Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Northeast Ohio

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 towards 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.


Craig Glazier
Partner & Entrepreneur Of The Year® Co-Director




Dan Tompkins
Partner & Entrepreneur Of The Year® Co-Director





REAL ESTATE, HOSPITALITY & CONSTRUCTION  (WINNERS) Steve Kimmelman and David Conwill, Redwood Living, Inc. | (FINALIST) Matt Fish, Melt Bar and Grilled |  (FINALIST)  Ariane Kirkpatrick, The AKA Team

SERVICES   (WINNERS) John Nottingham and John Spirk Nottingham Spirk | (FINALIST) Daniel Richards, TestOil | (FINALIST)  Ed Taylor, Technical Assurance, Inc. | (FINALIST)  Karl Warnke, The Davey Tree Expert Co.  

MANUFACTURING & DISTRIBUTION  (WINNER) Michael Jarrett, Jarrett Logistics Systems |  (FINALIST) Jeremy Flack, Flack Global Metals  (FINALIST) Amy Bircher, MMI Textiles  

FAMILY BUSINESS  (WINNER)  Vic DiGeronimo, Jr., Independence Excavating, Inc. |  (FINALIST)  Michael Merritt, MERRITT |  (FINALIST)  Vincent LoSchiavo, Antonio’s Pizza/LoSchiavo Restaurant Group  

RETAIL & CONSUMER PRODUCTS  (WINNER)  Matt Kaulig, Leaf Filter North, Inc. |  (FINALIST) G.B. Pillai, Wild Republic | (FINALISTS) Phillip and Jackie Wachter, Fount LLC  

FINANCIAL SERVICES  (WINNERS)  Ned Huffman and Deborah Rogan, Bellwether Enterprise/Real Estate Capital, LLC |  (FINALIST) Kelly Price, National Automotive Experts/NWAN | (FINALIST) Dave O’Brien, Risk International Services, Inc.  

IT SOFTWARE & SERVICES  (WINNER)  Brett Lindsey, Everstream |  (FINALIST) Daniel Anstandig, Futuri Media | (FINALIST) Fred Ode, Foundation Software  

COMMUNITY IMPACT  (WINNER)  Ken Babby, Akron RubberDucks |  (FINALIST) Brian Zimmerman, Cleveland Metroparks | (FINALIST) Joe Matejka, Jr., Custom Fundraising Solutions, LLC  


Here are the 2017 Entrepreneurs Of The Year® for Northeast Ohio


Real Estate, Hospitality & Construction


Steve Kimmelman
David Conwill
Redwood Living, Inc.

Nominated by: David Ferguson, Merrill Corporation

As an apartment dweller in his early years, Steve Kimmelman became familiar with some of the burdens of living in an apartment building. He realized that most renters are not happy with their apartments, which are typically designed to maximize density and profit for developers, not provide livability for the residents. In 1991, with the help of a few strategic investors, Kimmelman formed Kimmelman and Co.

He began by purchasing and managing five rental communities in Northeast Ohio. In order to learn as much as possible about the wants and needs of his tenants, he lived in one of the communities. Unlike traditional vertical apartment living, Kimmelman wanted to build apartment communities that were more like neighborhoods of single-family homes. This meant providing residents with private garages, personal patios and most importantly, single-story units free from noisy upstairs or downstairs neighbors.

During a vacation in the Redwood forests, he was struck by the peace and tranquility of the trees and the natural surroundings. He felt it was the perfect embodiment of the apartment communities he was developing. Thus, Redwood Living, Inc. became the new name of his business.

In 2002, Kimmelman began to regularly cross paths with David Conwill, who had gained quite a bit of experience in real estate. Conwill felt a connection to Kimmelman and his vision to create a revolutionary apartment living experience. From 2002 to 2008, the duo partnered together on various deals and Redwood Living experienced slow, smart and disciplined growth to set the stage for the future.

With Kimmelman serving as the company’s CEO and Conwill as its president, Redwood has become a fully integrated real estate development and management company specializing in single-story, suburban apartment communities that have the essence of those neighborhoods that Kimmelman had yearned for years earlier. The company is in six states and is expanding rapidly.

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Matt Fish
President and Owner
Melt Bar and Grilled

Nominated by: Mark Scott, Smart Business Magazine

After getting his culinary degree, Matt Fish spent 15 years honing his skills in Cleveland restaurants. Through hard work, dedication and a gift from his father, he realized his dream in 2006, opening of the first Melt Bar and Grilled in Lakewood.

The gourmet grilled cheese sandwich restaurant prides itself on creative additions to the household sandwich and an extensive craft beer selection. Fish, who is the president and owner, further distinguishes Melt by focusing on the atmosphere — each location has unique decorations designed by Fish — as well as wait staff personality and ability.

Melt now has more than 10 restaurants, including two contracted locations at Northeast Ohio stadiums. It also entered the Columbus market, which added customer and brand awareness challenges.
What made Fish fall in love with the industry was the constant challenge to remain ahead of the curve and growing while still remaining profitable.

A few years ago, Fish realized Melt was growing too rapidly. Some locations had become less profitable. Fish had to focus on budgeting and standardizing labor, food and beverage costs. After many brainstorm sessions, Fish invested in an industrial kitchen at the corporate headquarters, which is now used for many food preparation tasks.

Because of his humble beginnings and willingness to help out at a short-staffed location, Fish has never struggled to connect with his employees. Fish hires based on competency/personality rather than looks or style. This was unique at the time as most tattooed and pierced individuals were asked to cover them up. Many of the initial group who started in Lakewood have continued to work for Melt in various roles, including as executives.

While assessing opportunities to expand into new markets like Detroit and Pittsburgh, Fish recently began hiring externally for additional executives to complement the existing team, bringing fresh perspective and diverse experiences.

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Ariane Kirkpatrick
President and Owner
The AKA Team

Nominated by: William Gary, Cuyahoga Community College

Growing up on East 100th Street and Cedar Road in Cleveland, Ariane Kirkpatrick was surrounded by several locally owned mom-and-pop establishments, from grocery stores to seafood markets, all owned by people of the black community. As a black woman growing up in this neighborhood, Kirkpatrick was filled with an overwhelming sense of community pride and entrepreneurial spirit, and wanted to become an entrepreneur and own her own business.

Shortly after graduating from Warrensville Heights High School, Kirkpatrick started her first business venture. She used her graphic design experience to start a Kinko’s-type store and used her initials to call it A Better Kopy. The business didn’t work out, but it provided her with valuable networking and connections to get into residential construction, where she did a lot of the hard labor herself.

Kirkpatrick spent time working for the city of Warrensville Heights first as a home inspector, then as the city’s chief of housing. In 2008, she was ready to start her own company. Along with her sister and brother-in-law, she started a commercial cleaning business that is still successful today.

A year later, she launched The AKA Team, a full-service firm that provides construction management, self-performance construction, commercial waterproofing and commercial cleaning. AKA is an acronym for Kirkpatrick and her two sons, Ali and Kristopher. Although college educated with successful jobs, both sons are taking part in project management courses with the end goal of coming back to Cleveland to take over the family business. Kirkpatrick, AKA’s president and owner, has already begun preparing her sons to carry on the legacy she has built.

Family is the most important thing in Kirkpatrick’s life. Her grandfather, who she never met, owned a barbershop and Kirkpatrick took it as a sign that she was destined to lead a business of her own.

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John Nottingham and John Spirk
Nottingham Spirk

Nomimated by: Brian Feliciano, Oswald Companies

Nottingham Spirk thrives on creativity and looks for employees who bring multiple areas of expertise to their work. Customer research, branding, engineering, rapid prototyping, 3-D design aesthetics and manufacturing sourcing are just a few of the skills that enable the company to take products from concept to commercialization in an average of 12 months. This is markedly faster than the normal product development period of 18-36 months.

Founded by John Nottingham and John Spirk more than 45 years ago, Nottingham Spirk employs more than 50 professionals. The co-presidents were not originally from Northeast Ohio, nor did they have any family contacts to help pave the way for their business. They simply followed a passion to innovate and help others do the same.

Over the years, the business partners have endeavored to continually reinvent themselves, the company and their client/partner ventures. Nottingham Spirk has trademarked the term “vertical innovation,” which refers to the company’s product development process and real-time innovation centered on owning the innovation process from ideation through product launch.

Company leadership sees its people as the greatest strength of the business. Nottingham and Spirk believe it is better to empower their people to create their own vision and share it with management. Their perception is that if they were to meddle too much within specific projects assigned to their team, workers would get frustrated with the constant oversight and leave.

Projects are completed concurrently, which is meant to ensure that at any given point in time, employees will have worked on a successful project. Management motivates team members through a profit-sharing program that is tied to the performance of the company and also the individual performance of employees. The company’s effective talent management is validated by an average employee retention rate of 16 years and a project success rate of 86 percent.

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Daniel Richards
President and CEO

Nominated by: Elena K’Meyer, PNC Bank

While working as a consultant, Daniel Richards, who’d started several companies already, connected machine downtime at major plants with predicative maintenance. Richards quit his job and put his savings toward purchasing equipment to apply a new niche technology that assisted with oil analysis. Thus, TestOil began.

TestOil provides routine and specialized testing of lubricants used at power generation, chemical processing and other 24/7 industrial facilities.

However, the company that created and sold him the instrumentation also launched an oil analysis program and sued Richards. So, Richards began manufacturing the instrumentation and testing materials himself. Within a few years, he held more than 50 percent market share.

One attribute of Richards’ leadership as president and CEO is persistent execution. Same-day turnaround of oil analysis reports is a leading differentiator. Additionally, operators address 100 percent of customer questions upon the initial phone call. These both contribute to a nearly nonexistent customer attrition rate.

Richards puts employees as priority No. 1. Many of the company’s employees started at entry level and current employees often refer new hires. Employees also review the job applications and vote on 20 finalists. At a group interview session, the employees select two prospects to supplement Richards’ first choice. The three potential hires then go through one-on-one interviews.

On a quarterly basis, Richards hosts an off-site meeting where employees present ideas and commit to projects to help improve the company. This not only adds value, employees become invested in the business and expand their entrepreneurial/leadership experience.

One remarkable item about Richards is that TestOil isn’t his only business. He founded several nonprofits; piloted a training course for employees and others to become certified lubrication and oil analysts; started a technology company; and is the CEO of a leading supplier of custom industrial chemicals.

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Ed Taylor
Visionary and Founder
Technical Assurance, Inc.

Nominated by: Christin Miller, Technical Assurance Inc.

Ed Taylor’s family has been in the construction business for generations. However, after running a branch of his father’s business at a young age, Taylor knew it wasn’t right for him. He left the business and reflected on ideas that excited him.

Taylor took a chance on a new business — enclosure consulting. The company, Technical Assurance, Inc., uses a team of engineers, technical professionals and consultants to help customers manage their existing buildings, managing national multi-facility building enclosure programs of varying size, geography and complexity. Areas of expertise include roofs, facades, doors, windows and skylights, in addition to below-grade structures, parking and hardscape pavements, and multi-level parking structures.

Taylor, the company’s visionary and founder, has built a business that defines employee growth and development as a measure of success. As part of Technical Assurance’s semi-annual review process, Taylor asked an employee to share his career goal. With coaxing, Taylor learned that his true goal was to provide his family with enough income so that his wife could stay home to raise their children full time. He sat down with this employee and mapped out a two-year path to achieve this goal.

Once the company’s core values were established, a few employees left on their own accord, leaving behind a community of employees with common goals and values. No employee has ever been laid off. Further, all employees have received a bonus each year since the company started. Organizationally, Technical Assurance connects with veterans as an employer and supporter. Providing jobs, donations, company-wide fund raising challenges and the encouragement of employee volunteerism keeps veterans’ causes at the forefront of Taylor’s philanthropic efforts.

Karl Warnke
Chairman and CEO
The Davey Tree Expert Co.

Nominated by: Joe Moran, PNC Bank

Karl Warnke’s mindset from his early days at The Davey Tree Expert Co. was centered on improving the quality of life for others through the business. During the interview for his first management position, Warnke was asked how he could continue to build his influence. His response was that he wanted to be on the company’s board of directors. He was driven by a feeling of responsibility to do whatever he could to help the company, regardless of his position. Today, he serves as the company’s chairman and CEO.

The Davey family was the originator of arbor culture dating back to 1880. Davey was the first company of its kind in the U.S. and Warnke sees that there is a sense of pride that goes along with that history. At the same time, Davey Tree has evolved to incorporate the latest tools and technologies into its work. The company utilizes a technical services group as a think tank of innovation for new products and services, and has nurtured a number of ideas in the last 18 years. This includes a patented, no-phosphorus fertilizer to take care of lakes and a patented tree growth retardant.

The group has turned technical services into a profit center, providing technical support and offsetting overhead costs by developing partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service. Davey developed a product called I-Tree, allowing people to see how much carbon a tree absorbs, how much runoff it stops and other technical information working in conjunction with the agency. Davey also manages the process of innovation by engaging large companies to implement sustainable solutions within the world’s largest industries. Each year, the company provides a corporate responsibility report to show the connection between its services and the impact on employees, clients, the natural environment and communities.

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Manufacturing & Distribution


Michael Jarrett
Jarrett Logistics Systems

Nominated by: Matt Wagner, Jarrett Logistics Systems

Michael Jarrett was faced with a dilemma. While his company needed him to relocate out of state, his family wanted to stay in Northeast Ohio. Jarrett considered his options and decided to start his own business. Luckily, he convinced his wife, Diane, it could work and the Jarrett family was able to stay put.

His business plan was to provide small and mid-cap companies with the technology, operational efficiencies and supply chain management that the third-party logistics industry provided to large corporations.

To generate investment revenue, the couple co-founded PackShipUSA, which focused on packing and shipping furniture and large residential items across the globe with common carriers. Diane primarily ran PackShipUSA, and nearly a year later, Jarrett resigned from his job and opened a second business: Jarrett Logistics Systems.

With no outside investment, the need to create a profit-earning, self-sustainable business was paramount. The company turned a profit by 2001, but due to 9/11 and the recession that followed, financial hardship of two large customers threatened the company’s sustainability.

Jarrett, the company’s president, has since turned his startup in a small Orrville office into the six successful companies he has founded or co-founded. His role has changed significantly in 19 years, but even today, Jarrett personally interviews nearly all applicants to not only JLS, but all his companies. He believes character is the most important quality in a potential employee.

He also has strong ties to the Orrville community where many of his businesses are located, such as the fitness center across the street from JLS, which offers a discounted membership to all employees that is more than covered by the reimbursement plan. One of JLS’ core values is civic responsibility.

JLS differentiates itself from other logistics companies by creating a personalized experience for its clients. And while the company is ready to embrace technology, the focus on client relationships will always be top priority.


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Jeremy Flack
Flack Global Metals

Nominated by: Aaron Schultze, Flack Global Metals

Flack Global Metals is a next-generation service center that has forgone the traditional model in favor of a network that provides solutions to its customers around the world.
Jeremy Flack, CEO of Flack Global, developed his company’s competitive advantage from juxtaposing his steel and finance backgrounds. Seeing aspects of the steel industry that were limiting, he developed a business model that would take volatility out of the equation by not owning any large equipment, forming an asset-light business that manages its risk and provides supply chains to its customers while creating unlimited geographic access.

The first significant obstacle Flack faced was securing financing to start the business. When he discovered he could only get a loan based on accounts receivable, he bought $2.5 million of steel inventory with his own money, taking on considerable risk.

At the start, Flack Global experienced growing pains with technology. The company’s first sales system didn’t work as anticipated when it went live, which sent the company into a period of loss because it couldn’t service its customers. The company worked around the clock to find a solution. After a few weeks employees developed about 35 cases that saved the company. Sound business procedures that came out of that experience are still serving the company well today.

Within in the first few years of business, Flack had one customer making up approximately 85 percent of his revenue. Recognizing the need to diversify, Flack Global acquired Consolidated Metal Products in 2015. After the transaction, the company doubled organically with the combined knowledge and synergies from the acquisition. The company also recently acquired Kenwood Painted Metals to continue diversifying the business.

Today, Flack Global is experiencing tremendous growth. The steel service center sees technology, innovation and understanding its customers as core to its continued success.


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Amy Bircher
MMI Textiles

Nominated by: Joseph Gross, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses

Amy Bircher’s entrepreneurial spirit was on full display during the first year of MMI Textiles. She started the business in a one-bedroom apartment in downtown Cleveland without taking any loans from banks, friends or family to fund the expenses she incurred to grow the company.

This meant sleeping in her car when traveling throughout the Midwest to win customers and taking draws against her commission from suppliers. Bircher focused on building relationships through face-to-face communication. She named the company MMI, which stands for me, myself and I, to demonstrate her commitment to the business. It’s consistent with what she considers to be her greatest strength as an entrepreneurial leader — the drive and eagerness to be the best she can be.
MMI has now been in business for 20 years, servicing end-product manufacturers of sewn products, and customers worldwide.

Innovation plays a vital role in how things are done at MMI and is a leading reason the company has sustained its double-digit growth year over year. Bircher, the company’s owner, is particularly focused on business development and product development. Business development involves ensuring that existing customers’ needs are being met while product development relates to staying ahead of the market and investing in new and innovative ideas that provide solutions in the textile industry.

MMI recently secured several patents for innovative technologies, including a flame-retardant fabric that can withstand temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees — the first of its kind. The company has also developed new strategic partnerships that encourage collaboration with suppliers and customers, as well as the development of new technologies. Through these relationships, MMI has become involved in industries such as digital printing that allow it to broaden its reach. The company is in the beginning stages of expanding domestically and to China, Taiwan, India, Germany and Mexico.


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Family Business


Vic DiGeronimo, Jr.
Independence Excavating, Inc.

Nominated by: Andrew Rutherford, PNC Bank

The work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit that characterized previous DiGeronimos is present in Vic DiGeronimo, Jr. as he carries on the legacy he inherited at Independence Excavating, Inc.

Unlike many third-generation family businesses, the excavating and heavy construction company continues to grow under DiGeronimo’s leadership due to his enthusiasm for expanding the breadth of services and his ability to transform a single job into more. The company differentiates itself as a one-stop shop and currently more than 20 family members are employed at various levels.

Since becoming president in 2009, DiGeronimo has established a reputation as a fair leader and dependable business partner willing to take risks and add value.

For example, he saw an opportunity in Pinecrest in Orange Village, Northeast Ohio’s largest mixed-use development. The concept of an excavating company putting equity into a development project was new. At first, the major hedge fund investor had reservations. But within a few months, the investor became so enthusiastic that it is now their preference to operate this way on all development projects.

This also showcases one of DiGeronimo’s mantras: Don’t let your ego get ahead of your ability. While the deal’s structure was innovative and risky, he knew the land’s value after it had been excavated would more than cover his initial investment.

Since finding and holding onto talent is critical, the company now has about 15 engineering interns and last year DiGeronimo hired a full-time recruiter. DiGeronimo believes it’s better to compensate employees according to their worth, rather than pay them less and see them leave.

The company also expanded the number of employees dedicated to safety, incentivized employees with safety awards and reviewed every recordable injury. In turn, in 2016, there were only six recordable injuries out of 1.3 million man-hours, two of which were bee stings.


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Michael Merritt

Nominated by: Jonathan Sadler, Oswald Companies

Merritt began in a garage in 1967 when George A. Merritt and his partner started making kitchen cabinetry. The company was incorporated as Profac Inc.
George’s sons, Michael and Keith, began helping in the shop in the late ’70s, later transitioning to Merritt’s administrative side. From the start, Michael was interested in how the whole shop functioned and growth opportunities. Keith focused on shop operation.

The company also evolved from kitchen cabinets to corporate offices. By 2000, Merritt achieved national status as one of the country’s 10 best millwork companies. George passed away unexpectedly in 2001, and the brothers had to carry on their father’s legacy while balancing their desire to grow the business.

Since 2001, Merritt has formed partnerships with some of the world’s great woodworking artisans. Even as the business evolved and grew, Michael, CEO, remained steadfast to his father’s principles: Do good work, and do it on time.

Over its 50 years, Merritt hasn’t missed a deadline. This is partly because Merritt is involved in the construction process from the beginning, often taking on a de facto project management role. Michael recognizes Merritt’s success is tied directly to its employees. For example, the company is holding six events to celebrate its 50th anniversary, with three of those exclusively for employees.

Early on, Michael saw the need for competent, highly skilled and loyal workers. Talent coming out of U.S. trade schools favors mass manufacturing over custom millwork, so Michael has sourced labor from Germany and Austria. This has opened doors to new markets for growth, including woodwork on super yacht interiors.
Michael also established Merritt 2.0., an internal initiative to solve problems and build defined processes. The goal is to build a handbook of daily best practices with the input of Merritt employees.


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Vincent LoSchiavo
Antonio’s Pizza/LoSchiavo Restaurant Group

Nominated by: Meredith Rankin, Smart Business Magazine

Founded in 1967, Antonio’s Pizza is Northeast Ohio’s oldest family-owned pizzeria.
Vincent LoSchiavo, the third generation of LoSchiavo’s involved in the ownership of the restaurant, was working in real estate in the early 2000s when he found his grandfather’s restaurant was faltering.

In 2005, LoSchiavo and his brother bought out their uncle’s stores, and approached their father, who owned the other locations, about aligning the vision and mission of Antonio’s Pizza. He reached an agreement with his family and set out to revitalize the brand.

Among the early steps was returning the original four stores to profitability, which started by identifying each store’s weaknesses.

One restaurant, for example, had maintained the quality of the food but offered a lackluster customer experience. After giving the store the needed attention, marketing materials were distributed with the message, “Same family recipe, new management.” Within the year, the store greatly improved its sales.
With a firm handle on the operations of the original stores, LoSchiavo transitioned his focus to top-line growth and began identifying markets to add new stores. Antonio’s opened 14 locations in Cleveland and three in the Akron/Canton area.

LoSchiavo expanded the menu offerings beyond pizza, which allowed the company to add catering services.
He then transitioned to improving the bottom line. He implemented a customized point-of-sale system that provided real-time data to the corporate leadership team, allowing it to monitor key metrics for each store and compare current and historical data to evaluate store performance and trigger coupon mailings to select customers.

He also added a sourcing and distribution arm. Antonio’s could now directly source its raw materials and centrally produce certain nonperishables. As its owner, LoSchiavo has grown Antonio’s presence and sales while maintaining family control of all the restaurants.


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Retail & Consumer Products


Matt Kaulig
LeafFilter North, Inc.

Nominated by: Amanda Curry, LeafFilter North, Inc.

In 2005, CEO Matt Kaulig started LeafFilter North, Inc. from his basement. For the first few years, Kaulig was a one-man show, scheduling appointments, taking all sales calls on his personal cellphone and storing inventory in his garage.

From his hands-on experience, Kaulig built a business model that allowed him to expand. Fueling the company’s growth through his own profits, he opened three new offices a year for 10 years. This year, LeafFilter added its first offices in Canada.

After trying a dealer network business model that gave up too much control, today the company is the sole manufacturer, seller and installer of LeafFilter gutter guards, providing customer support from sales to installation.

Even after growing its employee count, Kaulig has remained the face of LeafFilter and is highly involved in every aspect of his business. Kaulig also connects with his employees with a weekly Skype video communicating site-specific and overall financial performance.

In 2016, he remodeled LeafFilter’s corporate headquarters. The Hudson headquarters includes a unique call center containing a green siren that rings with each new lead and an in-house digital marketing department that has played a lead role in LeafFilter’s fast-paced growth.

Due to his background playing football at the University of Akron, Kaulig thrives on competition and brought that mentality to his sales and workforce. One of his overriding mantras is TNT, today not tomorrow. His sales force not only returns the lead call the day it was placed, it sends a representative to the customer’s home and has an installer on standby ready to complete the order.

Kaulig brings the same passion and drive to his newest endeavor, NASCAR. In 2016, he created Kaulig Racing, a full-time American stock car racing team with LeafFilter as the primary sponsor.


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G.B. Pillai
Wild Republic

Nominated by: Spencer Dieken, PNC Bank

G.B. Pillai started his own business in 1976 when he recognized a void in the market whereby zoos had limited scale of product in their gift shops and did not offer a vast product line that represented all of the species on hand at the zoo.

At first, Pillai continued his job as an electrical engineer, using his time on the weekends to market his sample products to zoos to try and establish relationships and obtain orders. In the early years, Pillai and his wife built the business together out of their home.

By 1979, Pillai decided to leave his lucrative career as an electrical engineer to pursue his passion full-time, incorporating his business under the name K&M Toys, named after the initials of his two children. Rebranding later resulted in the change of the business to its current name, Wild Republic.

The business started domestically in the U.S. and then by the 1990s, expanded internationally with facilities currently in Canada, China, Australia, Denmark, India and the U.A.E. Wild Republic started out by primarily marketing its plush animals to zoos. At the time, zoos were losing government funding and Pillai, the company’s CEO, was able to demonstrate to zoos that expanding their gift shop business would provide a crucial source of revenues.

The company is not just thinking about making a sale with its products, however. Wild Republic is known for having a wider range of species than any of its direct competitors. To foster children’s curiosity about nature, the company puts tags on its products with animal facts and references its website where full profiles and photos of the species reside.

It has also partnered with respected organizations such as the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University. These organizations understand Wild Republic’s mission to provide lifelike, education-focused product offerings in support of wildlife.


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Phillip Wachter
Jackie Wachter
Creative Director
Fount LLC

Nominated by: Mark Hall, PNC Bank

Husband and wife Phillip and Jackie Wachter, CEO and creative director of Fount LLC, started out of their apartment in 2014. The business has grown into an energetic fashion studio in downtown Cleveland that has added employees and a second location in Columbus.

The Wachters designed and created wallets and necklaces from quality leather in their spare time, eventually adding luxury leather totes and handbags.

In 2014, Country Living magazine requested they overnight three totes and schedule a phone interview for a story about eager new entrepreneurs. Staying up all night to create these bags, it was their first “big break.”

As their product and customer base grew, they quit their jobs and joined their skills of web development, styling, photography and design to focus on their passion for American-made, quality and timeless products.
Fount encourages quality over quantity, which allows the company to offer a lifetime warranty. For example, the Wachters sampled 80 different tanneries in Italy prior to choosing their supplier, placing fair business practices at the top of the list of deciding factors. They also donate their leather scraps, sell them to local small business owners or even trade them for small machinery.

In 2016, the television show “Cleveland Hustles” wanted to feature the Fount brand. The couple only planned to operate online, but the show wanted them to open a storefront and create stocked inventory. This investment and the show’s publicity proved to be a significant asset.

While the Wachters haven’t taken on investors, they attract interns from Kent State University’s fashion program, and partner with a local charity to bring in refugees to help hand stitch the leather straps. Most employees have never worked with leather or sewing, so the Wachters are building a training program. They also plan to add a day care facility to their studio.


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Financial Services


Ned Huffman
Deborah Rogan
Bellwether Enterprise and Real Estate Capital, LLC

Nominated by: Mallory Frantz, The Siegfried Group, LLC

Ned Huffman and Deborah Rogan, veterans of the commercial mortgage industry each with more than 30 years of experience, have worked together since they were both in the commercial mortgage division of Mellon Mortgage. When this division was sold, they began Capstone, a commercial mortgage company. Built from scratch, it was eventually bought by Provident Bank, which was acquired by National City.

Huffman and Rogan soon realized their vision didn’t align with that of a large, national bank. In 2008, they left Capstone and built Bellwether Enterprise Real Estate Capital, LLC from the ground up, using only their past working relationships, their personal finances and those of the investors that had come with them from Capstone.

Bellwether, a full-service commercial mortgage company specializing in multifamily and affordable housing, is headquartered in Cleveland and has 30 production offices across the country.

Huffman, company president, and Rogan, COO, used their complementing leadership styles to grow Bellwether into a national commercial mortgage-servicing platform. Their growth has been both organic and through the acquisition of two companies, which allowed them to expand into additional markets.

The company has an array of products from life insurance to commercial mortgage loans, along with licenses with government housing agencies. Bellwether originates these products, selling them and retaining the servicing of much of its portfolio.

Bellwether was launched during the financial crisis. The timing was fortuitous, allowing the partners to develop processes to set them apart. For example, while competitors focused on areas to scale back and reduce their workforces, Bellwether positioned itself to hire and focus on servicing.

It also encouraged Huffman and Rogan to be more conservative. To prepare for the next downturn, Bellwether is growing its servicing portfolio to offer steadier revenue streams. With its national expansion, the partners are working to ensure the company’s future.


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Kelly Price
National Automotive Experts/NWAN

Nominated by: Jake Pease, Oswald Companies

Kelly Price began her career as a salesperson at a car dealership and was quickly identified by management as someone with a thirst for knowledge and a drive to succeed. She was asked to take over the dealer’s finance department where she was forced to teach herself the intricacies of auto insurance, a highly regulated and complex field. With little formal training in finance or insurance, Price not only taught herself best practices, she also became the corporate trainer for the dealership’s finance department.

In that role, she identified several industry challenges: the slow timing of claims, the poor details around captive insurance companies and the general risk structure of automotive insurance. These problems caused both frustration and uncertainty for the dealership. Fortunately, Price had a solution in mind. She recognized the need for a more accurate, transparent and timely reporting model, which became a core competency for National Automotive Experts/NWAN. Price founded NAE in 1996 and has built it into a multi-million dollar business.

Price has a common saying during company meetings: “Just because that is how it works today, it doesn’t mean it’s the best way. How can we make it better tomorrow?” As an example of this emphasis on continuous improvement, NAE recently formed a captive insurance company for the purpose of assisting its current client base and expanding its business offerings outside the automotive industry.

Price, who serves as president, values her company’s role as a partner in helping others maximize their potential. Instead of prioritizing volume by accepting contracts with any agent who would marginally increase revenue, NAE employees are trained to build relationships and help agents grow their business. As a result, Price has agents approaching her in hopes of doing business with her company. She has demonstrated a commitment to building a profitable and sustainable relationship with agents that has positioned NAE for continued growth.


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Dave O’Brien
Chairman of the Board
Risk International Services, Inc.

Nominated by: Ryan White, INSIGHT2PROFIT

Unlike most insurance brokers who drive insurance sales based on the compensation provided to them by insurance companies, Dave O’Brien guided Risk International Services, Inc. to take an innovative approach. He wanted to focus on aligning clients with the best insurance provider for their needs. This unbiased approach, although less profitable upfront, allows Risk International to be completely aligned to client interests and independent of the insurance industry.

O’Brien came to Risk International, where he now serves as chairman of the board, by way of Oswald Cos. As that company’s president, he instituted growth strategies that invigorated the company and drove innovative change throughout the more than 100-year-old insurance brokerage. With that success, he took a leap of faith and left Oswald to purchase a sizable portion of Risk International. At the time, Risk was a middle-market outsourced risk management provider on the verge of losing nearly one-third of its revenue because of client acquisition.

Despite the uncertainty, O’Brien was impressed with the company’s business model and felt it had vast, untapped potential that could benefit from his experience and insight. Over the next five years, he led Risk from a small, outsourced risk management firm to a global leader through his strategic vision and emphasis on culture.

O’Brien relies on frequent and transparent communication to build an open culture for leaders and employees. When he first joined Risk, he felt the senior management team was equipped and capable of leading the necessary change. However, communication to lower levels was insufficient to drive the change forward. O’Brien and his team continually strive to share the company’s strategy to all levels of the organization in order to bring alignment and buy-in to the goal of reducing the total cost of client risk. By following the same principles himself, O’Brien has created a culture in which employees embrace their roles.

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IT Software & Services


Brett Lindsey
President and CEO

Nominated by: Meredith Rankin, Smart Business Magazine

Brett Lindsey was a prominent leader in the development of Everstream, a fiber-based network solutions provider serving businesses located and operating in Northeast Ohio and throughout Michigan, leading the company through the investment process.

The company’s growth model is focused on expanding sales of its current product offerings, which include ethernet, internet, dark fiber, data center, cloud backup and recovery, and engineering and construction solutions, rather than focusing on differentiation. The differentiation strategies of many of its competitors have left them vulnerable to losses in individual markets, while offering specific growth opportunities for Everstream.

Lindsey, the company’s president and CEO, led Everstream through a roadshow in 2014, which secured debt financing to support the creation of the company as a 100 percent for-profit subsidiary of OneCommunity.
Once preliminary financing approval had been obtained, Everstream was notified that tax-exempt bonds previously issued by OneCommunity would be required to be paid back.

Lindsey and the Everstream management team had to go back to the investors and request additional funds to support the payoff of the tax-exempt bonds, which were required to be paid prior to obtaining the new funds. The delay in financing and cash availability restrictions led to significant increases in the company’s trade payable accounts. Lindsey worked directly with key vendors to ensure the company’s operations continued until the new funds were available.

Everstream is an employee-centric business. Lindsey understands his and the company’s success is dependent on the level of talent around him and the trust he and his management team foster throughout the organization. Local and regional newspapers and business ranking agencies have repeatedly named Everstream a “Best Place to Work.”

The company expects to grow through acquisitions and Lindsey sees significant opportunities in the future as demand for Everstream’s product continues to be strong.


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Daniel Anstandig
Futuri Media

Nominated by: Ron Boynar, Oswald Companies

At 9 years old, Daniel Anstandig began broadcasting children’s programming out of his parents’ house. His self-built, 15-watt transmitter began interfering with Cleveland’s Fox 8, and his broadcast was shut down. When John Carroll University heard his story, the 12-year-old was offered a job at their college radio station.

Anstandig created his own streaming audio company at age 14, splitting his time between high school and visiting buyers and companies. After three years, he sold his company to Microsoft and started working for ClearChannel’s CEO. He would turn around recently purchased radio stations, helping enhance their business, sales and programming strategy.

At age 24, Anstandig sought startup investment to launch Futuri Media with his “crowdcasting” song-request program, Listener Driven Radio. LDR enables listeners to take over their favorite radio stations by voting on the songs they want to hear.

When Futuri started in 2009, many stations didn’t have the ability to pay upfront. The CEO and his team created a network syndication model, where stations gave Futuri airtime in return for their LDR product and Futuri then sold that airtime to advertisers.

Futuri now holds 11 published or pending patents. Its platforms are used at more than 1,000 TV and radio stations in 20 countries, reaching more than 100 million consumers monthly. In order to shape the future of media, it’s important to stay ahead of the changes. Anstandig believes a forward-thinking mindset starts with the company culture.

Futuri is consistently rated among the best places to work in Northeast Ohio. Having more than doubled its staff in just over two years, Futuri made executive development and strategic recruitment top priorities. The company regularly hosts workshops and continuing education, such as bringing in a veteran astronaut to discuss problem solving and software development processes and a former FBI counterintelligence agent to talk about building rapport and negotiation.


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Fred Ode
CEO, Chairman and Founder
Foundation Software

Nominated by: David Ferguson, Merrill Corporation

Foundation Software delivers job cost accounting, project management and mobile applications, along with industry education and bookkeeping services, to help companies run the business side of construction.

In 1983, Fred Ode, the company’s CEO, chairman and founder, was recruited away from his job by a software firm that offered him increased leadership and supervision responsibilities. After several months with this organization, Ode asked to be promoted to department head. He was told no. The refusal caused Ode to take a step back and consider what he wanted.

After several months of self-reflection and a close friend’s advice, Ode took a leap of faith and reached out to a former client. After several serious phone conversations regarding their satisfaction with their current project management system, Ode met with several key decision-makers at the company and pitched a proposal for a new construction accounting software program. When they accepted the offer, Foundation Software was born.
Ode views innovation as the willingness to penetrate into existing markets and do what is best for his current and prospective clients. This has allowed Foundation Software to come up with its innovative contract summary page.

To Ode, it is the value of knowledge that he brings to his clients that creates value more than the product. He has turned away prospective clients when he believed their current competitor’s systems were adequate.
Foundation Software has successfully attracted and retained employees because of the company’s fun, laid-back environment and open-door policy where all voices are heard and appreciated. Employees are given help to juggle both work and life through the corporate concierge program they can use to run personal errands.
Ode set Foundation Software up to be not just a construction accounting software company, but also to be a brand that will generate opportunities well into the future.

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Community Impact


Ken Babby
Owner and CEO
Akron RubberDucks

Nominated by: Meredith Rankin, Smart Business Magazine

After 14 years with the Washington Post, Ken Babby decided it was time to pursue his dream. As a child, Babby spent countless hours with his father, who was general counsel for the Baltimore Orioles, at Camden Yards. When he learned that the Akron Aeros, a Class AA Eastern League baseball team, was potentially for sale, he packed his car and spent the summer in Akron attending games, observing the experience and formulating his strategy.
In 2012, Babby put forth all his available assets and acquired the team.

Fan attendance was low and the game-day experience was focused primarily on baseball with little emphasis on the overall fan experience. He knew a pivot was needed to transition the business away from the traditional baseball model to one that emphasized affordable, family fun.

Babby re-branded the team as the Akron RubberDucks and invested $3.5 million in capital improvements that included several family hang-out areas, a play zone, fun promotions every night and creative and affordable food items.

Now the game-day experience includes a low-cost ticket price to open the park to families, free parking and an enhanced experience. The improvements have led to a 28 percent attendance increase over two seasons.
Babby is at every game, working the stands with his team. Every customer and family has his staff’s full attention. As owner and CEO, Babby continues to demonstrate the originality and innovation he’s had since he first took ownership. His rebranding, renovations, new promotions, enhanced menu and giveaways have been a resounding success with attendees.

Recently, Babby purchased the Jacksonville Suns, another Class AA baseball team, which he renamed the Jumbo Shrimp. Both teams operate under the Fast Forward Sports Group, wholly owned by Babby.
His vision is to deliver the affordable family fun experience to 1 million people annually.


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Brian Zimmerman
Cleveland Metroparks

Nominated by: Neil Quinn, Oswald Companies

From the day he started, Brian Zimmerman, CEO of the Cleveland Metroparks since 2012, has brought a level of private-company zeal to the organization.

Taking the helm of a political subdivision responsible for 23,000-plus acres of parkland in Cuyahoga County, including 456 buildings, eight golf courses, five beaches, two marinas and a zoo, was a change for Zimmerman. When he first arrived, the organization’s processes and functions were outdated and its organizational structure was impaired.

With his background running for-profit golf courses, he began to change the mindset of the organization from that of a political entity to one with a shared responsibility both to its employees and to the public. He installed metrics and systems as well as SWOT reviews and merit-based pay. Zimmerman also instilled a sense of loyalty and empowered his employees to make decisions.

To enact change, Zimmerman and his team had to work within the rigid structure of governmental politics. One example is the Metroparks’ effort to obtain control of five lakefront beaches from the state of Ohio. The multiyear effort required numerous attempts to convince the state Senate, two different governor’s offices, five different heads of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Cleveland’s mayor that it was the right thing to do.

Throughout the process, Zimmerman encouraged his team to stay true to the message that the move was in the best interest of the community. Once all the approvals had been obtained, the Metroparks began a significant effort to immediately reshape these properties, resulting in improved facilities and grounds. Amenities were added such as a new restaurant and water taxi service. It was only through extreme persistence that the team was able to accomplish its goal.

Under Zimmerman’s leadership, the Metroparks has embraced the idea of “disrupt before being disrupted.”


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Joe Matejka, Jr.
Custom Fundraising Solutions, LLC

Nominated by: Timothy Holmes, PNC Bank

Custom Fundraising Solutions, LLC started as a combination of work experiences from two of CEO Joe Matejka, Jr.’s careers: fundraising and model home furniture sales. His first job out of college was in fundraising, which had him working closely with local sports teams and band programs. However, he realized that the products did not add value to the consumer.

His second career was as the owner of a business that furnished model homes. When the model home was sold, Matejka would sell the furniture. The business was profitable but limited. He could only do business where model homes were located and furniture often came in damaged, which was frustrating for consumers.
Matejka realized there was a way to incorporate his model home furniture business and fundraising into one concept.

He focused solely on mattress sales because they were rarely damaged, students understood the product, and it was a fundraiser that high school students could promote. Additionally, Matejka identified that there is a larger market for mattresses than the product offered in traditional fundraising events.
The first event sold 42 mattresses, raising more than $4,000 for a local high school football team. Matejka’s new business was born.

Customer Fundraising Solutions’ success relates to its ability to control two of the three cost centers in the mattress business, allowing for minimal overhead and lower prices to the customer so more money can be raised during fundraising.

The business evolved in Cleveland for several years before expanding to Buffalo, New York, and Cincinnati in 2008, which was both challenging and expensive. The business broke even for the first five years, but the effort proved worth the risk. In just one year, Customer Fundraising Solutions has collectively raised nearly $10 million for schools and has provided a livelihood for more than 100 families across the country.


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Judging Panel

Debbie Donley



Lisa Gavales
Chairman and CEO
Things Remembered



Michael Gibbons*
Senior Managing Director
Brown Gibbons Lang & Company



John Lanigan
Director, Center for Innovation & Growth
Baldwin Wallace University



Jim Pshock*
Founder, President and CEO
Bravo Wellness



Brad Sacks*
More Than Gourmet



*EOY Alumni

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Central Midwest

Ernst & Young 2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year

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!






Mike Hickenbotham
partner, Ernst & Young, LLP
Central Midwest EY Entrepreneur Of The Year®
Program Director, St. Louis Office






Dave Anderson
partner, Ernst & Young, LLP
Central Midwest EY Entrepreneur Of The Year®
Program Director, Kansas City Office

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Central Midwest

Quick links:

Bill Zahner, A Zahner Company

Dave Bailey, Baileys’ Restaurants

Jody Brazil, FireMon LLC

Gabe Douek, Gateway Media LLC

Matthew Perry, GENESYS Systems Integrator

Bob Hummert, Grimco, Inc.

Rusty Keeley, The Keeley Companies

Michelle Jacobs, Alight Analytics | Craig Wallace, Ceva Animal Health | Neil Sommers, Clockwork Architecture + Design | Ron Baldwin, David O’Toole and Mike Maddox, CrossFirst Holdings, LLC/CrossFirst Bank | Chris Miget, EnviroPAK Corporation | Dr. Tomas Hode, Immunophotonics Inc. | Gregg D. Scheller, Katalyst Surgical, LLC | Pam Duffy, Rhodey Construction, Inc. | Dr. Mike Rea, Rx Savings Solutions

The Tracy Family, Dot Foods, Inc.

Judging Panel
David Brain, EPR Properties | John Brandmeyer, Cognios Capital | John Dubinsky, Stifel Financial | Tom Hilman, FTL Capital Partners, LLC | Terry Matlack, Tortoise Capital Advisors, LLC | Dave Spence, Legacy Pharmaceutical Packaging

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WINNER – Engineering Services






Bill Zahner
President and CEO
A Zahner Company

Bill Zahner had to make a tough call shortly after he took charge of the family metal shop in the late 1970s. The company had specialized in siding and deck work but Zahner wanted to shift the focus to metal fabrication.
Today, the firm is known for its creative metal work and intense computer integration into its fabrication processes.
The A Zahner Company works all over the world on some of the most intriguing architectural and art projects ever constructed. Among its current projects is construction of the facade for an elaborate $130 million aquarium scheduled to open this year in Fortaleza, Brazil.
Zahner, president and CEO, is a recognized expert in the field of architectural metals. He has written two books that are used as official textbooks of metal use in architecture. Starting at an early age working for his great-grandfather’s company, Zahner learned the language of the various metals used in building construction such as the feel and strength of one metal versus another. In addition, he learned the material properties as described by those who worked with the metals on a daily basis.
He met renowned architects early in his career such as Frank Gehry and Antoine Predock who prompted him to explore the limitations of metals. The company holds 11 patents that are integral to the systems built every day.
Zahner sums up his passion for addressing the challenges presented by certain metals used in architecture: “Never stop learning. Gain an understanding of why things are what they are but don’t accept those limits as unmovable, expand them and see where it may lead you. That way, those that follow will have a wider horizon to work within.”

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WINNER – Hospitality






Dave Bailey
Baileys’ Restaurants

Dave Bailey always had a curiosity about the restaurant world, and it was strong enough for him to realize that the field he was pursuing — medicine — was not his cup of tea. So he worked in a range of restaurants from pizza shops to fine dining locations, taking on the jobs of waiter, cook, delivery boy and manager, choosing these positions as part of a calculated move. These experiences led him to develop plans for eateries he hoped to open in the future.
That day finally came 10 years ago when he opened his first restaurant, Baileys’ Chocolate Bar. That was followed by five other locations over the years, as well as a catering business, The Fifth Wheel.
Bailey’s plan is to have his locations complement one another by having unique concepts with a similar commitment to service and high quality food. Each restaurant promotes the others without diluting the brand or suggesting a chain restaurant feel. This concept helps create loyal customers in the highly competitive restaurant industry.
That loyalty was evident during the recent civil unrest following the grand jury announcement in the Michael Brown fatality. Baileys’ Rooster on South Grand Boulevard sustained $20,000 in damage caused by vandalism. The morning after, the staff felt a variety of emotions ranging from sadness to anger. By midday, however, the restaurant was full of patrons, and the seemingly terrible event produced a net positive on the restaurant and staff.
As owner, Bailey’s company culture focuses on empathy, integrity and controlled growth. Realizing that his success depends on his employees, Bailey seeks input from the staff, which helps him form relationships with employees. Baileys’ Restaurants promote from within, and a multilayered support system allows the business to expand with a centralized vision.

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WINNER – Technology






Jody Brazil
FireMon LLC

Jody Brazil, CEO of FireMon LLC, has made a name for himself in the network security field — and even has some firsts to his credit.
He engineered the first FBI-approved solution for the online transfer of criminal history data and the first firewall rule usage analysis application.
For more than two decades, Brazil has been recognized as a thought leader and pioneer in network security. He founded the Internet applications development startup Beta Technologies in 1997 and became CTO at FishNet Security in 2004. He also lead the implementation of the first load-balance deployment of Check Point firewall software while CTO. FishNet spun off FireMon so Brazil could develop FireMon’s Security Manager platform as the industry’s first comprehensive firewall configuration change monitoring solution.
FireMon has been recognized for creating solutions and leading an emerging market segment that addresses one of the most complex and challenging aspects of network security management.
Upon his discovery that unauthorized firewall configuration changes were often responsible for network outages during a major disruption of telecommunication services in 1997, he engineered an application that automatically monitored firewall device configuration and alerted IT administrators to unauthorized changes.
Brazil continues to maintain an active role in developing FireMon’s solutions, working with customers to ensure that the company’s road map aligns closely with the emerging demands of clients.
He remains active in supporting FireMon’s global sales, resulting in annual revenue growth over the last five years.
Admired by peers and employees as an innovative technologist with a high degree of business acumen, professionalism and entrepreneurial spirit, Brazil is a frequent commentator on global cybersecurity issues, speaking at industry conferences.

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WINNER – Media and Entertainment






Gabe Douek
Gateway Media LLC

The technology sector is a fast-paced environment, and Gateway Media LLC is an example of a nimble company that continually adapts.
Under the leadership of CEO Gabe Douek, the company focuses its efforts on the growing base of millennials who receive information from social media rather than traditional search engines. Since that time, visits to the content Gateway Media produces have more than quintupled.
While Gateway’s original mission was to build websites providing useful content for users searching the Internet, the strategy changed to adapt to evolving trends. Web visitors were asking search engines less and their friends more as time spent on social media to connect and share content increased.
Douek’s leadership fosters a relaxed, engaged and fun environment with enough structure to keep individuals focused but also enough space to encourage creativity. To prevent burn out, the company believes in limiting work outside of the office as much as possible so that employees can disconnect.
In addition, the company holds social events to keep morale high and reward employees. As a result, the company has seen minimal turnover among its 45 employees since its inception three years ago.
Gateway Media’s business model is aimed at millennials. Douek built a young team and promotes an atmosphere with a focus on collaboration. He believes in a laid-back environment that helps employees accept failure and build from less successful outcomes. Douek has developed “squad” structured teams, which help to encourage teamwork through friendly competitions. Squads often compete to generate new content, and winners earn internal recognition or gift cards.

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WINNER – Services






Matthew Perry
GENESYS Systems Integrator

The recent recession provided a defining moment for GENESYS Systems Integrator. Due to an underestimate of a project’s magnitude, the provider of automotive conveyors was on the verge of disaster.
Founded in 1997 by brothers Matthew and Pat Perry, GENESYS was desperate for projects on the heels of the recession. A team member sold “The Corvette Project,” which helped to improve the Corvette plant processes in Bowling Green, Michigan.
Through a concerted effort, the company made it through, but the project was a turning point. Matthew and his brother decided to part ways. Pat left GENESYS for another of their business interests and Matthew took over as president. He realized that the problem was with individuals overly focused on the small picture who had too much control and not enough checks and balances. It forced the company to think differently and to let go of those individuals.
While that type of situation might have prompted a mass exodus, 18 employees came forward and asked to invest in the company. They now own 3 percent.  Perry says it wasn’t the money that really made a difference — it was the commitment and dedication those employees showed that helped him see the value in what they did and their belief in it.
From the aftermath of The Corvette Project, Perry introduced the Iron Triad concept of three entrepreneurial company teams that would lead future growth. The Iron team focuses on the broad range of building products, the Nickel team targets the automotive industry, and the Cobalt team concentrates on developing new markets and ventures in industrial uses, including waste to energy, recycling, fiber and food.
The goal for each team is to act as a magnet and attract clients for a coordinated and team approach.

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WINNER – Distribution






Bob Hummert
Grimco, Inc.

In 1977, a group of three investors mortgaged their homes a second time, took a leap of faith and purchased Grimco, Inc., a manufacturer of signs and sign supplies, leveraging the rest of the purchase price through a bank loan. At 28, Bob Hummert, the company’s current majority owner and one of the original three investors, left his job as a St. Louis bank loan officer to run the company.
Since 1978, the company has seen an average growth rate of 18 percent and has expanded its geographical reach.
Grimco traces its roots back to 1875 when it was founded as the Grimm Stamp and Badge Co., a manufacturer of embossed signs, seals, stamps and badges. In its first 100 years, the company had a total of four different owners. Grimco over the years became more focused on manufacturing traffic and retail embossed signs.
In 1985, Hummert, CEO, bought out the other two investors. He has built a company culture that reflects his own values and characteristics of compassion, hard work and humility. His ability to recognize and develop talent, even when others do not see it, has allowed him to build a solid succession plan that will enable the company for future growth.
In order to keep a tight focus on operating to maintain its strength, health and ability to accomplish aggressive growth goals, the company has adopted a core group of principles. These are talent, cash flow, differentiation and the understanding that Grimco is a work in progress. By following these principles, Grimco has been able to expand into Canada and now has 42 locations in the U.S. and five in Canada.

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WINNER – Construction






Rusty Keeley
The Keeley Companies

Rusty Keeley learned some lessons in empowerment and accountability while working at his father’s asphalt paving company that have stuck with him thorughout his career.
His father, Larry Keeley, allowed him to take the risk of purchasing a small directional drilling company on his own. This gave Rusty skin in the game, using his house as collateral in the purchase.
Incorporated as American Directional Boring Inc., the company grew and prospered largely due to a long-term underground electric cable replacement contract that remained in place for 20 years. Keeley, CEO, recently spun off a third company, ZeroDay Technology Solutions, to focus on meeting technology demands.
In 1997, he bought his father’s company, L. Keeley Construction, and began to diversify and expand its services. General, industrial and heavy civil services divisions were added.
Those ventures put a huge strain on The Keeley Companies’ resources, and Keeley assumed significant risks with his personal guarantee of loans needed for company cash flow. A severe test occurred in 2000 and 2001 when the fiber cable boom began to collapse and several failed companies owed money to American Directional Boring. Keeley borrowed and mortgaged every available asset to continue to meet payroll and equipment demands of the growing organization.
Keeley’s willingness to put his assets on the line shows his refusal to even consider the concept of “no.” He is known for his enthusiasm and his self-deprecating sense of humor.
Keeley has acknowledged that his batteries are charged when he is in the presence of people. He firmly believes in establishing close personal relationships and networking to help others and his competitive nature fortifies him to welcome challenges and obstacles with a “can do” attitude that seeks only to find solutions while refusing to accept excuses.

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Michelle Jacobs
Alight Analytics

In 2007, Michelle Jacobs was working as a part-time consultant for a well-known advertising agency when she noticed that the advertising performance reports the firm was providing to clients weren’t delivering a clear picture of actual results. In fact, the reports had a paralyzing effect on client decision-makers because they fell so short of the goal.
Jacobs discussed this with her former co-worker Matt Hertig, an IT professional who was working for a database company at the time. The two realized an opportunity existed to offer improved and timely reporting at an affordable cost.
They co-founded Alight Analytics in Jacobs’ spare bedroom by offering marketing analytic reports that primarily leveraged the no-cost Google Analytics service, which pulls information about website visitor activity. They presented the data in an intelligible format that would help companies decide where to spend their next ad dollar.
Over the last six years, Alight’s product offering expanded into more sophisticated services due to the volume of client demand and technological gains within the industry segment. The company’s key proprietary innovation is a database that acts as a bridge between the various sources of data (for example, Internet sources such as Google Analytics or Facebook, and TV sources such as the Nielsen ratings) and the end user reports.
Jacobs brings the core operational and marketing expertise to the company and is responsible for researching and finding every tool and database utilized as a component within their varying analytic services. She is responsible for helping clients such as Helzberg Diamonds, AMC Theatres and Hill’s Pet Nutrition maximize their online and offline marketing efforts.
The company now employs 20 and is located in the River Market district of Kansas City. The open, relaxed environment of the loft-style office gives the feel of innovation and collaboration.

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Craig Wallace
CEO and North American zone director
Ceva Animal Health

Craig Wallace’s road to becoming CEO and North American zone director of Ceva Animal Health took a couple turns before he achieved his true dream of running his own business.
Growing up, Wallace had aspirations of playing baseball. While he played baseball at Georgetown College, he graduated with a degree in physics and chemistry, and became a high school teacher. After three years, he decided to pursue a position in pharmaceutical sales.
After a few years, and still in search of a fulfilling career, he switched to animal health sales and worked for Fort Dodge Animal Health. He was there for 20 years until another firm acquired the company. He then sought an opportunity to build a company from the ground up.
When Wallace joined Ceva Animal Health, it was a startup environment with few resources. So his first priority was consolidating the different offices, which were located all over the country, into one. The experience he gained through numerous acquisitions at Fort Dodge taught him if he didn’t establish a center of gravity, the employees wouldn’t follow.
He strives for an entrepreneurial spirit within the organization and for employees to conduct themselves as the owner of their business.
Wallace made sure the DNA of Ceva was well-defined, well-established, and employees understood that taking risks was fundamental to their growth and prosperity. He prides himself on bringing hard workers into the organization, regardless of prior experience. He firmly believes as long as the right core qualities exist, the animal health piece can be taught.
Every employee must be honest, hardworking, willing to take risks, have common sense and good decision-making skills. Wallace has instilled these core qualities into Ceva’s operations, and he believes this has been the catalyst for the company’s success.

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Neil Sommers
Principal and owner
Clockwork Architecture + Design

While working at an architectural firm, Neil Sommers met co-worker Christian Arnold, and it was the beginning of a long, collaborative relationship that lead to the founding of Clockwork Architecture + Design.
With about $3,000 in savings between the two, Clockwork was launched in 2005 with a business model that set out to change the way architecture and interior design services were delivered.
There were only two jobs in the pipeline when the two started the firm. It was this willingness to take risks and trust their instincts that helped Clockwork experience success over the past decade.
Sommers, principal and owner, defines innovation as meeting clients’ needs in an unexpected manner that both addresses their requirements while incorporating ideas they’ve never considered. Specifically, one of the innovations that Clockwork has been pioneering is the use of burnt or charred materials, which provides a unique visual to many of the firm’s interior design projects. Sommers is not only an architect but an amateur blacksmith with his own blacksmith shop.
From the beginning of the company, the focus of Clockwork’s management team has been to operate lean. Some of management’s philosophies that Sommers and Arnold embrace include encouraging their employees to take on as much responsibility as possible and to shift executive responsibilities to the lowest employee levels of the firm. This allows employees to be stakeholders in the quality and business development of the company. Through an aggressive compensation approach, which encourages all employees to pursue new business by providing them with a bonus of 10 percent of the gross amount of the projects they win, Clockwork has set itself apart from others in the industry.
A focus on flexible hours has led to employee retention that Clockwork has enjoyed since few employees have resigned in the past 10 years of operations.

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Ron Baldwin
Chairman, president and CEO






David O’Toole






Mike Maddox
CrossFirst Bank CEO

CrossFirst Holdings, LLC/CrossFirst Bank

When Ron Baldwin, chairman, president and CEO, hit a plateau in his career in 2007, he came to a realization. The bank he was working for was divesting in order to cut down on cost, and he decided to move on. His decision, which he called life-changing, was to charter a brand new bank. To help with this undertaking, he brought in Mike Maddox, CrossFirst Bank CEO, and David O’Toole, CFO, as founding partners of CrossFirst Holdings, LLC/CrossFirst Bank.
When they discussed the leadership style for the bank, the three founders did not want to follow the traditional bank hierarchy with one president and multiple vice presidents. They wanted multiple leaders with various backgrounds and perspectives who could voice opinions on what was best for the company as a whole. As a result, the founders instituted the CrossFirst Office of the Chairman, a group of 19 partners — nine of which are founding partners — that meet regularly to discuss day-to-day company operations and to make strategic decisions for the future.
Baldwin, O’Toole and Maddox believe if they hire and retain quality employees who are trained properly, then the end result will be extraordinary service for the customer and clients. They believe that what differentiates CrossFirst is the willingness to make significant upfront investments in employees in order to find those that fit the overall vision of the company.
The hiring process is very detailed to make sure employees possess CrossFirst’s Four C’s: character, competence, commitment and connection. The company has significantly expanded its workforce, growing by 81 percent from 2012 to 2014.
Each of the founders carries “promise cards,” pieces of paper that list the promises they have made to people (customers, employees, etc.) they need to fulfill, and pull them out several times a day to make sure they are on track to meet them.

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Chris Miget
EnviroPAK Corporation

Eighteen years ago, Chris Miget was one of the founders of EnviroPAK Corporation, a molded pulp manufacturer. Two years ago he was asked to take over as president and use his unique entrepreneurial style to help improve company performance.
Miget has found success by listening to clients to get key insight into their needs and by re-engaging EnviroPAK employees across all levels to deliver innovative products.
Miget promoted several employees who had demonstrated the skill set and passion for EnviroPAK’s mission. He instituted a review of process workflows that allowed the company to better understand its true capacity, and started a process to identify key infrastructure and fixed asset areas in which to invest that would provide the best ROI for the company.
To address efficiencies that were lacking, Miget brought in outside perspectives to offer solutions in areas of unfilled positions and those that had continually struggled. These changes consisted of implementing best practice processes, efficiency metrics and improved documentation for the entire process.
To cut down on the time between product design and delivery time, Miget facilitated an in-house product life cycle system from design engineering, building of molding cast and tools to preliminary product testing — cutting down the time from six to two weeks.
Miget regularly engages with employees across all levels of the company, which has helped him identify employees to promote. These new leaders are provided with continuous mentoring, allowing them to further develop their skills. This has brought about a culture change that has seen increased retention rates. About 42 percent of current full-time employees have tenure of at least five years. Miget has been able to stabilize leadership and rebuild employee trust as the employees view the president as someone who is engaged, listens and appreciates their contribution to EnviroPAK.

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Dr. Tomas Hode
Immunophotonics Inc.

As the CEO of Immunophotonics Inc., Dr. Tomas Hode has had to play many roles to help the company rise to where it is today. This includes being a leader in the laboratory where the company develops a cancer vaccine product, in the financial aspects of the business and as a recruiter of passionate researchers.
Hode competes with some of the largest health science companies for top talent and has succeeded in landing key professionals from universities and research tanks at a fraction of the cost they were making before — a true testament to the inspirational nature of his leadership.
Hode has also successfully raised his seeding capital rounds, as well as subsequent rounds of venture capital to fuel the company with its Federal Drug Administration trials.
He has also created a series of subsidiary companies and satellite research facilities across the U.S. and Europe and continues to find new avenues to obtain grant and capital funding to operate these locations, which accelerates the research taking place.
Hode started Immunophotonics during the recent economic downturn when many might have suggested that a biotech startup was destined to fail. Those formidable odds didn’t stop Hode and his team from forging ahead with their vision. He has instilled the passion in his team to weather the startup business cycle past the point where others in the field have perished.
The company’s mission is to “create a world in which cancer is neither deadly nor a precursor to debilitation and suffering.” Hode and his team are so passionate for this mission that it led them to create a nonprofit organization, I Can Win, which assists people in need of therapy. The company doesn’t benefit from these compassionate care cases, further illustrating the level of dedication each employee has in the mission.

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Gregg D. Scheller
Katalyst Surgical, LLC

When Gregg D. Scheller wants to receive feedback on the products Katalyst Surgical, LLC, has manufactured, he goes straight to the operating room and talks to surgeons using his ophthalmic or neuro instruments.
This feedback, along with Scheller’s creativity and insistence on high quality, allows Katalyst to create products to take market share from larger competitors.
Katalyst Surgical owes much of its existence to Scheller’s creative energy. Along with his business partner of more than 22 years, William Bates, Scheller thrives on inventing the next breakthrough surgical instrument in order to grow Katalyst.
His path of entrepreneurship with numerous startups under his belt has not, however, been without obstacles and struggles. When first starting out, Scheller went without a salary for months, and struggled at times to make payroll for his employees. He encountered stress-related health problems, and decided to take better care of himself. Scheller, chairman, started participating in triathlons and encourages all Katalyst employees to participate in what has become an annual company tradition.
While he is involved in every aspect of his company’s operation, Scheller lists R&D as his passion, where he gets to give life to his ideas. Most of the ideas for new products come from his interaction with surgeons and developing strong relationships over the years. Scheller has had numerous examples in which surgeons phoned him directly for help with a problem they were encountering during surgery or a new procedure that required new tools. Every complaint is considered an opportunity to improve, Scheller says.
In only the first five years after creating Katalyst, Scheller has already created a sister company, Kogent Surgical, and has grown sales of its ophthalmic products to more than 40 countries. The company now partners with Medtronic, Inc., as its world-wide distribution partner, which is expected to drive growth going forward.

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Pam Duffy
President and owner
Rhodey Construction, Inc.

Pam Duffy began working for her father John Rhodey at Rhodey Construction, Inc., when she was 15. When Rhodey started looking for a successor in 1999, he picked Duffy to groom as president. Her father had turned over all his duties to her before his passing in 2006, and helped her steer the company out of a financial crisis that hit in 2004/2005 when a major client reduced its spending significantly, causing the company to spend time in the red.
Duffy eventually found a bank that would help the firm. She and her father had to withdraw funds from their 401(k) plans to keep Rhodey Construction afloat. By 2007, however, the company was in the black and has been profitable ever since.
A strong believer in the value of strategic planning, Duffy has worked with noted St. Louis-based business planning consultant Collaborative Strategies, Inc., since 2006. She also participates in two peer-mentoring groups, Small Business Roundtable, a group she joined in 2000, and Vistage International, a CEO peer-review networking organization that helps executives grow their businesses.
Her exposure to these thought-leaders reinforces her commitment to measure current and future success delivering value to clients. She says her father believed in taking on all comers, which remains the prevailing attitude in the industry today, especially after suffering through a prolonged downturn. Duffy, however, has found that having the fortitude to say no to prospective clients that are not a good fit for Rhodey Construction helps keep the company profitable.
The competitive point of differentiation at Rhodey Construction is grounded on faith in a three-part creed: “Take care of the client. Be honest and honor your contract — even if it means losing money. Do your best.”

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Dr. Mike Rea
Rx Savings Solutions

The germ of an idea came to Dr. Mike Rea while working as a pharmacist at a national drug store chain. A customer asked him which of the eight medications she was taking for high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol she could skip that month because she couldn’t pay her rent if she bought them all. He told her he would research her question and spent eight hours that evening doing so. The next day, he gave her a report on how to optimize her medications along with cost-saving suggestions. She was able to save $250 a month, and it gave Rea, CEO, the impetus to start Rx Savings Solutions.
The company has grown significantly since it was founded by drawing and retaining top talent and a large, respected clientele. A total of 22 are now employed, including pharmacists, physicians, pharmacy technicians and information technology personnel.
Mutual of Omaha approached him to see if he could apply his strategy to claims for their clients. Rea entered an arrangement with the insurance firm, and soon landed the state of Kansas Employee Health Plan and the Berkshire Hathaway Media Group as customers.
As Rea showed from the first time he helped a patient, he has built the company on the same mantra that he tells all new employees: “Do something good first, and then let the consumers come to you.”
Rea strives to make sure all clients and employees know this is how the company is successful, because they are in the business of helping others.
All Rx Savings Solutions employees are on the same bonus metric, depending on how many patients they add. Rea believes this bonus metric allows for everyone to be focused on the growth of the company together.

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Lifetime Achievement Award






The Tracy Family
Dot Foods, Inc.

When Robert and Dorothy Tracy founded Dot Foods, Inc. in 1960, they knew that in order to succeed their new company would have to be built on a strong foundation. The husband and wife duo instilled a set of values at Dot Food that hasn’t wavered in more than 50 years. The brand promise is prominently displayed — even the trucks bear its message: Trusted values. Innovative solutions. Shared growth.™
The promise reminds employees what is expected of them, and tells Dot Foods’ business partners what to expect.
That vision still exists today, cultivated by Dorothy and carried out by numerous second- and third-generation family members throughout the U.S.
The most significant innovation Robert, who passed away in 2006, initiated was the company’s original concept — food redistribution. Dot Foods buys full truckloads from 650 manufacturers and consolidates their products in nine distribution centers. The company then resells the products weekly in less-than-truckload amounts to distributors. There is usually no extra cost to the distributor, and manufacturers compensate Dot Foods to handle distribution of their costly less-than-truckload orders.
Dot Foods is the nation’s first and largest food redistributor, offering more than 105,000 products, and employing more than 4,500.
The Tracy Family Foundation, founded in 1997 with the same vision as Dot Foods, helps to revitalize the Mount Sterling, Illinois, community, where the company is headquartered, through support of education, the YMCA, the redevelopment of downtown and other projects.
The Tracys didn’t set out to invent a new way to distribute food products or to create a company that would become the industry leader in food redistribution. Their goal from the beginning was much humbler: to help improve their customers’ business.

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Judging Panel






David Brain
former president and CEO
EPR Properties

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John Brandmeyer
Cognios Capital

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John Dubinsky
Stifel Financial

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Tom Hilman
Managing partner
FTL Capital Partners, LLC

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Terry Matlack
Managing director and co-founder
Tortoise Capital Advisors, LLC

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Dave Spence
Legacy Pharmaceutical Packaging


2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year® — Northern California

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 our finalists!


Ernie Cortes
program director
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year®
Northern California

2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year Northern California

Quick links:

CLOUD SERVICES Keith Krach, DocuSign, Inc. | Dylan Smith, Box | Suhail Doshi, Mixpanel   EMERGING Dheeraj Pandey, Nutanix, Inc. | Rob Bearden, Hortonworks, Inc. | Todd McKinnon, Okta  HEALTH AND LIFE SCIENCES Jean-Jacques Bienaimé, BioMarin Pharmaceutical | James Schoeneck, Depomed, Inc. | Edward Lanphier, Sangamo BioSciences Inc.   NETWORKING Jayshree Ullal and Andy Bechtolsheim, Arista Networks | David Ulevitch, OpenDNS | Selena Lo, Ruckus Wireless   RETAIL AND CONSUMER PRODUCTS John Foraker, Annie’s, Inc.| Thomas Harman, Balsam Brands | Richard Norgrove, Bear Republic Brewing Company  SERVICES Kenneth Lin, Credit Karma | Kathy Johnson, Ph. D., Home Care Assistance | Mary C. Kariotis, Merrimak Capital Company, LLC  SOFTWARE Marcus Ryu, Guidewire Software Inc. | Jyoti Bansal, AppDynamics | Kirk Krappe, Apttus   TECHNOLOGY Paul Nahi, Enphase Energy | Conor Madigan, Ph. D., Kateeva | Peter Arvai, Prezi

2015 Entrepreneurs Of The Year

CLOUD SERVICES, Award Recipent






Keith Krach
chairman and CEO
DocuSign, Inc.

When Keith Krach joined DocuSign, Inc. in 2009 as chairman, the company had about 50 employees and focused primarily on developing an eSignature platform for real estate transactions. But Krach, the co-founder of Ariba Network and Rasba Corp., quickly recognized the opportunities were much greater than this single vertical market.

He evaluated the existing leadership structure and instilled a new sense of direction focused on three major areas — talent, vision and mission.

First, he built a high-performing team. This included assuming the additional role of CEO. Today, Krach spends about 30 percent of his time focused on talent acquisition and fostering a culture of teamwork and accountability. Krach also understood that part of that included fostering a culture where giving back to the community was important.

Next, he created a clear vision to communicate to employees the future of the company: To transform the business world in how transactions are managed.

Finally, Krach created a new mission for DocuSign that was much broader than its initial focus: Develop and enable a platform where any confidential documents — not just real estate transactions — could be signed and transacted securely at any time on any device. He believed this could change the status quo of business transactions through a signature on a sheet of paper.

Convincing the public to adapt DocuSign’s solution was the biggest challenge Krach faced. But when he partnered with Salesforce.com to use DocuSign to transact test deals, the leadership team at Salesforce was so impressed that they invested financially and integrated the solution across its client base.

That move provided the spark Krach needed to reach a mass market, and today DocuSign serves more than 100,000 enterprise clients worldwide and more than 50 million individual users.

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Dylan Smith
co-founder and CFO

Dylan Smith, co-founder and CFO of Box, found his entrepreneurial spirit early. In high school, he started a tutoring service, and at Duke University, schoolwork took a back seat to starting new ventures like launching a loft-building business selling to incoming freshmen.

In Smith’s sophomore year at Duke, he and co-founder Aaron Levie, CEO, identified an opportunity in the online storage and sharing space, where there were few compelling options.

Box was the first company to syndicate files — file sharing across a server where the user can determine how the content is shared. They promoted their business via tech blogs and captured the attention of Mark Cuban, who ultimately offered them their first funding.

During the economic downturn, Smith was faced with not only having to lay off employees, but friends.

In 2011, Citrix sought to acquire Box, but Smith lead the charge to convince the board that Box had only scratched the surface of its potential.

As Box continued to move toward the vision of becoming a public company, Smith believed the company might need a more experienced CFO. As a testament to his value and the trust he had built, based on the feedback from investors, banks and Box individuals, the board voted to have Smith be the leader to get Box in a position for an IPO.

Box went public on Jan. 23, 2015, with Smith as the 29-year-old CFO.

As the company has grown, Smith has transitioned from being a player-coach to a leader-coach. He is focused on upgrading his team and removing obstacles.

Box places a premium on hiring and retaining top talent. Smith believes that having a top-level recruiter within the first 10 employees of a new company is key to building out a high performing workforce.

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Suhail Doshi

Mixpanel, founded in 2009 by CEO Suhail Doshi, has played a role in defining the market for analytics tools focused on mobile user behavior. It’s helping businesses grow by providing them with deep insights into user behavior and marketing effectiveness that trumps common metrics such as page views and downloads, which often fall short of gauging user engagement and can be misleading. Mixpanel’s analytics enables customers to make data-driven and data-informed decisions about their business and products by providing customers with useful metrics that equate to engagement.

Focusing solely on analytics, with particular attention paid to mobile since its inception, most of Mixpanels’s revenue has been generated through inbound sales leads as the company has forgone an outbound salesforce and does very little marketing. The company, with its 3,000 paying customers and analysis of over 43 billion data points and profiles every month, expects its revenue trajectory to continue and significantly increase in 2015.

Doshi is considered a charismatic and passionate leader who is driven and persistent in his efforts to accomplish Mixpanel’s goals. He spends a considerable amount of time recruiting top talent and on-boarding them to help the company scale and achieve its vision. Within the last year, Doshi hired a chief revenue officer from another fast-growing, Bay Area technology company. He has also recently hired vice presidents in critical areas of the company’s business, including in customer success and finance. Candidates are attracted to Mixpanel’s story and vision, and they stay because of the company’s close-knit culture.

While Doshi expects the company will continue to face difficulties because some of its competitors are of a much larger scale, he embraces these challenges and is focused on innovating Mixpanel’s current products and moving into new areas.

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 EMERGING, Award Recipient






Dheeraj Pandey
president and CEO
Nutanix, Inc.

Nutanix, Inc., headed by President and CEO Dheeraj Pandey, builds simple, powerful and flexible data centers for customers, allowing them to start with a few servers and scale to thousands.

Redefining the data center infrastructure and virtualization market is central to Pandey’s mission. He and his co-founders recognized that developers were moving to democratic infrastructures rather than monolithic boxes that can be expensive to procure and difficult to provision. Seeing this trend, Pandey tried to move his former company into the hyperconverged market, but met resistance. He then convinced his co-founders to quit their jobs and formed Nutanix in 2009.

Nutanix‘s simplified data center infrastructure uses integrated server and storage resources to form a turnkey appliance that is deployed quickly and runs any application at any scale. While the software solution is complex, its consumer-grade user interface is easy to use.

Significant barriers to entry have existed in the market. But accommodating customers’ current commitments to hardware providers and dated solutions allows Nutanix to make a value proposition that can be difficult to compete against.

After shipping its first Virtual Computing Platform in 2011, Nutanix now owns 52 percent of the rapidly growing hyperconverged infrastructure market. The product’s value to customers has also increased, as seen by its Net Promoter Score, which has grown from 72 just a couple of years ago to its most recent score of 88.

The company’s success can be attributed not only to disruptive technology, but also to its innovation in distribution strategy. It goes to market by leveraging value-added resellers, service providers and technology consultants. In addition, it has a relationship with original equipment manufacturers such as Dell to sell Nutanix software on its hardware. The strategy is an example of how Nutanix ensures the product experience is as strong as possible, while at the same time significantly accelerating its adoption.

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 EMERGING, Finalist






Rob Bearden
chairman and CEO
Hortonworks, Inc.

When Rob Bearden joined Hortonworks, Inc., a publicly traded open source software company, he set out to equip enterprise organizations with a means to tackle their big data challenges and seize opportunities. Bearden, chairman and CEO, recognized that in today’s world data management could not architecturally or financially be captured, stored, processed and analyzed in the same way that legacy transactional data had been. The legacy software model was insufficient for keeping up with the growing data management demands.

To solve these challenges, a fundamentally new architectural approach was required. His vision was subscription-based open source software where customers can customize their IT infrastructure. He believed that enterprises needed to transform their business model from being reactive to their customers post-transaction to being interactive with customers pre-transaction, which required a new way to manage and integrate different forms of data including social media, click stream, Web logs, financial transactions, videos and machine sensor data. Apache Hadoop became the framework that would solve this problem.

His initiative was started at a time where Hadoop was not accepted commercially as an enterprise-grade platform. So while Bearden realized the value Hadoop could bring to enterprise organizations, he knew he couldn’t do it alone. He identified the key founders/architects of Hadoop inside Yahoo!, and convinced Yahoo!’s co-founder, Jerry Yang, that the optimal approach was to spinoff more than 20 of Yahoo!’s core Hadoop engineers and create the only 100 percent open source Hadoop software company focused on enterprise customers.

Four years later, Hortonworks’ Hadoop platform has enabled leading enterprise organizations to leverage their data assets and become more agile, efficient and ultimately more proactive with their customers. The company successfully completed its IPO in December 2014, and is adding more new customers per quarter than any other Hadoop company.

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 EMERGING, finalist






Todd McKinnon
co-founder and CEO

With the motto, “Wildly successful customers lead to a wildly successful Okta,” Todd McKinnon, CEO and co-founder of the integrated identity management service, met with hundreds of CIOs to better understand their challenges with well-established identity management vendors. He discovered those vendors could not deliver solutions designed for cloud and mobile technologies, so he built a cloud-based service that addressed these concerns.

The former head of engineering at Salesforce.com witnessed the initial emergence of the cloud application market while overseeing the teams that focused on cloud applications. He also saw the lack of existing competition and left his position at Salesforce with a mockup and business plan to make his way in the market of cloud identity management, a market that at the time didn’t exist.

Analysts and market experts told McKinnon the venture was foolish, but he had the foresight to see that he could take what was traditionally on-site infrastructure and identity management and offer it as a service as if it were a business application. Competition began to arise, which was hugely positive as it legitimized his vision of cloud-based identity management. Okta could now move away from a focus on proving its value towards maximizing its potential.

As CEO, McKinnon focused first on providing an end-to-end solution that has coverage over any service a customer wants to deploy and manage on its platform. He then worked to provide the highest number and most in-depth integrations, which it achieved through its growing partner base of companies that include Adobe, ServiceNow and Advent, which are fully integrating Okta into their products. Finally, Okta focused on making its customers highly successful. To this end, Okta reaches for the highest level of customer service to garner the trust of customers and ensure the full potential of its products are being realized.

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Jean-Jacques Bienaimé
chairman and CEO
BioMarin Pharmaceutical

After Jean-Jacques Bienaimé joined BioMarin Pharmaceutical as chairman and CEO in 2005, BioMarin brought four of its five products for patients with rare genetic diseases to market. Every product under Bienaimé’s leadership has been approved in the U.S., Europe and beyond.

The company has been able to get drugs to market in less than five years by focusing on very severe disorders. This is significantly faster than the industry standard, and has been done at a fraction of the cost for most biopharmaceutical products.

It was a tumultuous time when Bienaimé joined BioMarin. There was a proxy fight to replace three of the board of directors, BioMarin was running out of cash and the company’s stock was performing poorly.

The outlook was grim, but Bienaimé believed the business just needed better management.

Bienaimé let go of the entire commercial organization that at the time made up one-third of the company, hired a chief commercial officer so the chief medical officer could focus on clinical development and terminated many stalled R&D programs.

Although BioMarin had no international operations, Bienaimé convinced the board to fight to keep the worldwide rights to Naglazyme, the first drug he helped launch. Today, 85 percent of the sales of Naglazyme, the company’s biggest selling product, come from outside the U.S.

Within that first year, Bienaimé oversaw the corporate reorganization, Naglazyme’s launch and a round of equity financing.

The company is built on delivering products that have a large impact on a small patient population, the opposite of most big pharmaceutical companies. Bienaimé has a keen sense of which molecules have long-term potential, allowing the company to streamline development efforts.

Today, BioMarin has a pipeline with 10 products in clinical development, and two to three of those products are expected to gain regulatory approval in the next few years.

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James Schoeneck
president and CEO
Depomed, Inc.

James Schoeneck hit the ground running when he took over as president and CEO at Depomed, Inc., a company that needed to change its ways in a hurry from focusing on research and development to becoming a commercial pharmaceutical business.

Schoeneck set an aggressive five-year goal that represented a significant shift in strategy. Though not all board members supported the new direction initially, Schoeneck’s leadership and charisma sparked a fire in Depomed employees. The opportunities he could see in the company began to come to fruition.

He speaks with admiration and respect for the legal team Depomed has developed and the unbelievably challenging trials faced by the sales and marketing leaders. Schoeneck measures success by more than just financial growth.

He pushes the company to meet strategic goals, grow its expertise in the field and ensure long-term plans are in place instead of short-term financial gain.

Schoeneck’s leadership style is exemplified by a conversation he had with a sales consultant who was preparing to leave the company. They talked philosophy, and hashed out goals and the framework of a corporate culture that they wanted to see. They also thought about components that would breed success and foster growth in the business.

In the end, Schoeneck convinced the man, who ultimately become the vice president of sales, to stay.

Schoeneck thrives where others struggle to see the path.

When he arrived at Depomed, the company had only one product, Glumetza, which brought in minimal royalty income. A lot of companies in a similar situation might buy a drug, increase the price and then resell it for the short-term benefit.

Schoeneck demonstrated a different approach that can be tied back to the company’s belief in adding value to the health care marketplace. The company actually grows its products, focusing on operations and not just looking for pure financial gain.

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Edward Lanphier
president and CEO
Sangamo BioSciences, Inc.

Edward Lanphier, president and CEO of Sangamo BioSciences, Inc., has a vision for engineering cures for debilitating and often fatal diseases. The potential cures are being engineered at the microscopic level through genome editing and gene therapy. If successful, these cures could replace current treatments for these diseases, which rely on a lifetime of enzyme replacement therapy.

Sangamo’s approach to gene therapy involves the use of zinc finger DNA binding proteins to re-engineer a gene. The ZFPs act as a switch for gene regulation, which allows a specific area within a gene to be targeted and replaced with a ZFP. When those altered genes replicate they pass on the change provided by the ZFP, correcting any mistakes in them that otherwise would have given rise to various diseases. Sangamo has incorporated the delivery methods used in cell therapy with a new process of engineering ZFPs to directly target specific areas of genes and modify them without altering other areas of the gene.

Replicating the protected genotype of people who are immune to HIV/AIDS, Sangamo has put the beneficial immunity into people infected with HIV through ZFPs. Sangamo achieved very favorable results in its phase one clinical testing and is now in phase two.

The company’s pharmaceutical partnerships include Biogen Idec and Shire International GmbH, with which Sangamo is developing potentially curative treatments for beta thalassemia, sickle cell disease, hemophilia, Huntington’s disease and other genetic diseases. Multiple delivery methods for precisely targeting a genetic defect are being studied for various diseases, with a focus on commercial and medical utility.

Lanphier’s financial leadership has resulted in the company maintaining a strong balance sheet over its 20 years of existence. Sangamo has executed a diversified business model of out-licensing noncore assets, strategic industry collaborations and proprietary programs designed to maximize the value of the ZFP platform.

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 NETWORKING, Award Recipient





Jayshree Ullal
president and CEO





Andy Bechtolsheim
founder, chief development officer and chairman
Arista Networks

Andy Bechtolsheim is no stranger to the high-tech world. As the founder of Sun Microsystems, Granite Systems and Kealia, Bechtolsheim’s Arista Networks benefits from his keen understanding of what it takes to succeed in today’s Silicon Valley climate: an autonomous and nimble organization that can quickly adapt to effectively compete against well-established industry giants like Cisco Systems.

Bechtolsheim co-founded Arista Networks with David Cheriton in 2004. The company provides networking solutions, and the pair financed the business primarily with their own money.

The financial structure allowed them to spend the company’s early years making their own decisions on growth initiatives without worrying about any outside capital oversight.

This philosophy led to the development of Arista’s signature product, Arista Extensible Operating System — considered by many to be the most programmable networking software stack on the market.

In 2008, Bechtolsheim made another critical decision: He hired Jayshree Ullal as Arista’s president and CEO, allowing him to think solely about improving the company’s solutions.

Under Ullal’s direction, the company evolved quickly. She guided Arista to early profitability, massive growth and an IPO in 2014 — infusing new cash into the company as it continued its global expansion.

As Arista grows in the fiercely competitive cloud networking market, Ullal remains steadfast in her belief about what matters most at Arista — dedicated and innovative employees. She views talent acquisition as the most important ingredient, and one of the biggest potential obstacles to the company’s continued success.

To that end, she puts a premium on culture and ensures that the traits Bechtolsheim, who serves as chief development officer and chairman, established when he founded Arista continue well into the future — an entrepreneurial environment and a creative mindset that results in innovation and a competitive spirit.

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David Ulevitch
founder and CEO

David Ulevitch, founder and CEO of the network security and delivered network security services company OpenDNS, began his Internet career early in life. Before entering high school, Ulevitch worked for a regional Internet service provider. Later, he worked at MP3.com, starting as an intern and eventually working in the content development department during the company’s explosive growth period between 1999 and 2000.

Ulevitch learned about technical support, programming and system administration as well as dealing with customer relations and the hiring process. Most important, he learned that the bad guys need to know only one way to get into an organization’s computer, but the good guys have to know all the ways to stop them.

During his freshman year at Washington University in St. Louis, Ulevitch started EveryDNS to fill the need for Web-based DNS management and help people with domain names. To generate revenue, he set up a donation mechanism on the company’s website. EveryDNS grew from a personal project to a service with nearly 100,000 users worldwide. By the time Ulevitch finished college, EveryDNS was supporting him financially.

Today, OpenDNS offers the largest cloud-DNS service in the world. It delivers predictive security that blocks malware, botnets and phishing threats on any device and detects targeted attacks. Using big data, natural language processing and machine learning techniques, OpenDNS identifies attacks in their formative stages and blocks threats before they impact customers. The company‘s predictive threat intelligence anticipates and blocks attacks before they impact customers, and its unique security platform enables customers to seamlessly integrate threat intelligence from multiple vendors and then use that information to automatically protect users outside the corporate network.

The engineering team at OpenDNS continues to deliver the safest Internet experience possible for its more than 10,000 enterprise customers, including many of the Fortune 50, and each of its 60 million users.

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Selina Lo
president and CEO
Ruckus Wireless

When Selina Lo reviewed the early stage business plan for Ruckus Wireless, she immediately told the founders that they were heading down a path with significant competition, shrinking margins and limited scale. She suggested a change of direction to enterprise Wi-Fi instead of consumer Wi-Fi. She argued that enterprise IT managers often did not fully understand the technology, which led to critical business problems with stability and user consistency. Her ability to recognize a demand that Ruckus could fill changed the path of the company that she came to lead as president and CEO. The supplier of advanced wireless systems for the mobile Internet infrastructure market now has over 48,000 end-customers worldwide and the enterprise market estimated to grow around 20 percent annually.

Innovation has been a large part of the foundation of Lo’s success. She has been able to identify an unseen purpose, and even repurpose products and ideas that don’t appear to have strong market potential. Pairing this with her knowledge of the industry and markets has helped mitigate the risk associated with such change.

While some firms differentiate themselves by being the largest in their market, Ruckus strives to be the last company standing in its industry. The company’s customer-focused strategy realized through its proven response time and personalized client service can be seen as its biggest competitive advantage. Ruckus has learned about its consumers and grown by meeting their changing needs.

Similarly, Lo has made a successful career out of her ability to continually learn and grow from her experiences. She remains humble in the face of the many challenges of being a leader. Recognizing her own limitations, she accepts that no one is perfect and takes the necessary steps to fill in the gaps where needed.

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John Foraker
Annie’s, Inc.

When John Foraker joined Annie’s, Inc. in 1998, he saw much more than an organic mac and cheese company — he saw an opportunity to develop a mainstream brand that could flourish through unique connections with consumers.

Foraker’s vision was to infuse a personal touch into the brand — that of a mother’s love for and connection with her children.

At the time, Annie’s was a small yet growing company trying to find its way. Its products were regulated to the natural food and organic aisle, a product placement decision by retailers, which limited growth potential. Foraker, CEO, recognized that if he could effectively change consumers’ attitudes and create a bond between them and the company, he could pitch a new message to retailers and convince them to shift Annie’s products to the main aisles.

His plan worked, and over the next few years, retailers started looking at Annie’s differently. They moved the company’s growing product line to the main aisles, which sparked significant growth.

Foraker’s efforts led to unexpected consequences: Because retailers suddenly saw organic food through a different lens, the shift in product placement signaled the transition of organic foods from a niche product to a more mainstream consumer category — and Annie’s was leading the way.

This attracted the attention of Solera Capital, which in 2002 acquired a controlling interest in Annie’s. With a cash infusion, Annie’s went into hypergrowth mode. Then, in 2012, after a decade of expansion, Foraker took the company public. Two years later, after two more stellar years of growth, General Mills acquired the company for nearly three times per share more than its IPO price.

Today, Annie’s is a standalone division of General Mills, and Foraker continues to find new ways for Annie’s to innovate and foster its strong bond with consumers.

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John Harman
founder and CEO
Balsam Brands

Few people have the wherewithal — or constitution — to dream up, organize and go to market with an idea in just four months. Fewer still are willing to bet the house on their ability to succeed. But that’s what Thomas Harman did in 2006 when he founded Balsam Brands.

In March, Harman, CEO, decided he wanted to create ultra-realistic artificial Christmas trees and retail the products exclusively online. In June, he flew to China to design and order the company’s first collection of trees, partnered with a third-party distribution network, established a customer service center and launched the company’s website.

By mid-January 2007, Harman’s idea had become a viable business: He had sold thousands of trees, been featured in national publications and became profitable — all before realistic artificial trees were popular and without any experience in décor, design or online retail.

But Harman wasn’t interested in becoming the next big fad. He wanted to create a sustainable business model that could flex and grow. His goal was to establish Balsam Brands as a national brand, using the Internet effectively to amplify the company’s marketing efforts and contain its hard costs.

He spent the next several years designing and patenting new types of Christmas trees, benchmarking competitors and traveling the globe in search of new inspiration. Harman invested in dynamic consumer website experiences and sophisticated branding. He also developed a flexible staffing model by co-founding an independent third-party customer service company that seasonally scales the team serving Balsam from 10 to more than 200.

Today, Harman’s vision has expanded well beyond trees. Balsam has become the go-to retailer of holiday décor and entertaining products, such as tree skirts, ornaments, snow globes and nutcrackers; and even extended into other sectors such as fall harvest foliage, fireplace screens and hearth accessories, candlelight and outdoor entertainment.

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Richard R. Norgrove
president and CEO
Bear Republic Brewing Company

When Richard R. Norgrove came out of semi-retirement in 1995 to co-found Bear Republic Brewing Company with his son and their respective wives, he had no experience in the then-nascent craft brewing industry. But Norgrove trusted the various lessons he learned during his 20-plus years of experience in the corporate world and the hunch he and his son had about the industry’s potential.

Rather than rely solely upon the success of the brewery — and be at the mercy of wholesalers and consumers who might or might not accept micro-brewed beer — Norgrove opened a brewpub. His goal was to use the brewpub as an outlet to help educate consumers and wholesalers, directly answering questions about what craft beer was through a highly trained staff and top-notch product.

Norgrove’s strategy was effective. Because of his two-pronged approach, the Bear Republic concept — and its craft-brewed beer — took off. Today, Bear Republic employs more than 150 people, including seven additional family members.

Beyond its high-quality beer, Norgrove, who serves as president and CEO, attributes Bear Republic’s success to the company’s inclusive culture.

Employee meetings and one-on-ones with key employees are interactive, creating opportunities to provide ideas and interact with the four owners. He regularly communicates direction and growth of the company, as well as major changes, in an open format where employees are able to understand how they’re personally impacted. And twice monthly on Fridays, employees are served a barbecue lunch where activities are communicated, keeping employees informed on the future vision for the company and its effect on individual positions.

Norgrove’s commitment to fostering this culture has led to strong employee longevity, with several employees working at Bear Republic for more than 10 years. The company also has been named a “best place to work” in the North Bay area.

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 SERVICES, Award Recipient





Kenneth Lin
founder and CEO
Credit Karma

Kenneth Lin saw opportunity in a crowded market space by bringing trust to an industry where consumers were frustrated and distrustful of the existing players.

In 2007, when he founded Credit Karma, his goal was to do what others said they would, but didn’t — offer free credit information. Lin sought to establish new levels of transparency for consumers who wanted to take control of their financial health without forcing them to pay fees or deal with small-print conditions. If they had better access to this information, he believed, he could use its members’ credit profiles to match them with better financial services products, which would in turn help banks target more relevant consumers and eliminate waste from their marketing budgets.

Lin’s timing couldn’t have been better. Credit Karma’s site went live in 2008, the same year the bottom fell out of the economy and consumers’ access to credit — along with their ratings — plummeted as the U.S. economy fell into a deep and long-lasting recession.

For consumers, this economic sea change meant that through Credit Karma they could access for free the information they needed to monitor their financial situation. For lenders, who were suddenly tightening credit and implementing more stringent conditions, better match services were an instant necessity in order to keep the pipelines filled with viable customers.

Since those early days, Lin, the company’s CEO, has expanded Credit Karma’s portfolio. Today, the company offers credit report cards, a credit advice center, financial product reviews, auto insurance scores, free credit monitoring, a range of mobile apps, a free credit report and, as of December 2014, credit information from a second bureau.

Financial services providers have the flexibility now to hypertarget their products to suitable consumers, and that’s provided a dynamic and growing revenue stream for Lin’s company and its 35 million members who use Credit Karma. 

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 SERVICES, Finalist






Kathy Johnson
Home Care Assistance

Kathy Johnson, Ph.D., CEO of Home Care Assistance, founded the company in 2002 to provide seniors with a safe, healthy life at home. The formation of the company came out of her experience trying to find care for her own aging parents, both of whom were bed ridden at the time. Unable to find a company that she felt comfortable trusting her parents to, she recognized the opportunity in the market to provide something better.

Home Care Assistance differentiates itself with its tested proprietary and patented methods for a holistic approach to the care of each person’s mental, spiritual and physical well-being. A handpicked research and development team has created a framework to address dementia and Alzheimer’s, implementing exercises that aim to curb the rate of these mental diseases.

One such program Johnson initiated to improve the brain health of older adults is the Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, a research-based activities program performed one-on-one in the home that helps seniors promote cognitive vitality and stave off mental decline. After two years of research, the program has proven successful in promoting the cognitive vitality of seniors. The company also offers its proprietary Balanced Care Method™, a science-based approach to promoting healthy activity, stress reduction and social interaction for older adults.

Johnson’s investment in advancing positive aging has led her to greater contributions to communities on the national and local level. She has co-authored seven books in Home Care Assistance’s Healthy Longevity Book Series with topics ranging from improved sleep and brain health for older adults to dementia care, post-hospitalization care and live-in care for seniors and their families. Over the past 13 years, she and her company have sponsored numerous resource fairs and events for seniors and participated in local community foundations that address the needs of the aging population.

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 SERVICES, Award Recipient






Mary C. Kariotis
president and CEO
Merrimak Capital Company LLC

As president and CEO of Merrimak Capital Company LLC, Mary C. Kariotis has added over 55 Fortune 500-type accounts and developed a growth trend that could be considered enviable among companies of its type. She has taken the business of equipment leasing and asset recovery and has made each contract specific and tailored to the customer, working with each customer to find innovative ways to save them money while driving Merrimak’s bottom-line revenue.

To do this, she employs open, transparent dialogue in which each party is able to trust that the business partner is acting in their best interest. Kariotis works tirelessly to build these kinds of trusting relationships, and bases her success on their development.

Kariotis took the helm of the company she helped build in the 1990s. One of the biggest challenges she faced during her seven-year tenure happened at the very beginning as she worked to restructure the company to become less dependent on contractor revenue. When she assumed the role of CEO, over half of its lease origination volume came from contractors, which took 40 to 50 percent of the earned revenue for the deals supplied. Kariotis believed this wasn’t sustainable from a revenue or contract standpoint.

Her vision was to have complete transparency from the deals they made with their customers, leaving out the hidden terms and conditions, small print and contingencies that could lead to customers second-guessing the deals. She followed a what-you-see-is-what-you-get philosophy that meant no hidden fees or clauses. That strategy led to 40 percent year-over-year growth.

Kariotis makes quick, difficult decisions, tapping her experience to avoid pitfalls that often beset young companies. She has high expectations for her company and its employees, but even higher expectations for herself. Kariotis cares about the employees she works with and spends time developing their careers as well as the business she runs.

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 SOFTWARE, Award Recipient





Marcus Ryu
co-founder, president and CEO
Guidewire Software, Inc.

When Marcus Ryu and five colleagues started Guidewire Software, Inc., they were driven to create a company that would apply technology to seemingly intractable problems, build quality products, do right by their customers and be a meaningful place for people to spend their careers. The company focused on serving the property and casualty insurance industry, creating a modular core system suite that enabled insurers to replace their mainframe-based legacy systems with upgradeable, modular software that allows customers to deploy it in an incremental fashion by functional area and region.

As chief executive, president and co-founder, Ryu has been the driving force behind strategic decisions that have helped shape the company’s success. Those include moving from a single-product company to one that provides multiple products and ultimately a platform; and acquiring Millbrook, Inc. — the company’s first acquisition — which helped Guidewire transition an area of relative weakness in its products into a strength.

The company’s model for charging for its software was innovative when first launched. Today, its product strategy has evolved to help insurers engage digitally with their customers and agents across the insurance life cycle and the need to make better use of data and analytics to streamline decision-making and make better predictions.

Guidewire’s culture is directly related to the values of its co-founders and is based on three basic principles: 1. Value integrity, always tell the truth when communicating with customers, prospective customers, partners, investors and each other. 2. Be dedicated to rationality, strive to communicate through clear arguments and make decisions carefully on the basis of factual evidence. 3. Prize collegiality, work together as professional equals with a minimum of hierarchy.

In the years ahead, the company plans to round out its current product portfolio by offering more extensive support across the insurance life cycle.

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 SOFTWARE, Finalist






Jyoti Bansal
founder and CEO

At 22, Jyoti Bansal borrowed $150 from his father to move to Silicon Valley and launch his career in the tech world.

Seven years later, he quit his job as a software engineer and began pitching venture capitalists for funding to start his own company — AppDynamics.

His idea for a highly flexible and adaptive software that relied on what he called “application intelligence” was met with skepticism, but Bansal, who serves as CEO, persevered. He spent his nights developing the technology and days meeting with venture capitalists in search of the right partners who could share his vision.

Greylock Partners and LightSpeed Venture Partners “got” Bansal’s concept and became early stage investors. The technology swiftly caught on, and companies that relied on portfolios of very complex applications tied to billions of dollars in revenue saw how AppDynamics’ disruptive software could help them.

Today, six years after its founding, Bansal’s company is among the fastest-growing technology companies in the world — employing more than 600 people in offices across 12 countries that serve more than 1,700 customers worldwide.

One of the keys to Bansal’s success has been his unwavering devotion to customer service, which led to the creation of the company’s Enterprise Customer Success 2.0 program, which ties incentives to customer satisfaction. As a result, AppDynamics’ Net Promoter Score of 87 ranks a staggering 68 points above the industry average NPS of 19.

Another key to success has been his ability to adapt the company’s organizational structure as the company has grown. He organized the product and engineering groups into nine innovation teams, each comprised of 30 people. Each team is essentially a startup within the company and reports on revenue, customers and progress of initiatives. Each group is empowered to create its own operations and programmatic style, which allows them to eliminate red tape and continue the company’s disruptive innovation model.

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 SOFTWARE, Finalist






Kirk Krappe
founder and CEO

Kirk Krappe’s moment of realization came after spending half a day apologizing to customers that the product he had sold them didn’t work as promised. At the time, he was employed with a large public company as the head of sales and marketing.

Krappe eventually quit his job and in 2006 co-founded Apttus with two like-minded people who believed that whatever a company sold better work and bring value to its customers.

As a long-time software industry veteran, Krappe understood the pros and cons of a new high-tech startup. He knew if they could focus on building and creating the right app — one that automated contract life cycle management — they could bypass some of the pitfalls by partnering with another company to host, manage and deliver the product to consumers.

Krappe, CEO, forged a deal with Salesforce.com to build the company’s application solutions on its platform, making Apttus the first company to build exclusively this way. This allowed Krappe and his team to spend their time on development and testing, without worrying about whether the delivery method or app management would fail once deployed.

Krappe’s vision for this unique relationship gave Apttus a built-in customer base that could seamlessly integrate its solutions into existing Salesforce applications. It also gave Krappe the freedom to probe its then-growing client base for ways to stretch, extend and expand the initial product solutions.

As a result, Apttus essentially established the Quote-to-Cash and Configure-Price-Quoting category that existing Salesforce customers use today. Apttus has become the top tool for automating and optimizing sales processes for organization that use Salesforce and counts 70 members of the Fortune 500 among its client roster.

And, because of Krappe’s customer-centric model, Apttus has a 96 percent annual renewal rate for its solutions — among the highest in the industry.

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 TECHNOLOGY, Award Recipient





Paul Nahi
president and CEO
Enphase Energy

Paul Nahi does not have his own office at Enphase Energy. Rather, he and the rest of his management team sit in cubicles right alongside the company’s other employees. Nahi, president and CEO, strongly believes that not having individual offices promotes a culture where there are no boundaries between departments. It allows for the cross-pollination of ideas and a greater feeling of camaraderie across all levels and functions.

The philosophy is incorporated into every aspect of the design of the office, from the location of the coffee machine to the completely transparent boardroom and meeting rooms. For a CEO who believes that passion is one of the most important ingredients of his company’s success, open communication is crucial.

The passion and empowerment has led to a young, very successful business, but it wasn’t always easy. When Nahi and Enphase’s co-founders began to discuss their microinverters with the solar energy community, they were told their idea was impossible and that they were going to fail.

Nahi and the others disagreed, and others were soon attempting to replicate Enphase’s technology. But they all failed to duplicate the company’s combination of technology and execution.

The industry Enphase works in is dynamic and always changing — the future of solar power remains an unknown or, as Nahi describes it, “opaque.” To manage this risk, he and his team are constantly analyzing the market and trends. Their current focus is solar, but the larger strategy is inherent in the company’s name — Enphase Energy.

Nahi would like to move beyond just solar power and become an energy innovator that will include technology in energy management and energy storage.

The key to making that happen will be maintaining a culture that encourages collaboration and an attitude that failure is OK if it ultimately leads to a better outcome.

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Conor Madigan, Ph.D.
president and co-founder

Conor Madigan, Ph.D., president and co-founder of Kateeva, realized that while organic light emitting diodes were a great concept, manufacturing OLED devices cost effectively was extremely difficult. Seeing an opportunity, Madigan pioneered the development of an inkjet system that would drive down production costs. The company’s lack of operating history coupled with a radically new technology, however, made the negotiations with large customers extremely difficult.

Kateeva’s product helps large manufacturers use OLED technology to develop flat panel displays for cellphones, televisions, lighting panels, printed circuit boards and thin film solar panels that are super-thin, bendable and unbreakable. OLED material, however, is sensitive to water, solvent, oxygen and moisture, and may not survive the traditional process of printing. In order to solve this problem, the company built an IP portfolio around printing in a super-pure environment of nitrogen.

As the company neared the time to commercialize its application, Madigan stepped down as CEO and brought in an external CEO with experience in capital equipment commercialization who could manage sales support and finance functions. Madigan took control of product development, strategic and technical marketing, business development, IP portfolio management and HR. He embraced an outsource manufacturing model to ensure Kateeva could focus on product development rather than diverting the scarce capital to setting up capital-intensive manufacturing plants.

Funding challenges during the recession brought Kateeva to the brink of collapse. Madigan, through strong leadership, was able to convince his investors to continue their support and his employees not to leave. These actions enabled Kateeva to win the business of some of the largest Asian display manufacturing companies, such as Samsung and LG. Today, Kateeva is the leading supplier of inkjet equipment for OLED mass production, with operations in Silicon Valley, Korea and China.

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Peter Arvai
co-founder and CEO

Paul Nahi does not have his own office at Enphase Energy. Rather, he and the rest of his management team sit in cubicles right alongside the company’s other employees. Nahi, president and CEO, strongly believes that not having individual offices promotes a culture where there are no boundaries between departments. It allows for the cross-pollination of ideas and a greater feeling of camaraderie across all levels and functions.

The philosophy is incorporated into every aspect of the design of the office, from the location of the coffee machine to the completely transparent boardroom and meeting rooms. For a CEO who believes that passion is one of the most important ingredients of his company’s success, open communication is crucial.

The passion and empowerment has led to a young, very successful business, but it wasn’t always easy. When Nahi and Enphase’s co-founders began to discuss their microinverters with the solar energy community, they were told their idea was impossible and that they were going to fail.

Nahi and the others disagreed, and others were soon attempting to replicate Enphase’s technology. But they all failed to duplicate the company’s combination of technology and execution.

The industry Enphase works in is dynamic and always changing — the future of solar power remains an unknown or, as Nahi describes it, “opaque.” To manage this risk, he and his team are constantly analyzing the market and trends. Their current focus is solar, but the larger strategy is inherent in the company’s name — Enphase Energy.

Nahi would like to move beyond just solar power and become an energy innovator that will include technology in energy management and energy storage.

The key to making that happen will be maintaining a culture that encourages collaboration and an attitude that failure is OK if it ultimately leads to a better outcome.

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EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Midwest

Ernst & Young 2015 Entrepreneur Of The Year

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!


Todd Novak
program director, Midwest
EY Entrepreneur Of The Year®

EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2015 Midwest

Quick links:

Ross Freedman and Brad Schneider, Rightpoint | Andrew Limouris, Medix | Ted F. Perlman, The HAVI Group, LP |

Al Goldstein, Avant | Heather Sanderson, Overture Promotions | Billy Dec, Rockit Ranch Productions | George H. Jacobs, Windy City Limousine & Bus LLC |

Bonnie Micheli & Tracy Roemer, Shred415 | Matt John Howard, Alex Wyler and Eric Martell, EatStreet, Inc. | Bruce Neumiller, Gearbox Express | Todd Black, Optomi, LLC |

Lou Gentine and Louie Gentine, Sargento Foods Inc. | Austin Ramirez, HUSCO International | Marc Malnati, Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria | Ted, Nick and Patrick Balistreri and Margaret Harris, Sendik’s Food Markets LLC |

Cary Brendan Wood, Sparton Corporation | Michael T. Clune, Clune Construction Company, LP | Honey-Can-Do International | Tony Fiscelli, Lifting Gear Hire Corporation | Christian Herrmann, Morton Salt, Inc. |

PE/VC Backed
Tim Walbert, Horizon Pharma | Jeffrey Aronin, Marathon Pharmaceuticals LLC | Stuart Frankel, Narrative Science | Jack Lynch, Renaissance Learning |

Scott B. Mandell, Enjoy Life Natural Brands, LLC | Brad Wilson, Brad’s Deals | Patrick James O’Brien, Paris Presents Inc. | Bravo Wellness |

Mike Sands, Eric Lunt and Marc Kiven, Signal Digital, Inc. | Dan Adamany, AHEAD | Mike Perisco, Anova Technologies, LLC | Dan Ushman and Zak Boca, SingleHop |

J.B. Pritzker, Pritzker Group |

Judging Panel
Zaid Alsikafi, Madison Dearborn Partners | Pam Buchanan, NASDAQ OMX | Paul Carbone, Pritzker Group | Kevin Conroy, Exact Sciences Corporation | Michael Gauthier, Gauthier Biomedical, Inc. | Frank Jaehnert, Brady Corporation | Kristi Ross, dough, Inc. | Doug Waggoner, Echo Global Logistics |

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WINNER – Business Services






Ross Freedman






Brad Schneider

Ross Freedman and Brad Schneider knew from a young age that they wanted to be entrepreneurs. They both come from families of entrepreneurs, which had a profound impact on their idea of success. They watched their parents and the satisfaction they took from building their own businesses and knew that they wanted that feeling for themselves.
After developing a friendship in college, Freedman and Schneider committed to building a business by starting something from nothing — agreeing to do it together.
They earned their management and information system degrees and both joined Arthur Andersen Consulting knowing they needed time in the corporate world to develop business acumen and technical skills.
They left the comfort of the corporate world and started a website development and e-commerce business called Wired Matrix. Freedman and Schneider credit the business for teaching them how to effectively sell, develop and nurture business relationships, and create a powerful brand. The company quadrupled in size in three years and merged with West Monroe Partners, helping Freedman and Schneider learn about how to scale a consulting company.
After the merger, they pitched the idea for a new service line to West Monroe Partners resulting in little traction. The entrepreneurial duo decided it was time to move out on their own and co-founded Rightpoint.
Rightpoint was started on the basis of uniquely combining tech consulting with creative marketing to offer business solutions with an unwavering focus on user experience. Freedman and Schneider brought together creative artists and technical engineers to develop not only sound technical solutions, but an attractive and easy-to-use design.
They challenge their employees to be intrapreneurial, meaning they want them to do as they have done and start something from nothing, apply new approaches and take calculated risks. It’s a philosophy that keeps Rightpoint at the forefront of its industry. ●

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FINALIST – Business Services






Andrew Limouris
President and CEO

When you meet Andrew Limouris, you realize that he’s not only an intelligent and driven individual, but genuinely compassionate and sincere in his lifelong passion for service. The longevity and growth of Medix is a testament to his dedication to live his values every day.
Medix got its start in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Limouris took little more than a loan from his father-in-law and a business plan he had formed years before to found the company where he now serves as CEO and president.
During the first year, the company only had five employees, but Limouris’s true strengths as a leader were able to shine. A natural leader, he was out in the market pitching his idea to prospective clients despite several hardships in his personal life. Medix has never been about being successful in the traditional sense. No, for Limouris, success was about personal fulfillment, growth and impacting the lives of others.
Fourteen years later, Medix has become a staffing company that focuses on impacting the lives of those less fortunate with recognition that the revenue generated is ultimately just an outcome of those positive impacts.
Limouris encourages and challenges each person on his team to focus on the purpose of his or her actions. It’s in deep contrast to the philosophy that many take which is to focus strictly on the outcome.
When it comes to personnel, Limouris gives his employees a lot of autonomy as compared to a traditional staffing company, which is something desired by many young individuals entering the workforce. He believes people want to feel valued at their chosen place of employment more than ever before. They want to make a difference and want to be with organizations where they can simultaneously make a good living and make that difference. ●

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FINALIST – Business Services






Ted F. Perlman
The HAVI Group, LP

Ted F. Perlman founded The HAVI Group, LP back in the summer of 1974 with a vision and a typewriter. His personal mantra has always been, “Deliver the promise,” which is what helped him envision a better way of handling distribution for McDonald’s 140 Chicago-area locations.
He calculated the risks of moving forward with what he had envisioned and found a typewriter in a McDonald’s purchasing office where he finalized his proposal.
Shortly thereafter, he and his partner, Bob Roque, won the business, formed the Perlman-Roque company and dedicated themselves to Perlman’s mantra.
A year later, McDonald’s was looking for an exclusive packaging supplier. Perlman and Roque had their hands full with their business still in its infancy, but Perlman calculated the risk of acquiring additional business, conferred with Roque and considered the impact on client service.
Knowing it would be challenging, the duo gave a packaging proposal to McDonald’s and won the business. To efficiently tackle the packaging supply business, Perlman and Roque formed Perseco, a division of Perlman-Roque.
Over the next 40 years, Perlman took HAVI from its humble beginnings to a global power by decisively following his vision, staying true to the mission, overcoming challenges and trusting the individuals around him.
Today, the company is well-positioned to successfully navigate increasing complexity. It offers services ranging from marketing and packaging to logistics, supply chain analytics, promotions management and freight management.
Perlman has strongly emphasized professional development through coaching and targeted training that enhances individual capabilities.
In 2014, the Perlman family sold its ownership in the business to Russ Smyth and an entrusted team of senior leaders, many of whom reported to Perlman for many years. As the founder, Perlman continues to be involved as a trusted adviser. ●

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WINNER – Consumer Services






Al Goldstein

Al Goldstein had already put together a rather impressive resume when he set out to launch Avant on New Year’s Day 2013. He had partnered with his long-time high school friend to start Pangea Properties, investing in distressed apartment properties and breathing new life into the communities in which they resided.
It had been a great success, but Goldstein wanted to do more. Born in Uzbekistan and raised in the northern suburbs of Chicago, Goldstein had learned the meaning of hard work and the American dream from the example set by his parents.
With Avant, Goldstein wanted to provide a cheaper and better credit alternative to middle-class consumers in the U.S. After a month, the company issued its first loan and raised $1 million in seed funding. Goldstein and his new business were on their way.
While working in investment banking, Goldstein learned a very important lesson about humility, which has become a solid foundation for everything that he does, as well as the way he manages and leads his teams.
As CEO, his philosophy is to create an environment where employees believe in Avant’s vision. The composition of employees is based on the self-select model — people who join the company really believe in it and want to be there. Employees are generally taking large pay cuts, but are then equitizing in the company. The drive to make the company succeed then becomes one of the biggest contributors to Avant’s culture.
Goldstein has changed his feelings about the value of culture in a business. He sees how it binds the employees together to push harder and work collaboratively to figure out how to solve problems and innovate. It should come as no surprise then that as many as 70 percent of Avant’s new hires come from referrals. ●

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FINALIST – Consumer Services






Heather Sanderson
Overture Promotions

Heather Sanderson had a vision when she started Overture Promotions. She wanted to create a promotional marketing agency that provided first-class service at a reduced cost to clients — a combination rarely seen in the industry.
She accomplished her goal by reducing the product supply chain and offering several services in-house — an innovative theory that posed a risk of increasing operating expenses.
Instead, it increased the quality assurance to Overture’s clients, helping the three-person business grow to 125 employees. Today, Overture works with well-known companies, including Coca-Cola, UPS, OfficeMax, Uber and Google.
Sanderson, CEO, has built a company that provides more in-house services than any promotional product distributor in the industry. It allows for substantially greater control of the product supply chain process, resulting in branded merchandise produced with greater quality and reduced costs. The company plans to continue to invest in technology and further reduce the product supply chain with the ultimate goals remaining constant: provide first-class service, reduced costs and high-quality products.
On the personnel side, Sanderson’s top priority at Overture has always been to abide by the work hard, play hard mentality. The company has a serenity room equipped with a massage chair, a mini bowling alley, a foosball table, basketball hoops and motorized scooters.
Additional initiatives include health and wellness programs, company-sponsored gym memberships and monthly company outings.
The amenities have helped create an atmosphere throughout the company where everyone feels a sense of responsibility toward one another.
Sanderson is continually looking to improve fundamental processes within the business, resulting in a more efficient work environment and additional one-on-one time with clients. Overture provides client teams that bring industry-specific experience to their efforts to support clients and give the company a competitive edge over others in the industry. ●

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FINALIST – Consumer Services






Billy Dec
Founder and CEO
Rockit Ranch Productions

Billy Dec had to overcome many obstacles in his personal life as a teenager growing up in Chicago. His father lost the family business and then became terminally ill, leaving Dec to quickly find a way to not only support his family financially, but also manage the emotional responsibility of becoming the family patriarch.
While finishing high school, Dec managed 18 part-time jobs. When he looks at Chicago, he sees a place that supported him when he needed it most, and he has made it his life’s mission to give back and become a pivotal force in elevating and connecting Chicago with the rest of the world to show outsiders the true greatness of his city.
Rockit Ranch Productions is a reflection of Dec’s vision for Chicago. The company is a restaurant and entertainment development company that owns and operates six restaurants and one nightclub in the downtown Chicago area. Dec has been able to retain individuals who have worked for him since the beginning, people who want to control their own destinies and add value to the Chicago culinary and entertainment industry.
The business model for Rockit Ranch focuses on elevating the entertainment experience and providing high-quality products and service. An entrepreneurial and collaborative culture empowers the company’s professionals to use proven strategies in innovative ways. As founder and CEO, Dec further supports innovation by taking responsibility for any failures, while successes belong to others.
In addition to the day-to-day work of the company, Dec makes philanthropy a priority. He attributes his success in large part to the hardships his family endured when he was a teenager. Dec makes the time to provide leadership to numerous corporate, civic and not-for-profit organizations whose work he believes in and enjoys. ●

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FINALIST – Consumer Services






George H. Jacobs
President and CEO
Windy City Limousine & Bus LLC

George H. Jacobs has been interested in limousine services since 1978 when he started his career as a forklifts salesperson. When presented by his boss with a personal task to purchase a limousine, Jacobs immediately took a liking to the relationship-building and organizational dispatching aspects of the transportation industry.
In 1985, he purchased American Limousine Services and grew it into the largest limousine company in the U.S. He retired in 2005, but that didn’t last long.
His former employees did not like the leadership that had replaced Jacobs at American Limo, and a second suitor for American Limo asked if he would raise money and create a new company — Windy City Limousine & Bus LLC.
With no vehicles and no chauffeurs, Jacobs grew the company without actively taking existing customers from his old business. Jacobs also loves local competition, but not for the typical purpose of making his own company stronger.
Instead, Jacobs calls and refers location competition for dispatching needs when he is overbooked.
He doesn’t play the blame game when problems arise. He accepts responsibility, investigates problems and then calls his customers to explain what happened and why it won’t happen again.
As CEO and president, Jacobs recognizes that the success of his company starts at the core of the service — with the chauffeurs. He provides in-house training and goes the extra mile by teaching the chauffeurs where all doors are located at the largest venues (Wrigley Field, McCormick Place, hotels, etc.) He also encourages his employees and independent contractors to buy their own vehicles. Every Windy City Limousine chauffeur carries an iPad to project a sense of professionalism when taking a company-operated limousine.
The result is a business that keeps customers coming back again and again. ●

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WINNER – Emerging






Bonnie Micheli
Co-founder and co-owner






Tracy Roemer
Co-founder and co-owner

Bonnie Micheli and Tracy Roemer were close friends and neighbors in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood long before they collaborated to start Shred415. Both had the passion and determination to open a fitness studio and fill the need for a high-intensity interval training option in Chicago.
Micheli and Roemer leveraged previous experiences in the fitness industry to determine the concept, but had no doubt it would be a winner.
As the business began to come together, it was supported by five pillars, which would serve as its foundation.
First, the target audience would be women, specifically mothers. But classes had to be designed to accommodate and attract men. Next, the duo wanted to create a premium product that would not be cheap, but would offer amenities that would provide great value.
Third, there was an enormous emphasis on recruitment, training and retention of high-quality, experienced instructors. Everyone learns from the bottom up so his or her knowledge of the business is complete.
Fourth, Micheli and Roemer wanted to keep a careful eye on customer acquisition costs and unit economics to make sure the business was strong and positioned for continued growth.
Finally, the goal was to build a community of members, not just a customer base. Micheli and Roemer are in the studios regularly not just to teach classes, but to be part of the community and be engaged in what’s happening at Shred415.
The co-owners perform monthly attendance analyses to monitor the popularity of instructors by day, time and location. They frequently modify class schedules to ensure that each instructor is given the best chance to successfully sell out their class. Shred415’s people-first culture has led to extremely high instructor retention rates and, as a result, continuity in their class offerings that keep clients coming back to their favorite instructors. ●

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FINALIST – Emerging






Matt John Howard






Alex Wyler






Eric Martell
EatStreet, Inc.

The concept for EatStreet, Inc. began when Eric Martell ordered a meal through an online ordering company. When the meal was delivered, he noticed an extra service charge and a level of customer service that did not meet his expectations.
Martell went to Matt John Howard and Alex Wyler and posed a question: Could we create an ordering company that did not have extra fees passed to users and provided better customer service?
They both agreed it could be done and invested $1,000 in the company. Wyler and Martell got to work creating the website and the necessary technology to bring their vision to life. Howard took on the role of salesman, recruiting restaurants. They focused on customer service and within a year, more than 100 restaurants had signed up.
But success did not come immediately. Some restaurants began to question why they were signed up for the service and after six months, the trio was questioning whether the company could continue.
At the same time, Howard connected with a restaurant owner who was about to close down due to lack of sales and offered EatStreet an opportunity. Howard, Wyler and Martell put together a promotion that resulted in more than 100 orders, which kept the restaurant open for another two years until Howard helped the owner sell the business. It provided the traction EatStreet needed to get noticed and solidify itself as a player in the space.
These days, Howard serves as CEO, Wyler as CTO and Martell as CIO. Together, the trio has built a management team with diverse experiences and perspectives to build the business. They also encourage ownership of projects and strive to find projects for employees that provide tangible results. This way, there is a constant reward for performance and a sense of personal accomplishment. ●

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FINALIST – Emerging






Bruce Neumiller
Gearbox Express

Bruce Neumiller is driven and motivated to set himself apart. Prior to Gearbox Express, Neumiller was a power transmission gearbox professional. He encountered strong disapproval for voicing different opinions or alternative plans of action for gearbox repair in an industry entrenched in long-standing, customary processes.
These concepts have proven, however, to be leading factors in defining Gearbox’s phenomenal growth and success within the wind power industry, even in the company’s short life.
Neumiller wants people to know that his company does things differently and has found a way to provide customers with a product and service unlike anyone else in the market. By focusing on transparency, integrity and a commitment to achieving success, Neumiller has been able to create a unique, thriving culture at Gearbox that not only motivates and empowers the Gearbox team, but produces highly successful operations.
As CEO, Neumiller strongly feels that first impressions can significantly impact how others perceive you in the long run.
He wants people to know that he is an upstanding individual focused on doing the right thing, regardless of the circumstance; and he wants customers to recognize the company for its high-quality, customer-centered standards. Through this transparency, Bruce builds trust and goodwill amongst his teams, who have a clear understanding of the company’s standards and their role to meet those expectations, and his customers, who know exactly what to expect with every order.
In order to further embrace these values, Gearbox offers a warranty above and beyond that of the original equipment manufacturers. Rather than a simple parts-only, two-year warranty, Gearbox offers a five-year, risk-free warranty that includes the cost of a crane (including freight) and labor. The warranty is unique in the industry and is one of the ways Neumiller and the Gearbox team have listened to the market and incorporated their customers’ needs into its business plan. ●

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FINALIST – Emerging






Todd Black
Optomi, LLC

Todd Black is a veteran of the staffing industry, but he saw an opportunity to focus on staffing the IT industry with an innovative approach. Through his leadership and direction, Optomi, LLC has become the fastest growing IT staffing company in the industry.
Black’s leadership style began to develop when he was running a much larger staffing company prior to Optomi. His personal and professional standards were higher than the expectations of the previous company, so Black set out to create a place where he and a team could achieve those high expectations.
Black, COO, feels everything at Optomi. People are more than just numbers to him and everything truly matters. Black relies on trusted individuals within his company to help Optomi be more than just a business. It’s a family.
He has structured the company to have a manager who covers each regional office. Also involved in direct management is his business partner, Michael Winwood, his wife and Winwood’s wife.
The philosophy at Optomi has never been about being the largest IT staffing firm. It’s about being the best — achieved by living Optomi’s values daily, and always maintaining that focus.
The company has developed strong infrastructure under Black’s leadership and guidance. Optomi now has seven regional offices to support the constantly growing business. The company thrives on Black’s idea that you don’t have to do everything, but make sure you can do a few things really well. Optomi is all about building the relationship, instead of the traditional staffing focus on simply placing people in employment spots.
Black employs a full-time people consultant whose sole responsibility is to contact all the consultants in the organization to check in on how things are going and whether there are concerns that need to be addressed. His motto is that a happy consultant leads to a happy client. ●

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WINNER – Family Business






Lou Gentine






Louie Gentine
Sargento Foods Inc.

Sargento Foods Inc. is a family business that was started by Lenard Gentine Sr. back in 1949. Throughout the company’s history, a Gentine has been at the helm, but family members are not given a birthright to lead, nor are jobs created for them.
In fact, family members must work outside Sargento for at least three years, and all corporate officers, family or not, must have a college degree. Nothing is given except the opportunity to succeed.
Under the leadership of Lou Gentine, chairman, the corporate culture has been defined as one that values all stakeholders. This includes not only the employees, but the customers, suppliers and community. The company’s motto of people, pride and progress reflects this as well.
Throughout the company’s history, Sargento has faced the ups and downs of the economy. In times when business was not always good, Lou and Louie Gentine, CEO, have had to make decisions around the business, including employee compensation.
Instead of pushing pay cuts to plant employees, however, the leaders started at the top to preserve the compensation of those who do the day-to-day work. Their philosophy is that those who make the business decisions should take responsibility for them.
Sargento has faced continued pressure to automate the business, but Lou and Louie have committed that no employee will lose their job to a machine. Through planned expansions and transition programs, everyone is able to maintain a job with Sargento.
At the end of the day, Lou and Louie strive to build stakeholder value, which does not mean you have to have the Gentine name. It means you are part of the Sargento family.
Everyone in the Sargento family plays a part in management, not just the executives. Ideas are sought from throughout the company and employees are continually nominated and recognized for their contributions. ●

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FINALIST – Family Business






Austin Ramirez
President and CEO
HUSCO International

Austin Ramirez was only 7 when his father purchased HUSCO International with a loan from the bank and the family’s entire savings. Ramirez overheard his mom say that the family might end up living on the street if it didn’t work out. At his age, it sounded exciting. He didn’t realize that he would need to make a similar commitment years later, with a much different feeling.
As he was growing up, Ramirez did not have a lot of involvement at HUSCO. He helped with janitorial duties and other odd jobs, but spent the majority of his time training and participating in competitive swim meets. He went to the University of Virginia, earned a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering and had an offer to join the family business. But Ramirez headed to San Francisco to work for McKinsey & Co. where he was quickly identified as a top performer.
It was important to Ramirez that he pave his own path. He earned his MBA at Stanford University and took an offer to return to HUSCO to head up the company’s automotive division.
Shortly after his arrival, the Great Recession hit and Ramirez committed significant capital to the business to keep it afloat. He was now all-in just as his parents had been nearly 25 years earlier.
Over the next several years, as Ramirez refocused and increased research and development spending, navigated significant organizational changes and led the rollout of new fuel-efficiency products, the automotive business took off. In July 2011, he was named the company’s president and CEO.
Ramirez believes in empowering employees to have both ownership and accountability and employs a hyperfocused approach to hiring and retaining employees. He personally meets every professional employee hired to ensure they understand the values of culture and people development. ●

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FINALIST – Family Business






Marc Malnati
Owner and CEO
Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria

Marc Malnati started working at Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria — his father’s business — as a teenager and returned to the business full time shortly after graduating from the University of Indiana in 1978. It was around that time that his father was diagnosed with cancer. He died shortly thereafter and Malnati was tasked with managing the business at 22.
His first task would be a tough one: The company’s third location in Flossmoor was going under. The location was not ideal — it was 50 miles away from the company’s headquarters and support systems — and an ineffective management team was in place. The experience would prove to be quite helpful to the young entrepreneur.
Malnati made the tough decision to close the Flossmoor location after being $500,000 in debt. Over the next three years, he paid back each of his vendors for the debts associated with the failed Flossmoor location even though he was not legally obligated to do so. The decision had left Malnati with second thoughts as to whether he was cut out to work in the restaurant business.
He decided to continue and learn from the company’s past mistakes. As owner and CEO, he understood the importance of location selection and of having an effective management team. These lessons would provide integral to the company’s success going forward.
He opened a carry-out store in Wilmette, doing so before today’s well-known carry-out pizza places had come to be. It was based on his decision to remain in the restaurant business, but not be centered on liquor and bar activity.
The corporate business began as two restaurants, but now under Malnati’s vision and leadership, Lou Malnati’s offers more than 40 dine-in restaurants or carry-out only locations, as well as an e-commerce component where people from around the country can get Lou Malnati’s delivered to their doorsteps. ●

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FINALIST – Family Business






Ted Balistreri






Nick Balistreri






Patrick Balistreri






Margaret Harris
Sendik’s Food Markets LLC

When Ted, Nick and Patrick Balistreri, members, and Margaret Harris, owner, purchased Sendik’s Food Markets LLC in 2001 from their father and uncle, an ambitious growth plan quickly began to take shape.
The Balistreri siblings wanted to open 10 stores in 10 years. Through the same hard work and dedication that the family has given to the business since its humble beginnings as a produce cart in 1926, that goal was achieved.
But during that growth period, they never lost their core values. That meant making sure every store operated as a customer-first, servant-first quality operation. If they had not been able to maintain that high standard, they would have adjusted or delayed their goal since the customer experience is more important than anything at Sendik’s.
The siblings emphasize the leadership skills that they learned from their father. Each has his or her own strength: Patrick in produce, Margaret in floral and gift, Nick in seafood and Ted focusing on the company’s strategic vision. They do not cross into each other’s territories, but rely on each other’s strengths and talents. They meet regularly to discuss business, but also to make sure they are still connecting personally.
They also invest in their employees and are constantly looking for ways to improve by bringing in outside speakers and advisers to help develop new ideas and stay at the forefront of creativity and trends.
The effort to engage employees is furthered by the store advisory council, which takes a representative from each store to address issues that come up.
One of the unique attributes of Sendik’s is that it truly is an independent business. It does not have contracts with suppliers, but relies on agreements that outline how to conduct business together. This ensures that Sendik’s receives the best quality products at fair prices, allowing the grocer to change vendors if they feel they need to. ●

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WINNER – Manufacturing, Distribution & Infrastructure






Cary Brendan Wood
President and CEO
Sparton Corporation

When Cary Brendan Wood arrived at Sparton Corporation in 2008, the company was just months away from filing for bankruptcy. Within two years, Wood restructured the company by negotiating with customers and suppliers, closing plants and restructuring the workforce.
With the restructuring complete, Wood got to work growing the company. He made investments in research and development, organic growth and acquisitions. Ambitious financial goals were set and then achieved and Sparton was on its way.
One of the keys to the turnaround was a shift in focus from financial survival to operational and strategic growth. As president and CEO, Wood was able to scale down a company struggling to beat bankruptcy and turn it into a business that could grow through innovation, acquired and organic growth and a defined vision for the organization.
Wood developed a vision framework, Sparton Production System, which defines the company’s overall management style, helping Sparton accomplish objectives and create value for clients.
Wood restructured his sales team and incentive programs to drive revenue for organic growth. He allocated a significant investment in research and development at Sparton, which helped the company be seen as a market leader, differentiating it from competitors.
After stabilizing the company’s credit and cash availability, acquisitions helped Sparton gain access to inventory, talents and assets at higher returns on investment. Wood’s background and experience in acquiring distressed businesses and making them profitable has helped Sparton make profitable investments and boost growth.
After five years of successful growth, Wood and his team are now facing the challenges associated with implementing an aggressive five-year growth strategy. He is carefully making transitions to sustain the growth of Sparton and navigate through the associated risks with multiple acquisitions and fast double-digit growth. ●

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FINALIST – Manufacturing, Distribution & Infrastructure






Michael T. Clune
Chairman and CEO
Clune Construction Company, LP

Michael T. Clune came to the U.S. in 1978 as a hardworking Irishman without a high school degree and $60 in his pocket. He also had an entrepreneurial spirit and a strong desire to better his family. He purchased the interior construction subsidiary of LaSalle Partners in 1997, which soon became Clune Construction Company, LP. He has grown the fledgling startup into a rapidly growing, national construction company that continues to expand into new regions.
Since the company’s inception, Clune has developed a strategy of transparency and trust with both employees and clients to develop long-lasting relationships in a somewhat challenging industry.
Clune lives by the mantra that “you can’t possibly build anything on your own.” Since starting the business, the company’s chairman and CEO has made bringing in the right personnel at all levels a priority. He believes employees must come before profits and works hard to cultivate and help shape the future direction of his employees’ careers to ultimately drive the overall success of the organization.
Clune developed an employee stock ownership plan for each employee that begins on day one of employment. Not only does he provide 100 percent paid health care, among other benefits, but he invests in the personalized career path of each employee. This creates an added benefit for every client, which is the opportunity to work with some of the most talented, experienced and respected professionals in the construction industry.
In addition to a passionate commitment to customers, Clune has built a culture that believes in and supports the premise of giving back to those in need. Clune himself is actively and personally involved in cancer research. In March 2015, he presented Gateway for Cancer Research with a check for $120,000. It’s the first installment of a $1 million contribution Clune announced in 2013. ●

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FINALIST – Manufacturing, Distribution & Infrastructure






Steve Greenspon
Honey-Can-Do International

Honey-Can-Do International was formed right before the global financial crisis that struck in 2008. Steve Greenspon’s life savings were invested in the business and he was determined to become a successful home organization manufacturing company, despite the challenges he faced.
As a startup consumer products company, Honey-Can-Do lacked experience and credibility in the market. But Greenspon leveraged his contacts from previous business ventures to meet with well-known retailers, tell his company’s story and value propositions, and potentially sell his products.
Even after being told numerous times by critics that there was a slim chance he would be able to successfully build a consumer product company in such a short period of time, Greenspon has grown Honey-Can-Do into a leading brand for household organization products.
One of the challenges Greenspon faced was related to personnel. Many people lost their jobs in the 2008 financial crisis and the market was flooded with potential candidates.
Many of Greenspon’s first employees accepted salaries far below what they had received in their former roles because they believed in his mission and passion. But it appears both parties made wise decisions. The company has maintained low turnover and its unemployment insurance rates have steadily gone down each year due to the decreasing number of employees leaving the business.
Greenspon, CEO, attributes Honey-Can-Do’s strong people culture to the freedom in the workplace. Employees can wear what they are comfortable in and have the freedom to work the schedule that best fits their lifestyles.
In the spirit of transparency and teamwork, Honey-Can-Do holds a monthly meeting for all employees where the company’s financial figures are presented, new products are discussed and each department is given the opportunity to share challenges that it faces or recent successes. It all leads to a business that continues to broaden its reach. ●

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FINALIST – Manufacturing, Distribution & Infrastructure






Tony Fiscelli
Lifting Gear Hire Corporation

It was a difficult time for Tony Fiscelli’s father. The career he had built for himself and his family came to a sudden halt when the transportation company he worked for went out of business. Fortunately, his father landed on his feet as foreman at a United Kingdom-based lifting equipment company that was expanding its operations to the U.S.
At the time, Lifting Gear Hire Corporation had 100 pieces of equipment and two employees in the U.S. It paved the way for Fiscelli to help his father by driving delivery trucks while home on summer breaks from Ohio University. It’s where the story of another successful entrepreneur begins.
After Fiscelli graduated from college, he was offered a job at Lifting Gear Hire. As a budding college graduate looking for a successful career in engineering, it was not his first choice.
The opportunity to work closely with his dad and all the good people he worked with at Lifting Gear Hire led him to accept the position of health and safety engineer in 1995.
In this role, he was responsible for ensuring that safety standards and training procedures were operating consistently at all locations. Only a year in this position, one of the managers at Lifting Gear Hire quit and Fiscelli was asked to fill the role.
He thrived in the position and continued to advance in the organization, eventually being named president. Fiscelli came to realize that coming to work at Lifting Gear Hire was one of the best decisions he ever made.
Today, the family that owns the business relies on Fiscelli to manage its U.S. operations. After the U.K.-business was sold, the U.S. business became the largest division of the company. ●

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FINALIST – Manufacturing, Distribution & Infrastructure






Christian Herrmann
Morton Salt, Inc.

Christian Herrmann was born and raised in Germany, and was proficient with numbers from an early age. He knew he wanted to be an investment banker and started at the bottom as an intern with a German bank before moving to London to work at one of the largest investment banks in the world.
He was very successful, but ultimately decided that investment banking wasn’t for him.
Herrmann didn’t like the project-oriented nature of the work and wanted to dedicate himself to driving tangible results within one organization. His career path eventually led him to Morton Salt, Inc.
Herrmann became the company’s CEO in October 2012 and was tasked with turning the company around to reach the operating results its parent company, K+S Group, was seeking at the time it acquired Morton Salt in 2009.
Herrmann understood significant challenges were ahead, but he was confident in his ability to reinvent the struggling U.S. corporate icon.
Upon taking the reins of Morton Salt, Herrmann quickly realized the company was a product of neglect — it was an orphan division of its prior owner. The company’s systems and processes were outdated and inefficient. Employees were complacent and resistant to change. The company did not have a clear strategy for growth, or meaningful metrics to assess and drive revenue/profitability growth. Herrmann knew it was up to him to be the change agent responsible for modernizing the company’s systems and culture, ultimately driving the operating performance improvement the company required.
Herrmann examined all aspects of the company and implemented several initiatives to remove the bottlenecks and improve connectivity amongst the company’s functions and locations. He also upgraded Morton Salt’s operating systems, which helped with production planning, product pricing decisions and other operational decisions.
Herrmann does not micromanage, he strives to find and empower the right people to drive the organization forward. ●

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Tim Walbert
Chairman, president and CEO
Horizon Pharma

Tim Walbert was ready to build a great career as a sales representative in the pharmaceutical industry. Eventually, he would move up the chain and obtain an executive position in sales management.
But just as quickly as his sales career commenced, Walbert was encouraged by an early mentor to apply for a temporary internship in marketing to better understand the company’s business operations. It turned out to be a great move.
His appreciation for sales, executing a successful go-to-market strategy and his comprehensive understanding of the product life cycle were strengthened through increasing responsibilities at Searle, Merck and Abbott, shaping his leadership and management style.
His success has been driven by empowering teamwork and loyalty, encouraging a spirit of entrepreneurship and embracing failure as a learning opportunity instead of a negative outcome.
As chairman, president and CEO at Horizon Pharma, Walbert puts a lot of stock in surrounding himself with talented individuals, enabling those people to perform at a high level while also embracing their opinions.
He has built a company at Horizon that is focused on flexibility and accountability. His core team operates with a high level of trust, which permeates across the entire organization. Employees are expected to act as owners of the company, but leadership recognizes that different work styles and priorities outside of work sometimes require different schedules. Horizon has embraced flexibility without sacrificing accountability or results.
The concept has increased morale and retention, helping to support an entrepreneurial spirit at Horizon. Employees are encouraged to take risks without fearing failure. When ideas come forth that make it a more efficient and effective company, the people who came up with the ideas are compensated.
It leads to a culture where everyone is committed to the company’s success and doing what needs to be done to ensure it continues. ●

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Jeffrey Aronin
Chairman and CEO
Marathon Pharmaceuticals LLC

Jeffrey Aronin became interested in rare disease treatment early in his career. As a young man working in the pharmaceutical industry, he realized that focusing on blockbuster drugs was financially profitable, but left thousands of patients without treatment.
When he became involved in the development of an epilepsy treatment, he experienced firsthand the joy and relief of individuals who received treatment and it proved to be a tipping point. Aronin knew what he wanted to do — change peoples’ lives.
Aronin, chairman and CEO of Marathon Pharmaceuticals LLC,  attributes the success of both Marathon and his first company, Ovation Pharmaceuticals, to developing and sustaining a shared vision with his team. In a fast-moving, sometimes unpredictable industry, the management team at Marathon is constantly making difficult decisions. Aronin has faith that his executive team will come to an agreement and execute efficiently and effectively.
The management team openly debates each decision, but everyone moves forward as one when a decision is reached.
Aronin encourages a patient-first focus, determining courses of action and target treatments based on patient needs. Marathon’s business model identifies potential drug development targets by working with patients and advocacy groups. That is opposite of the traditional method of identifying which illnesses a certain molecule can potentially treat. The Marathon method invigorates Aronin’s team, positioning it to find the first drug or treatment for the identified, rare disorders.
Aronin’s passion for Marathon’s mission is infectious and his team believes in the vision, even drawing various executives out of retirement to come back to work at Marathon. A hardworking, energetic leader, Aronin encourages his team to continually think long term and trust in their shared mission.
The result is a company with an entrepreneurial culture that can identify talent that has the skill and temperament to thrive. ●

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Stuart Frankel
CEO and co-founder
Narrative Science

Stuart Frankel began his career as an accountant and subsequently began practicing law. His charisma combined with the discipline of accountancy and law has allowed Frankel to succeed as an entrepreneur where others have failed. His success has allowed him to maintain a strong professional network that he uses today to nurture Narrative Science.
The company is experiencing rapid growth by providing a product/service that is not clearly understood by most industries. Through Frankel’s guidance and expertise, the company has more than 50 high-profile clients, including the likes of Credit Suisse, Forbes, the Big Ten Network, Deloitte and Publicis Groupe. Other noteworthy clients include American Century Investments, MasterCard, the U.S. intelligence community and National Health Services of England.
He moved on to have even greater success with Performics, a marketing services online advertising company. Frankel was not deterred by slow growth in this company’s first year, holding to his belief that he could build a sustainable and viable business. His competitors noticed the success of Performics, and DoubleClick eventually acquired the company. Frankel continued to nurture Performics and DoubleClick until the company was sold to Google.
The varied experiences and success stories have one thing in common: Frankel, the company’s CEO and co-founder, and his commitment to hard work and success. The dedication continues at Narrative Science and the company is set to change the way the world receives and understands data.
Narrative Science is centered on four core values: First, employees should understand that working at Narrative Science is a mission, not a job. Next, everyone is part of a team. Third, achieving speed to market through simplicity and finally, the importance of providing exceptional customer service.
The values shape the company’s culture and its team that is working toward a mission to transform journalism and reporting in many business industries.  ●

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Jack Lynch
Renaissance Learning

Jack Lynch’s story is that of the classic American entrepreneur. He delivered papers and washed dishes as a child and paid his way through Boston University waiting tables, loading UPS trucks and stocking the shelves of department stores.
After college, Lynch quickly climbed the ranks in the publishing business where he landed a job as vice president of sales at age 27.
After successful stints as the founding CEO of BigChalk.com and the president and CEO of Pearson Technology Group, Lynch took a position on the executive board of Wolters Kluwer. The position gave him the chance to travel around the world, at which time he began to see the country’s slipping status in education as an issue of both social justice and global competitiveness.
A mentor once told him, “Make sure whatever you end up doing, do something worthy of your life.” In November 2012, he accepted the position of CEO at Renaissance Learning.
Renaissance believes in creating tools that empower teachers to perform their jobs more effectively, not in creating software applications that are meant to replace them. The company employs many former teachers, so it has an intimate understanding of its customers’ daily needs and concerns.
Lynch understands that this relationship between Renaissance and the teachers that use its applications is the secret sauce that differentiates his company.
One of the keys to achieving this status as an industry leader is the remaking of the company’s sales force. Renaissance had fallen into a pattern of selling to its existing customer base without trying to uncover new opportunities in the market. Many sales representatives would be on the road for hours at a time, passing on many potential customers between stops to check in with existing ones.
Lynch shifted the sales team from a revenue focus to a market opportunity focus, allowing Renaissance to expand its customer base. ●

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WINNER – Retail & Consumer Products






Scott B. Mandell
Enjoy Life Natural Brands, LLC

It was the final assignment for an entrepreneurship course Scott B. Mandell was taking at Northwestern University. Mandell and his team developed an idea for a food company that produced baking mixes free of common allergens that plague millions of Americans, receiving an A for their efforts.
Mandell had one more class to take, a leadership course taught by none other than Oprah Winfrey. It was in that class that Winfrey’s advice to “live life without regrets” convinced Mandell to leave behind a surefire career in banking and launch Enjoy Life Natural Brands, LLC.
Two guiding principles have served the CEO and his company well from the beginning. The first was to create a moat around the company’s brand, which was done by being the first company to exclusively produce food products free from the eight common allergens — known as “The Big 8” by the Food and Drug Administration.
In order to accomplish this ambitious goal, Enjoy Life had to manufacture all of its products in-house to ensure the integrity of the environment the food was being cooked in.
The entire brand relied upon having a clean track record of being safe for consumers with food allergies, so any compromise in such a promise would have a catastrophic impact on the company’s image.
The second principle was the belief that the value of the company was in its brand and not its bottom line.
By focusing on developing the right logo and packaging, and investing in research and development to continually improve the taste quality of its products, Enjoy Life’s goal was to give kids with food allergies a sense of normalcy. The financials were important, but that commitment to the company’s promise made to consumers took priority and guided the direction of the business. ●

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FINALIST – Retail & Consumer Products






Brad Wilson
Founder and CEO
Brad’s Deals

When Brad Wilson first launched Brad’s Deals, he faced some significant obstacles. Many retailers chose to issue cease-and-desist orders because they did not want their deals and coupon codes shared. Wilson won in the courts, and was eventually able to make new inroads with many retailers by demonstrating how his business could actually help them by generating a valuable pipeline of consumers to their respective websites.
Today, Brad’s Deals is able to approach retailers with deals it believes will do well with their consumer base. Wilson’s vision and perseverance created a win-win situation for all parties involved.
The core focus of Brad’s Deals is consumers. As founder and CEO, Wilson recognizes that the minute his company loses consumer trust, it risks losing everything. Therefore, he has given his editorial team free rein to act in the best interest of the consumers. The company will only promote deals that it would be comfortable recommending to friends and family. Brad’s Deals has even gone so far as to completely banish some retailers if their values prove to be incongruent.
Additionally, Wilson is making a concerted effort to make the Brad’s Deals brand more personal than typical e-commerce retailers, especially when it comes to customer service. For example, the customer service team will personally and promptly respond to customer comments made on their website.
The team knows that timely, helpful and courteous responses have a multiplying effect. For every single person who posts a question or needs assistance, there are likely many others who have encountered the same issue or had a similar question.
Again, Wilson’s focus is on providing the best deal for consumers. His company takes an overarching look at the universe of deals offered by retailers, identifies the best deals and then provides the valuable information to consumers in impartial, accelerated ways. ●

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FINALIST – Retail & Consumer Products






Patrick James O’Brien
Paris Presents Inc.

It was 2010 and Patrick James O’Brien had built a career worthy of envy with SC Johnson. In the early 1980s, he convinced the SCJ team to buy the rights to “Shout,” the famous song by the Isley Brothers that would soon become synonymous with the company’s Shout brand of stain removers.
He worked hard to cultivate a reputation as both a keen strategist and marketer. In 2003, his efforts earned him a new role in London as president of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. O’Brien found success in this role before returning to the U.S. in 2010. It was then that he was faced with a very difficult decision. After nearly three decades with SCJ, O’Brien chose to leave the company to pursue work that gave him a new set of firsts.
A year later, he was asked to join the board of Paris Presents Inc. and by the summer of 2012, he was asked to become the company’s CEO. Through a relentless focus on category management innovation and an attitude of what can we do, Paris Presents continues to drive a series of firsts in the cosmetic accessories category.
Under O’Brien’s leadership, Paris Presents has moved from providing private label cosmetic accessories to one of the fastest growing consumer product brands in 2014. His knowledge and deep appreciation for the importance of insights, analytics and innovation are what keep Paris Presents ahead of the competition.
The core of O’Brien’s leadership style is centered on his belief in his people. The decades of learning from his team, seeking to understand and building confidence to take risks are all part of how O’Brien leads Paris Presents.
Innovation has played a big part in the company’s success and likely will continue to do so in the years ahead. ●

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WINNER – Technology






Mike Sands






Eric Lunt
Founder and CTO






Marc Kiven
Founder and Chief Revenue Officer
Signal Digital, Inc.

Marc Kiven believes any good entrepreneur can find a large growing market, build a company that grabs a share of that market and exit when the time is right. The real challenge for a great entrepreneur is to create a market from scratch without displacing anyone.
In the case of Signal Digital, Inc., the plan was to create a company that could be the first real answer to a problem plaguing marketers for the better part of the past decade. It was a challenge Kiven, the company’s founder and chief revenue officer, Eric Lunt, founder and CTO and Mike Sands, CEO, were confident they could solve.
If a consumer looks at a product on his or her computer, tablet or phone, the brand’s marketing vendors may interpret it as three separate consumers using three separate channels. The brand’s channel vendors do not have the ability to connect the data in a meaningful way.
As a result, when marketers act on this data, they don’t really know the behavior of the potential customer. The misinformation and lack of cross-channel communication prevents marketers from getting to know their target customers. Successfully marketing to just one person is difficult.
Signal’s goal is to be the neutral provider of data by connecting every consumer in the world to every brand and their related vendors instantly. With Signal’s platform, it only takes 50 milliseconds to connect consumers to vendors. Signal’s partnership with the advertising agency and brand is neutral — no one is displaced in the process. Signal’s clients end up with a better return on vendor spending by sharing the data. As the brand’s digital outreach grows, Signal grows because its scalable platform can process endless amounts of data volume.
Fortunately, Signal has only lost four engineers since its inception: Two went to work at Apple and two went to Facebook. ●

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FINALIST – Technology






Dan Adamany
Founder and CEO

Dan Adamany has taken a relentless approach to improvement as founder and CEO of AHEAD. He works closely with his 133 employees to establish a homegrown culture that not only solves today’s problems, but proactively thinks about what might work to address the concerns of tomorrow.
Adamany was raised by two entrepreneurs and was always taught to think ahead and have the courage to lead.
When he was getting ready to launch AHEAD, Adamany brought in key business partners, including one of his former college friends. They were integral in helping him develop both a presence in the IT space and stronger management and leadership skills.
But as AHEAD began to transition out of infancy and gain traction in the industry, Adamany shared a different vision for the company’s future than that of his partners. So he bought them out and took complete ownership of the business.
The change was difficult at times — the company had a 30 percent turnover of employees — but it proved to be a blessing in disguise.
Adamany purposefully slowed down and adopted a methodical approach to examine all aspects of the business. As a result, there was a complete shift in how he fulfilled the role of CEO. He became more involved in company finances and restructured all of the executive compensation incentives, despite some initial opposition. The new financial incentives aligned with the company’s mission, reduced inefficiencies and created transparency for employees.
Adamany moved everyone from cubicles to open desk spaces to spark creative cross-functional group discussions. He launched quarterly town hall meetings with employees and built a more hands-on environment. He also generated positive confrontations between employees that would lead to better solutions for the business.
He set the tone for a company that could dominate its industry. ●

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FINALIST – Technology






Mike Persico
Anova Technologies, LLC

Mike Persico got started in technology a few years after graduating from college. Not unlike many other young professionals, Persico was convinced he would jump straight into a high-profile job and never look back. He soon realized that his vision wasn’t realistic and he took a variety of jobs to pay the bills.
One of those jobs was selling insurance at Blue Cross Blue Shield, where Persico discovered his passion for technology. When his desk PC started to break down, Persico realized he was pretty good at fixing it. He started playing around with the software and found that he enjoyed problem-solving issues related to technology.
He decided to take a new position as a help desk technician at Kirkland & Ellis where his desire to fix anything that was broken kept him working long hours. But to him, it wasn’t about the work. He was driven by his own clock, wanting to meet his own objectives and satisfy his own curiosity.
It all set the tone for Persico to take the reins at Anova Technologies, LLC. As the company’s CEO, he wants workers to come in and contribute right away and have opportunities to advance in the business, which provides connectivity and hardware to electronic trading clients.
Anova does not hire outside middle management personnel. Although there currently is a need for individuals at that level, Persico wants the need to be filled from within and challenges existing employees to step up and fill those roles.
Persico recognizes the challenges of maintaining such a collaborative, empowering culture. He thinks having leaders who carry the flag, but also have the flexibility to work with different regions can make all the difference. If his team can share his passion for taking on challenges, Persico believes the culture will continue to thrive. ●

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FINALIST – Technology






Dan Ushman






Zak Boca

Dan Ushman and Zak Boca began their business partnership as high school students interacting through AOL chat rooms. Ushman was from Illinois and Boca was from Kentucky, and they were just “a couple of ambitious nerds,” Ushman says.
But it was during this time that they created the foundation for an Internet advertising company that catapulted the idea of what now stands at SingleHop.
With an initial investment of $1,500 charged on Ushman’s father’s credit card, the business was launched. Cold calling from bathroom stalls, closing business deals before heading off to class, high school was an atypical experience for the duo. What makes it even more interesting is the fact that they had never formally met.
Ushman sold the advertising company he and Boca had been developing before he turned 18. They wanted to bootstrap something with a larger scope. Boca flew to Chicago and a new company began to take shape in Ushman’s living room.
Juggling college, working at a pizza shop and their growing business, an early buyout offer became a consideration. After talking it over with both family and mentors, Boca and Ushman decided to stick with it and moved into a new office space in a converted elementary school in the Chicago suburbs. SingleHop has become the industry’s fastest growing provider of hosted private cloud and on-demand servers.
Ushman, CMO, and Boca, CEO, use a leadership style that empowers employees, allows for mistakes and holds employees accountable.
Innovation has and will continue to play an integral roles in the company’s success.
One of Ushman’s mentors told him that when your tailwind becomes your headwind, that is when you know you need to change your strategy. It has been a motivating compass for Ushman as he works with Boca to continually innovate and build upon prior successes. ●

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Master Entrepreneur






J.B. Pritzker
Managing Partner
Pritzker Group

It’s difficult to sum up everything that J.B. Pritzker has done for the city of Chicago. It starts with his work as managing partner at Pritzker Group, but that’s just scratching the surface of what the Duke University and Northwestern University School of Law graduate has accomplished.
As president of the Pritzker Family Foundation, he created The Children’s Initiative, which funds innovative research and programs for children in underserved communities. The Erikson Institute recognized Pritzker for this initiative with its Spirit of Erikson Institute Award. He also supported the creation of the Pritzker Consortium on Early Childhood Development at the University of Chicago, which is led by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman.
Pritzker plays an active role at a number of civic institutions including the Field Museum of Natural History, Northwestern University, World Business Chicago, the Economic Club of Chicago and the Commercial Club of Chicago. He helped found the Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center and the Illinois Venture Capital Association, the leading regional advocates for entrepreneurs and investors, respectively.
Pritzker led the campaign to build the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, a world-class international institution dedicated to human and civil rights and to teaching universal lessons of the Holocaust.
He also served as co-chairman for Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign, but his political involvement spans three decades. In the 1980s, he worked as a legislative aide and policy adviser to three members of Congress. In the 1990s, he founded Democratic Leadership for the 21st Century — a national organization dedicated to attracting voters under the age of 40 to the Democratic Party. He also ran for U.S. Congress.
Pritzker is a leading proponent of entrepreneurship and a stronger technology sector focus in the Midwest.
Pritzker lives in Chicago with his wife, M.K., and their two children. ●

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Judging Panel






Zaid Alsikafi
Managing Director
Madison Dearborn Partners

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Pam Buchanan
Managing Director

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Paul Carbone
Managing Partner
Pritzker Group

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Kevin Conroy
Exact Sciences Corporation

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Michael Gauthier
Gauthier Biomedical, Inc.

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Frank Jaehnert
former president and CEO
Brady Corporation

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Kristi Ross
co-CEO and president
dough, Inc.

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Doug Waggoner
Echo Global Logistics

How the Affordable Care Act changes will affect employers

Marty Hauser, CEO, SummaCare, Inc.

Marty Hauser, CEO, SummaCare, Inc.

With so many provisions and mandates under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), it is not surprising some things have changed or been delayed along the way.

In fact, on July 5 the Obama administration released a 606-page document with final regulations on some of the ACA’s key provisions and mandates. In addition to providing new details about how the health insurance marketplaces will operate beginning Oct. 1, the document included changes that will impact the way employers shop for insurance.

Separately, on July 2, the U.S. Treasury issued guidance delaying the penalties to be imposed on large employers that fail to provide coverage to full-time workers and also reporting requirements applicable to insurers and self-insured businesses.

“When you are looking at changes impacting the health care delivery system in this country — including the way health insurance companies do business — delays and changes are expected,” says Marty Hauser, CEO of SummaCare, Inc. “The best thing employers and individuals can do is to stay informed and make the best decisions possible when it comes time to shop for a benefit plan.”

Smart Business spoke to Hauser about some of these changes and delays and what they mean for employers.

What are some ACA mandates that have been delayed that directly affect employers?

Components of the employer mandate have been delayed until 2015 to give employers more time to prepare for changes and requirements. The mandate, often referred to as ‘pay or play,’ requires employers with 51 or more employees to offer health insurance or risk paying a penalty. The delay of the mandate’s penalty portion gives employers an additional year to consider their options for offering insurance.

While some people argue that the delay in penalties effectively delays the entire mandate, it’s important to note that the mandate for large group employers to offer insurance still exists, but with no penalty for not complying. It is in the employer’s best interest to work with their broker, benefits consultant or insurer in an effort to comply with the law and figure out the best solution next year and in preparation for 2015.

At the time of this printing, this delay in the employer mandate does not change the individual mandate, effective Jan. 1, 2014.

A delay impacting small employers (with up to 50 employees) has also occurred related to the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP). The functionality enabling employers to offer employees a variety of qualified health plans (QHPs) from different carriers has been delayed until 2015. This means that in 2014, small group employers may only offer one QHP to their employees shopping through the marketplace in an effort to give the exchange additional time to prepare.

It’s also important to mention that the SHOP is available to employers with up to 50 employees in 2014 and 2015, and expands to include employers with up to 100 employees in 2016.

What should employers keep in mind as they see marketing campaigns about the changes that become effective next year?

First and foremost, employers should work with their broker, benefits consultant, or insurer to help determine what mandates and provisions of the ACA apply in 2014 and beyond, in order to make the best benefits decisions for their employees and budget. They should also be prepared to receive and answer questions from employees regarding coverage in the coming year.

Additionally, since marketplaces open Oct. 1, 2013, for 2014 effective dates and employers are required to notify employees of the availability of the health insurance marketplace by the same date (Oct. 1), employees will likely be looking to their employer for guidance on coverage options and want to know what their employer plans to do by way of offering benefits.  Employers should be ready to educate their employees on how the new laws will or will not affect them and their benefits.

It’s also important to remember that although the penalty portion of the employer mandate has been delayed, there are ACA requirements employers must still meet, including reporting and payments, marketplace notification, distribution of Summary Benefits and Coverage documents upon renewal or enrollment, and distribution of rebates, when applicable.

Marty Hauser is CEO at SummaCare, Inc. Reach him at [email protected]

Website: To learn more about health care reform, visit www.summacare.com/healthcarereform or www.healthcare.gov.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by SummaCare, Inc.


How 2014 health care reform provisions will affect employers

Marty Hauser, CEO, SummaCare, Inc.

Marty Hauser, CEO, SummaCare, Inc.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) contains a total of 91 provisions, bringing change to the insurance market and impacting the type of coverage employers offer their employees.

“Many of the upcoming ACA provisions depend on the size of your employee population,” says Marty Hauser, CEO of SummaCare, Inc. “Employers need to understand these provisions, as they will likely determine what kind of coverage you offer your employees.”

Smart Business spoke to Hauser about how some key provisions impact employers.

What are some provisions impacting all employer groups?

Although some provisions of the ACA are based on the number of employees an employer has, others apply to all employer groups, regardless of size. These provisions include, but are not limited to, guaranteed issue and renewal of health insurance plans, no pre-existing condition exclusion, employer notification of the health insurance marketplaces and an increase to the maximum allowable reward for health-contingent wellness programs.

Beginning Oct. 1, 2013, employers will be required to notify employees of the availability of the health insurance marketplace, formerly known as exchanges. The marketplace is an online portal that will allow consumers and employers to find and compare different health insurance options. Employers must provide employees, regardless of plan enrollment status or part-time or full-time employment status, a written notice informing them of their coverage options. The Department of Labor (DOL) has created three different model notices for employers to communicate this information to employees, and these are available on the DOL’s website.

Another provision impacting all employer groups is the increase to the maximum allowable reward for health-contingent wellness programs from 20 to 30 percent of the cost of coverage. The program must meet five regulatory requirements to qualify as a health-contingent wellness program.

What are some provisions impacting small group employers?

Beginning in 2014, the marketplace will operate a Small Business Health Options Program, or SHOP, that offers choices when it comes to purchasing health insurance for small group employers — with up to 50 employees in 2014 and increasing to 100 employees in 2016 — and their employees.

Through the SHOP, employers will eventually be able to offer employees a variety of Qualified Health Plans (QHPs) from different carriers, and employees can choose the plan that fits their needs and their budget. In 2014, however, small group employers will be limited to offering only one QHP to their employees, as the provision allowing choices between multiple carriers has been delayed until 2015.

In addition to the availability of the SHOP, small group employers with fewer than 25 full-time employees, or a combination of full-time and part-time employees, may be eligible for a health insurance tax credit in 2014 if they offer insurance through the SHOP and meet other criteria, such as the average wages of employees must be less than $50,000, and the employer must pay at least half of the insurance premium.

What are some provisions impacting large group employers?

Effective Jan. 1, 2014, employers that employ an average of at least 51 full-time employees are required to offer employees and their dependents an employer-sponsored plan or the employer pays a penalty, often referred to as ‘pay or play.’

This provision has specific criteria meant to not only define and determine the number of employees in the group, but also to confirm the employer is providing affordable, minimum essential coverage. Part-time employees count toward the calculation of full-time equivalent employees, and there is no penalty if affordable coverage is offered.

If an employer doesn’t provide adequate health insurance to its employees, the employer will be required to pay a penalty if its employees receive premium tax credits to buy their own insurance. The penalties will be $2,000 per full-time employee beyond the employer’s first 30 workers. Penalties paid by the employer will be used to offset the cost of the tax credits.

Marty Hauser is CEO at SummaCare, Inc. Reach him at [email protected]

Website: Visit our website to learn more about health care reform or go to www.healthcare.gov.

Insights Health Care is brought to you by SummaCare, Inc.

How organizations benefit from having a clearly defined mission

Greg Stobbe, SPHR, J.D., Chief HR Officer, Benefitdecisions, Inc.

Greg Stobbe, SPHR, J.D., Chief HR Officer, Benefitdecisions, Inc.

A company’s mission can be a very powerful tool for building employee engagement and fostering a winning culture. But that can’t be accomplished simply with a mission statement posted on a wall.

“It’s not so much about creating a statement. A company mission lives and breathes, whether it’s documented or not,” says Greg Stobbe, SPHR, J.D., Chief HR Officer at Benefitdecisions, Inc. “The mission is what drives the culture, which is what drives the organization.”

Smart Business spoke with Stobbe about the importance of having a mission and the impact it can have throughout your organization.

What is a company mission?

There’s a unique answer for every organization, but the mission is the what, why, who and how of the company; it’s the reason it exists. The mission isn’t developed — it’s already there, you just need to uncover it.

The mission is the organization’s ultimate goal, if you don’t have one you can’t truly define success or failure. It’s like a ship without a navigational system, you’re not going to know your course or if you’ve reached your destination because you don’t have one.

What are the benefits of having a mission?

The benefits are directly proportionate to the effort and thought that went into designing, implementing and maintaining focus on tracking the mission. There will not be any benefits if it’s just a statement, whether oral or written, and nobody pays attention to it.

Time spent on devising, developing and articulating a mission is a savvy investment in human capital that will pay dividends in the financial success of the organization. Employees who feel invested, who understand their roles, become engaged and emotionally attached. It would be very difficult for someone to be emotionally attached to an organization unless the person knew the mission and it resonated with him or her.

With the economy improving, employees might be apt to look at a position elsewhere for more pay. But when you have employees who are emotionally invested, their first motivation is not compensation. You can do more with a smaller group of employees who are passionate about the cause than with a larger group who show up for the paycheck. A passionate, engaged workforce can accomplish great things and that all goes back to the power of a company mission and how that affects employee engagement.

How is the mission articulated?

You need to work with employees on establishing the mission. It’s not like the secret recipe of Coca-Cola that’s kept in a vault in Atlanta and only three people know it. The mission drives the culture, and you should know what it is when you walk into a company’s headquarters. Once you know the company mission, everyone should know it and live it. If you approach any employee, he or she should be able to articulate what the organization’s overall mission is and how his or her contributions are aligned with it.

What are the challenges faced in the process of developing the mission?

First and foremost, the mission has to come from the top — the CEO and/or the board of directors. They need to be stewards of the process. Companies can hire a consultant to put together a mission statement, but if that’s just because the CEO wants to check a box, it’s not going to produce any benefits. Companies with winning cultures are the ones where senior managers embody the mission. Through their example, it cascades down to all levels so that everyone, from the person at the front desk to the clerk in accounting, up through the C-suite knows the mission, and it’s something people live every day.

How is the mission accomplished?

Theoretically, if a company achieved its mission, the reason for the company ‘to be’ would no longer exist. Therefore, it is important to carefully consider your mission and thoughtfully craft it. The difference between the missions of ‘to feed hungry people’ versus ‘to eliminate hunger’ is evident. The former being an event, and the latter a true mission. An engaged workforce will ‘reboot’ each and every day and strive to achieve the mission.

Greg Stobbe, SPHR, J.D., is Chief HR Officer at Benefitdecisions, Inc. Reach him at (312) 376-0456 or [email protected]

Insights Employee Benefits is brought to you by Benefitdecisions, Inc.


Why employment practices liability coverage is a must for employers

Stephen Stromsborg, assistant vice president, Momentous Insurance Brokerage, Inc.

Stephen Stromsborg, assistant vice president, Momentous Insurance Brokerage, Inc.

All employers face a potential loss because of the hiring, employment and potential firing of employees. Therefore, employers should purchase employment practices liability (EPL) insurance to protect themselves against damages from workplace events and allegations of wrongdoing by employees.

Today, claims are increasing, the market is hardening and premiums are going up for this type of coverage, says Stephen Stromsborg, assistant vice president at Momentous Insurance Brokerage, Inc.

“It’s important for businesses and homeowners with domestic staff to partner with a broker who can represent them well to insurance companies and get them as many options as possible,” he says.

Smart Business spoke with Stromsborg about how EPL policies work and the market trends that make this type of coverage advantageous.

What claims does EPL insurance cover?

It covers such things as wrongful termination, harassment, discrimination, defamation, unfair hiring and firing practices, failure to promote, emotional distress, retaliation and invasion of privacy.

Who should consider EPL coverage?

Both businesses and households that employ domestic staff should strongly consider purchasing the coverage.

Businesses’ general liability policies either specifically exclude employment-related claims or are very restrictive and not adequate enough to respond to EPL matters. In particular, companies with large employee headcounts and high turnover are more susceptible.

As for households employing domestic staff, a homeowner’s policy won’t protect against allegations of wrongful termination or sexual harassment by domestic employees like nannies, gardeners and estate managers.

Any employee can allege he or she was wrongly terminated or harassed while employed, and an employer has a legal duty to respond, regardless of the claim’s merit. Even if it’s dismissed, not litigated or doesn’t go to trial, the high-cost of defense and/or settlement can have a significant impact on a company’s or family’s financial stability and reputation, especially without insurance.

What is impacting this coverage today?

Employment-related charges in 2012 were 20 percent higher than in 2007, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Many employment practices claims go straight to lawsuits and are not reported to the EEOC, so this number could be even higher. Unemployment rates are one contributing factor; California is tied now for the highest unemployment rate at 9.8 percent. With rising unemployment comes the decision to layoff employees or risk being put out of business. Unfortunately, workforce cuts can lead to disgruntled former employees suing for allegations of wrongful termination.

With the increased claim volume, insurance companies have been paying out more for both defense and settlements in the EPL arena. This results in most insurance companies transferring additional renewal and new business premium costs to employers. Companies are also increasing EPL policyholders’ retentions and deductibles. Several EPL coverages have been restricted, so it’s important to have an open dialog. The broker needs to articulate what is and is not covered in these policies for clear understanding on both ends.

What can be done to mitigate EPL losses?

Important preventative measures are:

• Maintaining adequate compliance with employment laws in the workplace.

• Establishing formal harassment training with employees.

Employers also can reduce turnover, which has a direct impact on claims.

Implementing compliance and harassment training will convey a proactive risk management work environment to underwriters, and working with a broker who can articulate those measures can lead to insurance companies being more comfortable in providing coverage.

Who can help with coverage decisions?

EPL is a very tough market. With premium increases on the rise, employers should partner with a broker who has the expertise and marketplace relationships to place the appropriate coverage.

Stephen Stromsborg is assistant vice president at Momentous Insurance Brokerage, Inc. Reach him at (818) 933-2722 or [email protected]

Blog: Insurance strategies are constantly changing as the market evolves. To keep up, subscribe to our blog.

Insights Business Insurance is brought to you by Momentous Insurance Brokerage, Inc.


Your health insurer wants to save you money

Kevin Cavalier, vice president of sales, Summa Care, Inc.

As healthcare costs continue to rise, many employers are open and anxious to hear ways they might be able to save money while still providing comprehensive medical coverage to their employees. And luckily, many insurance companies have things in place that can do just that.

“While there is no silver bullet in negating health insurance annual increases, there are ways to minimize increases,” says Kevin Cavalier, vice president of sales at SummaCare, Inc. “Plan design is critical in lowering plan premiums, but employee engagement in understanding care options and being a better consumer of healthcare services is imperative. Employee engagement and education should also incorporate wellness initiatives to maximize plan effectiveness.”

There are ways to save money on your health insurance premiums, and your health insurer is on your side. It continually looks for ways to extend cost savings to you, and these savings often come by way of partnership discounts, higher-deductible plan designs, generic drug prescription riders, value-added services and wellness programs.

Smart Business spoke with Cavalier about ways your insurer can help you save on health insurance-related costs.

How can partnerships between your health insurer and a local chamber or consortium save you money on your health insurance premiums?

Choosing an insurer that offers health insurance premium discounts through a chamber or consortium is a great way to save money on the monthly costs associated with offering health insurance to your employees. Chamber members are offered extended discounts on things such as health insurance, office supplies, shipping and transporting, and energy costs because of existing relationships and agreements a chamber has with other companies.

By joining your local chamber, you can save thousands on services and costs you would otherwise have to pay for at full price.

Can staying with a carrier that offers predictable rate increases save you money?

If you have consistently offered health insurance benefits to your employees year after year, you are probably familiar with the annual rate increases that can accompany those benefits. And while some of these increases are unavoidable as medical costs continue to rise, there are ways to help you better anticipate higher costs. Staying with a carrier that offers predictable rate increases can help you better budget for  your anticipated benefits spend while resting assured you are receiving the most value for your dollar.

If you’re thinking about switching carriers due to an extremely low rate, know that, more often than not, these low rates are unsustainable and you may experience an unexpectedly high increase in year two.  Making minor benefit changes can often negate some of the difference in costs between two insurers and saves the time, effort and hassle of changing insurance carriers.

How can offering an HRA/HSA plan save both you and your employees money?

Offering a Health Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA) or Health Savings Account (HSA) in conjunction with a high-deductible plan is a great way to lower your premium costs while still offering your employees comprehensive benefits. An HRA essentially gives your employees the opportunity to use tax-free money (provided by you) to pay for qualified medical expenses. An HSA is a tax-free savings account that belongs to your employees, and they can use it to pay for their insurance deductible and out-of-pocket medical expenses.  Both of these arrangements allow you to save money by offering a higher-deductible, lower-premium plan, and they will educate your employees on the costs associated with the services they receive.

Will offering a generic-based prescription plan also save on costs?

One of the best ways to save costs is to offer a generic-based prescription plan. A generic-based prescription drug plan promotes the use of less expensive, generic drugs by filling prescriptions with the generic alternative when available. With this type of prescription plan, a pharmacy will only fill a prescription with the brand name drug if there is not a generic alternative available and/or if the prescribing physician indicates that it must be dispensed as prescribed with the brand name drug.

In addition to the cost savings of prescriptions filled with generic drugs instead of brand name drugs, many Pharmacy Management programs promote the use of generic drugs by offering a 90-day supply at retail pharmacies or mail-order options for a very low copay. These conveniences and low-cost options have proven effective in steering people toward generics. In addition, it encourages people to have their prescriptions filled at network pharmacies using plan coverage, which, in turn, reduces costs.

Can a wellness program save you money?

Yes, implementing a simple wellness program is oftentimes the first step in helping to lower costs, though the financial benefit may not be immediate. Offering things such as smoking cessation, weight management counseling, preventive care incentive programs and onsite health and fitness classes can reap long-term benefits in relation to the health of your employees and the cost of providing health insurance to them. Talk to your insurer to find out what components of a wellness program would benefit your employers and company.

Regardless of what type of benefit plan you choose to offer your employees, it is critical to continually evaluate what plans and services are offered by your insurer to ensure you have chosen the best plan option while containing costs.

Kevin Cavalier is vice president of sales at SummaCare, Inc. Reach him at (330) 996-8650 or [email protected]

Insights Health Care is brought to you by SummaCare, Inc.

Inc., Winning Workplaces name 50 Small Top Company Workplaces for 2011

Inc. magazine has announced its 50 2011 Small Top Company Workplaces.

The annual contest, in connection with Winning Workplaces, recognizes the nation’s best company work environments among businesses with fewer than 500 full-time employees. The companies are listed in the magazine’s June issue.

Every year since 2003, Winning Workplaces, an Evanston-based nonprofit organization, has recognized those firms that attribute much of their business success to their commitment to exemplary people practices and outstanding workplace cultures.

G5’s unique workplace culture includes a dog-friendly office environment, a company-wide Autonomy Day, flexible summer hours and a robust health and wellness program, among other benefits.

The winners:

Akraya  Sunnyvale, Calif.

Applications Software Technology  Naperville, Ill.

Arc Aspicio  Arlington, Va.

Bersin & Associates  Oakland, Calif.

Box.net  Palo Alto, Calif.

Cal-Tex Protective Coatings  Schertz, Texas

Dynamic Network Services  Manchester, N.H.

Emma  Nashville

Fire Engine RED  Philadelphia

Firespring  Lincoln, Neb.

The FruitGuys  South San Francisco, Calif.

Galileo Learning  Oakland, Calif.

G5  Bend, Ore.

Gold Eagle  Chicago

Golden Artist Colors  New Berlin, N.Y.

Harrell Remodeling  Mountain View, Calif.

Hopkins Printing  Columbus, Ohio

ImageSoft  Southfield, Mich.

ITAGroup  West Des Moines, Iowa

Kitware  Clifton Park, N.Y.

Knight Point  Systems Reston, Va.

The LaSalle Network  Chicago

Linhart Public Relations  Denver

LoadSpring Solutions  Lawrence, Mass.

M & E Painting  Loveland, Colo.

McGraw Wentworth  Troy, Mich.

Medical Present Value  Austin

Menlo Innovations  Ann Arbor, Mich.

Namasté Solar  Boulder, Colo.

n-Link  Bend, Ore.

Nukk-Freeman & Cerra  Short Hills, N.J.

One Call Now  Troy, Mich.

Projectline Services  Seattle

Quantum Health  Columbus, Ohio

rbb Public Relations  Coral Gables, Fla.

ReadyTalk  Denver

Resource  Troy, Mich.

Service Express  Grand Rapids, Mich.

Skullcandy  Park City, Utah

Sonoma Partners  Chicago

Southern Rewinding  Columbus, Ga.

The Squires Group  Annapolis, Md.

Submittal Exchange  Waukee, Iowa

Symbiont Service  Englewood, Fla.

Symmes Maini & McKee  Associates Cambridge, Mass.

Tastefully Simple  Alexandria, Minn.

TCG Washington,  D.C.

Torch Technologies  Huntsville, Ala.

TRX  San Francisco

Veson Nautical  Boston

A national panel of experts in leadership and small to mid-sized business judged the finalists.

Selections were based on specific metrics and qualitative assessments of the finalists’ success in creating the kind of workplaces that engage employees and deliver bottom-line results.

“This year’s winning firms distinguish themselves in so many ways,” said Ken Lehman, chairman of Winning Workplaces. “They are steadily growing their revenues, often outperforming their industries; have identified niches where they add unmatched value; and are guided by strong missions and values. And, they make no secret of the fact that a key driver behind their success is their engaged and committed workforces.”

“These firms represent some of the finest privately held companies in the world,” said Bob LaPointe, president of Inc. “Their stories, appearing in the June issue of Inc., clearly demonstrate that taking an innovative approach to creating the right culture — one in which human capital is embedded in a company’s value proposition — can create real competitive leadership.”