If you saw a movie script that detailed the life of Moctesuma Esparza, you would never believe that it was historically accurate. Esparza was a leading activist and organizer in the Chicano movement of the 1960s, fighting for civil rights and equality for Mexican-Americans.
His involvement left him at one point indicted and facing life in prison for being an organizer of the revolution. But within two years of having the charges dropped, Esparza had not only turned things around, he was working in the West Wing of the White House with security clearance.
Having overcome those kinds of odds, Esparza might have been on easy street with the launch of a multiplex theater chain. But he has worked hard to ensure Maya Cinemas North America, Inc. is all about quality.
His passion is not in day-to-day management, but rather in bringing an idea to life. So he spends a great deal of time working on developing business strategies, identifying new locations to expand into and then getting that location off the ground.
Esparza has also been a leader in raising new market tax credits since part of his strategy is to target markets that other movie theater companies are reluctant to enter. In order to succeed, he hired a dedicated and highly involved president and COO, Frank Haffer, to manage long-term operations and hired strong local managers to run his multiplexes.
Esparza is admired by colleagues for his innate ability to persuade and inspire. He recognizes and rewards individuals who contribute to the company’s vision while giving managers the freedom to perform their jobs how they see fit.
Esparza hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He launched an innovative program that gives patrons the opportunity to round up their purchase to the next dollar and have the money donated to a local college scholarship fund that will be restricted to students within a designated area.
How to reach: Maya Cinemas North America, Inc., www.mayacinemas.com
Loren Bendele has been an entrepreneur from the day he started selling Blow Pops out of his backpack at school. His mother and father owned a popcorn and yogurt shop, and Bendele would buy the Pops wholesale to sell to fellow students. It was a profitable venture until he was asked to stop by his teachers.
But Bendele’s career in business had begun.
In 2007, Savings.com was Bendele’s effort to build an online coupon site that built consumer trust with coupon codes that always work. He put in the time building relationships with bloggers who could create buzz for his business and with companies who wanted to offer their coupons on his site.
Bendele’s ability to relate to people and build those strong relationships is due at least in part to his time spent as a stand-up comedian. While it’s not a path many leaders follow to business success, being up on stage helped him develop his storytelling skills and his ability to read people.
One of his keys to attracting customers and quality employees alike is not only a belief in his self and what he is selling, but the ability to get his audience to believe, too.
Bendele didn’t have a crystal-clear vision of what his business was ultimately going to look like, but he knew he wanted great people and an office dog. A sign hanging on the office door that says “Dog on premises” and the smiling faces on the people who work at Savings.com indicate he has met those goals.
But Bendele is not satisfied with what he has achieved to this point. He is developing a grocery application that would be available on all smartphones. It would allow consumers to walk into a grocery store and look up the best deals within the grocery store as well as download any available coupons.
Bendele is hopeful that within five years, Savings.com will be the most dominant player in grocery couponing.
How to reach: Savings.com, www.savings.com
With Intrepid Investment Bankers, there is something behind the number three. There are three on the management team: W. Michael Rosenberg, CEO; James B. Freedman, managing director; and Ed Bagdasarian, managing director. They exude a combination of humility, charisma and energy when discussing their journey from aspiring bankers to their current entrepreneurial venture.
The company has a three-part focus: meeting customers’ needs, understanding how to be a strategic player and embracing innovation through unconventional standards.
Founded in 2010, Intrepid is becoming a major player in the investment banking industry, leveraging the experience of Rosenberg, Freedman and Bagdasarian.
Their experience goes back more than two decades. They built their first venture, Barrington Associates, into one of the most successful independent investment banks in the U.S. It was later sold to Wells Fargo. After Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia Securities in 2008, the trio helped integrate Barrington into Wachovia Securities.
Next, it was Intrepid’s time in the spotlight. In just more than two years, it has grown into a leading M&A adviser in Southern California as measured by completed transactions, number of bankers and revenue. This was all done during challenging economic climates and is an example of the founders’ entrepreneurial drive, vision and skill.
One of the practices that differentiates Intrepid from other investment bankers is its compensation method. Instead of the traditional salary plus bonus structure followed by many Wall Street firms, Intrepid makes every banker a “deal partner” who participates in the fees generated by the firm. This meritocracy structure rewards initiative and results.
Intrepid hopes to create a new standard for middle market investment banks with its philosophy on client service and industry. Teams that put together deals view their roles as hands-on managers of the deal process, leaving nothing to chance and driving every aspect of the transaction with passion. The firm’s senior bankers participate in each facet of the deal process.
How to reach: Intrepid Investment Bankers, LLC, www.intrepidib.com
For 27 years, Ernst & Young has championed the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women pursuing excellence in their businesses, teams and communities.
Ernst & Young founded the Entrepreneur Of The Year Program to recognize the passion of entrepreneurs and to build an influential and innovative community of peers. We received more than 1,680 national entries for this year’s program, from the country's most deserving entrepreneurs. Their triumphs stand as a testament to the role they play as visionaries and leaders.
Entrepreneurs change the world and make it a better place to work and live. We honor them for their fortitude and resilience, and we celebrate their ability to forge new markets, navigate uncharted territory and fuel economic growth.
We gather here in Northeast Ohio and in 24 other cities across the U.S. to honor all of the finalists and welcome the new class of entrepreneurs into our Hall of Fame.
Congratulations to all of the 2013 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur Of The Year finalists and winners. We applaud them all for their unyielding pursuit of business excellence and we are honored to share their inspiring stories with you.
Whitt Butler, advisory partner, Ernst & Young; program director, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year Northeast Ohio.
Here are the 2013 Northeast Ohio Entrepreneur of the Year winners and finalists:
Distribution and Manufacturing
Education and Non-profit
Health Care and Pharmaceutical Services
Finalist – Scot Lowry, president and CEO, Fathom
Retail and Consumer Products
Winner – Kris Snyder, CEO, Vox Mobile, Inc.
Family Business Award
NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
Ralph Della Ratta Jr.
Western Reserve Partners, LLC
When Ralph Della Ratta Jr. gets asked, “What were you thinking starting a new entrepreneurial chapter in your life at age 55?” he responds that he missed three things: being engaged in the game, doing great things for great people, and providing strategic direction.
After retiring from a remarkably successful career in the investment banking industry, Della Ratta had a revitalized vision of a project that would delve into the Cleveland mergers and acquisitions market. He approached three former colleagues with a proposition that held an unsure outcome without the smallest guarantee.
However, between Della Ratta’s deal-savvy reputation, proven track record and constant ambition, these three individuals made large personal investments to help get Western Reserve Partners, LLC, up and running based solely on their faith and trust in Della Ratta.
Western Reserve Partners was formed to bring middle-market clients high levels of quality and service usually reserved for much larger companies. The company provides M&A, capital raising and other financial advisory services to middle-market companies across a focused set of industry verticals, including industrial, business services, consumer, health care, technology and real estate.
Each engagement is tailored to the client’s specific objectives and relevant market dynamics. Thoughtful advice, keen market insight and well-crafted transaction processes have resulted in more than 80 percent of the company’s sell-side engagements closing at valuation ranges that meet or exceed expectations.
Western Reserve’s senior professionals share an extensive background in large-cap advisory work and have advised on dozens of transactions of $1 billion or more. The company brings the benefits of this experience to its middle-market clientele, and its assignments are all actively managed by senior professionals from kick-off to closing. Western Reserve’s managing directors average nearly 30 years of experience and have collectively executed more than 600 transactions during their careers.
Della Ratta has been determined to position Western Reserve Partners as a reputable, respectful and innovative institution.
How to reach: Western Reserve Partners LLC, www.wesrespartners.com
Robert V. Sinnott believes in the idea of partnership and “doing the right thing” as a staple of a successful investing strategy. In the late 1990s, a rogue oil trader was crippling a Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors portfolio company, and the company was not likely to survive.
Sinnott, president, CEO and chief investment officer at Kayne Anderson, worked closely with the company’s management to navigate and source a large equity investment to support the company’s long-term success.
The portfolio company is now one of the largest and most respected master limited partnerships (MLPs) in North America. Both firms have prospered from the long-term relationship.
Upon joining Kayne Anderson in 1992, Sinnott brought his unique approach and deep knowledge of the energy industry, which has not only led to generating impressive returns but also to revolutionizing the energy markets by fostering institutional ownership of the industry, thus changing MLPs’ access to capital.
Sinnott sees to it that the Kayne Anderson reputation and business philosophy inspires confidence among investors and portfolio companies. The firm focuses on accountability and living up to commitments to create a sense of trust that leads to mitigating risk and continued business relationships.
Trust also begins with open communication. Sinnott believes that oral commitments are as strong as written, and insists that his team negotiate personally, rather than slipping legalities into agreements.
He also argues that terms should be mutually beneficial — an “everyone wins” mentality. If one party is in a distressed situation, you might get a little more out of the party now, but the party will be less likely to return on the next deal.
To help ensure return business, Sinnott searches for win-win deals and develops long-lasting partnerships. In the economic downturn in 2008, many investment firms were limiting investor withdrawals. Kayne Anderson recognized the uncertainty investors faced, and worked hard to ensure the liquidity investors had come to rely on.
How to reach: Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, www.kaynecapital.com
NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
Wireless Environment, LLC
Wireless Environment, LLC, founded in 2006 by David Levine and Michael Recker, is a JumpStart company that invents technology and manufactures products to enable LED lights to perform effectively when off the electrical grid.
Wireless Environment provides design services for lighting manufacturers looking to gain a competitive advantage through proprietary power management features and off-grid operation. The company’s technology allows LED luminaires and lamps to determine the optimal times to draw power from the electrical lines and when to go off-grid for reasons such as unreliable power or outages, spikes in energy cost, and heavy demand on the grid.
Wireless has also developed and launched a line of battery-powered LED light fixtures that improve safety and security and operate during a power failure. These products — under the Mr. Beams brand — use a patent-pending power management system and have radio frequency capabilities to network throughout the home.
Currently, Wireless has three product lines — Mr. Beams, a line of indoor/outdoor portable LED light fixtures; ReadyBright, a wireless power outage lighting system; and SwitchSense, a module that turns LED luminaires and lamps into power failure lights.
When Levine, who is president, was deciding how to sell his company’s products, he knew entering the retail market was risky. So Levine chose to sell through Amazon.com instead of a traditional store-based model. By selling through Amazon.com and other Internet-based selling formats, Levine mitigated his risk. Wireless has the ability to sell its products at a higher margin than if it were to sell to a large retailer.
Another area where Levine took on significant risk was with the company’s patents. Having patents on technology, brands and products are very important to the success of the business. Levine has spent several years trying to patent ideas on wireless lightning, and it has been a challenge to accomplish. Wireless Environment currently has five patents with more than 17 patents applied for and pending.
How to reach: Wireless Environment, LLC, www.wirelessenv.com
For Jeff Green, his online ad exchange company The Trade Desk is the culmination of a career spent trying to make media buying more efficient. Green started his Internet work experience while in college working for Microsoft to supply technical support — but soon was focused on with his vision of improving transparency and efficiency in online advertising.
In 2004, when everyone else in the online advertising industry doubted ad exchanges, Green founded AdECN, the first exchange for online advertising. He has since been constantly trying to improve processes to make them more efficient.
As the founder and CEO of The Trade Desk, and with his background in the industry and analytical ability, he brings his vision to reality — he can delve into what he describes as the “intricacies of online marketing” and successfully capitalize such a business opportunity.
He knows his vision and can sell it as a product to his customers and colleagues. In leading his team, Green knows the delicate balance between pushing his teammates for the best results and not micromanaging.
The Trade Desk has grown rapidly, including expanding from about 20 employees to the current number of 50 in one year. Not only is Green successful at obtaining more talented employees as his business grows, but he retains those already on board. Since the start of the company in 2009, only five people have left. More than 75 percent of employees acknowledge that working at The Trade Desk is the best job they have ever had.
Green is not only entrepreneurial; he is also community-minded and charitable. When his son’s private school had no other choice but to cut the school year short because of insufficient funds, Green volunteered to help solve the problem by using his online ad exchange platform to raise money. The school raised enough funds so it did not have to cut education time short.
How to reach: The Trade Desk, www.thetradedesk.com
NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
Kris Snyder is a driving force in the high growth, billion-dollar managed mobility services market. Having founded Vox Mobile as an entrepreneur inside a $200 million systems integrator and ultimately spinning it into its own venture, Snyder demonstrated his thought leadership and insight into the growth trends in enterprise mobility.
Starting Vox Mobile in 2006, Snyder recognized the potential to create value through mobility services before anyone else. At that time, organizations were becoming increasingly reliant upon mobile devices.
While plenty of competitors and organizations had invested in technology to implement and deploy personal computers, he recognized that there would soon be a need to provide these same services for mobile equipment, which has increased since consumer products like the iPhone and iPad were released.
Enterprises are now facing significant challenges ensuring issues like mobile enterprise security, employer software configuration and customer support do not decrease the productivity of their respective organizations worldwide. These issues are coming to a head as organizations contemplate how to allow employees to “Bring Your Own Device,” or BYOD, rather than issuing company devices.
Snyder’s customers call upon Vox Mobile to design, procure, deploy, support, manage and analyze their mobile devices. Snyder emphasizes and provides a culture to enable and empower his employees to provide satisfactory solutions to its callers every time to reduce customers’ frustrations and potential down time.
This requires a commitment to hiring top talent who are inventive, knowledgeable and believe in his vision. During 2012, he nearly doubled the number of employees, and Snyder continues to promote the innovation of software that allows for incremental scalability.
Snyder’s vision and ability to innovate in this niche industry has enabled the growth of Vox and mobile technology as a whole. This has created more than 40 percent sales growth during the last two years, with an additional 40 percent growth being forecast in 2013.
How to reach: Vox Mobile, www.voxmobile.com
A volunteer with the Sierra Madre Search and Rescue team who has contributed to the rescue of more than 90 lost or injured hikers, CEO Tim Cadogan finds the same joy in performing missions for OpenX.
The company first began in 1998 as an open source project in Europe, where its digital and mobile advertising technology became widely adopted. While it was a good basic product, there was no business model.
Coming on board as CEO in 2008, Cadogan had to start from scratch as the first U.S. employee, incorporating the company and defining a vision and strategy for a new kind of advertising technology platform business.
OpenX’s seeks to unleash the full economic potential of digital media companies. Its solutions provide a unique software as a service platform by combining ad serving, an ad exchange, a supply side platform and content valuation.
Cadogan began with building a high quality team with the right skills to deliver on a vision to create a comprehensive display-ad platform for publishers, an alternative to industry titans Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft.
This mission has remained constant, and OpenX now employs 282 people. The company has seen sustained profitability since the fourth quarter of 2011 and now powers a solution for thousands of customers globally.
At the heart of Cadogan’s approach is actionable innovation. OpenX was one of the pioneers of Real-Time Bidding in the digital ad exchange space, which continues to account for the largest and fastest growing portion of the company’s revenue. Additionally, its Open-SaaS ad server is, via its innovative application program interface design, a platform that allows its partners to innovate to match their own requirements.
In the past 12 months OpenX has created two industry firsts — the first ad serving solution to acquire and fully-integrate a supply-side platform, LiftDNA, and the first company in the ad technology space to add a content valuation solution, JumpTime.
Future plans include core innovation, scale, global expansion and multi-screen.
How to reach: OpenX, www.openx.com