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
NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
co-founder, president and CEO
It was in 2003 when Yuval Brisker co-founded TOA Technologies and began to deliver what would be a world-class software, ETAdirect, a cloud-based field service and customer experience management solution. Brisker and TOA co-founder Irad Carmi were the creators and innovators who took on the challenge of solving the common problem of having to wait for the cable installer.
TOA stands for time of arrival, and through the company’s innovative mobile platform, companies managing employees on the move can more effectively and efficiently determine when a service or product can be delivered.
In its infancy, the main obstacle facing TOA and Brisker was determining the optimal platform for the product to be delivered to customers. The focus was on building a unique application that did not require installation. The result was the one-of-a-kind Web-based service product operating in the cloud.
Today, TOA is a rapidly expanding global company that is primarily gaining in size through organic growth in two ways — geographically and vertically. The company has primarily focused on the cable and telecommunications industries in the past; however, it is now expanding into other markets such as utilities, insurance and any home-delivery based service market.
This rapid growth presents multiple challenges for TOA, specifically software version control. The company has stayed committed to a software solution that has the same basic application platform across all the various customer configurations, which allows TOA to simplify its product maintenance and keeps costs low. TOA is able to meet its customers’ needs by understanding how each does business and by understanding their processes. This then translates into a configuration specific to that customer.
Along with expanded growth comes the challenge of an increasing workforce. TOA has increased its workforce nearly 50 percent since last year. Brisker prides himself on the high level of employee retention the company boasts, which speaks to the successful culture he has fostered at TOA.
How to reach: TOA Technologies, www.toatech.com
When Jeff Stibel founded Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp., he wanted to assist businesses in establishing their reputation as credible enterprises.
Formerly the president and CEO of Web.com, Stibel saw there was a significant need for small businesses around “credibility.” He and his team founded a company around this need. Determined that it was critical to have a brand name in credibility, Stibel acquired the rights to certain assets from Dun & Bradstreet in 2010.
The business he acquired had a declining revenue base, but Stibel wanted the storied brand, ability to use the name and the ability to tap the data. He quickly shut down the existing business and reformed it to provide credibility analysis for businesses throughout the U.S. and Canada.
If you look at employment growth alone, you would conclude that he’s been a success. Starting with just eight employees, the company has now grown to more than 600 employees.
But that is not the only impressive attribute. Stibel has become well-known for his “failure wall” where employees write about their business mistakes and miscues. He believes that every failure is an opportunity to learn and grow. The principals of positive failure have even been incorporated into the company’s performance evaluations — employees are graded on failures and calculated risk-taking.
Stibel believes in the importance of creating an outstanding workplace environment for his team to thrive. In appreciation of his staff, he began an innovative education savings plan, which allows his employees to set aside a wage-deferred contribution that is company-matched. He then triple matches it by donating directly to the school district.
Additionally, Stibel rewards high-performing employees each year with an all-expense paid vacation. Not surprisingly, his company has a low turnover rate. In just three years, the company has grown into a business that is experiencing significant growth, and became profitable in 2012.
How to reach: Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Co., www.dandb.com
NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year
founder and CEO
Stratos Wealth Partners, Ltd.
Jeff Concepcion spent 22 years with a large wealth management company advancing into senior leadership roles and always looking for a more efficient and effective way to service his clients and grow his team.
He had honed a unique delivery model that he prepared to roll out at his former firm when a management shakeup led to his unemployment. Declining a severance package because it was tied to a non-compete clause, Concepcion had a vision for a better company, took his white paper idea and founded Stratos Wealth Partners in 2008.
Through his strong commitment to ethics, integrity and execution, the founder and CEO of Stratos has built the company into one of the 15 largest wealth management firms in the U.S.
Concepcion has grown the firm with offices in 17 states and 127 affiliated wealth advisors. His strong commitment to fiscal stewardship and a relentless focus on customer service and execution has resulted in profits that have tripled and revenues that have doubled.
The early years of the firm were challenging as the company lost money in its first year. Concepcion did not take pay in the first three years to assure he could reinvest in the business while also paying out equity to his early partners.
Stratos is built on an innovative delivery model where affiliates earn equity versus commissions with more proven growth over time than they could grow on independently.
Stratos has also brought cutting edge technology to wealth management with the use of iPad order entry applications in a Citrix environment that many larger firms have been unable to execute on.
Stratos has tripled its IT support and has been able to remove the administrative and regulatory burden common in the industry so affiliates can focus on client service.
Concepcion has built an explosive, profitable company that will continue to expand while delivering personal satisfaction and financial security to his partners and affiliates.
How to reach: Stratos Wealth Partners, www.stratoswealthpartners.com
Rick Stollmeyer would not have been the only person to put a potentially life-altering business deal on hold in the fall of 2001.
The fact that this deal involved expanding his business to New York City, which was still grasping to find some sense of normalcy in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, only gave Stollmeyer more justification to hold off.
But as soon as the airports opened again, Stollmeyer dismissed the fears that many felt about flying so soon after the attacks and headed to New York to finish the deal for Mindbody, Inc. The client could not believe that Stollmeyer had made the trip, but ultimately signed off on the deal because he had made the trip. It got even better when Stollmeyer realized that a woman he had met on this leap-of-faith trip would eventually become the woman he would marry.
A strong work ethic, commitment to getting the job done, and the ability to remain focused and tune out distractions are traits that Stollmeyer took from his experience in the U.S. Navy. They each helped him build Mindbody into the largest cloud-based software provider in the health, wellness and beauty industries.
The business is run on a foundation of Stollmeyer’s personal leadership traits. One of his greatest successes is actually his inability to integrate into the typical corporate environment. He tried the more corporate approach but after witnessing the lack of compassion, drive and deeper meaning that came with it, he decided to unleash his own entrepreneurial spirit and hasn’t looked back since.
Stollmeyer expects a lot from his employees and values competence and character in every person who works for him. Compassion is the third of the three Cs that are important to him. He wants employees to care about their colleagues as much as they do themselves. The result is a vibrant and productive work environment, and a company that continues to grow.
How to reach: Mindbody, Inc., www.mindbodyonline.com