NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Public Company



Michael Hilton

president and CEO

Nordson Corp.


Driving growth has been Michael Hilton’s objective since being named president and CEO of Nordson Corp. at the beginning of 2010.

Nordson Corp., a more than 5,000-employee manufacturer of products and systems used for dispensing adhesives, coatings, sealants and biomaterials for consumer non-durable, durable and technology end markets, has been a strong company, even during the recession years. When Hilton came into the company he saw it as an organization that could grow three to four times its size in revenue.

Globally, Nordson has a presence in more than 40 countries and has been well established in locations such as China, India, Brazil, Europe and Japan for a long time. To take advantage of growth opportunities, Hilton had to evaluate the business and understand the key areas that needed attention and resources.

Hilton believes the keys to achieving Nordson’s financial and strategic goals are innovative new products, growth in emerging markets and strategic acquisitions. In the 10 years prior to Hilton’s leadership as CEO, Nordson completed just five acquisitions. Since then, the company has made six acquisitions with global footprints and complimentary product offerings.

Through this recent acquisition activity, Hilton acknowledges that risks must be taken to continue to grow globally. These risks are most prevalent in adding new products to the company’s portfolio and the difficulty of integration into Nordson’s culture. As part of the risk mitigation process, Hilton has ensured that each acquisition/merger target passes the Integration Process Plan, which examines culture and market comparison.

With Hilton’s leadership, Nordson has generated record earnings and is on track to achieve its new strategic goals. Sales have increased and total assets have doubled since he has taken over as CEO. Dividends also have increased annually for 49 consecutive years, placing Nordson among only 15 other public companies to do so for that length of time.

How to reach: Nordson Corp.,

Published in Akron/Canton

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

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

NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year

Professional Services



Scot Lowry

president and CEO



Scot Lowry is president and CEO and the entrepreneurial force driving the growth and innovation at Fathom, a digital marketing and analytics company. Lowry, along with a business partner, purchased Fathom in 2007 from the company’s founder.

Although Lowry bought the company, the founder remained a vital operating component to the business by adding sales and marketing expertise. Working together, they leveraged their individual strengths to continue to grow the company. However, the sudden death of Fathom’s founder in 2010 proved to be a formidable challenge.

Lowry had to provide leadership, compassion and guidance to all his employees and clients shaken by the event. He then worked to replace the valuable sales and marketing resource that he had lost. Through it all, he was able to identify new talent and refocus his existing team toward an exciting new future.

Lowry’s vision and strategy has enabled Fathom to grow beyond its singular offering of search engine optimization to a company with a full suite of digital marketing services. Lowry led the transformation from one to more than 15 marketing service capabilities.

He has molded and shaped Fathom’s clever strategy approach. With ideas such as “devote to the moat” and “pick a niche,” Fathom expands its competitive advantages and keeps focused on niche markets like health care and education.

In addition, the company’s “easy in, impossible out” strategy ensures Fathom is committed to expanding its intellectual property and technology capabilities. To survive in the fast-paced digital marketing world, Fathom must stay ahead of the changing technology landscape. Every day there are changes online that can impact clients, so Lowry promotes “making order from chaos.”

Lowry has helped create these capabilities by investing in people, intellectual property, technology integration and acquisitions. By hiring results-oriented technology professionals and encouraging them to explore and expand creative solutions, Fathom has developed proprietary customer solutions and broadened solutions offerings to support its strategy of “easy in, impossible out.”

How to reach: Fathom,

Published in Akron/Canton