Randall — who kept all original employees and brought in some experienced individuals of his own — has instilled the fundamentals and disciplines necessary for a business to succeed. He implemented regular team meetings to improve communication and consistency throughout all functions; daily monitoring of cash and finances; improved product quality by hiring an interior design team; and added quality control tests and new product lines.

Aliner has significantly improved the maintenance of its financial books and records and its manufacturing line, which allowed Randall to reconnect with vendors and regain their trust.

Aliner’s trailers are purchased on a “want” basis, so it’s critical to keep cash flow positive so the company is ready for fluctuations in the economy. Under Randall’s leadership, not only has the company’s total debt decreased, he’s made it a point to never start work on a new project or idea until the current one is completed.

The company’s employees produce all ideas and innovations. One way Aliner encourages that innovation is employees can use the trailers for personal trips under one condition: they must provide feedback and new ideas for improvements.

Randall also has faced the challenge of hiring reliable plant laborers when the number of qualified candidates is limited. Despite this, Randall has added nearly 30 employees, increasing the total workforce by nearly 75 percent.
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J.D. Ewing, Jr.
President and CEO
COE Distributing

Nominated by: David Levine, NuGo Nutrition

COE Distributing evolved from a business started more than 70 years ago in the basement of a bar near Uniontown, Pennsylvania. At that time, J.D. Ewing, Jr.’s grandmother, Clara L. Ewing, a single mother of two sons, opened a company that would eventually become City Office Equipment, a four-location retail office supply business. By 1986, J. David Ewing, Sr. was in charge of the retail locations and had also opened COE Distributing, a wholesale furniture business.

Three years later, he grew tired of the wholesale business and offered it to his son. Ewing, who was only 19 years old at the time. He had spent countless hours in high school supporting his family’s business by making cold calls, deliveries and learning the details of the industry. He had become very close to his grandmother and didn’t want the hard work of his family to be wasted. So Ewing left college and took over COE Distributing.

Ewing’s leadership evolution started well before the age of 19 as he worked summers at COE Distributing and fell in love with the wholesale concept. Hungry for opportunity, he hit the ground running when he took over the company. He managed multiple duties and followed his philosophy that success is achieved through hard work, sacrifice and dedication. Within the first two years, Ewing frequently stopped to make sales pitches while driving to suppliers to pick up inventory and slept in his truck when overnight travel was required.

In 2006, Ewing, the company’s president and CEO, sold the business, believing it was the right decision for his family and his employees. Unfortunately, three years later, the company filed for bankruptcy. Ewing would not let this be the final chapter. He found a way to buy back the company and restore the successful business that his family had worked so hard to create.
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Services

Winner


Mike Wagner
President
Target Freight Management | TFM Truckload, LLC

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

Mike Wagner’s long-time goal was to own a logistics company. Working in the transportation industry from an early age, Wagner quickly became the top performer of any position he assumed. In 2009, a close friend offered him the chance to invest in his dream — the startup Target Freight Management.

Wagner dove in and built the third-party logistics company from the ground up. He pursued and won new customers, none of which he poached from his previous job, and to this day, as company president, still personally goes on sales calls, alone and with his sales team.

Though TFM is not a family-owned business, the culture has a family atmosphere. Wagner is very close to his team and values the trust that he has with his employees as well as the work they have put in to help the company realize success.
Still, finding good employees has always been a struggle, which has required that he take different approaches to finding good talent.

In one such case, while searching for someone to write code for his software, he struggled to find a person who had the skill set and the drive to create the program. Many prospects, typically right out of school, demanded high salaries, and an external contractor he hired fell significantly short of expectations.

He then stumbled across an individual who had no formal programming degree but pledged that he could write the code in less than half the time of anyone else. Wagner, following a gut feeling, gave him a chance. Within a couple of months the program was written and surpassed all expectations. As a result, Wagner rewarded him with 10 percent equity in the FIDA software spinoff company he developed.

While Wagner is proud of reaching his goal, he remains committed to continual improvement.
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Finalists


Ron Eggert
CEO
Inspira

Nominated by: Cherie Steffen, ABG Capital

Ron Eggert was hired by the owners of ABG Capital in March 2006 to serve as CFO and consolidate the financial statements for the ABG Capital subsidiaries. During his time as CFO, Eggert identified the key benefits business model and subsequently discovered ways to build on it. He worked hard to grow these subsidiaries and in every position he has held, he has built strong relationships with employees and earned respect for his leadership.

Eggert utilized his professional expertise and business experience to launch Inspira, a firm dedicated to providing retirement professionals with individual retirement accounts solutions that meet their unique needs. Founded in 2009, Inspira operates more than 100,000 individual IRAs on its systems.

Inspira is a reflection of Eggert’s leadership and passion for business. With no prior experience in ABG Capital’s industries, Eggert was able to keep biases at a distance and challenge practices simply by asking why not. In order to strengthen client loyalty, he puts himself in his clients’ shoes and works hard with his team to develop solutions that are designed to increase revenue and reduce expenses for his clients.

Innovation is always at the forefront of Eggert’s thinking as he continues to learn about and utilize the most recent technology available to better service his clients. As CEO, he believes taking advantage of these tools can help his firm gain more efficiencies and help the business continue to grow. For example, Eggert leverages technology to obtain further data that can be used to guide strategic decisions and to understand the financial direction of the firm on a daily basis with real-time information.

Eggert hopes continued growth will not only impact Inspira’s bottom line, but the employees and overall community as well. He has taken steps to ensure that employees have fair compensation for the work they deliver for the company.
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Mark Marmo
CEO
Deep Well Services

Nominated by: Carol Naugle, Deep Well Services

Over the past two years, the price of natural gas has remained depressed. This has left CEO Mark Marmo to navigate Deep Well Services through some extremely challenging business conditions. More than 150 oil and gas service providers in the Marcellus and Utica shales have filed for bankruptcy.

Even through the worst in 2016, however, Marmo was able to lead Deep Well to positive EBITDA. Not only did he manage the business prudently, he also used the downturn to hire talented employees from other companies and strategically invest in better equipment when costs to manufacture such equipment were below normal.

Marmo kept attrition low, a testament to the strength of Deep Well’s culture. He also resisted significant pressure to reduce salaries of his employees any further in 2015 than he ultimately had to. Marmo fosters a family culture and truly cares about his employees. He has developed a set of core values referred to as the Great 8 that serve as the backbone of the work environment he has created.

Marmo isn’t willing to compromise safety and effectiveness for profit. He engaged Vistage to help develop his executive team; invested in a simulator that trains his people prior to sending them out into the field; and uses a Predictive Index surveying tool to ensure employee strengths and weaknesses.

Also, the company is in the process of receiving accreditation for API Specification Q2, a quality certification specifically for the oil and gas industry. Deep Well would be the only oil field service provider in the area with this certification. Marmo’s commitment to safety and quality has fostered successful business relationships with larger oil and gas companies such as Chevron, Shell and Hess.

In 2017, the company will likely be sold. Marmo believes it will be an opportunity to receive increased funding to grow the business as the market improves.
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Judging Panel

Ron Beckman
Vice President & Chief Information Officer
Black Box Network Services

 

 

 

Greg Conley
Chief Financial Officer
HFF

 

 

 

Chris Howard
President
Robert Morris University

 

 

 

Gabriela Isturiz
President
Bellefield Systems LLC

 

 

 

Bill Sarris
President
Sarris Candies LP

 

 

 

Bobby Zappala
Co-Founder & CEO
Ascender

 
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