The new guard

A close look at this year’s finalists and winners of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year Award reveals the change occurring in Northeast Ohio.

Steel companies are on the verge of collapse. Domestic car sales continue to slump. The big industries that drove the economy here are facing tough times again, but this time it doesn’t look like there will be a turnaround. The writing is on the wall, and today’s entrepreneurs have forged a new direction.

Today’s thriving entrepreneurs don’t exist simply to serve the steel or auto industries. They make state-of-the-art medical devices, create innovative business software, care for our region’s elderly, manage trucking logistics and produce cutting edge chemicals. In short, these companies are diverse and dynamic.

On the flip side, you’ll see none of the dot-bombs which have come and gone on the coasts in the past 12 months, but left our part of the country unscorched. Instead, these entrepreneurs built their companies on a foundation of sturdy business practices. They faced risk and battled competition to stay afloat in the lean start-up days.

“The common thread that you have is that the entrepreneur took some risks,” says C. Lee Thomas, partner-in-charge of entrepreneurial services for Northeast Ohio for Ernst & Young LLP. “These entrepreneurs were clearly leaders and able to capitalize on the strength of their management team and their employees. That’s something that you see throughout.”

From established powerhouse IMG Inc. to future industry leader Hyland Software Inc., this year’s crop of 15 finalists and nine winners deserve the kind of recognition not often granted to the entrepreneur, says Thomas.

“We see a lot of information out there about the public companies because they have public shareholders,” Thomas says. “What you don’t hear about is a lot of the success stories that the entrepreneurs have. How do they get the recognition? It’s not going to be through earnings releases. You’re not going to see very many press releases.

“But here is a real opportunity to take what they’ve done, meet with independent judges who are rock-solid business people and educators, get in the contest and get recognized as being the best.”

Entrepreneur Of The Year Award judges looked not only at the financial growth of a company, but at the entrepreneur as a person and a business leader. They considered the nominees’ ability to adapt to challenges, the passion for their endeavors, their visions and their courage to face risks, yet continue to dream.

“It’s not just being an entrepreneur that maybe raised $5 (million) or $10 million, but they competed and they were judged the best,” Thomas says. “That’s pretty significant. There’s some real recognition behind this. I think that real recognition is what’s different, and that helps others get excited in the area about taking an idea as an entrepreneur and making it a business.” How to reach: Ernst & Young LLP, (216) 861-5000

Morgan Lewis Jr. is a reporter for SBN Magazine.