NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Financial Services



Jeremy Sopko


Nations Lending Corp.


Jeremy Sopko and his business partner founded Nations Lending Corp. in 2003 after working for five different lending companies. Sopko, who is CEO, envisioned a company that would stand the test of time, overcoming regulatory and compliance challenges, fluctuations in interest rates and other challenges in the industry.

Sopko’s varied experiences with different lending companies allowed him to see the good and the bad in the mortgage industry. He leveraged his experiences to shape the vision of Nations Lending, a national mortgage lender and mortgage banking company serving 41 states.

His business philosophy is focused on open lines of communication with his staff, as well as allowing his employees to voice their own opinions, come up with new ideas and actively participate in the growth of the business.

Sopko’s emphasis on transparency can be seen in an active workplace that promotes frequent training opportunities and a true team environment. His unique, energetic leadership philosophy has been a catalyst for the strong growth Nations Lending has shown in its 10 years of existence.

The company has grown from a small lending operation to a dynamic multi-dimensional organization aimed at consistent growth. It also has grown 20 times over in the number of employees since 2003. Sopko has proven that he is a dynamic leader through the company’s ability to attract customers because of its quality service and honesty.

Sopko places a strong emphasis on people. He has more recently placed a heavy emphasis on professional development to promote more accountability and improved functionality of his departments so they can operate more independently. He is a strong proponent of frequent training sessions, and this has improved his staff’s pass rate for state licensing exams to more than 90 percent.

The mortgage industry is constantly changing, and the emphasis on training is important to Sopko and his vision for Nations Lending Corp.

How to reach: Nations Lending Corp.,

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Family Business Award



Scott Balogh

president and CEO

Mar-Bal, Inc.


Steven Balogh

vice president

Mar-Bal, Inc.


Over the past 20 years, the second-generation of the Balogh family, Scott and Steven Balogh, have transformed Mar-Bal, Inc., a compounder and molder of thermosetting materials, through customer collaboration, engineering design and investments in innovation. MBI engineers and manufactures quality, customized materials and parts to serve the appliance, electrical, transportation and industrial marketplaces.

Since Scott, president and CEO, and Steven, vice president, became involved with the business, the company has more than doubled its sales. The two have changed the culture at MBI by recruiting leaders in the plastics industry and implementing a focus on innovative processes.

One occasion of driving innovation was when a competitor with different polymers designed the company out of a Whirlpool product. Rather than placing focus on driving sales with its current polymers, the company concentrated efforts on identifying why it had been replaced. It identified that its polymers were no longer meeting customer’s requirements.

Typically, material is limited to colors such as white, bisque, black, red and orange. However, the market was demanding a metallic look. So, Scott and Steven, with the help of their engineering team, found a way to coat parts with actual metal vapors, a process they call Thermital. This allowed MBI’s product to have the appearance and feel of metal. Now the colors and finishes are endless and range from stainless and copper to candy apple red and royal metallic blue.

Today, the company’s innovation has attracted companies such as Whirlpool and General Electric, and has lowered cost for its customers and allowed it to gain an advantage over its competitors. Looking to the future, the Baloghs are pursuing the kitchen and bath market with the anticipation of developing a thermoset material that has the appearance of granite and Corian, which can be molded into sink basins and marketed as a lightweight alternative to the traditional porcelain sink.

How to reach: Mar-Bal, Inc.,

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Retail and Consumer Products



Kimberly Martin and Sarah Forrer


Main Street Cupcakes


After more than 25 years in the hotel and hospitality industry, Kimberly Martin needed something more in her life. In 2006, Martin and her husband Sean Nock founded Main Street Cupcakes, a small idea with endless possibilities and flavors.

Martin and her husband were able to transform their small storefront cupcake boutique into a lavish destination customers could escape to. The company opened its doors in February 2007, and from that day, it has hit the ground running and has not stopped since. With Nock heading the baking, Martin handled the finances and her sister, Sarah Forrer, was responsible for marketing and public relations.

After a few successful years, Forrer transitioned to co-owner along with Martin. In just five years, the two sisters have been able to grow the cupcake boutique. Main Street Cupcakes was founded during a recession, and from day one people have been challenging the concept of a bakery based solely on cupcakes.

Now the key obstacle Martin and Forrer face is trying to stay ahead of other bakeries and other businesses that have chosen the same path they have paved. They use the motivation of new copycat businesses to help keep their edge in the industry. They are more determined than ever to keep growing and keep ahead of the competition with fresh ideas and flavors, and their further expansion into wholesale.

Main Street Cupcakes currently operates three different stores: Hudson, Medina and Rocky River, with a fourth store expected to open this summer. Although its stores are located in Northeast Ohio, Martin and Forrer have made Main Street Cupcake’s presence felt nationwide. They plan to keep expanding in the future and have plans to open new stores in markets outside of Ohio.

Main Street Cupcakes currently has more than 300 flavors published and has more flavors than any other bakery in the nation.

How to reach: Main Street Cupcakes,

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Education and Non-profit



Carol Klimas


Lake Ridge Academy


The Lake Ridge Academy Board of Directors took an unprecedented step hiring Carol Klimas, an individual with a solid track record of success and respect in the banking industry, to serve as the first president of the K-12 school, when the Faculty Search Advisory Committee had made it clear that it wanted someone from the academic world.

The committee wanted someone who truly understands, appreciates and supports academics. You can only imagine committee’s bewilderment and dismay when Klimas, the banker, was hired in 2007.

But it was not Klimas, the banker, who showed up for work. It was Klimas the entrepreneur — an innovative, optimistic and hardworking individual who appeared more inspired by the school’s economic woes than overcome by them.

Rather than focus on introducing short-term solutions, she initiated an endless series of interviews, focus group sessions, and best-practice research to create a plan of action that would resonate with and mobilize a wide array of constituents. She assembled a list of practical tactics, weaving in inspirational strategies, which later became the foundation of Vision Beyond 50.

Any preconceived ideas of whether a banker could successfully lead an educational venture were soon shattered by Klimas’ absolute resolve to tackle each problem in a cooperative and collaborative manner.

Klimas believes the critical backbone of the school is its faculty and has championed efforts to attract and retain exceptional talent. The credentials of the faculty today are quite impressive with about two-thirds of them having taught at a college level and the majority having a master’s or Ph.D. degree.

As a result of Klimas’ efforts, overall enrollment growth at Lake Ridge increased by 12 percent, inquiries are up 45 percent from the prior year and applications have increased by 20 percent since last year. Klimas believes a target student population of 480 will be achieved in the next two years, which is more than 100 students above current enrollment.

How to reach: Lake Ridge Academy,

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Family Business Award



Martin Kanan

president and CEO

King Nut Companies


Martin Kanan joined King Nut Companies in 1991 as the company’s sales manager. Kanan was named president and CEO of King Nut in 2003, and since joining the company its growth has been driven by his desire to make the family business a success and the risks he has taken in leading the company.

King Nut is known for serving the airline industry with snack foods. As the company’s sales manager, Kanan started to call on US Airways in 1993 after he heard that it needed someone to supply peanuts. He pursued all of the other airlines with little success while trying to meet the demands of US Airways.

One of the biggest challenges in his career was meeting the quality standards of US Airways. Eventually, King Nut lost the contract. However, due to Kanan’s efforts through his relentless pursuit of the other airlines, he signed on Northwest just as they were losing the US Airways business.

As Kanan continued to pursue additional business at airline shows, Anheuser Bush closed Eagle Brands and King Nut was able to secure the business of the other airlines. This business came with many challenges, which Kanan handled head-on through managing his team and his investment in new equipment.

Kanan has been no stranger to other challenges at King Nut since becoming CEO. He has dealt with a transition from peanuts to other snack foods within the airline industry, the Sept. 11 tragedy and its impact on the company’s business, the acquisition and integration of Peterson Nut Co., and a national recall due to King Nut product that was co-packed by another peanut butter manufacturer.

Today, King Nut is not only a growing supplier of snack foods to the airline industry, but also sells product to the likes of Wendy’s, Giant Eagle, Speedway, and co-packs product for Pepperidge Farm, ConAgra and Aldi.

How to reach: King Nut Companies,

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Distribution and Manufacturing



Jim Keene

president and owner

Keene Building Products


From starting Keene Building Products in his basement more than 10 years ago, Jim Keene has had the courage to not only take a chance on starting his own business, but he continually focuses on how to make the business better every day.

The company makes envelope and noise control applications. When Keene, who is president and owner, started the business in 2002, there was a compelling need for someone to make products for noise and moisture control. The company filled that void well and is currently at a point where it has greatly added to the market in technique and product development through creative “Keene Ideas.”

The creative juices flow freely at Keene, whether it applies to its website design, sales approach in the market or a creative way to finance an acquisition. Keene employees think in a positive, juxtaposed and innovative way.

When you think about building envelope and noise control applications, you probably only think about noise reductions in hotels and apartment complexes or drainage and erosion control, but Keene has other ideas. The company is currently working on products that will utilize its existing technology in everyday applications.

Even with the most creative ideas, Keene understands that it is critical to be close to the company’s customers. You will routinely find him working with customers, helping them install products. This activity has allowed Keene and the company to be trusted business advisers and helps identify new and more innovative products.

Keene is not complacent about the success of the company. He plans to remain committed to Greater Cleveland. To continue growing as a company, he hopes to branch the large filament fiber company into other areas in construction and target consumer goods and packaging. His major goal is to grow sales 25 to 40 percent each year by adding new systems and acquiring complementary companies.

How to reach: Keene Building Products,

Published in Akron/Canton


Taseer Badar

President and CEO

ZT Wealth/Altus Healthcare Management Services

The genesis of Taseer Badar’s healthcare venture — Altus Healthcare Management Services/ZT Wealth — was the observation that despite a large rise in spending, physicians suffer from a steady decline in professional fees.

This is due to declines in health care benefits from insurance companies and government sources in a climate of increased patient load and increasing liability insurance.

Badar’s goal was to ensure the benefit of the health care dollar to health care professionals who are prime movers of such spending. Badar, Altus’s president and CEO, wanted to invest in physicians’ success and bring cutting-edge technology to the health care arena.

Despite early skepticism from both health care executives and medical practitioners,

Altus HMS/ZT Wealth has grown in both experience and assets.

With only seven years in the industry, Altus HMS has grown to include three surgical centers, six outpatient hospice companies, durable medical equipment, practice management, infusion, a physician-grade vitamin line and a wellness practice.

The company is continuing its growth strategy in 2013 with the addition of three stand-alone, fully functional emergency room locations along with the planned purchase of three additional hospices.

Badar has infused Altus with his entrepreneurial spirit by investing in the business and encouraging his executive staff to do so as well. Personal investments in the company have afforded Badar and his executive team heightened accountability for their business decisions and pronounced dedication to the success of the venture — a management strategy that is reaping impressive rewards.

Badar works hard to “see the invisible” and understand where his company needs to go before the rest of the market does. He firmly believes that the best place for personal investment is in his own firm.

“I don’t like gambling in the market,” Badar says. “I want to invest in what I know, and I know my firm.”

How to reach: Altus Healthcare Management Services,


Published in Houston

Each year in June, Ernst & Young celebrates entrepreneurial leaders in 25 regions across the country as part of the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards. This marks the 27th year in which Ernst & Young has recognized those leaders.

For 2013, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Gulf Coast Area program is called “Leading the Way.” There is no other place in the country where entrepreneurial innovation and leadership no matter the entrepreneur’s background is accepted and supported. We have continually seen significant innovative strides throughout a variety of industries in the Gulf Coast area, most notably in the energy, technology and the medical industries. It is the culture of the Gulf Coast that the individual or group of individuals working together can accomplish great things when they take the initiative in their own hands.

That culture was the foundation of the Gulf Coast in the early years and that culture remains today. This is why we believe the Gulf Coast led the country during the recent down years and today in population and job growth. The companies represented at this year’s Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Gulf Coast Area awards grew the number of people employed by 20 percent and grew revenues by 16 percent over the last year. There can be no doubt these entrepreneurial leaders, through their leadership, will continue to strengthen our country’s economy. That is why we believe the Gulf Coast is once again “Leading the Way”!

Ernst & Young has been recognizing these risk-taking visionaries for 27 years and, over that time, has recognized more than 10,000 entrepreneurial men and women. The Entrepreneur Of The Year Award has grown to be recognized as the leading business award. While Ernst & Young is proud of this accomplishment, the credit goes to the thousands of entrepreneurial leaders who have been recognized over the years. The fact that the program has endured and grown for more than 27 years is a true testament to the entrepreneurial leaders themselves.

The program celebrates entrepreneurial leaders in 25 U.S. regions each year. The regional award recipients then participate in the National Entrepreneur Of The Year awards in November in Palm Springs, Calif. At that ceremony, 10 award recipients are selected and one is selected as the National Entrepreneur Of The Year overall award recipient. The National Entrepreneur Of The Year overall award recipient will then participate in the World Entrepreneur Of The Year in Monte Carlo, along with award recipients from 50 other countries. This truly is the world’s business award.

The National Entrepreneur Of The Year Program is the culminating event for a four-day Strategic Growth Forum that had about 2,000 participants last year. This is the only event of its kind that is focused on the CEOs of companies. The panelists and speakers are unparalleled and in the past have included special guests such as George W. Bush, former President of the United States; Frederick Smith, chairman, president and CEO of FedEx Corp.; and Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin. This year will feature Jeffrey Immelt, Chairman and CEO, General Electric Co.; Bernard Tyson, incoming chairman and CEO, Kaiser Permanente; and Jeffrey Sprecher, founder, chairman and CEO, Intercontinental Exchange, Inc.

We are honored to present the 27th Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards-Gulf Coast and to recognize the entrepreneurial leaders of the past, present and future in the Gulf Coast that are “Leading the Way” to keep this the greatest country in the world to do business.

Todd Zuspan is a partner with Ernst & Young LLP ?and is the director of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Gulf Coast Area program.

Family Business Award of Excellence

Award recipient

Kenneth L. Robison,

Crest Industries

Construction & Industrial Services

Award recipient

Stephen V. Pate

Strike, LLC


James Joseph Frischhertz

Frischhertz Electric Co., Inc.


Troy Collins

Nathan Granger

Quality Companies USA, LLC


Jeffrey Gerald Davis

The Brock Group

Consumer Products

Award recipient

Donald P. Klein

Chesmar Homes, Ltd.


Basim Shami

Farouk Systems


Stacey Gillman Wimbish

The Gillman Companies


Gary Kiedaisch

Igloo Products Corp.


Jerry Lasco

Lasco Enterprises

Distribution & Manufacturing

Award recipient

Walter Emanuel Blessey Jr.

Blessey Marine Services


Arthur Moore

American Alloy Steel, Inc.


Amit Bhandari

Biourja Group


John L. Magee

Crane Worldwide Logistics


Mark C. Arnold

GSE Environmental, LLC


Fred Koetting

Schulte Building Systems


Award recipient

David D. Dunlap

Superior Energy Services, Inc.

Energy Services

Award recipient

Larry O'Donnell

Rockwater Energy Solutions


Darron Anderson

Express Energy Services


John T. Rynd

Hercules Offshore, Inc.


Christian J. Beckett

Pacific Drilling

Exploration & Production

Award recipient

Mark E. Ellis

LINN Energy, LLC


Michael Minarovic

Arena Energy, LP


John D. Schiller Jr.

Energy XXI


David H. Welch

Stone Energy Corp.

Health Care

Award recipient

Dana Sellers

Encore Health Resources


Taseer A. Badar

Altus Healthcare Management Services


Andrew C. Knizley

Houston Orthopedic & Spine Hospital


T. J. Farnsworth

SightLine Health

Midstream Services

Award recipient

R. Bruce Northcutt

Copano Energy, LLC


Brad Childers

Exterran Holdings, Inc.


Gregory L. Ebel

Spectra Energy Corp.


Award recipient

Drake Ellis

Community Trust Bank


Bryan Leibman

Frosch International Travel, Inc.


Michael L. Soper

Legacy Funeral Group


Jose S. Suquet

Pan-American Life Insurance Group


Award recipient

Peter M. Duncan

MicroSeismic, Inc.


Joel Bomgar



Jonathan Brett Klein

Luis Luque




Gregory D. Brenneman

Shelaghmichael Brown

Doug J. Erwin

Joe R. Fowler

Scott W. Smith

Cindy B. Taylor

Richard E. Zuschlag



Published in Houston

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Distribution and Manufacturing



Jeffery Rand

owner and president

HB Chemical Corp.


HB Chemical Corp. started as a distributor of carbon black in 1986 and has since expanded its product line offering to more than 300 under Jeffery Rand’s vision and leadership. Rand joined HB Chemical in 1998 as a sales rep after working for a competing chemical distributor. The founder of HB Chemical, Hill Browning, was looking for assistance to successfully grow the business, as well as a successor.

Rand soon became minority shareholder and by 2006 had assumed the role of president. In November 2009, he purchased the company from the retiring owner during one of the most difficult economic periods.

The company’s solid performance in times of economic uncertainty has helped to strengthen HB Chemical’s relationship with its bank and has allowed the company to continue to expand both physically as well as economically where others ceased operations.

Rand is committed to finding ways to improve the distribution process through privately owned warehousing capabilities. With a privately owned warehouse, HB Chemical can serve a wide variety of customer sizes and fulfill orders from entire containers and pallets of product to five gallons of product. This would not be possible in large public warehouses.

This capability along with fulfilling same-day orders with no upcharge and no price gouging of customers during times of rising prices has differentiated HB Chemical from competitors.

Rand also strives to look for ways to improve HB Chemical’s global footprint as evidenced by the decision to move into Mexico. He believes the most likely expansion strategy will be to look for financial partners in international companies who don’t currently have North American distribution capabilities.

Today, HB Chemical is a clear reflection of Rand’s vision. Its distribution strategy with the use of private warehousing has resulted in a 60 percent increase in sales in the last two years with a corresponding increase in net income of 190 percent.

How to reach: HB Chemical Corp.,

Published in Akron/Canton

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Health Care and Pharmaceutical Services



Drew Forhan

founder and CEO

ForTec Medical


As the founder and CEO of the mobile medical equipment company ForTec Medical, Drew Forhan leads through a collaborative, creative and competitive environment. His leadership qualities include integrity, perseverance and a bias toward action.

Forhan says he has an innate entrepreneurial spirit and drive that has been his personal motivation since he started ForTec at the age of 27 with one truck and one laser. He saw a need in the medical field for a new model to give hospitals and physicians access to innovative technologies. Ultimately, ForTec offers a business model that provides hospitals and physicians a simpler/less expensive way to utilize the latest and greatest medical tool technology.

The concept is such that when a medical operation requires a certain piece of technology a hospital system cannot afford to buy, ForTec’s service can be utilized to gain access to the equipment. The ForTec service also provides a trained technician, all for which there is a one-time usage fee.

This model eliminates hospitals capital expenditure or operating lease commitment for new technologies, which can cost nearly $2 million per piece of equipment. ForTec’s service simplifies hospital operations, but it was no easy task to get this idea off the ground. ForTec’s service has a number of moving parts that need to work in unison to maintain a profitable operation.

Forhan encountered many difficulties along his path, one of the toughest being financing. Each piece of equipment requires a large amount of capital expenditure, and often new technology is introduced annually. So the company’s model is all about logistics, demand and turning profit within the year.

In 2012 ForTec served roughly 2,000 hospitals in 40 states. The ForTec team — now almost 300 — has delivered specialized medical equipment and the related service team in 50,000 surgeries, through 26 different facilities throughout the United States.

Forhan’s future vision for ForTec includes growing through deepening relationships and strategic acquisitions.

How to reach: ForTec Medical,

Published in Akron/Canton