2018 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year®

EY honors the entrepreneurs who break the mold

We’ve come together to celebrate you, the dynamic mold breakers who are propelling forward to a brighter future for us all. You are visionaries who launch and reimagine businesses, employ millions and endow your communities, leaving legacies of accomplishment and enrichment while setting the pace for generations of entrepreneurs to come.

We salute the finalists being honored this year and congratulate the award winners!

Craig Glazier
Partner and East Central Program Director



Quick links:

WINNERS: Ron Leonhardt,CrossCountry Mortgage, Inc. | Alex Matseikovich, Craig Sturgill & Rodolfo Marrero,Excel Impact, LLC | Bill DeVille, Lair Kennedy & Ty Nelson, Health Carousel | Brady Duncan & Kenny McNutt, MadTree Brewing | John Leehy III, Payment Alliance International | Steve Smith, Plus Consulting, LLC | Joey Rivera, Rivera Group | Brian Yeager & Michelle Yeager-Thornton, The Champion Companies | Tim Svarczkopf, Tight Rock Solutions LLC

FINALISTS: Arria Hines, Allegheny Science & Technology | Tillie Hidalgo Lima, Best Upon Request | Steve Huey, Capture Higher Ed | David Eldridge & Mike Kane, cellhelmet | Teresa Hack, Channel Products | Andy Kline & Yoel Mayerfeld, Chase Properties | Greg Ubert, Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea | John Saxon, dlhBowles | John Anoliefo, Famicos Foundation | Ken Ganley, Ganley Auto Group | Anthony Sanzo, Net Health | Kevin Hickey, Online Stores LLC | Ed Kenty, Park Place Technologies | Gino and Barbara Faciana, Pleasant Valley Corporation | Kumar Buvanendaran, PRIME AE Group, Inc. | Rich Ward, WARDJet, Inc. | Joe Ferrara, Wombat Security Technologies, Inc. | Scott Zemba & Steve Zemba, Zemba Holdings, Inc. | Walter Lynch, Zipline Logistics


Ron Leonhardt
President and CEO
CrossCountry Mortgage, Inc.
Brecksville, Ohio

Nominated by: Michelle Novak, CrossCountry Mortgage, Inc. and David Ferguson, Merrill Corporation


Ron Leonhardt started CrossCountry Mortgage, Inc., in 2004, and in less than 15 years it has expanded from one branch in suburban Cleveland to 185 across the U.S. As president and CEO, he had the vision to become a national full-service lender that could meet customers’ needs and make their dream of homeownership a reality.

When Leonhardt founded CrossCountry, he brought in his mom, his aunt, two friends and hired a processor. They are now among the 1,300 people the company has grown to employ, which is more than double what it was just two years ago.

Over the life of the company, it has faced several significant challenges, given the cyclical nature of the industry in which it operates. Most notably are the mortgage crisis of 2008, an increasingly strict regulatory environment and challenges from larger competitors. However, CrossCountry has always been profitable and has never had to lay off employees. Leonhardt at times is overstaffed with the intention to grow his business to fit his workforce.

CrossCountry is an innovator. The company has streamlined its closing process to 21 days. Further, the company provides fast-track credit approval and its underwriting turn time is 48 hours or less. Leonhardt attributes his success to embracing rather than resisting change. He pursued a more aggressive strategy in 2009, in the middle of the mortgage crisis. While the majority of his competitors were struggling to survive, the strategy helped the company grow.

Despite the company’s rapid growth, it still has a unique small business feel. Leonhardt is a hands-on leader, and his involvement in the mortgage business trickles down throughout the company. He is a visible presence in the office and greets new hires personally, getting to know them on a personal level.

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Alex Matseikovich, CEO
Craig Sturgill, President and co-founder
Rodolfo Marrero, CTO
Excel Impact, LLC
Medina, Ohio


Finding that the insurance industry lacked efficient, effective and trustworthy methods for consumers to get connected with insurance agents and carriers, Craig Sturgill, Alex Matseikovich and Rodolfo Marrero came together with a solution. They founded Excel Impact, LLC, an online customer acquisition firm with a focus on the insurance industry. It’s a platform that connects consumers with the best agency that can serve their needs and offer tailored products and services.

CEO Matseikovich, President and Co-founder Sturgill and CTO Marrero believe that the quality of a lead is more important than the quantity of leads. They strive to create partnerships rather than simply sell.

The Cleveland-area company has an auction-based cost structure in which clients place bids on pings — excerpts of leads, such as zip code or birthdate — and Excel Impact selects the highest bid while considering the compatibility of the product for the consumer. The way this “ping-and-post” methodology has been implemented by Excel Impact is designed for enhanced value creation by associating its data research into distribution.

The company performs extensive data research to not only provide leads, but also to optimize them and ensure quality. The success of leads is continuously analyzed by obtaining multiple relevant data points from clients. It evaluates the status of all leads monthly and then uses the data to strategize and improve the quality it provides to those same clients.

Excel Impact places its customers first, and believes that if it always does right by its clients, money and success will follow naturally. Although the co-founders of Excel Impact feel they have achieved significant milestones as their business climbs to new heights every year, they are looking forward to more expansive and rapid growth in the coming years.

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Bill DeVille, CEO
Lair Kennedy, Chairman
Ty Nelson, President
Health Carousel
Cincinnati, Ohio

Nominated by: Dan Flanigan, Bannockburn Global Forex


CEO Bill DeVille, Chairman Lair Kennedy and President Ty Nelson have combined their unique talents while leading Health Carousel. In a market sometimes known for taking advantage of health care professionals for profit, especially overseas, the leaders were determined to instill their vision for a company that improves lives by making health care work better.

In 2006, the U.S. changed nurse immigration, inserting a five-year delay into the process of deploying foreign-trained health care professionals. This had a devastating financial impact on companies like Health Carousel, and many exited the market. During these difficult years, the founders doubled down on the international division, sponsoring as many nurse visas as possible.

Today, the Cincinnati company employs more than 800 foreign-trained health care professionals and is among the largest international health care staffing companies in the U.S. The company was recognized as the nation’s seventh-fastest growing health care staffing firm in 2017.

Health Carousel’s international staffing service, Passport USA, has long-term assignments of 36 months, which provide greater revenue visibility. The company is one of a few international staffing businesses with scale because of the significant barriers to entry. Similarly, the company became a top 20 travel nursing company when it acquired two other travel nursing businesses.

Health Carousel has a low attrition rate and grew the employee headcount from 90 to more than 440 over the past two years. The cornerstone of attracting and building talent lies in developing a magnetic culture. The company invested in benefits, such as platinum-level health insurance, Health Carousel University and an employee award system. It also takes time to celebrate company and employee milestones, and its offices have billiard tables, shuffleboard, walking desks and wellness rooms for nursing mothers.

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Brady Duncan
Kenny McNutt
MadTree Brewing
Cincinnati, Ohio


MadTree Brewing’s roots stem from Kenny McNutt’s beer-of-the-week club with some Cincinnati neighbors, including Brady Duncan. The crew would brew beer and invite young professionals over to connect.

Once the co-founders left their Fortune 500 companies to focus on MadTree full time, they quickly realized they were responsible not only for brewing the beer, but also accounting, human resources, sales and more.
As the craft brewery has grown from 1,000 to 27,000 barrels of beer, the duo has continued to be visible and approachable. MadTree opened a new taproom and brewery in 2017, which allowed the company to triple its production with room to grow.

McNutt and Duncan are proponents of ensuring employees control their career path. They treat the employees fairly, so those employees will treat management fairly in return. For example, a sales representative missed her goal for the quarter; while Duncan was willing to give her the bonus, she declined it in order to be accountable.

They also train all employees, from the packager to brewers, in the product’s taste. By putting in chemicals for their employees to taste the difference, they learn to identify problems either from ingredients or process.

Over the last four years, MadTree has seen tremendous growth. The pair is trying to better manage that, such as taking a deliberate approach when MadTree expands into new markets like Nashville. McNutt and Duncan also don’t want to lose sight of the need for quality and consistent beer. They invested heavily in a testing lab and have recently started to allow outside breweries to send samples for testing.

The company also hosts a Chef’s and Brewer’s Series to encourage chefs or brewers to experiment. These collaborations have created several beers, such as Rubus Cacao, a raspberry chocolate stout brewed with chocolate from a local company.

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John Leehy III
President and CEO
Payment Alliance International
Louisville, Kentucky

Nominated by: Gregory Carroll, PNC Bank, NA

President and CEO John Leehy III has started multiple businesses over the past two decades, fueling an entrepreneurial passion that has culminated in Payment Alliance International.

PAI has more than 75,000 ATMs, with plans to expand to 100,000 in the next few years. One out of every three retail ATMs in America is processed by PAI, making it the largest, privately-held ATM provider in the U.S. With the largest sales network in the ATM transaction processing industry, PAI touches every part of the “cash cycle” and is the industry’s most fully-integrated provider, serving merchants, consumers, financial institutions and ATM wholesalers.

The company also has successfully completed 43 acquisitions during the past decade, and seven in the last year alone.

The Louisville, Kentucky, company continues to lead its industry. PAI was first to deliver important advances on its nationwide ATM fleet, including cardless transactions via smartphone access, foreign currency conversion, charitable donations, and the PAI Beacon Network, a low-energy bluetooth beacon technology that delivers location-based consumer incentives directly to consumers’ smartphones. A customer might go to an ATM and be instantly recognized and personally greeted. Or, an ATM in a grocery store would recognize which bank a customer uses and change the settings to match.

As the company grows, Leehy strives to ensure PAI does not fall into the pit of big business. He believes in hiring the right people and employs the BBQ Test — hiring people who he would want to have at a house BBQ party. The company recently rolled out its PAI Armored Services Business, and in the coming months, it will expand its Alliance Funding unit — leasing, vault cash, small business lending, etc. PAI also plans to accelerate the pace of its acquisition of North American-based ATM businesses during 2018 and 2019.

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Steve Smith
Plus Consulting, LLC
Carnegie, Pennsylvania

Nominated by: Jason Wolfe, Wolfe, LLC

Plus Consulting, LLC is led by its CEO Steve Smith. On his own since age 15, Smith worked his way through high school and college, an experience he credits in helping to develop his tireless work ethic. After a period working in the ski industry and barely making ends meet, Smith decided to pursue his MBA at Carnegie Mellon University and started his career at Andersen Consulting.

Transferring the sales skills he honed working in a ski shop, Smith immediately stood out from his peers due to his strong management and selling skills. After stints at EY and Coopers & Lybrand, at the age of 29, Smith was formally accepted into the partnership admission process at PwC. After being told that he was too young and would have to wait five more years, Smith thanked the interviewer and immediately quit.

Within weeks, he started Plus Consulting. Taking the skills he learned at multiple leading companies, he created a firm with a focus on serving as a trusted business adviser and aligning business objectives with technology solutions.

Describing his team as “the MBAs of technology,” he believed he could serve customers with more entrepreneurialism and make it more affordable. Establishing himself as a thought leader in the industry, Smith has consistently adapted Pittsburgh-based Plus Consulting to emerging technologies and predicted popular trends, enabling sustained growth.

Crediting strong mentorships with enabling his success, Smith has created a culture of mentorship for his employees to enable them to thrive. He empowers his team to be successful by providing them with every tool possible to ensure their clients’ success. Smith is quick to point out that his people are his most valuable asset, and he has created the right culture and environment for them to thrive.

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Joey Rivera
President and CEO
Rivera Group
Louisville, Kentucky


At a young age, Joey Rivera learned the importance of leadership, endurance and responsibility when he joined the Marines at the age of 17 as a result of an order by a judge, which was a turning point in Rivera’s life. The Marines supplied him with structure and a sense of mission that led him to earn his GED and take charge of his future.

As Rivera would say, “there was no intent to build a company” when he was doing various consulting jobs in the early stages of his career. The growth occurred organically with his clients recognizing the valuable skill set and drive that Rivera possessed. As the jobs grew to be more than he could handle on his own, he began to hire additional help and thus became Rivera Group.

At the beginning, the Sellersburg, Indiana-based company offered professional consulting business services. One day, Rivera’s mentor, David Jones Sr., said that his professional consulting business was not scalable both in terms of talent and leadership. Rivera reflected on this advice and it became an eye-opener for him as he realized that Jones was correct.

Instead of trading “time for money,” Rivera, who serves as president and CEO, took Jones’ advice and began to see his company from a new perspective. He started thinking of scalability on the front end, which led to the transformation of the company from a professional services business to a software development company.

The transition “was brutal,” as Rivera said, as all the earnings from the consulting services were being reinvested into software development with unknown outcomes. It was, and continues to be, important to Rivera that the company has been “debt free since day one,” using retained earnings and working capital to continue to reinvent the business.

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Brian Yeager
President and CEO
Michelle Yeager-Thornton
Co-founder and COO
The Champion Companies
Westerville, Ohio

Nominated by: Geoff White, Frost Brown Todd

The Champion Companies was founded in 2010 when Brian Yeager and Michelle Yeager-Thornton purchased their first apartment complex. They made this purchase at a time when the real estate market could not have been worse and they needed a multi-million dollar loan to close the deal. This required each of them to take second mortgages on their homes, borrow money from family members and have full personal liability for any debt they acquired.

After numerous rejections, they received their first loan because the investor knew them as individuals who have knowledge of the industry and a strong work ethic. They got their start in real estate by doing property management to pay for college. The work ethic and personal responsibility they developed during this time made them into the successful and generous entrepreneurs they are today.

Brian and Michelle each have different, but complementary leadership styles. Brian is the president, CEO and visionary for the Westerville, Ohio-based company. He sets the plan three to five years down the road, making deals and determining what properties to sell and buy. As co-founder and COO, Michelle is on the ground making sure Champion is operationally sound. She is the reason every customer relationship starts with “Hello” and there is nothing she asks of anyone that she would not do herself.

The greatest challenge they believe their company faces is the highly competitive nature of the real estate market. In order to keep up with fast-paced market changes, Brian and Michelle know they cannot be complacent. They have invested in an improved revenue management system and environmentally friendly technology to stay on the leading edge and meet changing customer expectations. Their hard work has allowed their single mother to retire early and tripled the net worth of Brian’s blue-collar father-in-law.

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Tim Svarczkopf
Tight Rock Solutions LLC
Canonsburg, Pennsylvania

Nominated by: Ray Gevaudan, Comtech Industries, Inc.


While Tight Rock Solutions LLC is not truly a family business, it is certainly run like one. Tim Svarczkopf leveraged relationships with close business partners over the years to create a company that would fulfill his vision of providing a mathematical and laboratory-proved set of chemicals that would maximize exploration and production operator performance.

Headquartered in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, Tight Rock has approximately 12 employees, including business partner Dean Grose and his son, Jason Grose, who have been with the company since inception in 2015. This tight-knit group has begun something special in its pursuit of enhancing America’s energy capabilities.

Svarczkopf’s entrepreneurial spirit as CEO has been evident ever since he was a student at Hanover College in Indiana. As a student there, he knew he wanted to be a part of creating energy independence for the U.S. He graduated in four years with a double major in geology and chemistry, the only person to have done so at Hanover at the time. From there, he drew on his inherent desire to solve problems.

Svarczkopf believes entrepreneurs have to be willing to fail, or learn how not to do things. This personal ownership of being able to solve problems is what has driven him throughout his career. From figuring out how to reuse fracking water during his time working in North Dakota as a young professional to creating a specialized set of chemicals at Tight Rock, his passion for and ability to solve problems has shown through.

By creating an improved process for extracting oil and natural gas commodities within the Appalachian region, Tight Rock is doing its part to create energy independence. Tight Rock’s product and service offerings are completely original and have not been duplicated by any other company at this point.

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Arria Hines
President and CEO
Allegheny Science & Technology
Bridgeport, West Virginia

Nominated by: David Ferguson, Merrill Corporation

Arria Hines identified an opportunity to deliver customized IT and energy services to government clients through relationships created when working for NASA. Based on reputation, relationships and trust, Hines launched Allegheny Science & Technology, a technology and energy consulting firm, with only three employees. She was able to win multiple government contracts with agencies, such as the Department of Defense and Department of Energy.

However, just as Hines, the company’s president and CEO, was gaining traction with AST, the government shut down, which caused cash and business to dwindle. Hines and her management team tried to shield employees and protect the business from the impact of the temporary challenge.

Management took on debt and pay cuts, while becoming proactive with how they managed spending. When the shutdown was over, AST had not only survived, but had also become a stronger company because of it. Today the company, headquartered in Bridgeport, West Virginia, has about 200 employees across the U.S., is debt-free and still independently owned.

AST seeks to recruit the highest-preforming talent that also fits within the company’s open culture, one with a relaxed work environment that offers the flexibility to have a great work-life balance.
Hines also believes that empowering and developing her employees drives quality in the services the company performs. People development opportunities include schooling, certifications, trainings and diverse experiences on different clients.
The company’s efforts have paid off in both the outstanding services delivered to clients, which has resulted in many new contracts and extensions, and the “exceptional” ratings employees give in their contract performance assessment reports.
Hines’ culture of quality, trust and hard work has enabled the company to maintain customers and forecast 10 percent growth per year over the next several years.

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Tillie Hidalgo Lima
President and CEO
Best Upon Request
Cincinnati, Ohio

Nominated by: E. Todd Wilkowski, Frost Brown Todd LLC

Tillie Hidalgo Lima has poured every bit of herself into Best Upon Request, a full-service, on-site concierge service for employees and hospital patients.

As president and CEO, she has taken the female-owned and operated, Latina-run, family business to new heights. Educated in pharmaceutical studies, she operated a successful pharmacy for years until her husband, Dave, asked her to join Best, the company he started in 1993. Lima began managing all operations, ingraining herself in the business, learning each role and gaining technical expertise in a wide array of skill sets.

In the early 2000s, the Cincinnati, Ohio, company lost its largest client due to an IPO and a continued state of apprehension in the business community brought on by the Sept. 11 attacks. Best almost went out of business. It was then that Dave asked his wife to take over the business. Lima created opportunities in the health care vertical, adding a service to assist patients and their families during their stay at the hospital, navigating the sector’s regulatory framework to do so.

She also added a new service, maternity concierges, aimed at providing new and expecting mothers with services that assist them with research, planning and managing the responsibilities of a new parent.

Lima has grown Best into a full employee services benefits suite and brought other family members into the business, including her daughters who each actively manage a portion of the business. Jessica, the owner of the maternity concierge service, holds the title of vice president of marketing and communications; and Natalie, whose role is as a people developer and talent finder, holds the title of vice president of human relations.

Lima has a knack for taking on challenges and embracing difficulties, knowing that intense pressure and time turns a grain of sand into a pearl.

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Steve Huey
Capture Higher Ed
Louisville, Kentucky

Nominated by: Tony Thompson, PNC Bank, NA


With 23 times more applicants than students needed to fill a college class, Steve Huey sought a better way to find the right students to fill the right classrooms. In 2011, he co-founded Capture Higher Ed in Louisville, Kentucky, to do just that.

While competitors were adding more call centers and direct mail vendors to market to more students, Capture Higher Ed developed innovative software to assist universities to target and capture the “right” student pool during the recruitment and application process.

In 2014, the company acquired a data analytics firm and its CEO —  a doctorate in behavioral science — to form the start of an internal data science team. Capture Higher Ed then developed a marketing automation software product called Capture Behavioral Engagement and predictive modeling software called Envision with three unique programs that reflect the university application process.

The quick growth of the company’s client base is a testament to the efficacy of the software that Huey and his team have developed. However, never settling for the status quo, the company, of which Huey is CEO, has expanded beyond the initial software products and offers a plethora of new services, including digital marketing services and survey information services. It has also expanded its products and services to graduate programs, law programs, online programs, alumni giving programs and more.

Huey and his team brought the mix of behavioral technology and data science to a nonprofit industry. The innovative software that he and his team developed has room to grow and improve to adapt to constantly changing technological standards.

Combining marketing and behavioral methods in the nonprofit industry helps universities better serve the needs of prospective applicants, creating an efficient and accurate prediction of which students will be the right ones for the right university.

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David Eldridge,President
Mike Kane, Founder and CEO
Sewickley, Pennsylvania

Nominated by: Brian Dandrea, PNC Bank, NA

In 2011, Mike Kane began an eBay business to buy and resell phone accessories. When he was processing over 300 transactions on his day off, Kane took the next step. He developed his own brand, cellhelmet, a registered trademark of Kane & McHenry Enterprises, LLC.

By constructing an indestructible phone case and pairing it with a warranty for accidental damage to the phone while it was in the case, the founder and CEO essentially created an insurance plan. This novel idea landed a spot on ABC’s “Shark Tank.” Although Kane and his team left without receiving an investor offer, they caught worldwide attention, including David Eldridge’s.

Eldridge operated 18 Verizon Wireless stores throughout the Pittsburgh area. In 2013, Eldridge, who became president, purchased half of the company and applied his experience to further develop the brand.
Competing in an oversaturated market, gaining traction in the industry was difficult, personally and professionally, for Kane, who sacrificed paychecks for almost four years. But he never lost his passion and it paid off.

Today, cellhelmet manufactures 250 SKUs that are distributed to over 2,000 retail stores. The company has evolved to produce a variety of cellphone accessories, including screen protection products, chargers, data cables and cleaning solution.

As cellhelmet launches new products in a rapidly changing environment, the company has encountered hurdles. It first launched its liquid screen protector to the market without proper age testing. When customers reported a problem, Kane, Eldridge and the cellhelmet team spent two months working on recalls and searching for an alternative supplier. Despite the costly mistake, cellhelmet adapted quickly and retained most of its customers.

Preparing for three large product launches in 2018, the company expects to more than double its revenue over the next five years. cellhelmet is one of Pittsburgh’s up and coming manufacturers.

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Teresa Hack
President and CEO
Channel Products
Cleveland, Ohio

Nominated by: George Carson, The Carson Group

Teresa Hack was working as a consultant for the Weinberg Capital Group, a private equity firm, when it acquired Channel Products, which invents and manufactures component systems and technologies designed for the gas appliance industry. She was tasked with finding ways to improve the company, but soon learned of the long odds she was up against.

Hack uncovered serious problems with management, product quality, the financial statements and the corporate culture. The Cleveland company was losing its three largest customers and the culture was largely characterized by fear and unwillingness. Dishonesty about the financial information led the company to the verge of bankruptcy, and investors were prepared to write off the company entirely.

In a meeting with her bosses at WCG soon after, the team determined that the solution was to replace the president. Hack volunteered.

In one of her first moves, Hack made a strategic decision to place as much emphasis on culture as she placed on sales, financial management and performance. Immediately, she provided her team with a level of autonomy that other executives might consider a risk in the early stages of a turnaround. She reconstructed Channel’s cultural foundation, targeting specific purposes designed to make Channel a better place to work and to enhance its brand.

Targeting culture and sustainability has led to a 98 percent quality performance rating and a less than 2 percent employee churn rate during Hack’s time leading the company as president and CEO.

Hack’s entrepreneurial mindset has enabled her to make changes, see results and make a difference. She has a passion for people, and a love of development and success. She lives by the idea of not managing people, but leading people while managing the process. These pillars have been instrumental in the turnaround of Channel.

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Andy Kline
Yoel Mayerfeld
Chase Properties
Beachwood, Ohio

Nominated by: John Mark Tichar, Oswald Companies

Co-CEOs Andy Kline and Yoel Mayerfeld are responsible for the day-to-day operations of Chase Properties, one of the foremost owners of open-air shopping centers in the U.S. Since taking the reins in 2011, they have transformed the business and have grown by expanding the services it offers clients.

The Cleveland company owns 30 properties in 17 states throughout the Northeast, Midwest and Southeast U.S. Chase uses strict criteria when analyzing potential properties and the types of tenants it might go into business with.

The real estate market can ebb and flow, depending on many factors. Chase, however, has been able to continue growing and succeeding throughout various economic cycles because of its investment philosophy of buying high-quality real estate in smaller, tertiary markets and having national and regional brands as tenants.

For example, most of Chase’s 30 properties are located miles away from larger metropolitan areas, but are still in high-traffic towns with relatively high population density. By choosing to purchase open-air shopping centers in these areas, many of their tenants’ stores at these properties are the only location within 50 to 100 miles.

Kline and Mayerfeld have implemented an ownership mentality among the company’s employees. When they first took the lead, they conducted interviews with employees to determine the strengths and weaknesses of how the business was currently being run and ways they could improve the culture.

They discovered many employees felt like they did not have a seat at the table for decision-making and wanted a more collaborative approach to business. Kline and Mayerfeld took what they learned and reshaped the company’s core values by giving employees more autonomy. This paid dividends not only from a financial perspective, but it has also enabled employees to feel like more valued members of the team.

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Greg Ubert
Founder and president
Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea
Columbus, Ohio

Nominated by: Cheryl Claypoole, Claypoole Communications


Greg Ubert was a Harvard University graduate working at a computer software company in Chicago. He was nagged by the idea of finding better-tasting coffee and a better way to make it. That’s when, in 1991 at the age of 23, he moved back to Columbus, Ohio, and started Crimson Cup Coffee & Tea.

He began experimenting with different beans and talking to people in the coffee industry, learning the business and changing his techniques as he continued to grow. Ubert was focused on the experience of the coffee and everyone who touches it from bean to cup.

At Crimson Cup, Ubert, the company’s president, has developed a strong customer base of local coffee shops through training and support programs. He invests in these local businesses by sharing his company’s coffee expertise for free, which helps customers become more knowledgeable and skilled in the coffee industry.

The training can be at the customer’s site or at Crimson Cup’s Innovation Lab. Here, employees experiment with different techniques and products, testing out new concoctions. Coffee professionals can use the lab to learn different brewing, drink preparation and roasting techniques.

Ubert is also impacting farmers by working to understand their specific farms, the people in the villages and the challenges they face so that he can support each farmer to ensure his or her continued success, which enables them to support their families and communities. He has provided business training to some local farmers that has improved profitability, and has signed multi-year contracts with some farmers, which has enabled them to better plan their production.

Crimson Cup’s retail spaces focus on bringing the bean-to-cup experience to consumers in a minimal space that emphasizes the drink rather than the décor. Currently, there are four retail locations with plans to expand within Ohio.

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John Saxon
Canton, Ohio

Nominated by: Jerry Lynott, Oswald Companies


John Saxon leads dlhBowles, a manufacturer of air and fluid delivery systems for the global automotive market, by building the right team. Describing his leadership style as openly hostile, he surrounds himself with people who think differently and encourages them to challenge his ideas.

Attracting and retaining top talent are fundamental to the company’s success. Seeing that one of the organization’s greatest deficiencies was its lack of a career path for its workers, including its engineers, Saxon directed the company to invest in its human resources department to position itself for growth. This has led to more incentivized workers and less turnover.

The economic downturn of 2008 was a significant challenge for dlhBowles because of its impact on the automotive industry. Revenues of the Canton, Ohio, company dropped significantly and two of its largest customers filed for bankruptcy only weeks apart. Saxon, the company’s CEO, reduced dlhBowles’ workforce and his compensation to absorb the hit.

Despite these challenges, he continued to put company resources into research and development. Specifically, Saxon was able to recognize a shift in industry trends toward using lighter plastic components in vehicles, instead of heavier rubber and metal materials. The move paid off and the company emerged from the recession income neutral and cash flow positive. Because the company had new products and procedures in place to meet the automotive industry’s demand of lighter, plastic components, business was soon booming.

Saxon’s focus on innovation contributed to dlhBowles’ success following the recession. Today, the company continues to focus on diversifying its product lines. Seeing another shift in the automotive industry toward autonomous vehicle technology, Saxon has the company placing an emphasis on in its R&D in this area.

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John Anoliefo
Executive Director
Famicos Foundation
Cleveland, Ohio

Nominated by: Sharon Francz, Taylor Oswald


John Anoliefo arrived in the U.S. as a teenager from Nigeria, intending to make a difference in the lives of others in need. As executive director of the Famicos Foundation, Anoliefo and his colleagues do just that by providing affordable housing, everyday necessities and other services to those in need within the Glenville, Ohio, community.

Anoliefo prides himself on the ability to maintain a clean image and reputation and set an example. Not only did he move to Glenville upon accepting his position in 2002, he has also raised his kids and continues to live and worship in Glenville.

While Famicos was well-known within the community, his new role wasn’t without challenges. His predecessor at Famicos exhausted all funding and the organization was borrowing money from a local bank to meet payroll. Anoliefo drew on a similar experience he had at his prior position to rebuild Famicos’s finances and create a mix of investors and funding sources.

One of Anoliefo’s concerns is the potential for employees to become discouraged as they fight against poverty. Anoliefo implemented year-end bonus checks, organized gatherings at Cleveland sporting events and ticket giveaways, implemented birthday celebrations, and has provided financial support to those with unexpected life-changing events. As a result, employee morale significantly increased, turnover is low and the employee base has grown from 17 people to approximately 42.

Where possible, Anoliefo prefers to hire employees and recruit board members from within the neighborhood. For example, Famicos targeted local teenagers to employ as part of its landscaping service, which cleans up plots of land left empty after the demolition of vacant homes. This provides a source of income, promotes responsibility and work ethic in young adults, and most importantly, provides an alternative to young adults that otherwise join street gangs and commit violent crimes.

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Ken Ganley
Ganley Auto Group
Brecksville, Ohio

Nominated by: Molly Carpenter, Smart Business Network


Ganley Auto Group was founded in 1968 by Ken Ganley’s father, Tom Ganley. Ken started washing cars and sweeping floors at age 12. He worked up to the sales floor by age 16 and began selling cars. Even while away at college, he worked at a small Toyota dealership. Ken then used the money he earned throughout high school and college to buy into the family business. At 21, he partnered with his father to open and operate his first dealership in Akron, Ohio.

Ken quickly learned that he had to change the culture. He wanted to get rid of the stigma of used-car salesmen “nickel and diming” the customers and create a more enjoyable customer experience. The idea was that the right experience would not only help them sell more cars, but also keep customers coming back for car maintenance, car parts and body shop services, which are generally more profitable.

Ken first approached his father to determine what dealerships were struggling so that he could implement his model to confirm it would work. The dealerships had increased car sales and profitability in a matter of months. Knowing they had the right formula, Ken and Tom rolled out the model to all of the Ganley dealerships.

Training continues to be important today. Ken opened a training center for employees to complete mandatory training for their respective levels, such as all new hires completing a two-week class prior to coming into the business.

Ken also learned he could grow the business exponentially by acquiring distressed assets/dealerships, implementing the Ganley model and turning them around. In 2008, when Ken took over as CEO, Ganley had 12 dealerships. Today, Ganley has 37 dealerships and is actively seeking more opportunities. It expects to reach more than 2,000 employees by the end of 2018.

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Anthony Sanzo

Chairman and CEO
Net Health
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Nominated by: Patrick Colletti, Net Health


Anthony Sanzo has had two careers: 19 years as a hospital administrator and 19 years as an entrepreneur.

As COO of Allegheny General Hospital, an aggressive plan to expand the hospital’s reach into Philadelphia wasn’t going as planned. The hospital spread itself too thin, and Sanzo brought this to the attention of the board. Although he was reluctant, Sanzo accepted the offer to become CEO of the failing hospital. He led it through bankruptcy and restructuring, which Sanzo describes as the worst 14 months of his professional life. Little did he know, this set the foundation for his second career.

In 1999, Sanzo founded Transition Management Group, a small consulting firm that leveraged his experience. As Sanzo took on clients such as TeleTracking and Net Health, he became so valuable, he was brought in as an employee of both companies.

But even starting his own business wasn’t as challenging as the turnaround of Net Health. Founded in 1997, like many young companies, it faltered during its first few years. Sanzo became chairman in 2001 and set Net Health back on course, identifying the one product worth focusing on. Wound Expert today has two-thirds of the market share for wound care electronic health records.

In 2011, Sanzo stepped in as CEO to bring liquidity to the investors within a year. In a matter of months, Net Health was acquired by a private equity firm.

Over the last few years, the Pittsburgh company — which has grown to 50 employees and serves a client base that treats patients in over 3,000 hospitals, outpatient centers and skilled nursing facilities — has been acquired by another private equity firm. Sanzo convinced these new investors to take the long view and develop “xfit,” a platform that can support all of Net Health’s products, not just Wound Expert.

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Kevin Hickey
Online Stores LLC
New Stanton, Pennsylvania

Nominated by: David Ferguson, Merrill Corporation


Online Stores LLC was started by CEO Kevin Hickey and his wife, Lisa, in 2001. It began as an online flag sales company. Today, Online Stores prides itself on being both a merchandising and a technology company.

Lisa’s brother, John, joined the company six months after it was operational in what was expected to be a temporary role. Sixteen years later, John acts as the head of day-to-day operations in the No. 2 leadership role, behind Hickey.

Hickey’s management philosophy is greatly influenced by the family business aspect of Online Stores. He takes care of his employees and their families through competitive pay, flexible work arrangements and family health benefits. As Hickey puts it, “Nobody should be penalized for having a family.”

The online merchandising company specializes in niche products and markets, such as LED lighting, flags, safety clothing and equipment, and chimney piping. Online Stores also manufactures some of its products, like flags, and acts as a technological innovator by designing its IT systems to sell products. Hickey sees the company’s IT structure as its strongest aspect. With his background in software engineering, Hickey took a hands-on approach to designing the company’s IT configuration in the early days. Today, he’s more involved on a conceptual level.

Online Stores currently has about 135 employees and has begun an apprenticeship program that Hickey hopes to extend to local area high schools.

Online Stores operates in the same landscape as such retail giants as Amazon and Walmart. To compete with these entities, Online Stores focuses on how to increase online search engine traffic and differentiate itself. Its internal customer service department fields over 1,000 calls per day from its New Stanton, Pennsylvania, location. In addition to customer service, Online Stores creates innovative tools that help customers find products and use those products subsequent to purchase.

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Ed Kenty
Chairman and CEO
Park Place Technologies
Cleveland, Ohio

Nominated by: David Ferguson, Merrill Corporation


Park Place Technologies, an enterprise hardware service provider, has found an attractive niche. The majority of post-warranty service coverage is provided by the original equipment manufacturers. These OEMs have a split focus: Their primary goal is to drive customers to replace their existing hardware by purchasing new equipment, rather than providing cost-efficient, quality service for legacy hardware. Under the leadership of Chairman and CEO Ed Kenty, PPT offers warranty and hardware coverage for data centers after the initial manufacturer’s warranty.

The company also has invested in and services all major platforms. That way, any change by a single manufacturer is unlikely to have a material impact on PPT’s performance.

Globalization offers the most significant opportunity for PPT. In the past five years, Kenty has prioritized global markets. He’s focused on expanding into the European and Asia-Pacific regions.

Kenty is also laser focused on recruiting, retaining and developing talent. Rather than seeking sales personnel with five- to 10-years’ experience, Kenty has found PPT is able to more effectively mentor a newly graduated workforce, control quality and offer consistent methodology across the sales team. These personnel enter a six-month training program in its Cleveland-area office that involves extensive skill-building exercises, technical training and shadowing. When individuals do not show an aptitude for the more social side of sales, PPT tries to place them within other parts of the business. Once an individual has completed the entry training, they’re placed in a region, and existing salespeople contribute a portion of their accounts. This gives the new salesperson an easier transition.

Additionally, PPT has a strategy of always looking internally when promoting. When expanding products or regions, the company gives an existing employee the opportunity to lead the expansion, which enhances quality, culture and brand consistency.

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Gino and Barbara Faciana
Pleasant Valley Corporation
Medina, Ohio

Nominated by: Melanie Holman, Oswald Companies


Gino and Barbara Faciana met, got married and started their first business, Pleasant Valley Corporation, in 1976. With $500 in their pocket, they started working as electrical contractors and began their journey into entrepreneurship. They both believe in a business family, not a family business. According to Barbara, a family business is one in which the patriarch is the CEO “because he says so.” A business family is run more like a board of directors. Everyone’s opinion matters and all major business decisions are put to a family vote.

As the second generation of their family started to join the firm, Gino and Barbara, who serve as co-CEOs, felt it was important to hire a family business counselor to help them work through the daily tribulations of being a business family. They used this experience to advantageously position their business while also growing stronger as a family.

Gino and Barbara gave their children ownership interests in the Medina company and created an infrastructure where no son or daughter answers to another. Each child is the head of his or her own division, which they are responsible for growing and managing.

During the process of building out their business model to include a second generation, they reworked the structure more than once. In doing so, their family business became a business family — transitioning their daily reality into a strategic business advantage.

Gino believes that each member of the second generation adds innovative ideas and technology that drive the entrepreneurial spirit of the company, while maintaining the business and family values they find so important. They have taught their grandchildren, who are 12 years old and younger, to start their own business. This third generation of PVC runs the Swag Shop, where they bring coffee and cookies to employees’ desks for 15 cents per delivery.

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Kumar Buvanendaran
President and CEO
PRIME AE Group, Inc.
Columbus, Ohio

Nominated by: Molly Carpenter, Smart Business Network


Since 2011, Kumar Buvanendaran has fully immersed himself into PRIME AE Group, Inc., creating an environment in which PRIME is truly his family. He has set forth standards and expectations to enable his staff to view their relationships the same way and commit 100 percent of themselves to this family. Buvanendaran has personally served in every role at the company, ranging from marketing coordinator to project manager to now president and CEO.

From the foundational and core understanding of each role’s value in the Columbus company, he is able to demonstrate and excel at his current leadership role. He believes in taking risks and feels that if risks are not taken, nothing will ever change to improve the company.

He has an insatiable appetite for growth and a strong level of perseverance. He believes in himself and his staff and their ability to work together to make PRIME a successful business. Buvanendaran’s tagline is that he will not take no as an answer, and he believes there is always a way to win. He regularly preaches this to his team to encourage them to take risks and push the status quo.

Buvanendaran openly conveys his support to employees and maintains an open door policy around communication with executives. He embraces failure as a learning experience and an opportunity for the business to grow from its mistakes. Buvanendaran makes sure that his employees know that he is available 24/7 if they ever need anything. He takes work calls in the evenings and on weekends to ensure all of his employees have the support necessary to properly perform their job.

He believes that building trust is one of the most important things within any business, and strives to be a leader rather than just a boss.

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Rich Ward
WARDJet, Inc.
Tallmadge, Ohio

Nominated by: Josh Fragoso, Oswald Companies


Rich Ward came to the U.S. to pursue an opportunity to run a stone company. He moved to Cleveland with his wife, Helen, and two young children with no money in his pocket and hardly any belongings. He and his family moved into a small apartment that they furnished with items from garage sales and other people’s garbage. After only 16 months in Cleveland, Ward lost his job. Fortunately, this was not the end of Ward’s career; instead, it was the beginning of his pursuit to transform the waterjet cutting business.

Ward decided early on that WARDJet, Inc. would run differently than any other business. One example of its uniqueness is how the Tallmadge, Ohio-based company approaches maintenance services. WARDjet gives a lifetime guarantee for its waterjets, and all maintenance is done remotely. When a customer calls with an issue, a ticket is automatically filed and a support technician remotely assesses the problem.

Also, every waterjet has a QR code that the customer can scan to get information on the machine — from instructions to machine parts. Ward decided to handle maintenance this way to avoid the cost of wasted technician time and travel. As part of this remote maintenance program, WARDjet has a lean, but efficient support staff that quickly solves the waterjet issues of the world through modern connective technology. An astounding 94 percent of all problems are fixed within four hours of the customer’s initial call.

The company differentiates itself from competitors by being the only manufacturer to offer custom machines that solve complex problems. Many times, Ward has sold an idea of a machine before he has even constructed it. As automation increases, and with the value of customized machinery, WARDjet has secured its market position as the only niche competitor in customized waterjets.

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Joe Ferrara
President and CEO
Wombat Security Technologies, Inc.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Nominated by: Rich Lunak , Innovation Works & Riverfront Ventures


Before taking his position at Wombat Security Technologies, Inc., Joe Ferrara knew he wanted to make a major career shift — from an established public company to a startup. Ferrara describes himself as an individual who becomes bored easily. Taking on a startup was just the challenge he was looking for to satisfy his entrepreneurial passion.

Ferrara was fascinated by the innovative idea of educating people on cybersecurity threats that the three founders of Wombat had developed. The founders were full-time Carnegie Mellon University computer science faculty members who were unable to devote the time to advance the product to the potential that Ferrara could see in the Pittsburgh company.

After gaining the founders’ trust, Ferrara took over the company as employee No. 4 and would disrupt the industry by providing software as a service based information security awareness and training products into new market segments with capabilities that their traditional competitors did not know or understand. Ferrara’s exceptional visionary leadership, seeing two to three years ahead of the market, helped the product to become the market standard. Wombat’s products continue to push innovation ahead of its competitors.

Ferrara, who serves as president and CEO, did not build his team to more than 220 employees by plucking new graduates from surrounding universities who majored in technology fields. Rather, he reached out to established individuals he had previously worked with or those he personally knew and trusted to refer others. His philosophy is that if you treat people right, regardless of their experience and educational background, anything can happen. Ferrara follows through with that attitude not only by behavior, but by each employee’s benefit package. Further, he ensures that all employees receive stock options upon hiring, which has been rewarding to all employees after the recent acquisition by Proofpoint.

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Scott Zemba
Co-founder and CEO
Steve Zemba
Zemba Holdings, Inc.
Zanesville, Ohio

Nominated by: Robert Zab , Manchester RBG

Zemba Holdings, Inc. is recognized as one of Southeastern Ohio’s largest excavation companies with a wide offering of other services. However, it’s a company that was built upon humble beginnings. It was founded and is led by Scott Zemba, co-founder and CEO, along with his brother Steve, who is president.

Scott and Steve were taught at an early age the value of a dollar and strong work ethic. When asked what they find most rewarding in being a family business owner, Scott and Steve quickly agreed that it is the pride of where they started and how far they’ve come.

Starting by mowing lawns as teenagers, the foundation of the company was established upon the brothers’ tendency to accept and take on any job requested of them. At a young age, the brothers took on work to make enough to survive, but Scott explained that the reward is not the money. Rather, it’s the pride of making something of themselves and establishing a generational business from the ground up.

Steve says that the company doesn’t hire people solely to fill a job. They hire people to be a part of their family. Zemba Holdings now employs 92 people, and Scott emphasized that none of them will ever be just a number. This has established a competitive advantage for the company, which has dominated the market in which it serves.

Despite the growth of the company, Scott and Steve still define and measure its success by the impact that they’re able to have on their people and on the community. As they have transitioned out of day-to-day operations and into executive roles, they’re able to see the growth of their team and of each individual on the team.

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Walter Lynch
Zipline Logistics
Columbus, Ohio

Nominated by: Bethany Cramer, Zipline Logistics


Walter Lynch comes from a family of entrepreneurs and while he did not expect to become one himself, he knew how hard it was to start a business and the potential failure that could occur. After college, Lynchand his brother, Andrew, decided they wanted to start a business together. Lynchworked for Lehman Brothers Holdings and other financial institutions while Andrew worked for a logistics company.

They were dissatisfied with the quality of service that was being delivered to the customer and felt they could do it better. Lynch suggested that he, Andrew and two other founding members start their own logistics company. While Andrew and the two other gentlemen knew how to execute on the day-to-day operations of a logistics company, Lynch could focus on the financial and strategy aspect of the business.

They launched the Columbus business in 2007, and for the first five years, Lynch had a day job. He traveled frequently and carried a portable printer with him to print checks for the business in the evening. During these early years of the company, he worked in the background managing the partnership, finances and legal aspects of the business. This continued until 2012 when he joined Zipline Logistics full-time as CEO.

Zipline is strategic with talent management and invests heavily in its team. Leadership 411 is an advanced leadership training program geared toward sales and senior positions, while Emerging Leaders Group is for newer staff. Outside of the official leadership training programs, the company emphasizes career mentoring focused on coaching employees through various career topics. Lynch also created an innovation lab, which was originally for employees to submit feedback for technology improvement. This has since expanded into process improvements with an overall goal to enhance productivity.

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Deborah Rogan
Bellwether Enterprise Real Estate Capital




Rod Robinson




Jeff Broadhurst
Eat’n Park Hospitality Group




Greg Conley
HFF, Inc.




Brad Sacks
More Than Gourmet




Leigh Radford
Procter & Gamble




Aaron Grossman



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EY Entrepreneur Of The Year®

Everyone who receives this email is either a successful entrepreneur, advises one or knows one. So I would like to ask for your help in recognizing great entrepreneurs in Northeast Ohio through the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Award program.

Smart Business has partnered with EY for more than 20 years and I will be the first to tell you that it is a terrific program that provides benefits far beyond the mere recognition of your peers. Not only do you network with other local entrepreneurs, but regional winners go on to a national event in Palm Springs, California, that features an incredible lineup of business, cultural and political thought leaders — and, of course, more incredible entrepreneurs.

Past local winners have included Chuck Hallberg, Stewart Kohl, Rocco DiLillo and Dean and Scott Mueller — as well as three of our featured dealmakers this week: Scott Becker, Ray Leach and Kevin Weidinger.

The deadline to apply is Friday, March 9. If you or someone you know would be a great candidate, contact EY’s Melissa Ungar at (412) 644-7888 or [email protected].

Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia

An entrepreneur is someone who bounds into the unknown, creating the future.

When we first honored four forward-thinking entrepreneurs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in 1986, we had only just begun to recognize the forward thinking that is the hallmark of American business. Now, Entrepreneur Of The Year® reaches across the country to encompass nearly 10,000 distinguished U.S. alumni, celebrated in 25 U.S. regional programs. We also extend to 145 cities and 60 countries worldwide.

We’ve come together to celebrate those dynamic entrepreneurs who are propelling forward toward a brighter future for us all.  They are visionaries who launch and reimagine businesses, employ millions and endow their communities, leaving legacies of accomplishment and enrichment while setting the pace for generations of entrepreneurs to come.

We salute the finalists being honored tonight and congratulate the award winners!

Mike Denove
Partner and Entrepreneur Of The Year® Co-Director




Matt Lizanich
Partner and Entrepreneur Of The Year® Co-Director




Quick Links:

FAMILY BUSINESS (WINNER) Jeff Broadhurst, Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc. | (FINALISTS) David Heckler & Brendan Heckler, Comfort Supply, Inc. | Nancy Bruns, JQ Dickinson Salt-Works | Kristy Knichel, Knichel Logistics
TECHNOLOGY (WINNER) Lalit Chordia, Thar Process, Inc. | (FINALISTS) Robbin Steif, LunaMetrics | Vince Cersosimo, Webbula | Shawn McGorry, Jonathan Rosenson & Kenneth Hill, Expedient | Barbara VanKirk IQ Inc.
COMMUNITY SERVICE (WINNER) Anna Zaydenberg, ComForCare Senior Service/a> | (FINALISTS) Brad Childs & Jonathan Plesset, Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue TeamJeremy Resnick & Tina Chekan, Propel Schools
BUSINESS ADVISORY SERVICES (WINNER) Patrick Cozzens, Modern Transportation | (FINALISTS) Danielle Cuomo, Virtual Assist USA | Stephen Moritz, Encentiv Energy Inc. | Mark Gleason, Gleason & Associates
REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION (WINNER) Joe Calloway, RE 360 LLC | (FINALISTS) Reed Mahany, RECO Equipment, Inc. | Gregg Perelman & Todd Reidbord, Walnut Capital Management, Inc. Jeremy Leventhal, Faros Properties
RETAIL & CONSUMER PRODUCTS (WINNER) Lani Lazzari, Simple Sugars | (FINALISTS) Tommy Wang & Henry Wang, TMD Holdings, LLC | Scott Baker, 5 Generation Bakers
DISTRIBUTION & MANUFACTURING (WINNER) Sean Marszalek, SDC Nutrition | (FINALISTS) Brett Randall, Aliner | J.D. Ewing, Jr., COE Distributing
SERVICES (WINNER) Mike Wagner Target, Freight Management & TFM Truckload, LLC | (FINALISTS) Ron Eggert, Inspira | Mark Marmo, Deep Well Services



Here are the Entrepreneurs Of The Year® for Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia

Family Business


Jeff Broadhurst
President and CEO
Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc.

Nominated by: Luke Skurman, Niche.com, Inc.

Eat’n Park Hospitality Group, Inc. remains committed to the family values instilled in the organization’s culture from the beginning.
Serving 50 million guests annually in restaurants, college and corporate campuses, and an online store, EPHG is still 91 percent family owned. However, President and CEO Jeff Broadhurst sees his 9,500-plus employees as family.

The low turnover rate in a difficult industry is evidence of that; over 450 employees have been with the company more than 25 years. Where the average turnover rate for hourly employees is 112 percent, EPHG has maintained a turnover rate of 50 percent.

Broadhurst has put in place training and education programs to help employees grow, such as the entire management team going through 360 training last year. In addition, EPHG donates at least 5 percent of its annual pre-tax earnings to local charities and employees have spent thousands of hours in the community.

Broadhurst’s motto is “if you’re going to fail, fail fast.” Shortly after coming to work for EPHG, he started a new diner-style concept restaurant. When it was clear his idea wasn’t a success, he didn’t let the costly mistake bother him. Broadhurst learned from the experience and over 15 years later, still brings it up in employee meetings.

Broadhurst’s entrepreneurial spirit, such as new restaurant concepts like Hello Bistro and The Porch, weren’t always popular in a conservative, family-owned business. But the idea of resisting change has gone away.

The Parkhurst Dining division, serving universities and businesses, also has the potential for tremendous growth. But Broadhurst doesn’t want to enter into bidding wars that will require innovation to slow down in order to cut costs.

The company’s ultimate goal is to serve 200 million guests per year across all of its concepts, expanding geographically and innovating locally in already established locations.
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David Heckler
Brendan Heckler
Vice President
Comfort Supply, Inc.

Nominated by: Dione Sommer Cahillane, University of Pittsburgh – IE

The Heckler family has been in the heating industry since the beginning of the 20th century. Today, Comfort Supply, Inc. is owned and operated by President David Heckler and Vice President Brendan Heckler.

The father and son don’t always see eye to eye, but their communication and diverse views have brought balance and have been the success behind the business.

CSIpgh serves both commercial and residential contractors, and the Hecklers consider their company like a small-town hardware store where the owner knows your name and always has just what you need.

CSIpgh provides numerous opportunities for contractor training, including equipping older staff with the knowledge to comfortably sell and repair new industry technology. Technical advisers are on call 24 hours a day, and before cellphones, CSIpgh employees even had their home phone numbers on their business cards.

David leads by example, describing himself as the company cheerleader. He cares deeply for his employees, which is evident in the way he proudly talks about them.

Brendan grew up in the business, sweeping floors and loading trucks as a high school student. After going to school, Brendan came back to CSIpgh about eight years ago. He saw an opportunity to strengthen the company’s marketing, which has helped CSIpgh build a stronger presence in the region.

CSIpgh’s revenue has nearly doubled twice over in the past couple of years. David and Brendan believe their success comes from the products they sell, the people working for them and the customers that they’ve acquired.

However, the company has faced challenges along the way. Not only have the Hecklers made a foreign product, Mitsubishi, well-known and trusted, they convinced all of their dedicated Comfort Systems brand contractors to go through training and start using American Standard — when it’s seldom that contractors will even give a thought to switching brands.
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Nancy Bruns
JQ Dickinson Salt-Works

Nominated by: Brian Kraus, Huntington National Bank

Nancy Bruns is a seventh-generation salt maker who returned to her family’s 200-year-old farm to harvest a rare salt from deep below the majestic Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. The history of Appalachian salt is deeply personal to her family. Her ancestors, the Dickinsons, first drilled for brine in 1817, using a hollowed-out tree trunk for piping. They established the family’s farm along the Kanawha River. By the 1850s, there were hundreds of wells along the river producing more than 3 million bushels of salt per year by the Dickinsons and others. It made Kanawha Valley the largest salt-producing region of the U.S.

By the mid-20th century, the salt-producing activities began to consolidate into larger conglomerates. The Dickinson family followed and closed the operation. In 2012, while in North Carolina and having recently exited her restaurant business, Bruns and her husband, who has a passion for history, began researching the history and importance of salt as a commodity in the settlement of the U.S. They stumbled across the heritage of the Dickinson salt operations and began the investigation into transforming it into a commercially viable, yet environmentally sustainable, business. The couple researched extraction and natural processing techniques to restore the family’s salt farm.

JQ Dickinson Salt-Works is currently owned by Bruns, who serves as CEO, and her brother, Lewis Payne. It was a risk to restore an operation that had been vacant for more than 70 years and do it using an environmentally friendly processing technique. Bruns’ realized that she had a viable operation when the first batches of salt were sold in 2013. The company completely sold its inventory in the first year.

As the business evolves, Bruns is always looking for individuals who have a passion for the company. She is also continually evaluating the next leaders within her network to ultimately be groomed for the CEO role.
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Kristy Knichel
Knichel Logistics

Nominated by: Ashley Caloia, Knichel Logistics

When Kristy Knichel graduated from high school, she had no interest in working either for the family business, Knichel Logistics, or for her dad. She went off to find her own path at Indiana University of Pennsylvania where she studied criminology.

After two years, however, she realized it wasn’t for her. She left IUP and enrolled at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh while also working for a pizza shop. During her time at the pizza shop, the owner decided it was time to look at selling the business. He was impressed with Knichel’s work ethic and the ideas she had brought to the business, so he approached her about buying it.

Knichel told her father about the opportunity and asked if he would help her to purchase the pizza shop. He responded with a different opportunity — join him and work in the family business. After much consideration, she decided to take him up on his offer and go to work alongside her father. She received no special treatment and worked in every department of the company to learn the business.

In 2007, when her dad was ready to retire, Knichel suggested that she was ready to take on the role of president in the company. He agreed it was the right position for her, but he wasn’t willing to give up his ownership or his voice within the business. Knichel has always worked extremely hard to prove to her father that she has what it takes to be a leader. By 2009, she had grown Knichel Logistics to a point where she could buy out her father’s shares and take full control.

Knichel has set a high standard for herself as a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry. Her innovation and expansion efforts as president have helped keep the company in growth mode and earned the loyalty of her team.
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Lalit Chordia
President and CEO
Thar Process, Inc.

Nominated by: Raul Valdes-Perez, OnlyBoth, Inc.

Lalit Chordia began his entrepreneurial journey as a doctoral student when he co-founded his first company, Suprex, successfully raising over $12 million from venture capitalists. When he discovered his shares of the company were diluted, he left Suprex. Faced with limited personal funds and access to capital along with a growing family, he started Thar.

The Thar group of companies — Thar Instruments, Thar Pharmaceuticals, Thar Process, Thar Energy and the forthcoming Thar Water — employ supercritical fluids to address needs in the instrumentation, pharmaceutical, energy and water industries to solve complex issues such as providing potable water worldwide. The group also designs, manufactures and sells equipment, and offers contract-processing services.

Chordia slowly built Thar by starting small, establishing strong customer relationships and obtaining non-dilutive funding. A one-person equipment company expanded into four companies in distinct market areas, two of which have been acquired.

Instead of keeping everything in one company, diluting effort and mixing messages, Thar was strategically built and staffed to gain market recognition via separate corporate entities that ensure proper positioning of technology and market direction.

To monetize its technologies, Thar moved away from just selling hardware to a technology and service provider of concept-through-commercialization solutions. For example, Thar Process established one of the premier contract processing operations for customers that do not have production capacity and do not want to invest in it. The new offering not only allowed Thar to gain customers, but also generate a recurring revenue stream in addition to its equipment business.

Thar’s competitive advantages include its vast experience in the field of technology, dedication to advancing the core technology into new markets, deep understanding of both process and equipment technologies, achieving maximum output efficiencies and a focus on customer needs. Thar continues to expand by providing outstanding quality, service, new products and value to customers.
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Robbin Steif

Nominated by: Ilana Diamond, Alphalab Gear

When Robbin Steif left her position as CFO at Maya Design, she did not have a new job lined up. Through 2003 and 2004, she networked with other entrepreneurs and professionals and was impressed with how many people went out of their way to help her. She wanted to repay the kindness and give back the goodwill she was receiving. One person who stepped up to help happened to be in charge of a website, so Steif asked him to let her perform web analytics — it was the start of Steif Enterprises.

The company was launched from her home in 2004 as a single member LLC. She continued to network and even offered her first project at no charge to build experience. Today, she remains the sole owner and CEO of the company now known as LunaMetrics, a name that combined her core business passions and philosophies: enlightenment and metrics.

Steif has built LunaMetrics to stay true to its focus of specializing in data and analytics, and has turned away opportunities that do not match her vision. The company faces four primary competitors and each business offers something different than the others. Steif has been able to focus on what she does best by paying close attention to quality, service and personalized attention.

She surrounds herself with talent and her team exemplifies her belief that it is important to encourage diversity in thought and personality type. Steif’s director of digital marketing is a scientist, her director of analytics and insight is a giver and her technical marketing manager is a popular helper. The strong, diverse culture that has been developed reinforces a feeling of camaraderie and a commitment to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. As evidence of her culture-building prowess, a number of employees who had left the firm came back, while others have been with her since the beginning.
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Vince Cersosimo

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

Vincent Cersosimo and his business partner started Webbula as an email marketing company. They recognized the importance of email marketing and that most email marketing campaigns were sending advertisements to outdated or ineffective email addresses. Today, the company focuses on analyzing the quality of data that companies use for marketing purposes, as well as selling verified, reliable data to companies for advertisements.

Cersosimo leads Webbula by example. He has performed all the tasks that employees are now doing and understands what it takes to succeed at all levels.

The interview process at Webbula is inclusive, with multiple people interviewing prospective employees. Each interview ends with a dinner outside of the office so that Cersosimo and his team can get to know the interviewee as a person.

But, the other side of that, firing an employee, is what Cersosimo considers the most difficult part of running the business. In the early days of Webbula, Cersosimo had to let several employees go in order to continue to operate, including parting ways with his founding business partner, which thrust Cersosimo into the role of CEO. Webbula either had to borrow more money, which was unrealistic, or change the outlook of its employment force.

The company operates on the strategy of hiring slowly and firing quickly. Webbula offers new employees one full month of training followed by two months of on-going training. While Cersosimo believes in giving employees the tools to succeed, he lets them know upfront that he or she has three months to perform.

Cersosimo’s father helped him understand that in the early days of Webbula it was necessary to let some employees go in order to operate more effectively and efficiently. Without this advice, Webbula may not be as successful as it is today.
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Shawn McGorry
President and COO
Jonathan Rosenson
SVP, Strategic Initiatives
Kenneth Hill
Chief Technology Officer

Nominated by: David Saliba, Expedient

Prior to beginning college, Jonathan Rosenson, SVP of strategic initiatives, created a website for a local folk rock band and met Shawn McGorry, president and COO, an established member of the cable television industry. McGorry decided to take a chance with the youthful Rosenson and left his safe position for the uncertainty of a startup, then called Stargate Industries Inc. Over 15 years later, that company today is thriving and known as Expedient.

When Kenneth Hill, CTO, joined the company shortly after its inception, the three realized they could all benefit from each other’s strengths. Hill’s conservative, big-picture outlook balances the more aggressive decision-making styles of Rosenson and McGorry.

Their strong, yet unique personalities and leadership styles enabled them to transform an idea into a successful service provider with over 1,600 clients in seven U.S. cities, spanning several industry sectors. The cloud and data center infrastructure service provider, which has more than 350 employees, allows its clients to focus on their core competencies and strategic innovation.

Expedient utilizes a full-time internal talent acquisition team to recruit both youthful college graduates and experienced professionals. Expedient’s breadth of services and product offerings makes it attractive because new hires can rotate into various positions prior to specializing in a defined role. The team also established the Executive Product Steering Committee, which focuses the talent pool on the next obvious layer of customer demands.

The company is not focused on being solely reactionary and often predicts the needs of its clients before they even arise. Most notably, Expedient’s research and development team is putting the finishing touches on a service known as the Push Button Disaster Recovery System (DRaaS) that would seamlessly backup client data in a matter of minutes.
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Barbara VanKirk
President and Founder
IQ Inc.

Nominated by: Paula Grendys, IQ Inc.

Barbara VanKirk’s entrepreneurial spirit has been with her since she was a young girl. At the age of 8, after watching her dad quit his steady job and start his own successful business, she knew then that she wanted to make an impact in the world.

When she launched IQ Inc., a software development, verification and validation, and consulting services firm, in 1994, she quit a secure and salaried position to launch a company where employees could have work-life balance and flourish. It would also be a business where her personal and company principles would align.

She started IQ in her spare bedroom with a single, personal investment of $5,000. Over the next 23 years, IQ has grown to employ people across the U.S. VanKirk attributes her success to bringing the right solutions to her clients at the right time while providing opportunities for her employees to succeed in their careers and personal journeys.

Hiring the right people involves the entire IQ team coming together to get to know both the technical abilities of the candidate and their personality traits. The biggest factor in hiring is to determine whether the people will fit with the culture of the company. Once the right people have been found, employee benefits become key to retention. VanKirk’s father always said, “Take care of your employees first. Make sure they get paid, even if you have to go hungry.”

That was a key reason why when other companies were reducing benefits for employees during tough times, IQ preserved or even enhanced benefits.

As president and founder, VanKirk never lost sight of the work-life balance that she was passionate about early in her career. The result is a team that is loyal and committed to building lifelong careers at IQ.
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Community Service


Anna Zaydenberg
ComForCare Senior Services

Nominated by: Gene Leyzarovich, ACNC

In 2007, President Anna Zaydenberg purchased a franchise of ComForCare Senior Services, with her 401(k) savings, loans from the local community and money from a state program. The company provides nonmedical services via caregivers to seniors, such as housekeeping, meal planning and preparation, hygiene services, companionship and other daily tasks.

While the first year or two were difficult financially, thereafter the business became self-sufficient. Her husband and daughter both joined the team and Zaydenberg drew on the experiences she had when her own family members needed care in order to manage and grow the business.

One of her first changes was moving the business from Fox Chapel to Squirrel Hill. That way, clients, families and employees had easy access via bus and the office was approximately 20 minutes from almost everywhere in the metro area.

Zaydenberg made a point to accept immigrant elder clients and obtain quality caregivers with the same cultural knowledge and language. She takes time to pair caregivers and clients based upon personality matches.

In the caregiving business, there is a naturally high turnover. However, ComForCare performs extensive background checks because a quality hire is the first defense against employee turnover.

Today, ComForCare offers services with caregivers who speak 13 different languages, more than any other caregiver company in Allegheny County. If a new client speaks a language for which Zaydenberg doesn’t have a fluent caregiver, she’ll hire someone who does.

Another way ComForCare differentiates itself from its competitors (and other ComForCare franchises) is programs like ComForMusic, ComForFitness and ComForEducation. The programs are free and open to all, regardless of diagnosis or socioeconomic background.

Zaydenberg defines ComForCare’s success by the volume of customers served and the number of complaints received. In addition to having a hotline to report complaints, Zaydenberg’s team performs monthly quality calls with each client.
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Brad Childs
Jonathan Plesset
Co-Founders and Co-Executive Directors
Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team

Nominated by: C.J. Pascarella, PNC Bank

In the time it takes to brew a cup of coffee using a Keurig, at least one animal is euthanized. Brad Childs and Jonathan Plesset set out to break these troubling statistics by co-founding Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team. The nonprofit organization, which they lead as pilots and co-executive directors, is dedicated to providing animals a second chance by transporting them from danger to safety through air and ground rescue missions.

Pittsburgh Aviation Animal Rescue Team is networked with shelters, pet adoption services and smaller rescue groups that inform the organization of dire situations involving animals that have run out of time. Within hours, a rescue mission is coordinated utilizing volunteers to transport animals by air or land from a location of peril to a trusted and safe receiving location, and then ultimately to a permanent new home.

Childs and Plesset are long-time friends and adventure seekers who set out to become certified in aviation. However, flying without a purpose didn’t sit well with these results-driven businessmen.

In 2006, they reached out to the community for answers and received a call that would change their lives. They were asked to transport a 90-pound deaf bulldog named Monte to an adopting family in Philadelphia. Without hesitation, the two partners flew into action. Along with their flight instructor, they took to the air with Monte. While in flight, with excitement building, Monte escaped from the back of the small plane and onto Childs’ lap. It took the plane into a complete nosedive. Despite almost losing his life, Childs was captivated by the pairing of the dog with its new family and set out to create a new genre of an animal welfare organization. To date, the organization has rescued more than 5,000 animals that were in life-threatening situations.
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Jeremy Resnick
Executive Director and Founder
Tina Chekan
CEO and Superintendent
Propel Schools

Nominated by: Raul Valdes-Perez, OnlyBoth Inc.

Jeremy Resnick, a math teacher who began his career in the Pittsburgh Public Schools, recognized a flaw in the school system that limited many underprivileged students’ choice of school. When a new state law passed that permitted charter schools, Resnick saw an opportunity and founded Propel Schools, a not-for-profit federation of charter schools, and brought on Tina Chekan, who also was passionate about educating underprivileged students.

Propel was the first of its kind, so not many people were aware of its concept. That meant educating the community on the concept of a charter school.

Then a physical school had to be built, and built efficiently since its funding from the state was less than its peers.

As Propel attempted to obtain real estate and charters, it was thrust into long legal battles with school boards and municipalities that were concerned Propel’s poaching of students from existing schools would lead to shutdowns.

Then came the challenge of attracting and retaining talent in what were considered less-desirable urban communities. Resnick and Chekan incentivized staffers with 30-day professional development; a teacher immersion program; a teacher career path program; and the Pittsburgh Urban Teaching Corps, a three-year immersion program, developed in partnership with Chatham University, through which candidates obtain a master’s degree in teaching and apply the newly learned concepts in their classrooms. This helped guarantee retention as candidates had to sign a contract to work with Propel schools for at least three years after the program ended.

Having started with only 170 students in a basement of a hospital building, together, Executive Director Resnick and Chekan, whose hands-on approach to meeting all challenges saw her rise through the ranks to become CEO and superintendent, built Propel Schools into a network of 11 schools, serving 3,700 students, broadening education options for parents and students.
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Business Advisory Services


Patrick Cozzens
Modern Transportation

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

With trucks carrying upwards of 80,000 pounds of petrochemicals and other materials at all hours of each day, the safety risk of the work done at Modern Transportation is great. Patrick Cozzens, the company’s president, says an 80,000-pound vehicle traveling at 55 miles per hour is equivalent to a Ford F-150 traveling at 315 miles per hour. One can only imagine the damage that could result from such an impact. It’s why radar dishes have been installed in the grill of each truck in order to tell the driver when he or she is following too closely to another vehicle, among other safety measures taken by Modern.

While safety risks are inherent to the business, the most difficult challenge faced by the company came in the wake of the downturn of the oil and gas industry. With the struggles of the Marcellus and Utica shale came difficult times. Drilling rigs served by Modern fell from more than 100 to eight during the downturn. There were layoffs, equipment was sold at drastically lower values than prior years and fuel surcharge revenue fell with the steep decline in diesel prices. Despite these challenges, the company remained profitable.

Modern has a mission that is recited at the start of every meeting, and then repeated and explained by Cozzens for everyone’s understanding. The mission is discussed each week as activities are categorized in comparison to it — whether the mission was lived up to, exceeded or not met. If the mission was not met, an analysis is performed to understand why.

Cozzens leads Modern with an entrepreneurial approach rather than a bureaucratic mindset. One of his inspirations is the late founder of Apple, Steve Jobs. Cozzens respects Jobs and his fundamental approach to leadership, never accepting mediocrity and being aggressive in challenging the status quo.
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Danielle Cuomo
Virtual Assist USA

Nominated by: David Ferguson, Merrill Corporation

At 23 years old, Danielle Cuomo found herself unemployed. When her bankcard was declined at a gas station, she became determined to build something for herself. From discussions with her aunt, who at the time had a virtual assistant, Cuomo saw an expanding business and a variety of ways she could make the experience of having a virtual assistant better. She started Virtual Assist USA in October 2008, and by December the company was profitable and had employees.

Virtual Assist USA offers small business owners, entrepreneurs and other organizations access to assistants who help with a variety of business tasks, including, but not limited to, web design, marketing, social networking and administrative tasks.

As its president, Cuomo has faced a number of challenges since she started the business. Most recently, a competitor went out of business overnight, which immediately brought a large influx of small business owners to Virtual Assist USA. The problem was the competitor’s contracts with these customers, who were seeking replacement assistants, were at lower rates than what Virtual Assist USA charges. Cuomo had to decide between honoring the previous rates or tell the customers that they now needed to pay her higher rate. She ultimately honored the lower rates for a trial period in order to help the small businesses that just lost their assistants.

At Virtual Assist USA, employees are the company’s greatest asset. Cuomo greatly values feedback from her clients, but even more importantly, values her employees’ morale. She offers her employees an extremely flexible work arrangement that includes no set work schedule and unlimited vacation. In 2013, she gave up her office space in Pittsburgh to allow all employees to work from home. The company hires slowly as it tries to bring on employees with the right skill sets and fit for the company’s culture.
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Stephen Moritz
President and CEO
Encentiv Energy Inc.

Nominated by: The entire staff of Encentiv Energy Inc.

In 2009, approximately 5 percent of companies took advantage of energy incentive rebates, even though 100 percent were being taxed for them. While working as an energy analyst for an energy-consulting agency, Stephen Moritz identified this problem and seized the opportunity.

The president and CEO used his nearly 20 years in the energy industry to launch a new, more transparent and efficient method for businesses to capitalize on energy rebate incentives — Encentiv Energy Inc.

Moritz’s product is not simply a database of available energy incentive rebates. Rather, it’s a tool to connect the end user with instant, quantifiable cost savings, as well as rebate and financing options for any size project through the Encentivizer software. As the market was untested, his team’s agility has been instrumental to the company’s success.

Also, to inspire his employees to feel engaged and connected, Moritz offers stock-based compensation.

As a startup, the company has seen its share of trials, but Moritz has never laid off an employee to cut costs — a feat that he is extremely proud of.

One of those trials came in 2013 when Encentiv’s co-founder left unexpectedly with valuable proprietary information. This sparked more than a year of legal battles and corporate turbulence, which could have been the demise of the company. Even in such trying times, Moritz fought and maintained every one of Encentiv’s clients, investors and employees.

More recently, Moritz led a complete restructuring of the Encentiv business model. The company transitioned from an industry-normative consulting business to a subscription-based, multifaceted service provider.

As rapid changes in technology occur and unforeseen challenges within the industry arise, Moritz never discounts his competitors. Though the path of an entrepreneur is not always smooth, Moritz has the experience and instinct to set the right goals for his company and the unshakable passion to achieve them.
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Mark Gleason
President and Managing Director
Gleason & Associates

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

Integrity, excellence, growth, teamwork and work-life balance are the core values at Gleason & Associates, established by Mark Gleason, president and managing director.

The company started as a one-man accounting and consulting firm, where Mark rented out a one-room office.

Mark believes that risk taking with confidence is one of his biggest strengths. With the pressure of providing for his wife and four kids, he knew failure wasn’t an option. Some of his first services were advising various constituents involved in restructuring events, which had been his specialty for the past eight years.

After nine months of working on his own, Mark hired his first assistant and gradually grew Gleason into a reputable firm with a national reach.

Mark set the foundation for the individual success of his employees by creating four service lines: experts, trust, intellectual property and advisers. He then hired vice presidents to run each line. This structure provided his employees the opportunity to be entrepreneurs through growth of the business and addition of new practice areas.

From the beginning, Mark had a knack for finding new business and opportunities where his competitors have not. For example, in 1999, Mark was appointed as a trustee on the HK Porter asbestos bankruptcy. Asbestos litigation quickly became a billion-dollar market, and since then, Mark has been appointed trustee to four additional trusts.

Mark believes some key factors in the firm’s success have been treating people right, providing opportunities and trusting his team. Mark realizes that the people make up Gleason and it is important for him to create a culture and a vision for the future in which they want to stay and grow.

Mark is also highly involved in the community and spends much of his time and effort outside of work focused on philanthropy.
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Real Estate and Construction


Joe Calloway
RE 360 LLC

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

Headquartered in Allentown, RE 360 LLC, led by Owner Joe Calloway, is a property management and construction firm that provides affordable housing in the region’s underserved communities. By purchasing and renovating properties for rent or repurchase, the company has helped significantly increase the value of the community.

Raised in a low-income, single parent household and recently out of the Navy with no job, Calloway felt there were few opportunities for him. He took the plunge into real estate after finding inspiration reading about real estate moguls in business magazines. He had no experience and little savings but envisioned the potential of the real estate market in his own backyard.

Commercial banks, however, saw risk in funding investments in distressed properties in poor neighborhoods, so Calloway acquired individual investors. The initial investments from 2003 to 2005 failed to generate income, and business disputes with his then-partner forced Calloway into a buyout.

He redirected his company the subsequent years and developed the Allentown area into a growing market that has welcomed competition from bigger real estate companies. RE 360 has the largest inventory of modern housing in South Pittsburgh.

Calloway is now in a position to give others their start. He emphasizes an applicant’s potential, work ethic and passion for entrepreneurship more than a degree or work experience when hiring, which helped one staffer with little industry experience climb the ranks at RE 360 from an administrative role to office manager. He’s kept attrition rates low with healthy compensation and catered incentive pay to each employee based on individual motivations.

RE 360 has itself climbed the ranks to become one South Pittsburgh’s top real estate companies. Calloway and his team are paving their success story one property at a time.
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Reed Mahany
RECO Equipment, Inc.

Nominated by: C.J. Pascarella, PNC Bank

When RECO Equipment, Inc. expanded its Ohio-based business to Pittsburgh, the parts, services and equipment company needed an assistant for the main warehouse to handle basic tasks such as sweeping the floor of the parts warehouse. But Reed Mahany, the new hire, approached the position with an enthusiasm that would carry him much further.

Early on, Mahany was asked to deliver an order to a customer. When he returned, he brought with him a new order that was even larger than the one he delivered, despite having no sales experience. That earned him a promotion to the sales division.

In his new role, Mahany found novel ways of generating sales. For example, he would stop at local repair shops on his way to appointments and inquire about their largest customers, which were scrap yards. He discovered that when scrap yard machines broke down the only option was to replace the defective parts with new ones. So, Mahany harvested old machines for workable parts, offering refurbished parts and equipment for a low price — a new revenue stream for RECO.

Then, Mahany approached the RECO’s owner about purchasing the company. He found partners and was mentored through the process by the outgoing owner, and eventually bought all the company’s shares. He’s now the company’s president.

Seeing that many of his employees were approaching the age of retirement, he brought in young people from trade schools through an apprenticeship program. The students were able to help employees learn new technologies, and employees provided the students with hands-on experience and technical knowledge. Several of the apprentices are now being considered for full-time employment.

By building a company based on relationships, trust and kindness, Mahany is creating a culture centered on the values that helped him succeed when he delivered his first parts order.
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Gregg Perelman
Todd Reidbord
Walnut Capital Management, Inc.

Nominated by: Luke Skurman, Niche.com, Inc.

CEO Gregg Perelman and President Todd Reidbord, who have been friends since college, formed Walnut Capital Management, Inc., a full-service real estate development, brokerage and property management firm, in 1997.

After Perelman sold his previous business, a large distributor of specialty medicine, he needed an outlet for his energy and creativity. Reidbord had been investing in small apartment buildings, often taking in investors, such as Perelman. They decided to put their talents together and rented an office on Walnut Street, which became the start of Walnut Capital. With the help of Perelman’s marketing background, the firm became one of the best-known apartment owners and managers in Pittsburgh.

Walnut Capital has made taking on difficult projects central to its business. Walnut Street, as well as many others, were built on old gas station sites, which pose development issues. But its willingness to take risks and expand the market helped the firm become a market leader in both office and residential development.

From the beginning, the partners saw opportunities in the new, emerging Pittsburgh economy. Walnut Capital created a new class of rental properties when it undertook the renovation of historic, dilapidated townhomes in the Squirrel Hill and Shadyside neighborhoods. They anticipated a new market of residents, mostly young families and professionals, who wanted to be close to the universities and medical centers. Walnut Capital acquired over 100 townhomes and spent more than $5 million on renovations that created modern living in historic buildings, which meant higher rents and above-market returns.

As the market in Pittsburgh improved over the past decade, Walnut Capital undertook the first significant new construction of apartments in almost 50 years with Bakery Living. Walnut Capital also invested heavily in its people and systems. The firm continues to be a market leader with concierge services and full, online capabilities.
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Jeremy Leventhal
Managing Partner
Faros Properties

Nominated by: Rich Lunak, Innovation Works

With a long family history in real estate, Jeremy Leventhal began gaining experience in the field while in high school. He later worked at large brokers and financial services firms, but his entrepreneurial spirit yearned for something more.

Leventhal and his partners purchased a note for a distressed property in New York City, and in 2009, Faros Properties was founded. The three managing partners have a mission to acquire distressed and underutilized property. Today, the business has grown to more than 120 professionals working in four states.

Originally focused on the New York and Boston markets, Faros entered Pittsburgh in 2011.

The company purchased two apartment complexes on the South Side. Then, despite advisers telling the partners to walk away, Leventhal signed personal guarantees to purchase the Allegheny Center Mall and adjacent properties, including an apartment complex.

With this 2015 purchase, approximately 25 percent of the downtown Pittsburgh apartment market is owned and operated by Faros.

Faros has always renovated and revitalized distressed properties. With the mall, now Nova Place, Leventhal and his partners took that vision one step further, focusing on the surrounding community at the onset. For example, Nova Place has spaces that can be utilized for multiple purposes. The risk was deemed too high for others, so Faros formed its own co-working/collaborative workspace company, Alloy 26.

Leventhal and his partners always take this approach: partner with a strong candidate with a shared vision, and if no viable partner exists, push forward and make it happen on your own.

Alloy 26 is fully occupied and the remaining office spaces are almost fully occupied. Plans are underway to also open a beer garden and restaurant in Nova Place — a partnership with Smallman Galley that will be sure to flourish as the two companies share a vision of incubating startups and emphasizing a sense of community.
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Retail & Consumer Products


Lani Lazzari
President and CEO
Simple Sugars

Nominated by: Danielle Catteau, Smart Business Magazine

After years of visits to the dermatologist, where she was prescribed the same “white cream” over and over again, Lani Lazzari decided it was time to take matters into her own hands. She was just 11 years old, but online research and experiments in her kitchen had taught her that the answer to her problems was as simple as sugar. She tested her product on friends and family with similar skin issues and after finding success, Lazzari decided to hit the road.

At 17, she organized and executed a six-week cross country promotional tour to gain national distribution of her products. At 18, she was sought out by the producers of the TV show, “Shark Tank,” where she pitched her business to a panel of celebrity billionaires. With a $100,000 investment from Mark Cuban, Lazzari’s life changed literally overnight. She increased her employee count immediately and had to quickly locate new office space as she began building Lanibaloo Creations LLC, more commonly known as Simple Sugars. She developed a plan and with her new team in place, she started to scale up her business.

All of her products are made by hand. From mixing to packaging, every step is done by one of her employees. The strong personal touch shines through every layer of the business and Lazzari is not willing to sacrifice that as she continues to grow.

Her leadership and maturity as president and CEO is showcased when she talks about her relationship with her mom, a former corporate executive who dealt with many challenges in the corporate world. Her daughter didn’t want that life. Rather, Lazzari wanted to provide a positive, open environment where women could feel empowered and successful. After starting the business using her mom’s credit cards, her mom now serves as vice president and one of Lazzari’s strongest advocates.
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Tommy Wang
Henry Wang
TMD Holdings, LLC

Nominated by: Danielle Catteau, Smart Business Magazine

TMD Holdings, LLC is a family business run by brothers, Owners Tommy and Henry Wang. The company manufactures products that include drinking glasses, hats, notepads and clocks, and offers in-house design services and global supply chain expertise, which allows it to manage the manufacturing process from design to delivery.

Being a family business offers a competitive advantage, allowing the company to act quickly on potential opportunities by placing decision-making responsibilities with the brothers, bypassing a traditional chain of command that could otherwise delay the process.

The manufacturer is a one-stop shop that can see the entire process through from design to delivery. Whether the company finds a way to manufacture the product at a lower cost than its competitors, or find cost savings through logistics, TMD is constantly looking for and identifying ways to maximize efficiency.

Tommy and Henry also know that their reputation is the best asset that they have, and they have to maintain that reputation even if it means taking a loss on a project. For example, a factory was having difficulty achieving production outputs that aligned with a customer holiday deadline. Rather than disappoint the customer and break the terms of the deal, the Wang brothers spent 10 times their potential profit on the purchase order to ship by air three full 40-foot containers to the customer in time for the holiday season. While TMD took a loss on the purchase order, it led to the customer recognizing that it could trust the company to overcome challenges and deliver regardless of circumstances. Today, that customer is one of TMD’s largest.

TMD places relationships above all else, and provides supply chain and procurement consulting to its customers free of charge, seeing it as a way to prove the company has only its customers’ best interest at heart.
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Scott Baker
5 Generation Bakers

Nominated by: Dustin Klein, Smart Business Magazine

5 Generation Bakers President Scott Baker stands out as an entrepreneur with his efforts to give back to the community of McKees Rocks, a depressed area of Pittsburgh. In 2016 when Baker was searching for a new location, it would have been easy to move to an up-and-coming area with more foot traffic or a suburb with more room. Instead, he had his family roots and community in mind and kept the bakery in McKees Rocks.

The baking traditions of the Baker family date back to the mid-1800s, and Baker founded 5GB in 2009 with a desire to continue the family tradition. He also continued to produce Jenny Lee Bakery products, one family business that closed in 2008 due to the economic downturn and a facility fire.

Baker, however, found ways to differentiate 5GB, making food safety a priority and reworking the family recipes to use natural and non-GMO ingredients. The bread is delivered frozen, decreasing distribution costs as it has a one-year shelf life, and is thawed once it’s ready to be sold.

Not only does Baker serve on McKees Rocks’ community boards, he donates thousands of loaves, created a scholarship fund and started a fresh foods market that accepts all government assistance programs. Although this market continues to underperform, Baker plans to keep it open to serve the community.

Baker works alongside his employees daily, but he uses a hands-off management style and embraces an open discussion environment. He also requires employees to participate in a minimum one-hour training session each month to further their personal and professional development.

At 50 percent capacity, 5GB’s new facility has room to grow and is up for the challenge. With several large deals in the pipeline and the recent addition of an e-commerce site, Baker expects to double 5GB’s 45 employees in the next six months.
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Distribution & Manufacturing


Sean Marszalek
SDC Nutrition

Nominated by: Patrick Colletti, Net Health

Though a golf scholarship allowed Sean Marszalek to get a full ride to college, his arrest and conviction pulled him out of school into a five-year stint in federal prison. While difficult, it provided the wake-up call he needed.

Marszalek dedicated time to researching kinesiology, fitness and nutritional science. His tarnished record made it difficult to find employment, so he began his own fitness practice.

His breakthrough came when he identified deficiencies in supplements and recognized the lack of protein products marketed to women. Working with a client who had a culinary degree, they produced protein bars from scratch. That led to the start of SDC Nutrition.

As the company grew, it began producing products for other companies though outsource agreements. Unhappy with their quality standards, Marszalek, who is CEO, brought the manufacturing process in-house and took on other companies’ contract work. SDC began offering custom formulation, which along with its quick quote and sample turnaround times, served as a cornerstone of its B2B revenue stream.

Building out the new manufacturing facility after SDC’s first profitable year was a risk, requiring huge investments equipment and sales staff. But it was a choice between improving safely or taking a risk to expand the business significantly.

While a successful acquisition and manufacturing plant upgrade led to profitability, the acquisition was not without issues. The leadership transition was rocky and it was difficult meeting the newfound demand acquired through the purchase. Marszalek had to work 15-hour days throughout the week and help out on the production line to fill orders.

Marszalek has since assembled an independent board and ceded a lot of his control in the interest of bringing the company to the next level by acquiring talent and gaining insights. Through work ethic and leadership, Marszalek has positioned his company for continued success.
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Brett Randall

Nominated by: Robert Stein, University of Pittsburgh – IEE

As the president of Aliner, Brett Randall has transformed a financially distressed company into a positive cash-flow business over the course of just three years. Prior to Randall’s 2014 hiring, the manufacturer of camping and travel trailers was on the verge of failing and its relationship with vendors and customers was falling apart.

Randall noticed that many of Aliner’s failures were due to the lack of basic business disciplines, which he equates to “blocking and tackling” in football.

Randall — who kept all original employees and brought in some experienced individuals of his own — has instilled the fundamentals and disciplines necessary for a business to succeed. He implemented regular team meetings to improve communication and consistency throughout all functions; daily monitoring of cash and finances; improved product quality by hiring an interior design team; and added quality control tests and new product lines.

Aliner has significantly improved the maintenance of its financial books and records and its manufacturing line, which allowed Randall to reconnect with vendors and regain their trust.

Aliner’s trailers are purchased on a “want” basis, so it’s critical to keep cash flow positive so the company is ready for fluctuations in the economy. Under Randall’s leadership, not only has the company’s total debt decreased, he’s made it a point to never start work on a new project or idea until the current one is completed.

The company’s employees produce all ideas and innovations. One way Aliner encourages that innovation is employees can use the trailers for personal trips under one condition: they must provide feedback and new ideas for improvements.

Randall also has faced the challenge of hiring reliable plant laborers when the number of qualified candidates is limited. Despite this, Randall has added nearly 30 employees, increasing the total workforce by nearly 75 percent.
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J.D. Ewing, Jr.
President and CEO
COE Distributing

Nominated by: David Levine, NuGo Nutrition

COE Distributing evolved from a business started more than 70 years ago in the basement of a bar near Uniontown, Pennsylvania. At that time, J.D. Ewing, Jr.’s grandmother, Clara L. Ewing, a single mother of two sons, opened a company that would eventually become City Office Equipment, a four-location retail office supply business. By 1986, J. David Ewing, Sr. was in charge of the retail locations and had also opened COE Distributing, a wholesale furniture business.

Three years later, he grew tired of the wholesale business and offered it to his son. Ewing, who was only 19 years old at the time. He had spent countless hours in high school supporting his family’s business by making cold calls, deliveries and learning the details of the industry. He had become very close to his grandmother and didn’t want the hard work of his family to be wasted. So Ewing left college and took over COE Distributing.

Ewing’s leadership evolution started well before the age of 19 as he worked summers at COE Distributing and fell in love with the wholesale concept. Hungry for opportunity, he hit the ground running when he took over the company. He managed multiple duties and followed his philosophy that success is achieved through hard work, sacrifice and dedication. Within the first two years, Ewing frequently stopped to make sales pitches while driving to suppliers to pick up inventory and slept in his truck when overnight travel was required.

In 2006, Ewing, the company’s president and CEO, sold the business, believing it was the right decision for his family and his employees. Unfortunately, three years later, the company filed for bankruptcy. Ewing would not let this be the final chapter. He found a way to buy back the company and restore the successful business that his family had worked so hard to create.
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Mike Wagner
Target Freight Management | TFM Truckload, LLC

Nominated by: Andrew DeSilva, Waldron Private Wealth

Mike Wagner’s long-time goal was to own a logistics company. Working in the transportation industry from an early age, Wagner quickly became the top performer of any position he assumed. In 2009, a close friend offered him the chance to invest in his dream — the startup Target Freight Management.

Wagner dove in and built the third-party logistics company from the ground up. He pursued and won new customers, none of which he poached from his previous job, and to this day, as company president, still personally goes on sales calls, alone and with his sales team.

Though TFM is not a family-owned business, the culture has a family atmosphere. Wagner is very close to his team and values the trust that he has with his employees as well as the work they have put in to help the company realize success.
Still, finding good employees has always been a struggle, which has required that he take different approaches to finding good talent.

In one such case, while searching for someone to write code for his software, he struggled to find a person who had the skill set and the drive to create the program. Many prospects, typically right out of school, demanded high salaries, and an external contractor he hired fell significantly short of expectations.

He then stumbled across an individual who had no formal programming degree but pledged that he could write the code in less than half the time of anyone else. Wagner, following a gut feeling, gave him a chance. Within a couple of months the program was written and surpassed all expectations. As a result, Wagner rewarded him with 10 percent equity in the FIDA software spinoff company he developed.

While Wagner is proud of reaching his goal, he remains committed to continual improvement.
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Ron Eggert

Nominated by: Cherie Steffen, ABG Capital

Ron Eggert was hired by the owners of ABG Capital in March 2006 to serve as CFO and consolidate the financial statements for the ABG Capital subsidiaries. During his time as CFO, Eggert identified the key benefits business model and subsequently discovered ways to build on it. He worked hard to grow these subsidiaries and in every position he has held, he has built strong relationships with employees and earned respect for his leadership.

Eggert utilized his professional expertise and business experience to launch Inspira, a firm dedicated to providing retirement professionals with individual retirement accounts solutions that meet their unique needs. Founded in 2009, Inspira operates more than 100,000 individual IRAs on its systems.

Inspira is a reflection of Eggert’s leadership and passion for business. With no prior experience in ABG Capital’s industries, Eggert was able to keep biases at a distance and challenge practices simply by asking why not. In order to strengthen client loyalty, he puts himself in his clients’ shoes and works hard with his team to develop solutions that are designed to increase revenue and reduce expenses for his clients.

Innovation is always at the forefront of Eggert’s thinking as he continues to learn about and utilize the most recent technology available to better service his clients. As CEO, he believes taking advantage of these tools can help his firm gain more efficiencies and help the business continue to grow. For example, Eggert leverages technology to obtain further data that can be used to guide strategic decisions and to understand the financial direction of the firm on a daily basis with real-time information.

Eggert hopes continued growth will not only impact Inspira’s bottom line, but the employees and overall community as well. He has taken steps to ensure that employees have fair compensation for the work they deliver for the company.
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Mark Marmo
Deep Well Services

Nominated by: Carol Naugle, Deep Well Services

Over the past two years, the price of natural gas has remained depressed. This has left CEO Mark Marmo to navigate Deep Well Services through some extremely challenging business conditions. More than 150 oil and gas service providers in the Marcellus and Utica shales have filed for bankruptcy.

Even through the worst in 2016, however, Marmo was able to lead Deep Well to positive EBITDA. Not only did he manage the business prudently, he also used the downturn to hire talented employees from other companies and strategically invest in better equipment when costs to manufacture such equipment were below normal.

Marmo kept attrition low, a testament to the strength of Deep Well’s culture. He also resisted significant pressure to reduce salaries of his employees any further in 2015 than he ultimately had to. Marmo fosters a family culture and truly cares about his employees. He has developed a set of core values referred to as the Great 8 that serve as the backbone of the work environment he has created.

Marmo isn’t willing to compromise safety and effectiveness for profit. He engaged Vistage to help develop his executive team; invested in a simulator that trains his people prior to sending them out into the field; and uses a Predictive Index surveying tool to ensure employee strengths and weaknesses.

Also, the company is in the process of receiving accreditation for API Specification Q2, a quality certification specifically for the oil and gas industry. Deep Well would be the only oil field service provider in the area with this certification. Marmo’s commitment to safety and quality has fostered successful business relationships with larger oil and gas companies such as Chevron, Shell and Hess.

In 2017, the company will likely be sold. Marmo believes it will be an opportunity to receive increased funding to grow the business as the market improves.
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Judging Panel

Ron Beckman
Vice President & Chief Information Officer
Black Box Network Services




Greg Conley
Chief Financial Officer




Chris Howard
Robert Morris University




Gabriela Isturiz
Bellefield Systems LLC




Bill Sarris
Sarris Candies LP




Bobby Zappala
Co-Founder & CEO

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EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Florida

For these game changers, vision is only the beginning

EY has long celebrated the entrepreneurial spirit of men and women who have followed and achieved their dreams. Over almost three decades, we have applauded their commitment to innovation and perseverance in the face of enormous risk. They saw a different future and made it happen.

The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Program provides an enduring legacy to these dynamic leaders, recognizing their vision and impact. By uniting them in a lasting network of peers who thrive where so many others have failed, we have helped to build an influential community of innovative entrepreneurs.

Each June, we host celebrations in 25 U.S. cities to toast the vision and impact of the men and women who are regional finalists. These leaders have changed the lives of countless others by building their businesses and giving back to their communities.

Join us in celebrating their passion, innovation and tireless pursuit of business excellence.

Congratulations to all of our finalists!

fla_ey_GregoryRosicaGreg Rosica
Program partner
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® Florida



EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Florida

Quick links:
Robert M. Dutkowsky, Tech Data Corporation
DISTRIBUTION & MANUFACTURING Marcelo Young, Transnational Foods, Inc. | Gary Enzor, Quality Distribution | Mark Shaw, UltraTech International, Inc.
EMERGING Daniel Cane, Modernizing Medicine, Inc. | Scott Harris, DeliverLean | Tony McGee, HNM Global Logistics
FAMILY BUSINESS Tom Brown and Jerry P. Brown, Florida Food Products, Inc. | Michael Benstock, Superior Uniform Group, Inc. | Geoff Neuhoff, GSP
FINANCIAL SERVICES Kenneth E. LaRoe, First GREEN Bank | Max Eliscu, LSQ Funding Group, L.C. | David F. Siracusa, Employee Leasing Strategies
HEALTH CARE & LIFE SCIENCES Ricky Caplin, The HCI Group | Derek Hennecke, Xcelience | Dr. Boris Reznik, Biorasi
HOSPITALITY & RETAIL Robert M. Beall, Beall’s, Inc. | Don L. Harrill, Holiday Inn Club Vacations | Abe Ng, Sushi Maki
REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION Ron Antevy, e-Builder | Michael Kaufman, Kaufman Lynn Construction | Buddy Raney, Raney Construction
SERVICES Jamarlin Martin, Moguldom Media Group | Ted A. Fernandez, The Hackett Group, Inc. | Todd M. Wilcox, Patriot Capital, LLC
TECHNOLOGY Sam Zietz, TouchSuite | Anabel Perez, NovoPayment | Norman Worthington, Star2Star Communications

Corporate Innovator

Award Recipient






Robert M. Dutkowsky
Tech Data Corporation

Rather than building companies from the ground up, Robert M. Dutkowsky can take an established company, troubled or solid, and rebuild it better and stronger.

He spent the first 20 years of his career at IBM, which included a stint as CEO Lou Gerstner’s executive assistant. In that position, Dutkowsky remembers thinking, “I’m not Lou, but I could be a CEO of a company.”

After a successful track record of navigating underdog companies through rough waters, he stepped in to fill a founder’s shoes at three different technology companies, the latest of which is Tech Data Corporation.

When Dutkowsky joined Tech Data in 2006, it was focused on desktop hardware products. The company had no footprint in the data center and mobility markets, which Dutkowsky felt would explode in the coming years, so he made it a goal to penetrate those sectors.

He always tries to stay one step ahead in an attempt to pinpoint the next big product and best strategic move. The most difficult aspect of Dutkowsky’s job is keeping his finger on the market’s pulse — determining which vendors to work with, deciding what mix of business to do with each and maintaining strong relationships with key vendors.

Tech Data’s business is about being able to offer its customers the products they want, when they want them.

As CEO, Dutkowsky takes pride in the fact that the company ships virtually all orders the same day they are requested. Every morning, he receives a report showing orders that haven’t shipped. The report is almost always blank.

By reinstilling a sense of urgency in the company, it has led to the impressive efficiency that the company operates with today. Dutkowsky believes the combination of Tech Data’s people — their industry knowledge, persistence, personality and responsiveness — along with strong vendor relationships differentiates the company from its competitors.

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Distribution & Manufacturing

Award Recipient






Marcelo Young
Founder and CEO
Transnational Foods, Inc.

Marcelo Young began his career with Molinos Rio de la Plata, Argentina’s largest branded food company.

At age 32, Young was in charge of exporting ready-to-eat packaged food. He undertook the task to travel and find distributors by providing samples of MRP’s products. In his 13 years at MRP, he distributed products in 70 different countries.

But Young wanted to move beyond bulk production to finished goods, so he quit MRP to start his own venture in the U.S., Transnational Foods, Inc.

The task of starting his own business proved more difficult than originally anticipated; nevertheless, after six months of perseverance, the first container of olive oil made its way to Miami.

Twelve years ago, the U.S. market was brand conscious, so Young had trouble making connections with big retailers. But over time, he developed relationships with discount stores like Dollar General.

After demonstrating the ability to source quality products to its initial clientele, the company developed its own branding under the name Pampas.

Currently, Transnational Foods operates six distribution centers within the U.S. and sources product from both Latin America and Asia.

And as American consumers have converted from brand loyalty to price consciousness, the company’s reputation of being a one-stop shop for Latin American products has created a competitive advantage.

Transnational Foods shares a lot of profit and success with its employees. Amidst the prosperous times, Young, CEO, and his colleagues have given back to the community both on a local and international level through their involvement with Fundación Manos del Sur.

Also, Young and his wife raise hundreds of thousands of dollars annually by organizing charity events in Palm Beach. The money is donated to an organization for underprivileged children in Latin America.

These initiatives form part of the company’s overall objective to promote the autonomy of the respective Latin American communities.

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Gary Enzor
Chairman and CEO
Quality Distribution

Gary Enzor has transformed Quality Distribution from a near-bankrupt history lesson to the largest chemical bulk and intermodal-trucking provider in North America. QDI’s stock price today is five times where it stood in the beginnings of Enzor’s tenure as CEO in 2007.

The company, however, had a troubled past. Shareholder lawsuits plagued the initial public offering. QDI had been historically loaded with pricey debt and a private equity investor was unwilling to help restructure the capital more favorably.

But Enzor, who also became chairman in 2013, had a vision to transform a capital-intensive business into an asset-light company. He located affiliate owners, independently owned third-party businesses with industry experience, to partner and operate the company-owned and independently-owned terminals.

This reduced costs, which helped QDI increase revenues despite the downturn that crippled the trucking industry. QDI expects to spend 1 to 2 percent of its annual operating revenues on future capital expenditures, compared to the industry average of more than 10 percent.

The independent contractor model might seem risky, but Enzor has been instrumental in maintaining only the highest quality affiliates. He also has employed QDI resources to connect troubled affiliates with those who are more successful.

Through these changes, Enzor has lead by example, focusing on three traits: intelligence, collaborative skills and the desire to win.

Enzor also has emphasized safety. According to the Department of Transportation, QDI operates at an incident rate 30 percent lower than the industry average. This is not coincidence. QDI has been at the forefront of implementing safety-improving technology, including electronic logging devices, despite no regulatory requirement to do so.

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Mark Shaw
Co-founder and CEO
UltraTech International, Inc.

At age 23, Mark Shaw decided to save the world from toxic waste.

Around this time, the Love Canal disaster occurred in New York, which revealed that a city was built on top of an old, emptied canal that had been filled with more than 21,000 tons of chemical waste. The leak of the chemicals caused countless health issues and birth defects.

This incident significantly affected Shaw, who was among the first pioneers in waste spill containment.

After a couple of years of unsuccessfully attempting to build capital, he told his wife he would try to secure the capital needed in 14 days. If that failed, he would search for a job. But after several days of traveling the country, he connected with his first investor.

Shaw began UltraTech International, Inc. in 1993, after going through a parent company bankruptcy. He didn’t take home a paycheck for two years.

The company has grown to more than 500 products and more than 70 patents.

One patent, macroencapsulation, truly tested Shaw. This process successfully contains hazardous waste during transport and storage via the thick polyethylene macro containment inner liner, metal outer container and the fusing of the lid to the container in a two-hour process.

Shaw would showcase his spill containment solution at conferences — without much success for more than 25 years. After reapplying for the patent, the Department of Energy realized a need for the product and adopted the technology. It’s now contracted to be used in seven Department of Energy facilities.

Shaw, co-founder and CEO, considers himself more the “idea” guy in the business. He enjoys pushing his team to find solutions, while his wife has developed the successful corporate culture. For example, each year, an employee is given three new focus areas within his or her field to master. This helps to retain employees — even better than compensation.

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Award Recipient






Daniel Cane
Co-founder and CEO
Modernizing Medicine, Inc.

In 2009, during a routine skin exam with dermatologist Dr. Michael Sherling, Daniel Cane and Sherling talked about the lack of an effective electronic medical records system, which could save time, be more efficient and ultimately allow physicians more time with patients.

Together they co-founded Modernizing Medicine, Inc., where Cane is CEO. They brazenly entered an industry with more than 900 competitors and created the flagship product, Electronic Medical Assistant®.

Cane knew funding would prove difficult at best, so he and Sherling sought to prove their concept through a small group of beta testers to provide candid feedback. Those testers ultimately became the initial investors.

EMA is now used by approximately 30 percent of U.S. dermatologists, and Modernizing Medicine provides specialty-specific offerings in multiple markets to more than 1,500 physician practices.

This is not the first time Cane helped transform an industry. As an undergraduate student, he co-founded what became Blackboard, Inc. to allow students to access course notes in a digital format through an online repository.

At Modernizing Medicine, Cane needed to build a solution that contains all necessary medical information in an adaptive learning engine that anticipates the physician’s individual style of practice.

Modernizing Medicine is built on the philosophy that “it is easier to teach a physician to code than it is to teach medicine to a coder.” So, the company employs 18 physicians as coders who take two to four days a week away from private practice to program software.

Modernizing Medicine is truly revolutionizing health care as a data outcomes and analytics company. EMA’s partnership with IBM Watson and collaboration abilities allow physicians to find answers and consult with peers on a real-time basis about patient needs and concerns.

Furthermore, Modernizing Medicine’s ability to aggregate medical outcomes has provided useful data to both physicians and drug companies alike.

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Scott Harris
Founder and CEO

CEO Scott Harris founded DeliverLean in 2011, but the idea came to him when he owned and operated a call center soliciting mortgage loans. Harris noticed that employees spent a lot of time on lunch and were tired and unproductive when they returned.

His employees — like many Americans — didn’t make healthy lunch choices and filled up on quick, starchy comfort foods. Harris set out to improve employee productivity and boost office morale by thinking of ways to influence employees’ lunch choices.

He hired a private chef to cook complimentary healthy lunches for the call center employees and noticed how everyone’s performance improved.

Eventually, Harris teamed up with a couple of chefs and started delivering precooked meals in the area.

Customers order and prepay for gourmet meal plans online. Food is delivered to the door three times a week in thermally insulated cooler bags. All customers have to do is heat the microwaveable container and enjoy.

Today, DeliverLean makes an average of 1,600 deliveries per day and has been expanding in hopes of becoming a nationally recognized brand.

Not a chef or nutritionist by profession, Harris relies heavily on his team to deliver quality products to customers. His company’s motto is “Teamwork makes the dreamwork.”

Although the market has easy entry, not every local meal plan delivery business can expand and compete on a large scale. Harris is constantly evaluating propositions to merge with other companies as a solution to expand into other states.

In addition, DeliverLean wants to develop Florida as a job market. The company doesn’t post job openings on publicly accessible websites like Craigslist; instead, it notifies local assistance programs to allow underprivileged community members access to employment opportunities.

Harris also is working with the mayor to make Miami the healthiest city in the U.S.

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Tony McGee
HNM Global Logistics

Everything Tony McGee has accomplished — from getting a scholarship playing football in college, to getting drafted into the NFL, to starting his own business — has been because of his incredible work ethic and drive, despite the odds against him.

The average NFL career is only 3 ½, but McGee worked hard and smart — doing preventive maintenance to protect himself from injuries, enabling him to play for 11 years.

Using this same long-term thinking, McGee took a risk and tapped into his NFL savings to self-finance and start his own business.

Originally focusing on real estate investments and flipping properties, before transitioning towards logistics, McGee knew he needed a talented and experienced support team at HNM Global Logistics to compete against well-established, billion-dollar companies.

It took nearly the entire first year to obtain all the necessary licenses and permits, but the hard work is paying off. HNM has seen year-over-year explosive growth, with 2014’s growth of more than 460 percent placing the company as the 12th fastest-growing company in the entire state and the third fastest-growing company in Central Florida.

HNM has carved out a niche with custom-tailored and specialized solutions, particularly for coordinating freight movement of challenging shipments such as dangerous goods and charter flights that require a lot of upfront coordination — an area bigger companies may neglect.

On a personal level, McGee, CEO, owes much of his success to the men from his community who stepped up to the plate and showed him that if he worked hard enough he could get out of poverty.

As a result, he makes it an effort to sponsor youth football and basketball teams, and he founded the Tony McGee Foundation — hosting free football camps for at-risk youth, focusing on developing leadership skills and teamwork through sports.

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Family Business

Award Recipient






Tom Brown
Vice president marketing
Jerry P. Brown
Florida Food Products, Inc.

Jerry P. Brown, president, and Tom Brown, vice president marketing, enjoy being on the cutting edge of developing products at Florida Food Products, Inc.

The family-owned business has been an early adopter and first to market with citrus concentrate, aloe vera extracts, carrot juice concentrate, bio-friendly pesticides, vegetable nitrites and vegetable fiber textures.

The brothers believe that they have been able to overcome so much adversity because there is peer pressure not to let the other one down.

Having entered the family business during its first major crisis in the early 1980s when many citrus trees were destroyed, the brothers encountered more complications in the mid-1990s when key Asian carrot juice markets were oversold, a major aloe vera customer defected, a joint venture focused on cabbage color extracts failed and the farmland for their local carrot supply was condemned.

The company had to cut staff, rationalize inventory, intensify sales efforts and move some family members to Washington in search of alternate process opportunities.

Florida Food Products has had numerous opportunities to fail, yet the Browns have used their determination, ingenuity and frugal nature to ensure the success of the business. The two brothers complement each other. Jerry works with suppliers and the business operations, while Tom is the face of the company, traveling to potential customers and trade shows.

Today, the brothers continue to look for the next product that will be new to the market or create a paradigm shift for consumers.

The company has withdrawn from its successful INVITE EC product line and sold the long-standing aloe vera business to invest in and introduce FiberColloids, which uses vegetable fiber to provide desired gelling and thickening abilities to a wide range of textural applications. The aim is to offer a cost-saving solution to food manufacturers with consumers who demand vegetarian, gluten-free and clean-label products.

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Michael Benstock
Superior Uniform Group, Inc.

CEO Michael Benstock began his career at Superior Uniform Group, Inc. when he was 8 years old, working part time for his dad.

He was exposed to hardworking individuals at an early age, and as a young man he served three years in the Israeli Defense Forces, traveling the world. These experiences have helped him establish a culture of teamwork and innovation at Superior Uniform Group.

The company began in 1920, when Benstock’s great-grandmother loaned two men $1,500 that they couldn’t repay. She insisted they give her controlling interest in Superior Surgical and give her son a job. Benstock’s grandfather eventually became CEO.

The business evolved from medical supplies to medical apparel and then to uniform apparel for various industries — and moved to Florida.

Benstock began his career as a customer service representative and still retains his first paycheck of $414. He also was instrumental in starting and running the company’s first factory in Costa Rica.

As Benstock recognized his entrepreneurial skill and vision, he sought ways to use technology as a problem-solver. In the 1990s, Superior Uniform Group became the first apparel industry company to implement a robotic warehouse.

In 2003, Benstock became CEO, and Superior Uniform Group’s annual revenue has more than doubled during his tenure.

The company still maintains its core uniform business, but it has expanded its client base and now offers total customer care center services and promotional products. It serves industry leaders such as Walgreens, CVS, Arby’s, Denny’s, Taco Bell, Sonic, Publix and Hilton.

The customer care service line the company expanded into was in response to its own need for a high-quality call center. Having difficulty hiring locally, Benstock opened a small office in Central America. The company designed such an effective system, it’s been able to offer customer care solutions to others.

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Geoff Neuhoff

In the early 2000s, GSP founder Paul Neuhoff brought his son Geoff Neuhoff back into the family business as COO.

The company was experiencing hardships with a key client attempting to bring its print marketing in-house. With a sharp decline in volume and revenue, GSP filed for Chapter 11 reorganization in 2004.

Geoff served as the corporate representative for the bankruptcy proceedings and managed to settle in just four months, all while maintaining high morale and customer satisfaction. GSP only lost two employees, and Geoff  personally funded some aspects of operations to keep the business moving forward.

Geoff eventually accepted the CEO role in 2009, where he has rebranded GSP, established a strong executive team and has grown the business to solidify its position as an innovator and leader in the point-of-purchase marketing space, specializing in the convenience store industry.

GSP has generated consistently positive financial results with promising opportunities for future growth. Geoff’s management style puts a focus on all elements of the business — new customers, customer retention and increasing the company’s bottom line.

With his forward thinking and analytical approach, Geoff meticulously monitors operating results, including nonfinancial measures, which contribute to informed decision-making and early identification of risks and opportunities.

GSP is also intensely focused on providing the highest quality work product, which is a differentiator among the competition and has been a key part of its success. Geoff implemented the GSP Q program, which focuses on accuracy of ordering, design and output to reduce rework costs and increase the company’s profitability.

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Financial Services

Award Recipient






Kenneth E. LaRoe
Founder, chairman, president and CEO
First GREEN Bank

In 2006, Founder, Chairman, President and CEO Kenneth E. LaRoe set out on a soul-searching journey across the U.S. in a recreational vehicle.

Along the way he began reading, “Let My People Go Surfing,” by Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia. Chouinard’s philosophical approach convinced LaRoe that a profit-making business could have a positive impact on the environment and society.

When he returned, he decided to put his newfound philosophy to work.

LaRoe started First GREEN Bank in 2009 — a time when many U.S. commercial banks were closing — receiving the last bank charter granted in Florida.

First GREEN Bank is also one of the only U.S. banks with an environmental and social mission. Ultimately, the goal is for 20 percent of the bank’s loans to be for eco-friendly projects.

While restricted by Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. limits on growth for its first seven years, the company grew to five branches and attained profitability in a mere 19 months.

The bank’s customer base is not just those who care for the environment, but also those who care about hometown commitment and personal service.

LaRoe believes that people are more productive when they enjoy the company they work for, reinforced by the company’s 90 percent employee retention rate.

Employees are given unique benefits, such as a cash incentive for hybrid vehicle purchases, complimentary use of a hybrid employee loaner vehicle for any purpose, a personal trainer at the on-site gym, reimbursements for off-site gym memberships and all medical premiums paid by the company.

First GREEN Bank also offers paid sabbaticals for any social mission and 100 percent tuition reimbursement.

In 2014, LaRoe instituted a new policy to establish living wages where starting salaries are based on an amount high enough to maintain a normal standard of living.

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Max Eliscu
President and CEO
LSQ Funding Group, L.C.

Max Eliscu, president and CEO of LSQ Funding Group, L.C., is one of those rare people in business who inspire others to accomplish more than they knew possible through passion, vision and example.

He reaches solutions to problems before most even realize that there is a problem and he doesn’t care how things are conventionally done.

At age 25, only three years into a career at Bank of America, all major financial institutions began adopting credit scoring as a method to optimize the delivery of credit to small to medium enterprises. Eliscu understood the outcome would be a systemic working capital financing gap for small enterprises.

He set to work assembling a team, founding LSQ Funding Group. Eliscu convinced the investors he should be the majority owner and only took half pay until the company got off the ground.

One of the first obstacles was a legacy of mistrust between small businesses seeking funding and the alternative lending industry. Eliscu saw this atmosphere as an opportunity to do something different, something better, something good.

He designed a process to provide financing to those unable to access conventional bank financing, without accepting undue credit risk.

With a commitment to service excellence and rapid funding, he and his young company laid the groundwork for becoming one of the country’s largest privately held alternative lenders.

Eliscu’s curiosity and entrepreneurial spirit also led him to start a second business in 2011, Viewpost. It started as a means to help LSQ better manage its customers and vendors, but quickly turned into a broader technology service.

Both companies have developed and nurtured strong relationships with local colleges to offer undergraduate internship opportunities.

Also, to broaden his engagement with employees, Eliscu initiated a town hall-style forum. The monthly sessions have grown into opportunities for team building through collaborative charity events and competitive games.

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David F. Siracusa
Employee Leasing Strategies

David F. Siracusa is the founder and owner of Employee Leasing Strategies, one of the fastest growing and largest professional employer organization brokerage firms in Florida.

While working for another professional employer organization brokerage firm, Siracusa decided to create his own firm to attempt a unique and innovative focus of serving an untapped area of the market.

In 2011, Siracusa and his co-founder began providing brokerage services to the “bluest of blue collar workers” for which insurance coverage is typically hard to obtain, such as roofers, tree trimmers, construction workers and other companies involved in high-risk physical activities. Siracusa also established relationships with statewide insurance agents to attract prospects through references.

Siracusa invested upfront in the skills of the ELS sales force, removing the typical layers of administration. He wanted to create an assembly line process for sales that allowed sales representatives to have minimal paperwork.

Training manuals are provided to each new sales employee and the sales manager assists them before they are required to make a sale on their own. By the time a new sales employee is on the job for two weeks, they are typically able to work independently and provide knowledgeable service.

One crucial benefit of this style of training and management is that ELS’ employees are dedicated and the company has suffered little turnover. This contrasts greatly with the professional employer organization brokerage industry in which sales representatives tend to get burned out.

Over the past two years, ELS has experienced a 300 percent increase in total sales. With the professional employer organization brokerage market continuing to be red hot in Florida and across the country, the company shows no signs of slowing down.

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Health Care & Life Sciences

Award Recipient






Ricky Caplin
The HCI Group

Ricky Caplin, CEO of The HCI Group, finally achieved his dream of starting his own business in 2009. Healthcare Clinical Informatics or The HCI Group provides a diverse stream of consulting services based on the implementation and use of health care information technology.

The new business quickly took off, but then Caplin’s former employer sued him for the alleged violation of his noncompete agreement.

The business was put on hold for 18 months while Caplin spent most of his time and money defending his name and young business until the case was dismissed.

The experience of having to defend himself helped to shape Caplin’s unique perspective on business. He learned to trust his instinct and not overthink or second-guess his decisions.

Today, this fast-growing company is truly global, with offices in the U.S. and the United Kingdom, and an established presence or solid plans are underway in most of the seven continents.

Thanks to the depth of leadership in upper management and on the board of directors, The HCI Group has forged long-term relationships with strategic business partners and health care IT professionals in the highly competitive and risky health care IT sector.

Caplin believes that healthy competition is the key to success. At The HCI Group’s headquarters, flat-screen televisions display metrics related to their consultant’s periodic goals. This atmosphere helps create excitement about goals and lets each employee understand how he or she contributes.

Caplin also has started other successful businesses that provide a variety of services from civil engineering to venture capital investments for new entrepreneurs.

He even supports the entrepreneurial spirit in his own employees. For example, Caplin helped a manager who recently left The HCI Group develop a business plan, while providing capital funding and renting office space to the new business.

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Derek Hennecke
President and CEO

In 2004, President and CEO Derek Hennecke was tapped by MDS Pharma to oversee its Tampa, Seattle and Quebec plants. Eight months after assuming this role, MDS closed the Tampa plant and other locations.

Hennecke saw an opportunity and orchestrated a management buyout of the Tampa plant through a sale and leaseback arrangement, local investors and a line of credit. The customer base was retained and increased. The buyout closed in 2006 and Xcelience was born.

The linchpin in Hennecke’s strategic model is innovation. The company is constantly researching new processes, acquiring new equipment and, with the help of its customers, developing new medications.

This dedication to innovation and a concentration on specialty and orphan drugs has allowed Xcelience to produce an average of 40 new drugs a year, while competitors only produce one or two new drugs per year.

During the recession, to reduce costs, Hennecke decreased management salaries by 10 percent instead of laying off employees. He also formed new relationships with customers, whereby the customer would provide the specialty equipment needed to complete the requested products and Xcelience would charge a lesser fee for the services provided.

The company’s success is primarily attributable to its reputation and ability to provide services centrally. It continues to be selective in clients and projects pursued.

Many of the company’s managers have had successful careers elsewhere but had the desire to implement what they’ve learned on a larger scale. Also, retention is about hiring the right people from the start, so Xcelience recruits directly from the University of South Florida to attract the brightest and best minds.

Hennecke’s dedication to the continued success of Xcelience is evident by the recent acquisition of a new 70,000-square-foot facility that will double the laboratory and research and development space, and house the entire management team under one roof.

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Dr. Boris Reznik
Founder and chairman

Using his decades of experience in supply chain optimization, Dr. Boris Reznik has led Biorasi to its current success, helping pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies bring therapies to market.

As a young man in Moscow during the height of the Soviet Union, Reznik was unwilling to let boundaries affect his burning desire to succeed. He turned to education as a means to something greater, and after seeing his pregnant wife move to Western Europe in search of a better future, they reunited and moved to America with only $100 in his pocket.

A pioneer of the just-in-time philosophy of supply chain management, Reznik worked in a couple of corporations before deciding to take another chance on himself. He founded his first company, which he sold for a profit 12 years later.

Afterward, Reznik shifted his focus from technology to biotechnology, which is where he continues his entrepreneurial success as founder and chairman of Biorasi.

Reznik knew the key to making an impact in the industry was to combine the skills and experience of his team with a system that could guide the optimization methodologies. Biorasi’s proprietary platform is an innovative system that leverages interactive training, culture, processes and systems to achieve results.

Within the company, each employee is responsible for the articulation of individual goals and aspirations and how to achieve these goals while maintaining accountability.

In addition, to recognize employees who exemplify the entrepreneurial spirit of Biorasi, Reznik not only offers employees an ownership percentage unprecedented in the industry, but encourages them to be innovators.

Employees can develop their divisions to become spinoff candidates, where the employee can become the CEO.

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Hospitality & Retail

Award Recipient






Robert M. Beall
Beall’s, Inc.

For 45 years Robert M. Beall, chairman, has been an integral part of Beall’s, Inc.

Through his perseverance, patience and hard work, Beall’s, Inc. has grown from seven stores when he joined the company to 80 department stories in Florida and more than 400 outlet stores across the U.S.

Beall’s, Inc. was the first company in Florida to have outlet stores, which have been the company’s greatest success.

Back when Beall’s father asked him to return to Bradenton upon opening the seventh store, Beall knew the company couldn’t survive in its current state. With no infrastructure or internal organization, he began implementing the first automation through the open-to-buy inventory system, and over time built up the company’s internal organization.

He also convinced his father to open several stores in Arizona. For a number of years the stores didn’t turn a profit, which created a point of contention. Beall’s father wanted to close the stores, but Beall convinced his father to give them a little more time.

After several years, the stores turned a profit and have done well since. Beall believes his commitment to seeing the Arizona stores succeed is the reason Beall’s, Inc. is now a national company.

Beall’s conservative nature and attention to detail have served him well in adapting to customer wants and needs as well as never hindering the company’s success by leveraging too much debt. For example, the company currently holds debt for only two to three months each year, so it’s never put in a potentially harmful position because of third-party funding.

Another example of Beall’s leadership comes from when e-commerce was first introduced in 2000. By running its e-commerce business out of already existing stores through kiosks, the profits and success could be tested before making a huge financial commitment.

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Don L. Harrill
Holiday Inn Club Vacations

When CEO Don L. Harrill joined Orange Lake Resorts, a family-owned business, he found a stagnant company with plateauing sales, employees handcuffed by outdated technology and a corporate culture that micromanaged its employees rather than empowered them.

Utilizing his leadership skills and entrepreneurial spirit, Harrill set out to reinvent the timeshare sales development company.

He immediately began to recruit the most talented industry professionals to not only improve operations but also break down the previously restrictive culture. At his direction, the company also made a massive investment in a new technology platform and set out to find ways to grow the business.

Since 2005, the company has grown from having one resort to 13 resorts in Florida, Nevada, South Carolina, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin and has seen double-digit sales growth.

Harrill has introduced a variety of new products like flexible points and created a strategic partnership with the International Hotel Group to broaden the sales reach and customer base.

When the timeshare industry was hit by the credit crisis, rather than laying off employees and halting construction, Harrill maintained the company’s growth strategy and added 300 employees.

Now known as Holiday Inn Club Vacations, the company culture is focused on the people: team members, customers, shareholders and the community. Harrill and his executive team take great care in making sure communication lines are open and that team members are excited about their jobs and rewarded for their efforts. He believes “a happy employee equals a happy customer.”

He empowers his management team by giving them a runway for their ideas and believes in assisting team members in developing plans and empowering them to execute such plans.

Harrill also has helped create a corporate culture that promotes philanthropic activities. From 2013 to 2014, charitable corporate giving increased 87 percent, including a 22 percent increase in charitable donations from employees.

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Abe Ng
President, founder and CEO
Sushi Maki

President, Founder and CEO Abe Ng finds the most rewarding part of Sushi Maki to be the purity with which it operates. He doesn’t feel the need to rush to hit certain financial landmarks. Sushi Maki has become an extension of Ng’s family so he is able to make decisions by thinking about how those decisions affect more than just profits.

Traditionally, sushi has been thought of as mysterious, complicated and intimidating. The goal of Sushi Maki was to be an approachable, affordable sushi bar that people would trust by taking painstaking care in its food, preparation, ingredients and image.

Ng founded Sushi Maki in 2000 after his first entrepreneurial food venture failed, and he put himself and his personal finances on the line.

Sushi Maki taught him to trust his own taste and build something he would like. He continues to follow this when looking to combine different types of food and culture, like the Poke bowl that blends Asian and Latin flavors.

Forced into new measures of innovation due to the economic downturn, Ng began forging new outlets with public schools, hospitals, universities, airports, sports venues and Whole Foods.

As a relatively young company, Sushi Maki has been lucky enough to grow with its employees. People starting at the bottom have developed their skills alongside the company as it expanded.

While Ng appreciates this system, in recent years he has been bringing in outsiders who have already succeeded elsewhere. It has been a challenge and an investment, but Ng believes the company needs to hire for the standard of business it hopes to achieve in the fast-casual arena, rather than for its current level.

Ng also wants to make sure the startup company retains its soul and grows slowly and thoughtfully, being careful not to outgrow what the infrastructure is able to support.

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Real Estate & Construction

Award Recipient






Ron Antevy

CEO Ron Antevy has been the driving force behind the success of e-Builder, which was founded by his brother.

It’s not always easy to educate potential clients about using software like e-Builder to manage its construction projects. So, to serve e-Builder’s more than 300 clients and 50,000 users, it takes a team of people working together.

e-Builder focuses on customer service and experience, and a team of more than 120 employees works around the clock to provide a great customer experience. Because adopting e-Builder takes time and resources on behalf of the user, Antevy knows his people must be available 24/7 if need be.

Antevy is hands-on and deeply involved in the day-to-day operations of the company, investing a significant amount of time on the front line acquiring new clients and marketing the business.

The company has increased revenue by 30 to 40 percent per year, even during the recession. While construction did not cease during the downturn, cost savings was paramount. With e-Builder’s record of saving customers an average of 4 percent, the demand for the e-Builder tool increased.

When Antevy first joined e-Builder, he was an analytical thinker that didn’t stress culture in the workplace. Over the years, Antevy has learned the importance of people.

He now hosts training for his leadership team members every two weeks to sharpen and hone their people skills. He also conducts all hands-on meetings with the entire company every month to promote feedback and honest assessment.

The majority of e-Builder’s clients are hospitals, government agencies and universities. Antevy has witnessed the additional contributions these clients can make to the community via the money saved from using e-Builder.

In addition, to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary, e-Builder is donating money to 20 charities on behalf of 20 of its customers.

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Michael Kaufman
President and CEO
Kaufman Lynn Construction

In 1989, Michael Kaufman, president and CEO of Kaufman Lynn Construction, found himself out of work with a wife and four children. Instead of giving up, Kaufman took on odd jobs fixing homes.

Eventually, he was offered a subcontracting job to finish concrete work in Miami. The job, however, required an eight-man crew that would cost $8,000 a week. Without enough capital to fund the additional labor, Kaufman borrowed the money from his mother-in-law.

This was the birth of Kaufman Lynn Construction — a $12,000 investment, one construction truck and a beat-up Mazda. Through hard work and skillful management of cash flows, Kaufman was able to leverage that first project into other opportunities.

Now, Kaufman Lynn is a highly trusted construction company, providing services for public and private sectors throughout Florida, including senior living, municipalities, schools, universities and colleges, country clubs, health care, multifamily housing, faith-based, cultural, retail and commercial entities.

Kaufman’s response to the economic downturn is a prime example of his willingness to take calculated risks in the face of uncertainty. Rather than “hunkering down,” Kaufman recognized an opportunity to break into the next level of construction. He invested in talent, upgraded systems and rolled out internal initiatives to elevate performance and continue to draw strong talent.

Kaufman also has implemented a unique managing initiative — inquiry management. This mentorship program requires the mentee discuss directives in a nonjudgmental environment.

Kaufman practices an inclusive type of leadership. He communicates common goals to employees and emphasizes financial transparency.

During the recession, he had all employees on-board with cost-cutting measures, and rank-and-file and executives alike took salary cuts. He promised his employees if the company emerged profitably by the end of the fiscal year, he would return the profit. True to his word, the little profit they had went back to the employees.

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Buddy Raney
Raney Construction

After working construction jobs throughout the southeast and becoming a superintendent, Buddy Raney founded Raney Construction in 1997 with two men and a pickup truck.

In the early years, Raney, president, learned how to run a business through the help of his business advisers, facing uphill battles to form strong supplier and customer relationships and find financing in the tumultuous construction industry.

Then, during the 2008 financial crisis, bank lending vanished, Raney’s loans were called in, his credit lines dried up and he faced an expiring lease for his warehouse.

Raney reinvented the business by moving to a new warehouse and focusing on vertical integration through building componentization. He created a distribution line for sheeting and framing components through the use of automated saws and assembly line equipment that have minimized human error and manual construction time on the construction site, while still providing framing components of the utmost quality.

Today, Raney Construction is broken into two companies, Raney Construction and Raney Components, which together employ about 300 people.

Raney Construction also is expanding due to its new Hundeggar SPM saw, the first of its kind in the U.S. It will be the only supplier of precut roof sheeting in the country.

Raney has always been the face of Raney Construction, handling all business development himself and meeting face-to-face with customers. He strongly believes in a personal approach.

Raney reviews job reports daily to determine if they receive a “passing grade” on quality standards from the operations managers. Raney visits each location that isn’t meeting the 85 percent benchmark to understand the dynamics of why quality standards aren’t being met.

It was Raney’s leadership, determination and devotion to God, family and the community that has allowed his company to survive and flourish to what it is today.

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Award Recipient






Jamarlin Martin
Founder and CEO
Moguldom Media Group

While working as a paralegal, CEO Jamarlin Martin started a blog as a hobby. As he procured advertising funds, Martin came across an article that detailed the large sums of money advertisers were spending to be featured in pop culture ventures.

So, armed with a $6 domain name, Martin launched Bossip — a pop culture blog tailored toward the African-American market.

Martin’s company, Moguldom Media Group, has grown to include nine websites aimed at niche multicultural markets, from 24WiredTV, labeled the “African-American Hulu,” to Latina Madre, a lifestyle site for Latina mothers. Martin catapulted Moguldom to the global stage with the addition of an African business news website and African travel blog.

Moguldom’s sites collectively attract more than 16 million unique visitors each month, which is more traffic than BET, Interactive One, Vibe and Essence combined.

Martin also has broken into the film industry with Moguldom Studios, producing a series of documentaries — with 15 set to release in 2015.

Employing 150 people and having offices in New York, California and Florida, Martin attributes his success to contributions from his core leadership — many have been with him since 2006.

In 2010, Martin questioned whether he should bring in a more seasoned CEO. During that process he realized his uncertainty was triggered by other circumstances, so he divested unprofitable business areas and reorganized his development team.

Martin has tailored his employee training opportunities — such as providing a training course to an editor with a strong desire to enhance editorial skills for a blog marketed toward the Asian population — to allow employees to start in one position and end up in a completely different role.

Martin is also passionate about education, encouraging the African-American community to attend college by annually contributing to ECLIPSE, creating his own scholarship program and mentoring young people.

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Ted A. Fernandez
Chairman and CEO
The Hackett Group, Inc.

Against the advice of almost everyone he knew, Chairman and CEO Ted A. Fernandez left the opportunity to become chairman at a Big Four accounting firm to create his own strategic advisory and technology consulting firm.

With 900 employees, it has become one of the leading consulting firms in the world.

The new company — Answerthink, which would eventually become The Hackett Group, Inc. — was profitable and taken public in less than a year. Fernandez pioneered the idea of taking an advisory firm public at a time when most firms used the traditional partnership structure.

The Hackett Group’s growth hasn’t been without its challenges. The tech crash in 2000 caused revenues to experience double-digit declines for three consecutive years before Fernandez realized he had underutilized the company’s brand and services.

The company’s culture cultivates leaders within the company who relish the opportunity to compete against bigger rivals. There is a collaborative feel that focuses on maximizing an employee’s areas of strength.

Fernandez has created a dynamic team that complements his strengths and is built for the intensity of the short revenue cycle, which is inherent in the consulting part of the business.

He gives his employees leeway to act but expects them to be able to report back with their results and accept his regular, honest feedback.

Fernandez places the most value on effort and commitment, valuing those over raw intelligence or natural abilities. These traits are exemplified in crises, where he finds the importance of making decisions quickly, getting into the details with team members and then moving onto the next item.

The unique culture has caused an astounding number of boomerangs — one-third of their new hires are former employees who decide to return.

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Todd M. Wilcox
Patriot Capital, LLC

It takes a risk-taker to run an organization like Patriot Capital, LLC, and CEO Todd M. Wilcox is just that.

He attributes his leadership style of disciplined execution to his military background. Wilcox separated from government service in 2006, after serving as a CIA agent and U.S. Army Special Forces Officer.

Since Patriot Capital’s beginning in 2006, Wilcox has expanded the company from a 10-by-10-foot subleased space in the Orlando area with two employees to offices in Orlando, San Francisco, Tucson and Washington, D.C.

Though Patriot Capital is a government contractor, under Wilcox’s leadership, it has not only survived spending cuts and government shutdowns but thrived.

Despite intense competition and a saturated market with large players, Patriot Capital is still growing. This is a direct result of Wilcox’s ability to be an industry pioneer and network with others to find the right opportunities in niche areas that are not easily repeatable by the competition.

Today, the company has grown to three segments. Patriot Defense Group provides advanced training solutions to the U.S. military’s most lethal and strategic units and law enforcement — the first nongovernment provider of this type of training.

Strategic Risk Management provides business intelligence and specialized corporate security services to the defense, energy, media, financial and legal sectors.

Innovative Logistics specializes in logistical support in hostile environments and emerging markets.

Patriot Capital also differentiates itself from its competitors by the quality of service it provides, thanks to a talented, high-performing team. In order to keep this competitive advantage, Wilcox makes calculated, careful hiring decisions.

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Award Recipient






Sam Zietz
Founder and CEO

Sam Zietz, founder and CEO of TouchSuite, recognized the electronic transaction processing space was becoming increasing commoditized.

Small businesses didn’t have the same access to point of sales, processing systems, capital markets and customized technology, due to high costs and a lack of ease of use, that large companies did. So, he focused on providing customized technology to small businesses.

Zietz constantly tasks his team to improve efficiency and productivity for their clients, striving for a work hard, play hard environment. He also uses sport analogies to motivate his teams to continue to be leaders in the marketplace. Throughout the TouchSuite office, quotes are written on the walls to empower Zietz’s employees.

In the past two years, TouchSuite has grown tremendously, with year-over-year sales growth of 80 percent in 2013 and more than 40 percent in 2014. In 2014, the company also doubled in profitability over the prior year.

TouchSuite was one of the first companies to offer affordable credit card terminals and free equipment to encourage repeat customers. It also was the first point of sale system in both the U.S. and Canada that was integrated for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, a now global standard for operation of integrated circuit cards.

As his business developed, Zietz utilized his securitization background and created a “reverse factoring” arrangement to provide capital to companies with repayment terms based on a percentage of sales, not a monthly fee.

Unlike most of its competitors who focus on either merchant processing, sales of POS systems or alternative funding, TouchSuite operates in all three arenas to create unmatched value.

In 2014, TouchSuite launched the first commercial Android-based POS system, where business owners could manage operations and execute customer transactions from anywhere via a desktop system and networked tablet. TouchSuite has also developed a groundbreaking tool for predictive business forecasting.

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Anabel Perez
Co-founder and CEO

The World Bank estimates that more than 60 percent of adults in Latin America don’t have bank accounts, and it is estimated that 30 to 40 percent of economic activity in Latin America is off-grid (e.g., informal cash markets).

Through NovoPayment, Co-founder and CEO Anabel Perez has stepped in to solve this problem by pioneering a variety of non-cash and e-payment options.

Prior to Perez’s first run at entrepreneurship, she helped develop an electronic payment substitute for Venezuelan welfare paper-based payment vouchers. As the first in the market with this service, her employer, a Venezuelan bank, gained market share.

Perez realized the venture needed to remain innovative and operate outside the confines of the bank. She and her team advised the bank’s directors and officers to obtain shareholder funding for a new company — NovoPayment.

Today, NovoPayment has become a successful financial technology company that develops programs and cloud services to connect people and businesses with financial institutions, retailers, telecommunications and payment networks, companies and governments.

As one of the company’s largest stockholders, Perez has demonstrated significant investment risk and personal commitment, having more than once deferred her compensation for the good of the company.

She also has established a culture of personal accountability through monitoring daily transactional, sales and customer services activity and by “walking the front lines” to demand and encourage others to strive for excellence.

Perez believes the future of NovoPayment rests in data science and analytics. On a daily basis, the company receives enormous amounts of data from its users, which it hopes to structure into valuable packages and products. These consumer profiles for previously unknown populations will serve as archives-purchasing behaviors.

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Norman Worthington
Star2Star Communications

After starting several successful companies, CEO Norman Worthington had an employee present an idea to improve the way businesses communicate by creating a box, now Star2Star Communications’ flagship StarBox, that would connect businesses’ telecommunications systems.

Worthington and a couple of close partners worked tirelessly out of a garage in Sarasota to engineer that vision.

Once they had a working product, they sought out bandwidth and telephony partners to get the connection needed to provide services to their customers.

But when they realized these partners were unreliable and that dropped calls and severe connection issues would sink Star2Star, they brought the issue of connectivity in-house. They developed a blended architecture, essentially creating a cloud to provide better service to their customers, a structure that is unique among industry competitors.

Following the national financial crisis, Star2Star’s sales rose because it could compete in the low-cost market at a time when companies were interested in cutting costs.

Worthington has always been interested in surrounding himself with the top minds and top talent at his different technology companies. This is a top priority, and he uses the company’s proximity to beautiful beaches and warm weather, along with the challenge and excitement of doing innovative work, to attract talent.

He looks for people who share his passion, and are in the business for the joy, challenge and excitement of doing something truly innovative. This is evident in the grit and determination of the three men, headed by Worthington, who built Star2Star Communications from a rough idea that originally didn’t work to a company listed on the Inc. 500 list four times in a row.

And in the next five years, Worthington believes his company has a lot of room to expand in the business communications industry.
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Judging Panel

fla_ey_j_SusanAmatSusan Amat, Ph.D.
Venture Hive



fla_ey_j_DanielDoyleJrDan Doyle, Jr.
President and CEO
Dex Imaging, Inc.



fla_ey_j_MichaelEarleyMichael M. Earley
Pelican Advisory, LLC
Immediate past chairman and CEO
Metropolitan Health Networks, Inc.


fla_ey_j_MichaelFerrisMichael K. Ferris
Managing partner
OccamMD, LLC — Advanced Engineering of Intelligent Products and Devices


fla_ey_j_MichaelMorrisMichael H. Morris, Ph.D.
Program director
Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation, University of Florida, Warrington College of Business Administration


fla_ey_j_StevenHalversonSteven T. Halverson
President and CEO
The Haskell Company



fla_ey_j_NaomiWhittelNaomi Whittel
CEO and founder
Reserveage Organics



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EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Greater Los Angeles

Honoring innovation, leadership, spirit

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.

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Greater Los Angeles

Quick links:
Shiva Rajagopalan, Seven Lakes Technologies | Namit Malhotra, Prime Focus | Tony Safoian, SADA Systems Inc.
CONSUMER SERVICES Harrison Tang, Spokeo | Bryce Maddock and Jaspar Weir, TaskUs | Matthew Johnson and Nathan Johnson, TruConnect
EMERGING Elise Wetzel and Richard Wetzel, Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza | Michael Dubin, Dollar Shave Club | Melissa Kieling, PackIt
HEALTH CARE SERVICES Dr. Philip Pumerantz, Western University of Health Sciences | David Allerby, Tyner Brenneman-Slay and Ryan Iwamoto, 24Hr HomeCare | Dr. James Glinn, Jr., Movement for Life
MARKETING & ADVERTISING Jeff Green and Dave Pickles, The Trade Desk | Steve Yi, MediaAlpha | Mark Douglas, SteelHouse Inc.
MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT Chris DeWolfe, SGN | Walter Driver, Scopely | Stephanie Horbaczewski, StyleHaul
REAL ESTATE John Kilroy, Kilroy Realty Corporation | Jeffrey J. Knyal, Landmark Dividend LLC | Joseph Derhake, Partner Engineering and Science, Inc.
RETAIL & HOSPITALITY Mike Karanikolas and Michael Mente, REVOLVE | John Tomich, Onestop Internet | Matt Marquis, Pacifica Hotel Company 

Business Services

Award Recipient





Shiva Rajagopalan
Seven Lakes Technologies

Shiva Rajagopalan was working at Chevron in 2007 as a lead data architect when he noticed a number of inefficiencies across the oil and gas industry. He found there was a vacuum in technology and software available to the mid-cap and small-cap segment in the space. Most had very outdated underlying technology with poor usability and integration.

Furthermore, the younger generation of the oil and gas workforce was ready for a technological upgrade. Seeing the opportunity, Rajagopalan exited Chevron for a project at LINN Energy. His expertise and vision impressed executives at LINN, and before long he had the urge to branch out on his own.

In 2009, Seven Lakes Technologies was born. The most significant obstacle within the industry was convincing large, multibillion-dollar corporations to go with a fledgling startup versus long-time incumbents. Rajagopalan’s charismatic personality and persistence, along with success stories with earlier customers, helped him overcome those obstacles.

Today, Seven Lakes is a 28-client company with an aggressive vision to get 100 customers by the end of the year. The business model involved a two-fold approach of understanding the people, process and technology gaps in the industry, and hiring top talent, allowing them to flourish in a supportive environment, encouraging bottom-up innovation and creativity.

To differentiate, Rajagopalan, CEO, adopted an agile method of software development to ensure that customers got what they ordered in a fraction of the time and cost compared to larger competitors. The company also uses the latest technologies such as tablets for field data capture and configurable workflow solutions, which are made to be configurable by the customer, for the customer.

The vision of Seven Lakes is to bring the oil and gas industry into the 21st century by helping customers transform into collaborative, nimble and analytics-driven companies using the latest technology that is easy to deploy, use, support and upgrade.
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Namit Malhotra
Founder, Global CEO and Executive Chairman
Prime Focus

The Prime Focus story began in 1995, with 18-year-old Namit Malhotra and a garage in Mumbai, India. The grandson of a Bollywood cinematographer, and the son of a film producer, Malhotra had identified a significant technology gap between Bollywood and Hollywood. The original business strategy with the formation of Prime Focus in 1997 was to bridge that gap — to become the company that would bring a western level of creative and technological sophistication to the domestic Indian film market.

Between 2006 and 2007 Malhotra expanded Prime Focus from two studios in Mumbai to 14 studios around the globe, raising capital through an IPO and subsequently acquiring and reinvigorating a number of financially unstable western companies in the media and entertainment industry. Then the recession hit. Malhotra, the company’s founder, global CEO and executive chairman, initiated a global branding initiative to bring his companies and services under a common banner, and shepherded two innovative new service offerings to market.

Using the downturn to his advantage, Malhotra led Prime Focus to emerge in 2010 as the first company in the world to convert a full Hollywood feature film from 2-D to 3-D for theatrical release, and the company’s CLEAR platform became utilized by clients such as Warner Bros., 21st Century Fox, The Associated Press, HBO and MTV.

The culmination of this independent thinking came in 2014 with the acquisition of tier one visual effects house, Double Negative, one of the top three companies in its field. Malhotra also consolidated the company in India, acquiring local competitor Reliance MediaWorks, and ownership of film restoration company Lowry Digital, which include a stake in US VFX house, Digital Domain.

Malhotra engineered a transformative deal that led to Prime Focus becoming the world’s largest independent media services company.
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Tony Safoian
CEO and President
SADA Systems Inc.

Tony Safoian, CEO and president of SADA Systems Inc., has always been progressive in his vision for the technology industry, especially in the burgeoning area of cloud computing. This vision spearheaded SADA’s investment in the cloud when the technology was only just beginning to emerge in the marketplace.

SADA entered the cloud market formally in February 2007 when it became one of the first Google Apps partners in the world. This initiative would become the impetus for SADA’s continued growth into a full service IT and cloud solutions company offering innovative, customized solutions to integrate businesses across all sectors.

Under Safoian’s leadership, SADA grew its service offerings by adding Microsoft cloud solutions, despite the fact it was a direct competitor of Google. Taking this risk had its pitfalls. Safoian, however, has managed to provide competitive solutions while delivering on partner expectations, resulting in multiple accreditations and awards, including being named the 2013 North America Partner of the Year for Google Maps and Google Apps for Government, as well as the 2014 Microsoft U.S. Education Cloud Productivity Partner of the Year.

Safoian continually shapes SADA’s priorities by placing sound engineering at the core of the business model, coupled by exceptional customer support services. This model focuses on constant innovation through the development and implementation of new solutions, offerings and related services for recurring business.

Under Safoian’s guidance, SADA has differentiated itself from other key industry players by proactively addressing a rapidly evolving market across enterprise, SMB, government and education sectors, while anticipating the needs of its customers.

SADA continues to make its mark in the field of cloud computing, which is quickly becoming the technological standard under which enterprise organizations operate. Safoian plans to further SADA’s growth by expanding the company’s current model and geographic locations.
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Consumer Services

Award Recipient






Harrison Tang
Co-founder and CEO

Never one to be complacent, Harrison Tang is always focused on a vision to do something bigger tomorrow than what he is doing today. After introducing YapperNut, a Skype mouse/phone, in 2005, he followed that up by co-founding Spokeo in 2006.

Almost 10 years later, Spokeo, a people search service, boasts more than 20 million visitors a month and is helping thousands of individuals and small businesses research and reconnect. The company’s service has helped democratize data and provide access to it for the common person.

Approximately 8 percent of online searches are first and last names. After Facebook’s domination deemed aggregators unnecessary, Tang pivoted Spokeo into a premium social search engine in 2008 and achieved profitability shortly afterward. In 2010, the company went all-in on a full-featured people search engine and it paid off.

Along with scaling the business, Tang and his team have focused heavily on innovation. With a vision to serve all possible aspects of people search, they launched celebrity semantic search in 2011, business search in 2012, criminal record search in 2013, historical record search in 2014, and a family social network, family.me, in 2015.

Harrison believes that the only way for a business to survive is to innovate, and through Spokeo he has excelled at doing so. In a world where opinions about digital privacy are highly varied, under Tang’s leadership as CEO, Spokeo has managed not only to stay afloat, but to flourish. Between 2012 and 2014, the company experienced a major increase in revenue and its employee count. This massive growth shows that Tang is not intimidated by risks or challenges, but instead uses them to spur innovation.

Tang’s experience has encompassed major growth and considerable challenges alike, but in the face of these, he remains focused on his vision and has refused to become complacent.
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Bryce Maddock
Co-founder and CEO
Jaspar Weir
Co-founder and President

Professionally, Bryce Maddock and Jaspar Weir built high standards into the conceptualization and launch of TaskUs, a provider of outsourced customer care and back office support to growth companies.

The duo co-founded TaskUs in 2008 as a virtual personal assistant company designed to help busy professionals offload administrative tasks to virtual assistants. Maddock and Weir quickly realized that their virtual personal assistant concept was less lucrative than providing services to growing companies that often needed to outsource critical, but time-consuming business processes.

While there are definite similarities in the way that TaskUs and other business process outsourcing companies operate, the competitive differentiation is based on customer segment and approach. In the traditional BPO model, productivity and efficiency trump the customer experience, as large outsourcing companies tend to focus on preserving margins. These corporations have massive headcounts characterized by heavy turnover with environments that do not support a corporate culture or engaged workforce. The emphasis on profitability and lack of culture combine to reduce quality for clients, and leads to minimal client account support.

At TaskUs, Maddock, CEO, and Weir, president, have focused on developing a customer-centric approach that allows clients to scale effectively through having a partner with expertise in building customer contact and back office operations. In sharp contrast to traditional BPOs, TaskUs’ model does not emphasize proprietary technology or process, but rather emphasizes building process and technology calibrated to the individual clients’ needs.

Maddock and Weir have contributed to the creation, development and management of a company that has grown its workforce significantly from 2008 to today. TaskUs has achieved its year-over-year revenue growth and has built an enviable portfolio of clients that include well-known companies such as Uber, Groupon, LinkedIn, Tinder and Whisper.
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Matthew Johnson
Nathan Johnson
Co-CEO and Chairman

In 2006, twin brothers Matthew and Nathan Johnson acquired Telscape Communications, rebranding the company as TruConnect. The brothers invested millions of dollars of their own capital on an equal basis with a private equity firm, each serving on the board of directors and Nathan assuming the title of chairman.

In 2009, facing the economic downturn and a significant decline in their telecommunications business, the Johnson’s decided to take full control of the company and chart a new course. As a result, the brothers assumed the titles of co-CEO to take full operational and board control of the business.

Adapting and reinvigorating TruConnect’s business multiple times since 2009 to meet market demands brought individual sets of challenges — from a series of financial difficulties and employee restructurings to negotiating acquisitions and facilitating rapid expansion. Each challenge, however, has strengthened the Johnson’s resolve to build a market-leading company.

In 2012, TruConnect acquired Dallas-based Sage Telecom in a move to build the company’s overall telecommunications offering beyond California by gaining access to more than 250,000 customers in 11 states. While the brothers now had a much larger platform to build from, the new combined entity was still predominately a wireline business continuing to experience line losses each month.

In an effort to reinvent the larger enterprise, the brothers launched a new company in 2012 called TruConnect Mobile, which focused on providing unique prepaid mobile data offerings to the underserved market. Ultimately, this startup won a bidding process with Wal-Mart and laid the foundation for building a new company, new brand and new offerings with national appeal.

In January 2015, the company restructured its full range of wireless and wireline offerings and rebranded the parent company under the TruConnect brand. Today, TruConnect remains focused on the development of new and innovative solutions for the underserved markets.
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Award Recipient






Elise Wetzel
Co-founder and Co-CEO
Richard Wetzel
Co-founder and Co-CEO
Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza

Working together, husband and wife Co-founders and Co-CEOs Richard and Elise Wetzel set out to create a modern day pizza restaurant serving artisanal quality pizza that was both fast and affordable. In 2011, they sketched out their plan on the back of a Chipotle napkin, and Blaze Fast-Fire’d Pizza was born.

Using an interactive assembly-line format, Blaze Pizza lets guests co-create their own pizza. Pizzas are then sent to a blazing hot open-flame oven, ready to eat in just 180 seconds. It’s food served fast, but with an experience that’s differentiated from traditional fast food.

From the beginning, the Wetzels envisioned a concept that would ignite change. Today, Blaze Pizza is committed to its chef-driven recipes, casually hip design and outstanding hospitality. Blaze Pizza is currently opening a new restaurant every six days and has locations in the metro areas of Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Miami and Washington, D.C. The Wetzels believe that Blaze Pizza could have close to 1,000 locations by 2020.

From its inception, the Wetzel’s set out to create a company with a modern culture — one that engages, inspires and reflects the values of its guests, employees and franchise partners. Early on, they teamed up with critically acclaimed chef Brad Kent, not for the prestige, but for the integrity of the food, and formed an executive team of restaurant veterans to build an organization that would enable the company to reach its full potential.

Core to its culture is Blaze Pizza’s unconventional approach that believes in harnessing the power of the individual. From the larger-than-life wall graphics to a team member dress code policy that celebrates individuality, Blaze challenges itself and its guests to “take the wheel” and to “make your mark.”
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Michael Dubin
Founder and CEO
Dollar Shave Club

When Michael Dubin decided to enter the men’s razors market, one of the oldest undisrupted markets with huge incumbents, he knew that a David and Goliath scenario was waiting for him. Despite the possible challenges ahead, he firmly believed that the men’s grooming space would benefit from a better, more convenient option, and that a company like Dollar Shave Club would resonate with men.

Dubin founded Dollar Shave Club in March 2012 because he saw — and personally felt — men’s frustration with the price and experience of buying razors at stores. Guys had to track down the clerk to unlock the razor case, only to pay exorbitant prices. Dubin knew that the frustration was widespread.

He quit his job and invested his savings into the new venture, launching it from his apartment. He set out to solve a problem with a simple club offering — a monthly shipment of quality razors purchased online.

A portion of the money Dubin put into Dollar Shave Club went towards creating the now famous YouTube video, which launched the business and has been viewed nearly 20 million times. At launch, Dollar Shave Club garnered 12,000 orders placed in the first 48 hours.

Dubin, the company’s CEO, corralled his team, and together they began filling each order and building the company that would become what it is today. In the three years since launch, Dubin’s commitment to disrupt a multibillion-dollar industry is paying off.

Dollar Shave Club now owns 10-plus-percent of the U.S. men’s cartridge market and has effectively changed the industry, forcing major legacy brands to follow Dubin’s lead. Today, Dollar Shave Club has a substantial and loyal member base, and has launched a lineup of additional grooming products in an effort to own and service the men’s bathroom.
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Melissa Kieling
Co-founder and CEO

After packing her children’s lunches for more than a decade, Melissa Kieling became frustrated with how insulated bags failed to keep meals cool and safe for long periods of time. So, she took matters into her own hands and invented a lunch bag with a freezable gel lining that kept food and drinks cool for 10 hours.

Kieling co-founded PackIt five years ago on the premise that families should get more from their coolers. While the concept of her freezable, foldable lunch bag was well received, its appearance wasn’t distinguished enough — it looked like every other lunch cooler on the market. Buyers expressed concern that consumers wouldn’t understand how unique the product was.

Getting major retailers to take a chance on an unproven product in a crowded category required serious ingenuity on Kieling’s part. Rather than lobby major retailers right away, Kieling decided to take her product to the real players in the market — kids who eat lunches and the parents who pack them.

In 2011, Kieling strategically invested in a targeted marketing campaign on all the biggest children’s TV networks. Not only did it educate consumers about the PackIt concept, but it was also a calculated means of reaching retail buyers’ children. In addition to jump-starting sales, the initiative built widespread brand recognition and garnered the attention of coveted buyers.

The success of the campaign was the single biggest factor in getting PackIt into major retailers, where PackIt is currently the No. 1 lunch bag. In six short years, PackIt’s technology has disrupted an entire industry and reinvented coolers across the globe causing the CEO to expand into three additional lunch accessories, plus products for shopping, picnic/beach, wine and baby.

These efforts have legitimized the brand in the marketplace and persuaded retailers to purchase goods on a greater scale.
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Health Care Services

Award Recipient






Dr. Philip Pumerantz
Founding President
Western University of Health Sciences

Dr. Philip Pumerantz is a U.S. Army veteran, holder of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in history and education from the University of Connecticut, and a long-time educator. These accomplishments are what ultimately caught the attention of a small group of osteopathic physicians in California who were on the hunt for a leader.

On Labor Day 1977, the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific was born, and Pumerantz became its founding president. The first class of osteopathic medical students, 36 in all, was admitted in October 1978.

Despite a host of hurdles including newly proposed anti-osteopathy legislation, demands of accrediting bodies and resistance from local businessmen who wanted retail firms, not a nonprofit school, at the location, Pumerantz and his allies acquired a former J.C. Penney building to go along with their first small office. They built classrooms, offices and an anatomy lab. Still, the entire campus comprised only a few thousand square feet, with a handful of students, support staff and faculty.

Today, Western University of Health Sciences, which COMP became in 1996, sits on more than 22 acres in downtown Pomona, and is home to nine colleges: COMP, Allied Health Professions, Pharmacy, Graduate Nursing, Veterinary Medicine, Dental Medicine, Optometry, Podiatric Medicine and the Graduate College of Biomedical Sciences. A second campus, known as COMP-Northwest, opened in 2011 in Oregon.

The campuses combined have more than 3,900 students enrolled in the 2014-2015 academic year. Alumni from all programs surpassed the 11,000 mark with the May 2014 commencement. Pumerantz is now the third-longest-tenured university president of all the doctoral degree-awarding institutions in the country, at more than 36 years.

It’s all been made possible by The WesternU Way — inspiration, energy and entrepreneurial spirit joining forces with the university’s humanistic mission of educating tomorrow’s healers to be compassionate, caring and technically proficient.
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David Allerby
Co-founder and CEO
Tyner Brenneman-Slay
Co-founder and COO
Ryan Iwamoto
Co-founder and CMO
24Hr HomeCare

The idea behind creating a home care company that combined the professionalism of a nationwide corporation and the personal touch of a small business came from its founders’ years of experience in the home care industry, during which it became clear that there were aspects of the industry that could be improved. 24Hr HomeCare opened its doors in 2008, providing professional caregiving services.

Starting the company was tough, however. The U.S. Small Business Administration advised the three co-founders, David Allerby, CEO, Tyner Brenneman-Slay, COO and Ryan Iwamoto, CMO, not to start a business of any sort because of poor economic conditions. Despite these factors, the three made the decision to leave their stable workplace and put their savings towards establishing 24Hr HomeCare.

Many long-standing home care companies had well-established relationships with hospitals, assisted living facilities and senior care centers, becoming an integral part of the patient care cycle. As newcomers to the industry, the company worked to build relationships with health care personnel within these organizations to secure 24Hr HomeCare a spot as the alternate home care company.

Opportunities would come when established home care partners were unable to provide quality caregiving services. Time after time, 24Hr HomeCare was able to deliver quality home care experiences, eventually replacing these health care organizations’ existing partners.

24Hr HomeCare sustains creativity through regular internal competitions that are conducive to the exchange of ideas. Each of the company’s 12 offices create a video promoting a new service offering or way of improving business processes, and every quarter, the winning branch receives funds to build out its idea and standardize it across the company.

24Hr HomeCare’s processes for creating systematic innovation has led to award-winning customer service, a 24-hour availability, an extensive caregiver recruitment procedure and unique specialty training programs for caregivers.
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Dr. James Glinn, Jr.
Movement for Life

In January 1999, Dr. James Glinn, Jr. founded what is now known as Movement for Life with a credit card cash advance check and a family loan he used to buy a small physical therapy practice in San Luis Obispo. The early days required that Glinn develop an innovative plan to be successful in a competitive area with many established physical therapy practices.

To grow in this competitive environment, he developed a business strategy believing that the right people working together would be able to take on far more responsibility when expectations and training were clear and rewards were meaningful. In a field where health care providers are sometimes mocked for a narrow scope of abilities, he saw far more potential with a focused and forward-looking team.

His model was and remains simple. Each location has a director who is compensated with a nominal base pay (less than 50 percent of the average compensation of a new graduate physical therapist) with a bonus of 40 percent of the profits for their location.

Glinn has made sure to reinvest in the company to keep organic growth going, building a robust employee profit sharing plan, and most recently, implementing the Movement For Life Employee Stock Ownership Plan, making the company the largest employee owned entity of its kind in several distinct categories.

Today, Movement For Life utilizes its unique model for sharing risk and reward among a group of like-minded and innovative practitioners and business experts.

Through an active team of professionals in the fields of athletic training, physical therapy, exercise physiology and personal training, Movement for Life has formulated and executed unique programs for the performance, prevention, maintenance and rehabilitation of movement-related challenges and goals.
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Marketing & Advertising

Award Recipient






Jeff Green
Co-founder and CEO
Dave Pickles
Co-founder and CTO
The Trade Desk

Two years after Jeff Green sold his first company, AdECN, to Microsoft in 2007, he faced a choice — live well climbing the corporate ladder or forge out on his own once again. Green chose the latter, and together with Dave Pickles, the two turned their focus toward developing the emerging market of advertising technology.

Green saw this as a launching pad to further grow efficiencies and improvements in how media is bought and sold. When he met Pickles, who would become Green’s co-founder and CTO at The Trade Desk, he realized he had found a comrade in that mission.

When Green and Pickles founded The Trade Desk, a global advertising technology platform, their vision for the future of advertising was a world where every format — TV, billboards, print, digital — was bought and sold through the efficiency of technological platforms. They called for the end to the fax machine insertion order that was once a standard for doing business in advertising.

Many on the sell side have taken their words as a call to arms to modernize their own approaches.
 With the belief that advertising will move to programmatic buying and selling, Green, CEO, and Pickles have taken a pure platform approach where they invite mature agencies and emerging technology providers to build their businesses on The Trade Desk.

It is also their belief that building 1,000 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. In this long-view approach, they have diversified their own business offerings without having to hire a massive sales force or accounts team.

The Trade Desk has proven its model works, and businesses are building their model on the company’s advice.
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Steve Yi
Co-founder and CEO

Steve Yi fundamentally believes that transparency and fairness create the most efficient transactional paradigm within a business. Unfortunately, this was not, and is not, the prevailing sentiment in the online lead generation industry that his company, MediaAlpha, is so rapidly disrupting.

Yi co-founded MediaAlpha in early 2011, as the insurance comparison website QuoteLab.com, with only two advertisers — GEICO and Nationwide. In mid-2012, the founders came up with the idea of leveraging the company’s advertising platform and building a fully transparent, real-time programmatic advertising exchange.

The new MediaAlpha would completely disrupt the inefficient, opaque ad networks that were dominating insurance lead generation. After six months of due diligence and negotiations, the company secured commitments from Esurance and All Web Leads as its first participants, and in early 2013, MediaAlpha Exchange launched.

While initially dwarfed by insurance ad networks from Bankrate, QuinStreet and Vantage Media, insurance advertisers and publishers quickly embraced the greater efficiency and transparency offered by MediaAlpha’s programmatic advertising platform. With Yi as CEO, the company quickly grew to become larger than all three incumbents combined in the insurance segment.

MediaAlpha is now the dominant market leader with more than 75 insurance advertisers, 85 publishers, and an estimated 65 percent market share. Two of the three major ad networks now source a majority of their outside inventory from MediaAlpha.

Most importantly, MediaAlpha spawned a new generation of ad networks that now build businesses directly on the company’s platform. MediaAlpha’s roster of advertisers includes some of the largest and most sophisticated online marketers. For a majority of these insurance advertisers, MediaAlpha is now either the largest or second largest performance-based marketing channel, behind only Google.
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Mark Douglas
CEO and President
SteelHouse Inc.

Mark Douglas is a self-taught HTML coder. While building eHarmony’s technologies, Douglas thought about how he could bring its model to the rest of the marketing industry and fix what he felt was broken in online advertising.

Online ads were boring and marketers had to settle on not knowing where their budget was going. He knew he could change the way ads were built and increase the velocity without sacrificing the creative. He could make online ads dynamic, with carousels and video background — all with a simple code.

So he left his job and started writing code out of his apartment while he recruited his team. Douglas then founded SteelHouse Inc. in 2010 to deliver a marketing platform unlike anything available in the industry. As its CEO and president, Douglas built SteelHouse with veteran direct marketers and engineers from eHarmony, E*TRADE, Oracle and the Rubicon Project.

Designed by marketers, SteelHouse’s CANVAS, a data-driven marketing platform, gave marketers control of campaigns at every level. More control meant better performance. The SteelHouse business model has scaled to create game-changing technology. Not only has the company automated how ads are served, it has re-engineered how they are built, and who is targeted.

With CANVAS, marketers have unprecedented visibility into their audience. SteelHouse’s platform gathers first-party data in real time, using a proprietary Smarter Pixel that allows marketers to target specific audience segments with relevant offers immediately. Once they know who to target, marketers can set campaign priority, escalation, A/B testing, measure the true lift with control groups and get superior analytics all in one place.

SteelHouse will soon be launching an industry first Creative Ad Builder and a complete redesign of its marketing platform. CANVAS will be the first creative platform that puts the power of creating and editing dynamic, rich media ads in the hands of marketers.
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Media & Entertainment

Award Recipient






Chris DeWolfe

As the pioneer behind MySpace, Chris DeWolfe established many of the commonplace social media mechanics that define today’s digital generation. He now applies that knowledge — gained from his entrepreneurial journey — toward his breakout success in the mobile gaming industry under his new venture, SGN.

As DeWolfe prepared to exit MySpace in 2009, he assembled his comprehensive vision for a new mobile games enterprise with risk-averse technology strategies. SGN (Social Gaming Network), a cross-platform mobile game developer, was co-founded by DeWolfe because he foresaw a tremendous opportunity in mobile games as an emerging medium for connected entertainment.

Leveraging key lessons learned from factors that impacted MySpace’s lifespan, such as fragmentation of too many development programs simultaneously, he applied a critical focus toward developing a new methodology to avoid reliance on one individual platform.

SGN’s first technological effort focused on building a platform on which a game is developed once and then published on multiple platforms with one set of programming. This patent-pending platform, MasterKey, empowers the studio to deliver a seamless game play experience regardless of the device. With social media integration and interactive features inherent in its popular titles, SGN connects players with friends, creates a competitive aspect to game play and makes the experience immersive and personalized.

SGN also leverages its online game network, Mindjolt, as a research and discovery ground, serving as a real-time incubator for the team to identify and implement next- generation game play mechanics.

As CEO, DeWolfe has steadily built SGN to become a top, privately held mobile games studio. As these companies grow, so has a major shift in how consumers spend. Today, the mobile gaming industry earns more total revenue than the entire traditional gaming industry. In 2015 and beyond, DeWolfe intends to pursue expanded entertainment, talent and branded partnerships for future game development.
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Walter Driver
Co-founder and CEO

Scopely, founded in 2011 by serial entrepreneur and CEO Walter Driver, is a leading publisher of free-to-play games on mobile and tablet devices. After seeing the macro trends in technology pointing to 2 billion smartphones by 2015 and the average American touching their smartphone 150 times a day, Scopely was built to capture a portion of that market and has launched four consecutive No. 1 games on the iPhone and seen more than 35 million people use its products.

Scopely is the first entertainment network to focus on interactive experiences on touchscreen devices, earning it the nickname “the HBO of mobile games” by industry observers. Its innovative business model in the games space works with a distributed network of the world’s elite game developers and focuses on building industry leading distribution and monetization technology for free-to-play games.

Nearly all of the leading free-to-play game companies in the western world develop and publish their own games. Scopely is unique in the fact that it is agnostic about its economic relationship with game developers, whether it is a first-, second- or third-party relationship. This approach leads to more innovation and specialization because Scopely can leverage the creativity of independent teams all over the world rather than relying on the expertise of its full-time employees.

Scopely partners with developers and oversees brand and performance marketing, analytics, ad serving and ad sales, business development and strategic partnerships, licensing, localization, quality assurance, community management, customer support, CRM and more, while the developers focus on building and refining the game experience. Scopely then publishes the product to its large network of registered users and shares revenue with the developer.

Driver and his team plan to create original, mobile-first intellectual property that can become other forms of media, such as television and film.
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Stephanie Horbaczewski
CEO and President

After graduate school, Stephanie Horbaczewski went on to become the director of marketing at Saks Fifth Avenue. After reading an article about how Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg were making short form videos for brands in 2009, she boarded a plane to Los Angeles with the dream of building a large-scale video platform that connects brands with targeted audiences.

Eventually, she partnered with Allen and Aaron Debevoise of Machinima and founded StyleHaul, a fashion and beauty network on YouTube providing multiplatform marketing solutions that reach the female demographic via video and social programming, in 2011. Horbaczewski put everything financially, emotionally and physically into starting StyleHaul, and empowers her team to explore unanswered or unasked questions to drive innovation.

While StyleHaul started with a dominant position on YouTube, Horbaczewski is leading the way for platform diversification to make StyleHaul a trailblazer across all social platforms where brands have the opportunity to engage with targeted audiences in a native environment.

Today, the CEO and president has led her company to more than 200 million network subscribers on YouTube with more than 5,000 content creators and 72 million monthly unique viewers. The company has more than 1 billion monthly video views and nearly four times the engagement of any other YouTube network.

StyleHaul has mastered closing the purchase funnel, allowing brands to track ROI via engagement metrics such as comments, likes, shares and favorites through to the purchase of products. In addition, StyleHaul has redefined the way agencies and brands value and purchase branded content by expanding the depth of data, like the concept of engagement, and the pricing and packaging of content at scale to make media budgets an available source of funding.
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Real Estate

Award Recipient






John Kilroy
CEO, Chairman and President
Kilroy Realty Corporation

At the core of John Kilroy’s success is a love for competition, passion for design and a deep belief in innovation. An internationally recognized sailor and skipper, his accomplishments have required determination and endurance, vigilance and dexterity, a well-designed vessel and crew, the ability to see opportunity in uncertainty and a willingness to act quickly on emerging developments.

Kilroy brings all of these skills to Kilroy Realty Corporation as its CEO, chairman and president, where in 34 years he has taken the company public, doubled its workforce and grown its value. He succeeds in business just as he does in sailing — by excelling through design, managing through downturns, taking advantage of good conditions and assembling an exemplary team.

Rather than pursue a traditional model, Kilroy approaches business development as an organically evolving process. For example, from 2005 to 2007, he employed a cost-effective, “bulldozer-free” repositioning approach, maintaining the company’s existing properties, enhancing surrounding neighborhoods and improving quality of life for tenants. These kinds of sustainable strategies have helped Kilroy ride out market turbulence, turning a down market into an opportunity for innovation.

After the recession, Kilroy was one of the first companies on the West Coast to expand into some of the strongest markets in the country, including Hollywood, San Francisco and Seattle. In the past five years of the market’s rebound, Kilroy assumed more risk by acquiring strategic properties at below replacement cost and selling nonstrategic assets in order to finance more value-creating developments, which tripled Kilroy’s enterprise value.

From central decisions like design, location and amenities, to providing great customer service to tenants and service providers alike, Kilroy takes an active role in the success of each project. Employing smart strategies through his well-coordinated team, he has sailed this former family business into the modern age.
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Jeffrey J. Knyal
Landmark Dividend LLC

Over the past 25 years, Jeffrey J. Knyal founded four successful companies and pioneered three distinct industries. Over the years, however, a lot had happened in his life, and in an attempt to turn things around he founded Landmark Dividend LLC, a ground lease transactions company, in February 2010.

After raising startup funding, Knyal, Landmark’s CEO, made 30 job offers to the same crew he had to let go at his former company. All 30 accepted his offer and came to work for Landmark.

The original ideas for Landmark, a company that provides value, capital and liquidity to owners of ground leases for cellular towers, billboards and alternative energy infrastructure, were sourced by three primary strategies. The first was a tenant rental reduction program Knyal designed for AT&T Wireless in 2002. This was the first program of its kind where ground leases could be purchased from a property owner and the lease payment reduced through an amendment benefiting the tenant.

The second strategy was that leases could be pooled and sold to investors through financial structures realizing a significant markup. The third strategy tapped into the capital available through its community of family offices.

Landmark was the first company to purchase ground leases under billboards, wind turbines, solar farms and fiber easements, all of which helped the company complete its IPO in November 2014. There have been numerous internal improvements made at Landmark, including a paperless workflow environment, 360-degree monitoring of all system actions and Pic2Lead, where photographs of cellular towers are sent to an offshore team in India and scrubbed of the property owner’s name and contact data.

Knyal plans to take his business global, and has recently opened an office in Sydney, and is conducting business in Canada and Puerto Rico.
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Joseph Derhake
Partner Engineering and Science, Inc.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Joseph Derhake pursued a career in engineering. He settled into civil engineering and environmental due diligence where he quickly advanced as a professional consulting engineer.

In 2007, after establishing his reputation in the industry, Derhake realized that there was growing demand for better physical risk management in the real estate market. So, along with seven of his colleagues, Derhake founded Partner Engineering and Science, Inc.

As CEO, Derhake’s determination to succeed combined with his entrepreneurial spirit and intrinsic disposition for leadership quickly grew the concept to the success it is today — Partner is the largest provider of engineering and environmental due diligence services in the country.

Being tied to the commercial real estate industry, Partner’s founding at the beginning of the market crash was at a rather precarious time as both clients and competitors were forced to downsize. Nevertheless, Derhake was able to grow the company’s team and client base rapidly, securing prominent national clients such as Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, Credit Suisse and Bank of America within its first year.

In addition to organic growth, Partner has been involved with a number of key acquisitions. Within the first few years of Partner’s founding, Derhake purchased US Reports and LandAmerica Assessment Corporation, transactions that helped catapult Partner to the top of the due diligence industry. In 2013, Partner acquired the civil engineering and design firm Birdsall Services Group.

Through these acquisitions Derhake has added talented professionals and multiservice expertise to Partner. In recent years, Derhake and his technical executive team have continued to expand Partner beyond its core due diligence services into new business sectors to provide turnkey technical services for all stages of a real estate asset. Today, Partner is rapidly becoming the market leader within what has long been a fractured industry.
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Retail & Hospitality

Award Recipient






Mike Karanikolas
Co-owner and Co-CEO
Michael Mente
Co-owner and Co-CEO

With backgrounds in tech, Web development and business finance, Mike Karanikolas and Michael Mente saw an opportunity to create a groundbreaking online shopping experience. REVOLVE was established in 2003 by the co-owners and co-CEOs during the dot-com boom.

At that time, the fashion industry doubted the viability of e-commerce and no one was providing an online destination for premium, multi-brand fashion, combined with great service. In just 10 years, however, Mente and Karanikolas turned a small website selling a handful of brands into a growing company stocking more than 500 men’s and women’s fashion brands, shipping to customers in more than 150 countries.

By 2013, both REVOLVE and the company’s second division, FORWARD by Elyse Walker, which was unveiled in 2012, were on a hypergrowth track. REVOLVE was started with the intent of seeking out the most sought-after fashion brands and bringing them to a singular, online destination. While the company launched with a handful of established brands, REVOLVE has since introduced an array of new and emerging designers to an international customer.

This carefully curated mix of brands and products is at the center of REVOLVE’s and FORWARD’s philosophy, and is what sets the business apart from competitors. There is minimal designer and product overlap with other retailers in the space making the company unique.

In 2015, REVOLVE and FORWARD will continue to build on year-over-year growth by adding to the division’s respective designer rosters. REVOLVE aims to strengthen its foothold in key growth markets overseas by deepening marketing activities and developing localized content. With 40 percent of all traffic coming from mobile, both businesses will focus on developing its user experience across all mobile platforms.
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John Tomich
Co-founder and CEO
Onestop Internet

Co-founder and CEO John Tomich’s vision and determination have helped Onestop Internet weather both volatile economic circumstances and significant shifts in the apparel and digital spaces. Tomich’s ability to demonstrate Onestop Internet’s appeal to targeted clients helped the company scale at pivotal moments in its infancy.

Onestop Internet, which builds and manages fully-integrated digital commerce channels for brands and retailers on an outsourced, revenue-share basis, was founded in 2004 with a single client. Onestop provided this client customer service, e-commerce technology, photography, creative design and online marketing services.

The client was capital constrained, so Onestop agreed on a revenue share, commission structure as compensation for the services, which was unique considering most e-commerce agencies operate on a work-for-hire, time and materials basis. This first client provided Onestop with the cash flow to hire staff, lease its own warehouse space and expand the business.

The Internet retail industry continues to grow year after year. Within it, the company ensures it continually innovates its technology and service offerings to keep up with industry trends. The company believes that e-commerce operations, operational efficiencies, technological innovation and synchronized scaling can all be achieved with a shared infrastructure and a knowledgeable partner.

Onestop’s data warehousing and business intelligence offering is a strong differentiator from competitive in-house solutions. Additionally, Onestop has a strong leadership position with apparel, accessory and footwear brands. Potential growth drivers for Onestop include international expansion, omnichannel innovation and supply chain optimization, as well as possible M&A activity to accelerate scale and growth.

Above all else, Tomich recognizes the importance of assembling and maintaining a talented team by creating a fun, dynamic and educational workplace. The Onestop headquarters is an environment that is designed to inspire employee creativity and development.
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Matt Marquis
CEO and President
Pacifica Hotel Company

Matt Marquis joined his father at Pacifica Real Estate Group in 1997. After a few years working side-by-side with his father and other partners in the business, Marquis decided to separate from the Pacific Real Estate Group and set out on his own.

In 2000, Invest West Financial Corporation became the new Marquis family company, along with Pacifica Hotels Company. IWFC had been in existence since 1970 and has a storied history in the investment of operation companies and real estate investments for private investors.

When Marquis got involved, Pacifica Hotels owned and operated approximately 15 hotels and 10 commercial properties, along with three operating companies. During the past 15 years, Marquis has grown Pacifica Hotels through its new holding company, Marquis Diversified Enterprises, into a leading boutique hotel company with almost 30 hotel properties in its portfolio. The family business that was once focused on investment placement of private equity money is now a full-service real estate and hotel company.

As CEO and president of Pacifica Hotels, Marquis has developed a strategy in the hospitality industry of providing a unique experience to travelers. The company is successful in providing unusually high returns to its investors by offering hotel guests a four- and five-star experience at a three- and four-star cost.

In recent years, Marquis and his brother undertook the challenge to revamp the Pacifica portfolio of coastal properties to a much more contemporary and boutique design. With this vision in mind, Pacifica Design Group was relaunched and began producing innovative and cutting-edge design on new and existing portfolio properties to maximize profitability in each marketplace.

The results were an increase in average daily rates of 25 to 35 percent. Marquis also championed a realignment of the business’s operating entities and those of its asset investment companies.
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Judging Panel

los_ey_j_ChuckDavisChuck Davis*
Prodege LLC / Swagbucks.com



los_ey_j_JeriHarmanJeri Harman
Founder & Partner
Avante Mezzanine Partners



los_ey_j_CarltonJenkinsCarlton Jenkins
The Yucaipa Companies



los_ey_j_JonKirchnerJon Kirchner*
Chairman & CEO
DTS, Inc.



los_ey_j_EricKutsendaEric Kutsenda
Managing Partner
Seidler Equity Partners



los_ey_j_BarryCLevinBarry C. Levin*
Chairman & CEO
Snak King Corporation



los_ey_j_PaulaMadisonPaula Madison
Chairman & CEO
Madison Media Management LLC



los_ey_j_-JasonNazar-Jason Nazar



los_ey_j_KamranPourzanjaniKamran Pourzanjani**
ClearRock Ventures



los_ey_j_JulieSchoenfeldJulie Schoenfeld
Founder & CEO
Strobe, Inc.



los_ey_j_MarkStagenMark Stagen**
Founder & CEO
Emerald Health Services



los_ey_j_JeffStibelJeff Stibel*
Chairman & CEO
Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp.



* Prior award recipient     ** Prior award recipient and national finalist
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David Robinson discusses how the San Antonio Spurs’ leadership took the long view when assembling a team

The San Antonio Spurs are an enviable NBA franchise, having won five championships and six conference titles in seven years, and doing so without marquee players — i.e. the archetypal superstars of the league. Among those players key to the franchise was David Robinson, the center who helped the team win two of its titles, all the while accumulating numerous individual honors that helped cement his place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

A big reason for his success in the NBA, and the success of the Spurs, is the way the team was built. During the recent EY Strategic Growth Forum, Robinson, who is also co-founder of the private equity firm Admiral Capital Group, discussed how leadership, research, and embracing diversity are central to assembling a strong team.

“It always starts at the top, right?” Robinson said during the Forum. “So you’ve got owners like Red McCombs, who I started off with as an owner, and then Peter Holt came in subsequently and took over. And then you’ve got leadership like Gregg Popovich and R.C. Buford, who — they just have vision. They go and search through the world and decided, ‘Hey, we’re going build our team the right way. We’re going to take our time. We’re going to bring guys in here. We’re going to trust them and we’re not going to panic when things don’t go the way we think they should go right away.”

Over the years, Robinson said, the Spurs leadership consistently made good decisions and showed great vision. Referencing two-time NBA All-Star shooting guard Manu Ginobili, who the Spurs selected late in the second round of the 1999 NBA Draft, and Tony Parker, the six-time NBA All-Star point guard selected late in the first round of the 2001 draft late in the first round, Robinson said the organization does its homework.

“And I think that’s just kind of counter-cultural to what’s happening now, you know? Everybody wants to go out and get free agents. Let’s put together three stars and let’s try to make a team,” he said. “So, you know the Spurs have taken the long route, and it’s worked.”

Part of the organization’s success is predicated on its inclination to look globally for players. That means having a willingness to search broadly for the right fit. From Robinson’s perspective, it also means embracing diversity.

“I mean, first of all you’ve got to appreciate diversity. A lot of people don’t. A lot of people want to keep the same faces in there and the same coaching and the same everything.”

In some respects, he says diversity can be intimidating.

“You know, why take a chance?” Robinson said. “Why go out and get a piece that might not fit? But that piece brings such a different worldview to your organization, so I think that [Popovich] and [McCombs] really appreciate that.

“We’ve had guys from China. We’ve had guys … all over. I mean, Tim Duncan’s from St. Croix [Virgin Islands], Europeans, Australians. They’ve done a good job of bringing in all of that. We had a guy, Žarko Paspalj, from Yugoslavia.

“They have such a rich team, and I think it’s — everyone gets along so well, and everyone is focused on making each other better, and it really is a fantastic organization from top to bottom.”

Entrepreneurial Winning Women program participants sing its praises

While women are launching privately held new business ventures to nearly the same degree as men (46 percent), they start strongly but often fall short of their promise. Lack of capital and influential networks are often cited as primary reasons.

In response to that statistic, Ernst & Young LLC in 2008 decided to invest in a solution with an annual competition and leadership development program called Entrepreneurial Winning Women. This program identifies women entrepreneurs whose businesses show real potential to scale up — and then helps them do it.

Originally offered in the U.S., the program had expanded into countries across the globe.

Here are just a few case studies on how companies founded by women have seen their success grow through the Entrepreneurial Winning Women program.

Leading to grow

Lisa Bair, founder and president of Hobart Group Holdings, sums up the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program as “an opportunity to become more sophisticated as an entrepreneur.”

While her business offering marketing and advertising services to pharmaceutical clients has seen revenues doubling from 2009 to 2010, she now believes that without her experience in the EWW program, her growth was about to flatten out.

“To be honest, before Entrepreneurial Winning Women, I was so involved in running the business on a day-to-day basis I hadn’t thought about its lifecycle beyond $20 million in annual revenue — and we have crossed that line,” she says.

Then she attended the Ernst & Young Strategic Growth Forum in November 2010.

“I completely revised my business plan after the forum,” she says.

She saw that $20 million was too small a goal but that she could not progress much beyond that as a pure service business.

In order to reach $100 million in annual sales, she thought she would have to develop unique products that would allow pharmaceutical companies to use technologies such as the iPad to build their brands.

Bair put managing directors in place at the head of her marketing services businesses in New York and New Jersey and formed a third company devoted solely to product development.

“I am now 100 percent focused on a three- to five-year vision,” she explains. “That includes building out our expertise, the possible acquisition of complementary companies and investment capital to allow us to scale.”

Tell your story

Dawn Halfaker, founder and CEO of Halfaker & Associates, is unusual in that she had a public profile before she even founded her company. She was featured twice in The New York Times alone in 2005.

A former West Point basketball player, she was just 24 years old and the commander of a military police platoon in Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed her right arm. The arm had to be amputated at the shoulder, effectively ending her military career.

In order to continue serving her country, she founded Halfaker & Associates to offer security consulting to government clients. One of the satisfactions she received in building this growing business was being able to hire injured veterans who were also forced prematurely to leave military careers.

Like most first-time business owners, Halfaker had no public relations training. EWW taught her how to leverage the media opportunities that come her way.

“I learned how to take my situation — that of Dawn, the wounded veteran — and subtly and effectively shift focus in an interview so that my business is at the forefront of the press I get,” she says.

Halfaker is convinced her company has benefited and has seen an increase in traffic on the company’s website.

“Entrepreneurial Winning Women helps you come to the realization that nobody can sell your company like you can,” she says.

From scientists to CEOs

When they started their environmental services and project management business, AK Environmental, Amy Gonzales was a geologist and professional wetlands scientist, and Kelly Caldwell was a biologist reporting to her. Soon they had to develop the mindset that they are not just biologist and geologist, but CEOs.

This means resisting the temptation to take on a larger and larger workload in a fast-growing company. Before joining Entrepreneurial Winning Women, Caldwell and Gonzales began carving out time for themselves as executives by hiring someone to manage their growing inspection services business.

But the experience of Entrepreneurial Winning Women convinced them to make two more key hires: a controller to free Caldwell of the responsibility for overseeing accounting and an environmental program manager to free Gonzales from project-specific work.

Gonzales says stepping back has not always been easy, and she had to put her trust into the environmental program manager. The pair was fortunate in this hire, and found an industry veteran who was not only extremely capable but who could help them grow by bringing in new business.

Learn more about EY’s Entrepreneurial Winning Women program here

How to accelerate the growth of women-owned companies

Women entrepreneurs are making their mark in launching successful ventures — and recent statistics show that 46 percent of the privately held firms in the U.S. are now at least half-owned by women.

Despite robust growth in the initial stages, these companies have difficulty scaling up to the potential they could achieve. Businesses owned by men are 3 ½ times as likely to reach annual revenue of $1 million compared to those owned by women — and that experience drew concern from EY, a world leader in advising, guiding and recognizing entrepreneurs. Taking its study into the reasons behind the discrepancy, EY in 2008 launched an annual competition and leadership development program called the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women Program.

The results have been impressive. Forty-nine percent of the entrepreneurs who have participated experienced revenue growth and 26 percent have experienced job growth.

By giving women entrepreneurs access to networks of highly successful entrepreneurs, senior executives and investors, the EWW program provides a leg up for them, says Beth Brooke-Marciniak, EY Global Vice Chair, Public Policy.

One of the key factors the program addresses is referred to the “missing middle,” the position able business leaders find themselves in after building profitable small companies but who often cannot readily find the tools needed to continue to scale.

To that end, the EWW program highlights five critical ways to scale small companies into large ones:

Think big and be bold.

The program helps women understand that the qualities that have brought them to where they are — a desire to innovate, a willingness to take calculated risks, a knack for turning adversity into opportunity and an ability to see possibilities others do not — are the same qualities that build market-leading companies.

Ninety-two percent of women entrepreneurs in the program said it had a positive impact on their desire to grow the business. On the issues of confidence that they could grow the business, 88 percent found a positive impact.

Build a public profile.

The importance of a public profile cannot be dismissed. Women entrepreneurs need to project themselves publicly because the outside world wants to learn about them, says Rob Scott, EWW program judge. Through the EWW program, ambitious and creative women entrepreneurs receive positive press, which helps win the attention of potential customers.

Eighty-eight percent of entrepreneurs found that the program gave them more confidence in working with the press and 65 percent felt the program had a positive effect on the media visibility of their business.

Work on the business, rather than in it.

Observers of women entrepreneurs say women may focus internally so much on their businesses that it can make it hard to look outward, to stay open to new possibilities and to share the responsibility for growth with others.

Seventy-one percent said the EWW program helped them make changes in their leadership role, while 76 percent said the program has helped them build a strong complementary team to help grow the business.

Establish key advisory networks.

To operate a successful business, there have to be connections with proper networks to yield both new opportunities and a new way of thinking. The EWW program offers events at which entrepreneurs can meet potential advisers, partners, suppliers and investors for their businesses, and it also offers access to a personal virtual network, including a liaison at the local EY office.

Eight-three percent of entrepreneurs agree that the program helped as a network in itself, 79 percent were able to expand their professional network, and 70 percent said the program gave them a strong support group with fellow award winners.

Evaluate financing for financing.

Studies have found that women are less likely to use outside financing than men. To help overcome the mindset to control all the equity in the company, the EWW program educates women entrepreneurs about potential sources of funding. Participants learn about the benefits and drawbacks of various ways of financing growth.

Eighty-three percent of women entrepreneurs said the program helped them better understand entrepreneurial growth strategies and 58 percent said they were able to better understand the sources of growth capital.

The program’s impact on women entrepreneurs supports the conclusion that influential people have the power to help women entrepreneurs accelerate their companies’ growth. With the right information, networks and guidance, promising second-stage women entrepreneurs can think big and scale up.

Technology driving accelerated growth among today’s young businesses

Within the 2014 class of Entrepreneur Of The Year finalists, EY has identified broad adoption of technology among a relatively young population of entrepreneurial companies as a significant trend emerging along the path to accelerated growth.

Some of the strongest performers among today’s entrepreneurs have leveraged technology into a game changer. These companies are revolutionizing traditional business models by blurring industry lines — using technology to disrupt, scale and change lives.

Consider how this year’s finalists are leveraging technology as a competitive advantage in their respective industries. Trulia’s online platform has modernized the traditional home-buying process, and thus, the real estate industry as a whole.

The Honest Company has built its business model around selling 80 percent of its products online, in addition to stocking shelves of major brick-and-mortar retailers.

The importance of technology among the finalists is reflected in a new trend: how these companies do business becomes the basis for who they say they are. Companies that in the past might have been classified as retail, banking, automotive or real estate are now self-identifying as technology companies.

Savvy entrepreneurs are aligning with the tech sector because they know it’s an investor magnet. Among Entrepreneur Of The Year 2014 finalists, technology is the top sector to attract private equity and venture capital investments.

Fifty six percent of the companies in the tech sector have received VC funding, compared with just 27 percent in other sectors. Similarly, finalists in the technology sector were the highest target for M&A activities, with 26 percent undertaking a merger or acquisition in the past three years. Digital transformation is driving deal making in this sector as companies seek to accelerate their adaptation to the technology megatrends of smart mobility, cloud computing, social networking and big data analytics.

Technology is no longer seen as a hurdle, but rather a facilitator for dramatic growth, quickly. This transition, coupled with reduced startup costs, has provided an opportunity for angel investors to fund companies that were once only in a VC’s purview.

Investors looking for high growth and faster returns have turned to young companies that produce exponential returns faster. Consider that 55 percent of private equity-backed Entrepreneur Of The Year 2014 finalist companies are less than 10 years old, with a median age of nine years. Shift to venture capital-backed companies and those numbers are 71 percent and seven years, respectively.

You can read EY’s full Blurring the Lines report here. For details on EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2015, including nomination information, visit EY’s website.

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ 2014 Midwest Awards

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. Twenty-eight years ago, EY founded the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year™ Program to recognize these dynamic leaders and to build an influential community of innovative entrepreneurs.
Each June, we host celebrations in 25 U.S. cities to welcome the men and women who are regional finalists into our community and to toast their vision. Their energy and strategic vision have turned their dreams into reality. We applaud them all for taking the road less traveled to launch new companies, open new markets and fuel job growth.
Join us in celebrating their passion, innovation and unwavering commitment to win in the marketplace. Congratulations to all!

For more information on the EY Entrepreneur Of The YearTM Midwest Program, visit www.ey.com/us/eoy/mw

mw_eoy_ToddNovakTodd E. Novak
Midwest program director
EY Entrepreneur of the Year