2016 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards celebrate those who care enough to dare
It’s all about the love.
People often talk about entrepreneurship in terms of risk and effort. Those who succeed – and many of those who don’t – extend themselves and their resources beyond normal limits.
But those honored for their entrepreneurial success often talk about something else entirely. They flat-out love what they do, and that, more than fame or money, is what makes the risk and effort worthwhile.
Take Dave Kiersznowski, who founded the firms DEMDACO and Red Rock Traditions with his wife, Demi.
“Do what you love. An entrepreneur who loves their work creates a really fun work environment, and their excitement is contagious,” he said, as the couple was honored as Kansas City’s International Entrepreneurs of the Year.
Or consider Gary Fish, honored as the Regional Entrepreneur of the Year. “Life is too short to do things you don’t want to do” are the words he lives by. “Once you start to do something you love, it doesn’t feel like work anymore.”
Judy Roetheli and her husband, Dr. Joseph Roetheli, are the founders of the Lil’ Red Foundation. As they were honored with the Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship, Judy said that love drives their philanthropy.
“We are a conduit,” she said. “We believe that we were given to, in order that we may give to others.”
The event was the 31st Annual Entrepreneur of the Year Awards celebration, sponsored by The Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Henry W. Bloch School of Management, University of Missouri-Kansas City.
This year’s event theme was “Fearless City: Celebrating Those Who Fearlessly Create.” The idea was to recognize not just individual entrepreneurs, but the culture of a city that educates, nurtures, supports and celebrates creators who dare to take risks.
John Nohe, CEO of JNA Advertising and a member of the Regnier Institute Advisory Council, welcomed guests and explained the dual nature of the honorees: “You have to have a great idea, and an intense desire to bring it to life.”
“Kansas City is such a vibrant place to live these days. One of the big reasons for this is because of the entrepreneurial spirit that exists across the city,” he continued. “We see it everywhere. This city, more than most, embraces entrepreneurs. I think most people would agree that’s just part of our culture.”
UMKC Chancellor Leo E. Morton reminded the audience that fearless creativity arises from all corners of the community.
“Our honorees are examples of how bright ideas can sprout up from any root, as long as you have the strength to believe, and the willingness to take a risk,” Morton said. “So many unique ventures have come into fruition these last few years that have sparked interest in what used to be considered ‘fly-over country.’ Leaders around the world are seeing Kansas City as a place for innovation, a place to start up and grow new businesses.
“They are seeing opportunity in Kansas City, and capitalizing on it. A big reason for that, is that people like you in Kansas City recognize the importance of entrepreneurship. Organizations like the Regnier Institute offer education for startups who need assistance putting their ideas into solid plans, ensuring they are set up for success. Organizations like the Kauffman Foundation and the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce champion the innovative spirit in Kansas City and partner with UMKC to promote growth in our community by offering resources and support for the next generation.”
Morton cited the late Ewing Marion Kauffman as “the epitome of American, and Kansas City, entrepreneurship.”
“Tonight, in the year that would have seen his one hundredth birthday, I am honored to present this year’s Honorary International Entrepreneur of the Year award in recognition of Mr. Ewing Marion Kauffman’s significant impact on the world of entrepreneurship,” Morton said. “From modest beginnings, Mr. Kauffman grew Marion Laboratories into a billion dollar pharmaceutical empire and established the Kansas City Royals baseball team. More than that, Mr. Kauffman was an influential philanthropist. He sought to address social problems in our communities through the Kauffman Foundation.”
Morton was joined by Nohe and David Donnelly, Dean of the Bloch School, to present the award in Kauffman’s honor to Janice Kreamer, Kauffman Foundation Chairman of the Board.
Mary O’Connor, Senior Vice President, Country Club Bank, served as 2016 dinner chair. Additional details on the 2016 honorees:
Dave and Demi Kiersznowski, Founders, DEMDACO and RedRock Traditions
International Entrepreneurs of the Year
Dave and Demi Kiersznowski are the Founders and Owners of DEMDACO, a wholesale gift company, and RedRock Traditions, a direct selling company.
Demi and Dave hold to the philosophy of pursuing business the way it ought to be. They are committed to the idea that business does not solely have to be a financial endeavor. It is first and foremost a human endeavor.
Ewing Marion Kauffman, Entrepreneur and Philanthropist
Honorary International Entrepreneur of the Year
Kauffman is considered the epitome of American entrepreneurship, who grew Marion Laboratories into a billion dollar pharmaceutical company and established the Kansas City Royals baseball team.
With the enormous success of his business he turned to philanthropy, using bold approaches to address complex social problems. He established the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to help young people, especially those from underserved backgrounds, get a quality education; and to foster entrepreneurship as one of the most effective ways to realize individual promise and spur the economy.
During 2016, the Kauffman Foundation is commemorating the 100th anniversary of Ewing Kauffman’s birth on Sept. 21, 1916, by celebrating the legacy that guides the foundation and inspires others to build legacies of their own.
Gary Fish, CEO and Founder, Fishtech; Founder, former CEO and Chairman of the Board, Fishnet Security; Founder and Chairman of the Board, Firemon
Regional Entrepreneur of the Year
A serial entrepreneur and investor with many business interests, Fish currently serves as CEO of Fishtech Labs, which he founded in 2015. Since 1996, he has founded, acquired and sold more than a dozen technology companies. Throughout his career, he has been recognized for his numerous achievements, including being named a technology entrepreneur of the year by Ernst and Young; a Security Super Star by CRN magazine, a technology magazine for solution providers; a Kansas City Top 100 Business Leader; a Distinguished Alumni by DeVry University; and was inducted in the Kansas City Business Hall of Fame.
In addition to a strong business acumen, Fish is known for his philanthropic work, particularly in cases supporting children and animals. A graduate of DeVry University, he served in the United States Army National Guard.
Dr. Joseph and Judy Roetheli, Founders, The Lil’ Red Foundation
Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship
Out of their success in the private sector, Joe and Judy Roetheli founded and managed The Roetheli Lil’ Red Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable entity, to build on the themes of instilling respect, encouraging dreams and providing hope. The Foundation has four specific focus areas: Third World assistance, pet therapy, entrepreneurship and inspirational stories.
In 1996, Judy encouraged Joe to find a way to improve the bad breath of their dog, Ivan. The concoction he created quickly grew from a household lifesaver to a national name brand. That same year, they co-founded S&M NuTec, LLC and their Greenies® Dog Treats rapidly became a popular pet treat. By 2005, it had become the #1 dog treat in the United States, one with proven efficacy in deterring buildup of tartar on dog’s teeth. The company later developed other pet products, including Greenies® for cats.
In less than 10 years, the company had become the eighth largest pet food/treat company in the world and in retail. In May 2006, Mars, the largest pet food/treat company in the world, purchased S&M NuTec/ Greenies®.
Student Entrepreneur of the Year
Ho, Founder of AddVenture and Pikk, was selected by the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation leadership and Regnier Institute Advisory Council. Each year, the award recognizes a student who has successfully developed and launched a business, product or venture. The winner receives a $2,500 scholarship.
Proceeds from the EOY Awards benefit the Bloch School’s Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, one of Kansas City’s premier resources for educating and creating the next generation of entrepreneurs. Money raised from previous dinners has supported innovative new programs such as Summer Scholars and Vets2Ventures.