Since 1986, EY has celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who have followed and achieved their dreams. These leaders have changed the lives of countless others by building their businesses and giving back to their communities. Their passion, vision and persistence stand as a testament to their dedication.
The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Program was founded to recognize these dynamic leaders and to build an influential community of innovative entrepreneurs. Each year, EY hosts celebrations in 25 U.S. cities to highlight the hard work and dedication of the regional finalists. Their energy and strategic vision have turned their dreams into reality. They are applauded for taking the road less traveled to launch new companies, open new markets and fuel job growth.
Congratulations to all the finalists and winners for their achievements, their perseverance and their unwavering commitment to success in the marketplace.
Chairman and CEO
For the past decade, Ken McBride’s company, Stamps.com, has pursued the mission of becoming the largest processor of postage in the United States. The company has been a leading pioneer of every major advance and product in the PC postage industry, while also providing incredible value and savings in using United States Postal Service products and services.
Stamps.com was the first ever USPS-licensed vendor to offer consumers the ability to print USPS-approved postage directly from their printers. This allows customers to print exact postage instead of making trips to the post office, saving time and money. Another innovation driven by McBride was Stamps.com’s launch of PhotoStamps, which for the first time allowed customers to turn digital photos, designs and images into valid U.S. postage.
In April of 1999, McBride joined Stamps.com as one of its first few employees before it launched its first product and first revenue. In doing so, he had the foresight to understand that the postage industry was ready for change, dominated by old-world companies with old-world technologies.
After Stamps.com veered off course under the previous leadership team, McBride constructed a solution for saving the company from liquidation, restructuring its operations and setting the business on a path to achieve substantial revenue growth. He implemented dramatic cost-cutting programs, including a substantial reduction in headcount, eliminated hugely expensive marketing commitments and increased the price of the Stamps.com service. He also introduced a new culture of disciplined focus on strategic market testing.
Named CEO of Stamps.com in August 2001 — and later chairman in 2012 — McBride has built a successful company with an executive management team that has average tenure of more than a decade. The company has been profitable for the past decade, recognized with multiple industry awards, including being named one of America’s 100 Best Small Companies in 2013 by Forbes.
CSI Electrical Contractors, Inc.
To most people, electrical contracting is not a very exciting business. It is an honorable trade that offers a safe, steady means to make a comfortable living. Steven Watts wasn’t looking to continue that trend in electrical contracting. Instead, he started CSI Electrical Contractors, Inc. in a one-room office in 1990, determined to make his business a high-tech partner to the companies it serves.
In starting CSI Electrical Contractors, Watts, president, wanted to go after the coolest, most interesting projects. Thus was the inspiration for CSI’s core positioning to be the industry’s leading provider of innovative, value-added engineering solutions.
CSI has realized this goal in both strategic and everyday ways. CSI was one of the first to embrace computer-aided engineering, bringing high-end computer aided design capabilities to CSI in the early 1990s. It also was a pioneer in pre-fabrication, manufacturing key modules to expedite the completion of projects with tight deadlines and limited work areas.
Under Watts’ guidance, CSI has elevated fields such as alternative energy from simple solar panel installations into a highly sophisticated, high-tech business. In turn, these resources have attracted marquee customers and a spectrum of high-profile projects, making CSI a magnet for new engineering talent and skilled tradespeople.
Along the way, CSI has attracted a diverse customer base, drawing from all of California’s leading industries.
A less confident, less inquisitive individual could not have led CSI to its current level of success. Watts recognizes the importance of relationships, and has boldly sought out and established relationships with competitors. He is not afraid to ask how something is done and offers the same candor to other electrical contracting firms that ask the same question of him. Through these peer groups, he continuously infuses CSI with innovative thinking and the drive to always improve.
Founder and CEO
Exact Staff Inc.
Exact Staff Inc. was founded in 1996 with Karenjo Goodwin’s specific vision in mind — provide an exceptional experience in career identification to each and every qualified candidate. Despite competition from more than 300 employment agencies, Goodwin chose to start Exact Staff, and make it stand out from the rest.
With previous work history in the staffing industry, Goodwin, CEO, saw the need for the creation of a company that was candidate-centric. From the first office in Woodland Hills, Exact Staff has expanded to 19 offices in 12 states and has developed a unique business model through a consortium of other staffing firms allowing for a national reach through all 50 states and Canada.
Most importantly for Exact Staff, there is an atmosphere of family and deep dedication among the team that Goodwin has built. While Exact Staff is a technologically advanced staffing agency, Goodwin insists that the “human” touch of the entire career/placement process must always be the focal point of differentiation.
Customization and personalization is at the forefront of the business mission. Every staff member is empowered as a “personal concierge” to work closely with client companies to make them aware of available talent before the need arises.
Since 1996, Exact Staff has grown substantially and now has a family of companies including Exact Accounting Staff, Exact Legal Staff, Exact Tech Staff and Exact Medical Staff, and is seeing tremendous growth in these areas as well. Exact Staff is unique with this family of companies in that each area offers a boutique level of customer service while providing a one-stop option for client companies.
This business model allows clients to receive economies-of-scale price points while retaining the personalized levels of service of a smaller organization. To date Exact Staff has found employment for more than 200,000 people.
Retail & Investment Services
Born in Iran and raised in Israel, Jerry Azarkman arrived in California at the age of 24 with only $20 in his pocket. A determined young man with a talent for entrepreneurship, he exchanged those $20 for merchandise he bought wholesale in downtown Los Angeles, and became a door-to-door salesperson.
He discovered an underserved, neglected niche of immigrants — mostly from El Salvador and Mexico — with many needs. He sold them the products they had dreamt of one day owning. They became not only his first customers, but in some cases his first employees.
In 1981, when his brother moved to Los Angeles, they opened what would turn out to be a powerhouse in retail, services and community issues — Curacao. The department store has become one of the most trusted names in Hispanic retail sales. For more than 30 years, the company has proved its dedication to the community by continuing to provide quality products, outstanding customer service and increasing access to financial services for its customers who often have no credit history.
Curacao has been the first to launch many groundbreaking services, including its exports operation, which allows customers to send a variety of products to their relatives and friends in Central America and Mexico. The company is at the forefront of the Latino market, expanding innovative services that include Internet, phone, travel and money transfers.
Azarkman continues to strive toward a better future. In addition to overseeing Curacao Child’s Foundation, a nonprofit that delivers basic needs to families in the neighborhoods surrounding the stores, he is constantly visiting the stores as a speaker, motivating its associates with his story of starting an empire with $20.
CEO and CIO
Huber Capital Management
Joe Huber founded Huber Capital Management in 2007, after working at Hotchkis & Wiley, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs. The company is a 100 percent employee-owned firm providing discretionary investment advisory services to institutional accounts and mutual funds. By introducing the study of behavioral psychology into his investment approach, Huber developed a revolutionary strategy that has led to high acclaim and adaptation on Wall Street.
Rather than buying companies that were “hot” at the moment, Huber, the company’s CEO and CIO, based his central tenet of investing on reversion to the mean. This concept is based on people undervaluing a business that isn’t doing well today, which causes an absurdly low stock price relative to the long-term earnings power of the assets. Huber then buys stocks from the companies that are currently underperforming but are likely to have a shorter reversion pattern and should revert over the next three to five years.
Huber’s approach has won the company major clients and numerous accolades. Huber Capital Management won the Lipper Award in 2014 for best five-year track record in both its small cap and large cap funds. Their small cap fund was ranked No. 1 out of 188 funds and their large cap fund ranked No. 1 out of 252 funds. While it is rare to have a fund family with a No. 1 ranked fund, it is unprecedented to have all eligible funds ranked at the top.
Huber prefers to hire people for his company who have had to work to get where they are. He believes this encourages self-starters who are passionate about what they do. Huber also hires employees with no experience and personally trains each of them in his business. Huber believes that by empowering his staff to work hard and allow flexible schedules, he will in turn receive the best productivity and retain employees.
Founder and CEO
NewMark Merrill Companies
Sandy Sigal has always been a hard-working self-starter. Growing up, his single mother worked long hours to support her family. Sigal picked up this same work ethic, pursuing new business ventures from the time he was very young.
In 1997, Sigal launched NewMark Merrill Companies, a commercial real estate firm. He went from being the CEO of a public company with a safe paycheck to pouring all of his money into the new venture and wondering how he would support his four children. The management team worked at least 10 hours per day, seven days per week, to make sure that NewMark survived its first year.
Sigal’s goal was to make an impact in low-income communities by building quality shopping centers that were safe and enjoyable for families. He was about 10 years ahead of other developers when it came to discovering the need to create shopping centers of value for largely Hispanic populations.
Since NewMark launched, Sigal, the company’s CEO, has built, acquired, or managed over 100 retail centers and currently oversees 10 million square feet across three states. After 17 years, the firm continues to grow. NewMark was ranked by the Los Angeles Business Journal as one of its Top 10 Property Management and Top 10 Development Firms in 2012, and has been on its Fastest Growing Privately Held Companies list for many years.
Sigal is active in community organizations including Camp Max Straus, a camp for underprivileged children, and Jewish Big Brothers and Big Sisters. He was the recipient of the William Shatner Humanitarian Award in 2007, and is also an active member of the Young Presidents Organization chapter of Santa Monica, serving as their Chapter Chair as well as the Regional Education Chair for the Pacific Region.
With the onslaught of content floating around, Alex Kazerani and James Segil realized that the public Internet was not keeping up with the demands of digital media, and wouldn’t be able to handle future growth.
Around the time the company started, media files were forced to traverse great distances prior to reaching users’ computers or mobile devices, and legacy content delivery networks were built when broadband was less common and storage was very expensive. So, Kazerani and Segil founded EdgeCast Networks, a content delivery network (CDN) that helps make the Web faster.
In a world of broadband and cheap storage, Kazerani, who is chairman and CEO, and Segil, who is president, opted for the strategy of fewer strategically located servers with massive amounts of storage, enabling customers to carve out their own dedicated space on the Internet’s edge from major cities around the world.
Now, a viewer in London can have his or her video seamlessly delivered from a server there rather than waiting for it to travel from the video company’s server halfway around the globe.
Founded in 2006, the company officially launched in 2007 after building and testing network locations in 13 cities on four continents. By 2010, the company could count IMAX, Yahoo!, WordPress and LinkedIn among its customers.
Over the next few years, the company forged significant partnerships with telecommunications leaders to offer CDN services and software using the EdgeCast network. This provided even more validation and momentum for EdgeCast and its technology, which enables customers to have more control of how data moves around the world and improves end-user experience.
In 2012 and 2013, the company continued its blockbuster growth, ending 2013 with more than 6,000 of the Web’s busiest properties. In December 2013, the company was acquired by Verizon and will be a key part of its digital strategy.
Ceasars Acquisition Company
Mitch Garber started his career as a gaming lawyer in 1993, helping American casino companies and gaming equipment manufacturers expand beyond Nevada and New Jersey. Today, he is widely considered one of the most effective and innovative CEO’s in the gaming industry worldwide.
Garber recognized early the disruptive nature of the Internet on traditional businesses and seized on his knowledge of the gaming industry to be at the forefront of what he believed was its next big opportunity — the digital delivery of casino entertainment.
Today, as CEO of Caesars Acquisition Company, Garber runs all of the interactive businesses for Caesars. He created Caesars Interactive Entertainment (CIE) in May 2009, and made a significant investment in social and mobile games on iPhone, Android and Facebook. This strategic decision and its execution have created the greatest new value in Caesars in recent history.
CIE was formed to prepare for what was expected to be the imminent federal legalization of real money online poker and casino games in the U.S. Only Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware, however, allow real money gaming today.
So, Garber focused on strengthening the World Series of Poker brand, knowing the importance it would play in real money online gaming one day, by cementing licensing deals with Microsoft and Electronic Arts. He also expanded its presence on ESPN and added new land-based events in the Pacific Rim and the U.S.
Garber also knew he needed to diversify the company. Drawing upon his past experiences, Garber went on the acquisition hunt, looking for opportunities to bring the intersection of casino gaming and digital delivery into CIE’s fold. Garber found Playtika, and has added three additional social game studio purchases in the past three years.
With Garber’s vision and leadership, CIE continues to outpace the growth rate of the industry by creating new opportunities to add to the company’s portfolio.
CEO and president
Nick Hedges is president and CEO of Velocify, as well as a 15-year veteran of the Internet and software as a service industries. Hedges has a passion for business, not settling for the status-quo, and for innovation that drives substantial positive change. At Velocify, Hedges brings this passion to work everyday as the visionary leader behind one of the fastest-growing and most impactful technologies for sales professionals.
Velocify, formerly Leads360, was founded in 2004 as a software development project for a bank, which turned to Velocify after failing to find a solution on the market that could accelerate its sales team’s lead response efforts and drive a more disciplined sales approach. Today, Velocify helps customers across a variety of industries improve customer acquisition practices and sales performance.
Velocify’s cloud-based, intelligent sales automation solutions can systematically accelerate sales performance through rapid lead response, increased selling discipline, improved sales team productivity and actionable performance insights.
Hedges has a deep-seated passion for helping sales organizations maximize potential. This is evidenced by Hedges’s founding of a research department in 2008 focused on sales best practices, which has produced more than 30 research papers and has formed the foundation of countless articles, webinars and conference presentations that serve the sales profession.
Velocify’s products transform the sales process and help sales leaders reinforce the best practices of their top performers to close more deals. It has already been recognized with two prestigious awards within the technology industry — the Stevie Awards and a BIG award from the Business Intelligence Group.
Hedges aligned the company culture based on guiding principles, progress and perks, which is one of the many reasons Velocify has been recognized four years running as a “Best Place to Work” by the Los Angeles Business Journal. Aligned with its No. 1 cultural principle, all employees have equity in the company.
Founder and CEO
Scott Painter is an investor and serial entrepreneur in the technology and automotive industries. Over the past 20 years, he has incorporated 37 companies, building each one in order to tear away obfuscation and even the playing field so that everyone wins.
In 2005, Painter founded TrueCar, Inc., the negotiation-free car-buying platform, to bring truth and transparency to the auto industry. With TrueCar, Painter, the company’s CEO, has used all of his past knowledge and experience since he created his first auto business at age 14 to transform the automotive industry. He believed the auto buyer’s experience was unfair, and wanted to give consumers the power of information to get the best price possible.
In 2011, following years of profitability, TrueCar faced backlash from the automotive industry and several state agencies. Painter found his business on the brink of failure after thousands of car dealers boycotted TrueCar. He made the decision to work with dealers instead of against them and strategically revamped the company’s product offering so both buyer and seller would win.
TrueCar’s nationwide network of more than 7,500 TrueCar Certified Dealers is unique within the retail automotive industry because the company is willing to provide upfront pricing information and guaranteed savings as a way of establishing trust with today’s car buyers. TrueCar Certified Dealers are also committed to providing negotiation-free savings off MSRP for some of the country’s largest membership and service organizations. Over the past year, the TrueCar.com experience has enabled TrueCar users to save, on average, more than $3,000 off MSRP.
As part of TrueCar’s “Women Empowered” initiative, Painter pledged to help fund female professional racecar drivers. He also serves on the boards of several nonprofit and charitable organizations, including Save Cal Rugby, Cedar Sinai Medical Center and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “After-School All-Stars.”
In 2006, when Jamey Edwards left his career at Lehman Brothers to become CEO of Emergent Medical Associates (EMA), an emergency room physician group, one of his biggest obstacles was the fact that he did not have a medical background or a history in the health care industry.
Throughout his entrepreneurial career, Edwards has exhibited an ability to grow outstanding companies that are both socially responsible and financially profitable. He saw EMA as a small company with great potential to be a platform for widespread change in the health care industry.
Edwards used his global perspective to see a larger role for EMA in being a solutions provider to a challenged and rapidly evolving industry. He quickly incorporated the idea of combining physician and executive management styles to create the leadership model for EMA.
Edwards led the creation of a proprietary set of integrated management techniques, combining performance measurement with a relationship-oriented approach targeted towards creating “Emergency Departments of Excellence.” These techniques proved so successful that hospital clients in the industry have dubbed it the “EMA Effect” due to its positive influence on industry standards.
This reputation for excellence has resulted in EMA being the fastest growing emergency physician group in California, and turned a department that hospital administrators previously viewed as a cost center into a profit center and engine of change.
Having built up EMA, Edwards was not satisfied with merely maintaining the status quo. He used his determination to launch several new companies that were natural complements to the core business. These companies include Benchmark, a hospitalist division; LAN, a unified medical communications company; and Carenection, a telehealth organization that connects hospitals and makes it easier for patients to access specialists.
By building affiliates like LAN, Carenection and Benchmark, Edwards turned EMA into a comprehensive health care solution provider with unlimited growth potential for the future.
Co-founder and CEO
In less than 15 years, Blaine Vess has grown a dorm room project into a multinational company of 15 Web properties that reaches more than 90 million visitors per month. Vess’ ultimate goal is to make StudyMode the “go-to” source for students, parents and educators with products that support the entire student life cycle across all academic disciplines.
The history of StudyMode can best be described as: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” In 1999, Vess was a frustrated college freshman because of the high cost of school, the competition for grades, and the difficulty and cost associated with obtaining books and study materials. So, he launched OPPapers.com — a simple online tool for his friends to share notes and research documents. He very quickly realized that he had a marketable and scalable product.
For the next decade, Vess perfected and re-branded the site to become StudyMode.com. In 2008, Vess launched BuenasTareas.com, a Spanish-language version of StudyMode.com. In 2011, Vess established an office and hired full-time employees. Today, in addition to research repositories, StudyMode offers flashcard sites, a citation generator and multiple other tools.
StudyMode is expanding internationally with various versions of StudyMode.com available in French, Chinese, Ukrainian, Russian and Portuguese. The Spanish version is now the world’s largest Spanish-language education support platform with more than 26 million registered members. Vess is currently developing a math solver product expected to launch this summer.
Vess serves on the board of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK), which provides protection and aid to North Korean refugees hiding in China, and has personally assisted in the rescuing of North Korean refugees in Southeast Asia. Closer to home, Vess is an active participant in The Last Mile program teaching business and entrepreneurial skills to qualified incarcerated men. Vess works directly with inmates several times each month.
Josef Gorowitz founded Prodege, LLC in 2005 as a developer of white-label search engines for charities, artists, celebrities and entertainment franchises. The original model for Prodege came from Google’s search business model serving paid advertisements for brands, businesses and franchises. The company enjoyed several early high-profile partners including the Green Bay Packers, WWE, Kanye West and more than 150 additional A-list properties. The concept of smart rewards for loyal members evolved into a rewards currency for online activity, eventually named the “Swag Buck.” In 2008, swagbucks.com debuted as the central portal and manifestation of these branded sites.
Swagbucks has grown to become an all-inclusive value proposition for advertisers that joins brands with consumers in a mutually beneficial relationship. The site’s membership, now exceeding 10 million registered users, discover relevant content and spread the word to their peers, giving brands additional exposure through third-party endorsement. This extra communication adds more influence for brands and drives higher conversions than a traditional advertising investment. Swagbucks also remains the only rewards site for interactions across six different earning channels, including shopping, search, games, video, surveys and deal discovery.
Gorowitz, Prodege’s CEO, maintains strong ethics and a methodical strategy to entrepreneurship. He offers excellent benefits and appreciation programs for his staff, and his strong religious background has instilled equality, objectivity and passion in all facets of his executive leadership. The growth of Prodege has shown an unrivaled trajectory for a privately-funded enterprise.
Gorowitz is on the board for Bais Chaya Mushka Girls’ School in Los Angeles; the board of the South Bay Jewish Community Center; and is involved in Guinea-Bissau Maccabiah Team, a basketball charity event that raised more than $23,000 to distribute insecticide-treated, anti-malaria bed nets to West African countries.
Ophir Tanz started on his entrepreneurial dream early. His first company, Fluidesign, launched when he was just 15 and is still in operation today. His technical aptitude was evident as he excelled at Carnegie Mellon University, earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees simultaneously in information systems, designing the school’s first wireless LAN mapping system, called CMU Sky, and writing a textbook chapter on the topic.
So it’s no surprise that Tanz is the successful CEO of GumGum, a business he started at age 25. Tanz’s ability to secure venture capitalist funding through high-profile investors made it possible to create the world’s first in-image advertising platform, GumGum’s core offering.
The GumGum platform reaches 365 million unique visitors worldwide as they view images and content across more than 1,000 premium publishers. GumGum ads yield at least 10 times the engagement of traditional display options, and offer dramatically higher viewability resulting in superior brand lift for marketers and increased revenue for publishers.
As the CEO and founder of GumGum, Tanz is credited with inventing in-image advertising. He has received the Siemer Summit’s Innovation in Advertising Award for his work with GumGum. He was also featured on the cover of Entrepreneur, profiled in C-Suite Quarterly’s NextGen10 issue of young Los Angeles tech entrepreneurs and named to Adweek’s list of Young Influentials.
Tanz is an active member of Santa Monica’s “Silicon Beach” community, speaks regularly at Los Angeles-area technology and investor events and serves as a mentor to several local technology startups.
Nurturing a culture that empowers employees to contribute both individually and as part of teams, GumGum prides itself on a strong work/life balance. The result is a culture of camaraderie, innovation and success that has, in turn, led to the phenomenal growth of GumGum over the past three years.
Co-founder and CEO
The Trade Desk, Inc.
Jeff Green’s vision for the future of advertising is a world where every format — TV, billboards, print, digital — is bought and sold through the efficiency of technological platforms.
After Green sold his first company, AdECN, to Microsoft in 2007, he invested his own money into an idea and an industry that he had established: Advertising technology and real-time auctions for online advertising inventory through his new company, The Trade Desk, Inc. Today, Green leads a worldwide team that is carrying forward his mission to “democratize the way information is distributed across the globe.”
As co-founder and CEO, Green’s fearless approach to growth is the same as his passion for developing the market of advertising technology, a space he pioneered with AdECN, the world’s first online ad exchange. He started AdECN because he believed there was a better way to transact media dollars in advertising. He treated the opportunity to sell to Microsoft in 2007 not as a quiet retirement, but a launching pad to further grow efficiencies and improvements in how media is bought and sold today.
Green has taken a “pure platform” approach where he invites mature agencies and emerging technology providers to build their business on The Trade Desk. Green believes that building thousands of businesses on the promise of the platform will yield greater long-term results than selling a few hundred customers on the current state of affairs. He has diversified his own business offerings without having to hire a massive sales force or accounts team to tend the seeds being sown.
In 2013, Green tied the company’s performance to an unexpected reward: Every month that the company’s revenue goal was met, he would donate to the charity of every employee’s choice. Within six months, as revenue and headcount grew, donations had been made to more than 60 charities worldwide.
Distribution & Manufacturing
Jonathan Scott Hirshberg
President and CEO
Jonathan Scott Hirshberg is the CEO and president of ENI-JR286, Inc., a license firm that specializes in sporting goods accessories. He started the firm in October 1998 as a private company, working with many top brands such as Fila, Speedo, Under Armour, Crocs, K-Swiss, Red Bull and other action sports companies.
The company, which is only one of four global partners, currently holds a global license with Nike Inc. The business is responsible for design development manufacturing and distribution for the products under license.
The company distributes to 100 plus countries with approximately 240,000 ship-to locations, which represents about 20,000 customers globally. The company has 28 distributors that work within its commercial platform. Hirshberg also runs a technology company that holds design and utility patents as well as trademarks that ENI-JR286 uses in products.
Under Hirshberg’s leadership, ENI-JR286 continues to grow through the pursuit of innovation, quality, value creation for consumers, and enhancing the athlete’s performance and sports experience. When ENI-JR286 licenses brands, it strives to be the licensor’s most respected and effective licensee. For its retailers, distributors and consumers, ENI-JR286 works to be the most reliable and most preferred partner.
Hirshberg runs ENI-JR286 as if it will be one of the first billion dollar global sports accessory firms. In reaching that goal, ENI-JR286 strives to become the preeminent expert in creating, building and marketing sports accessories that are an integral part of the athlete’s sports experience and success.
To further these aspirations, Hirshberg ensures that his team at ENI-JR286 celebrates successes, learns from mistakes and encourages thoughtful initiative. Enjoying work and enjoying those with whom you work is key to the ENI-JR286 culture. And, just as in sports, ENI-JR286 and Hirshberg vow to never lose their hunger to excel, to grow and to compete.
Founder and CEO
Peter Kim, founder and CEO of Hudson Jeans, a global leader in premium denim, has more in mind than just selling jeans. The mission of the company is to transcend product and inspire people around the world to live out their passions, push life to its fullest and challenge themselves to be their very best.
Kim recently sold his majority stake in the company to Joe’s Jeans, and a great deal of synergy is expected from this partnership. The deal garnered a lot of attention because of the standing the brand had achieved in a relatively short time, as well as the spontaneous uptake by celebrities who have made Hudson one of the hottest jeans globally.
Kim has a vision for what his and the brand’s future entails beyond just denim. His vision is to build a brand that changes people’s perspective and creates positive change in the world. He looks to take Hudson’s platform, synergy, infrastructure and resources to create other categories of the apparel business and build an empire of like-minded people with the same passion to empower and inspire others.
Kim hires his employees based on the sense that they must be given creative freedom. He believes businesses function best when they have a vision, create the right environment, hire the right team, clearly communicate the vision to the team, then step away and let them be free to act even when they make mistakes.
Kim epitomizes the phrase “work hard, play hard.” He is an avid bicyclist, surfer, yoga practitioner and sushi connoisseur. He is an active member of the Young Presidents Organization, and has been honored with several awards for outstanding community service and his dedication to charitable work.
Founder and CEO
Rami Rostami was sent to the U.S. alone at the age of 13 after the Iranian Revolution in 1979 with no means of support. Growing up alone in Oklahoma, he faced extreme racial hostility and such loneliness that he could hear his own footsteps during high school graduation because no one clapped for him.
After graduation, Rostami stayed in the U.S., translating his obstacles into opportunities. At age 19, he founded his first company, Technocel, which evolved into a multimillion-dollar global wireless accessory manufacturer serving hundreds of corporate and private label customers and carrying an 11,000-product assortment.
Technocel established its reputation as a trusted original equipment manufacturer (OEM) and distributor of well-established brands through its long-standing carrier channels for many years. As a visionary who wanted to adapt alongside the rapidly changing mobile technology environment, Rostami, CEO, launched his own brand, TYLT, which blossomed into a mobile innovator, expanding worldwide with distribution in 75 countries.
Technocel was a natural outgrowth of the cellular boom of the 1980s, founded in 1986 because of the opportunity Rostami saw to market and develop his own product line to compete with existing OEMs.
The biggest challenge in the wireless industry is forecasting and obsolescence of products because handsets change regularly. Thus, as technology evolved, Rostami realized that to stay competitive, the technology underlying the existing accessories model needed to advance as well. In response, he invested heavily in research and design and began developing his own line of innovative products and brands under the TYLT brand to maintain his competitive edge.
Rostami has created an investment fund where 100 percent of the proceeds go directly to help promote children’s education globally. Thus far, with the disbursed capital, the fund has been able to sponsor the education of over 100 children in the past two years.
Retail & Consumer Products
Robb Fujioka and Jim Mitchell are fathers who happen to have a knack for innovation and sophisticated technology. These qualities have lent themselves well to Fuhu, Inc., a Los Angeles startup company that has grown into a business with five global offices. Fujioka, the founder and president of Fuhu, and Mitchell, the CEO, each bring their business savvy, vision and first-hand experience as parents to the company, as well as their ability to deliver high-performing products.
Over the last two years, Fuhu successfully established a new market — devices such as the nabi tablet that are on par with adult technology but created specifically for children. Mitchell and Fujioka have excelled in creating this new market and driving demand for their products through partnerships with technology giants like Foxconn, NVIDIA and Intel; retail titans like Wal-Mart and Target; and moguls like DreamWorks, that have enabled Fuhu to create groundbreaking products that have performed well at retail.
The company culture fosters new ideas, empowerment and philanthropy. Fujioka, Mitchell and the rest of the management team challenge employees at all levels to be ambitious and creative, aiming to disrupt industries and create new ones. In addition, Fuhu launched the philanthropic nabi Inspire program to help families living with Autism and raise awareness. The company has built a team dedicated to this cause to provide access to Fuhu’s nabi tablets through discounting and gifting programs as well as securing low cost and free autism-friendly apps.
Under Fujioka and Mitchell’s leadership, Fuhu plans to launch a highly-anticipated new premium tablet, The DreamTab (in collaboration with DreamWorks Animation), with exciting new product innovations, a cutting-edge new operating system and compelling original content and e-commerce experience.
Fujioka and Mitchell have built Fuhu into Forbes Most Promising Company in America in 2014 as well as Inc.’s 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America in 2013.
When Jeff Platt and his father decided to launch Sky Zone, an all-walled trampoline park, nothing like it had ever been done before. At 22 years old, Platt was concerned that investors wouldn’t take him or his idea seriously, but his drive and passion were evident and soon he was able to open his first location in Las Vegas.
The immediate success of Sky Zone allowed for another location to open in St. Louis shortly after the first, and the concept was soon franchised both domestically and internationally. At age 26, Platt took over as CEO and built respect and credibility with no prior experience running a company. He put everything Sky Zone earned back into the company so that it would continue to grow and improve.
Platt strives to hire employees who are actively trying to build and improve the company, and he helps them by empowering them to be creative, to be different and to be accountable. He gives them the freedom to implement ideas to make Sky Zone a better business. He teaches them not to be afraid of failure because trial and error leads to success.
Platt visits each park and rewards hard workers by giving them the opportunity to advance within the company. In addition, every corporate employee is given an allowance for personal development that they can use to attend seminars, purchase books, etc. Platt believes that by investing in his team members, he is indirectly investing in the future of the company.
Each Sky Zone donates thousands of free passes to schools so that kids can experience the fun and exercise that Sky Zone offers. Each location also supports the American Heart Association through donations and contributions.
co-founders and owners
Erik Oberholtzer, David Dressler and Matt Lyman built their restaurant, Tender Greens, on the belief that real, good, whole food should be accessible to all, and not just the privileged.
Tender Greens is a fast casual restaurant that serves healthy, organic food at an affordable price. The chefs are given the freedom to create daily specials inspired by seasonal ingredients in addition to the core menu. The daily specials are the same dishes you’d see on a fine dining menu for $25 a plate, but offered at just $11.
Founded in 2006, co-owners Oberholtzer, Dressler and Lyman opened their first restaurant on a not-so-nice street in Culver City, California. Tired of the corporate rat race and cooking dishes for the 1 percent, they saw a gap in the marketplace for a neighborhood restaurant that served the type of food they wanted to eat on their days off at prices they could afford — fresh, farmer’s market-inspired and healthy.
Oberholtzer, Dressler and Lyman put all of their money on the line to open their dream restaurant, and it worked. When they opened their first restaurant on their first day, they ran out of food by 7 p.m. because customer lines extended out the door during the entire debut. As they found success, the single location grew into 12 with plans for 30 by 2016.
To protect Tender Greens and secure a stable foundation, the owners forged a partnership with Scarborough Farms, a local organic farm that is an investor in the company, forming the first partnership of its kind in the industry.
Tender Greens has created a six-month culinary internship for at-risk foster youth called the Sustainable Life Project, which consists of on-the-job training and farm field trips. When it comes to their own chefs, Oberholtzer, Dressler and Lyman encourage and give them the freedom to explore and pursue their own passions to fuel their creativity and entrepreneurial spirit.
Co-founder and CEO
The Honest Company
The roots of The Honest Company are deeply intertwined with actress and activist Jessica Alba, the company’s co-founder and president.
When Alba found potential toxic hazards in detergents and diapers that she used to care for her daughters, she discovered that children were being exposed to chemicals through products intended for infants that have been linked in scientific studies to development disabilities and chronic illness. She believed that despite claims to the contrary from companies, many products being sold contained harmful materials. Alba partnered with author, advocate and parent Christopher Gavigan, co-founder and Chief Product Officer, and they set out to create a company in line with their vision to serve as a single solution for the range of family needs, ensuring product safety, extraordinary customer service and convenience. They met their match in co-founders and fellow parents Brian Lee, CEO, and Sean Kane, COO, pioneers at definitive digital startups that have evolved into industry-leading paradigms.
Together, they launched The Honest Company with an e-commerce subscription model based on a single brand with flexible product bundling for customizable solutions home-delivered with no commitments or upfront fees.
Launching in the health and wellness consumer goods category, its products attract expectant mothers, toddlers and kids to their partnerships with artisan and brand leaders in eco-friendly family products. Now, The Honest Company is expanding their offerings into furniture, accessories, toys, soft goods and more.
The company’s employees are empowered to use paid volunteer hours to work with causes close to their heart and take advantage of donation matching to double their cumulative impact. So far, they’ve clocked a total of more than 550 volunteer hours.
Partnering with the Los Angeles-based organization, Baby2Baby, The Honest Company has donated over 112,000 products, more than 155,000 diapers and, through their Buy One, Give One program, donates one crib for every crib sold.
Co-founder and CMO
Perseverance and the ability to overcome obstacles are two key ingredients of becoming a successful entrepreneur. By choosing to start their business during the financial crisis, David Allerby, CEO, Tyner Brenneman-Slay, COO and Ryan Iwamoto, CMO, all co-founders of 24Hr HomeCare, showed they all have those ingredients in spades.
Upon visiting the Small Business Administration, the organization recommended against starting a business because of the economic climate. That advice did little to persuade the co-founders from starting 24Hr HomeCare, a company that provides high-quality, non-medical in-home care to seniors and the developmentally disabled.
The three young entrepreneurs possessed a combined 20 years of experience in general management, operational compliance, and launching and expanding new offices. In addition to their familiarity with the industry and the growing need for homecare, the motivation behind founding 24Hr HomeCare stemmed from a shared understanding of the industry’s shortcomings and the desire to introduce a new standard of care to homecare.
The strategy behind founding 24Hr HomeCare was to provide the kind of quality service that wasn’t yet available on the market, including adopting technological advancements to software and assistive devices, careful screening and extensive diagnosis-specific training for caregivers, and exceptional service.
There were obstacles in building the company from the ground up, however, as individuals seeking care look for trustworthiness that often comes with company longevity. 24Hr HomeCare first positioned itself as the alternative choice, filling in when other companies had difficulty providing facilities with quality caregivers. When given the opportunity, the company delivered an improved homecare experience, winning over clients until becoming the preferred provider.
The three entrepreneurs envision creating a nationwide homecare company that will eventually become a household name synonymous with great service. 24Hr HomeCare opened its ninth branch this spring, and in 2015, the company plans on opening its first out-of-state branch to begin expanding nationwide.
President and COO
Pressed Juicery had a rocky start when Hayden Slater opened it in November 2010. Aside from the normal onslaught of competition, the health department shut down Pressed Juicery within just two months of opening. Though Slater, who serves as CEO, faced risks of personal bankruptcy, lawsuits and legal troubles with state regulatory bodies, he opted to keep the business open and address all issues raised by the health department and reopen as a strong, compliant organization.
As Pressed Juicery struggled financially through its first year, Eugene Kim became an adviser and then president and COO. Under Kim’s and Slater’s leadership, the company underwent extensive reorganization and eventually expanded to 20 stores with 15 currently under construction. The company owns all of its equipment, a fleet of trucks and a 25,000-square-foot facility in Fresno, California, that are capable of replenishing 200 stores per day.
The founders’ vision was to create a convenient, accessible juice bar to serve modern customers. The company delivers an unprecedented level of freshness to consumers, averaging less than three days from the time of juicing to consumption, compared to 180 days through traditional channels.
They run their operations lean, with no more than two employees staffed at all times. Aside from the employees, there is only a refrigerator in each of the 18-square-foot stores. Kim and Slater trust that customers will reward the business for providing quality products and forgive them for skipping the “nice-to-haves.”
Future plans include building 200 more stores on the West Coast, 200 stores on the East Coast and a secondary factory in New Jersey.
*Prior award recipient
**Prior award recipient and national finalist