2016 Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards honorees
Early Stage Category
Owner of Marche in Glen Ellyn
Nominated by Elizabeth Gaucher of DuPage CVB
In 2011, Jill Foucre, a former health insurance executive, became a small-business owner when she opened Marcel's Culinary Experience, an award-winning gourmet retail store and recreational cooking school in Glen Ellyn.
With Marcel's success and the chance opening of an empty retail space three doors down, Foucre decided to launch her second small business, Marche, in November 2015.
Marche is a specialty cheese and charcuterie shop with a select collection of wine, beer and craft spirits. They also offer catering, classes and private events in their space year-round.
Foucre's business philosophy is to take care of the details and the big picture will fall into place. Since Marche's opening, they have obtained a strong following and are on the same road to success as Marcel's.
Marche immediately got involved in the community in Glen Ellyn's second annual Market Francais and at the French Connection Day at Cantigny Park.
President of Red Caffeine Marketing and Technology in Lombard.
Nominated by Bunny Mirrilees, of Red Caffeine Marketing and Technology
In October 2013, Kathy Steele and her business partner decided to dissolve their 10-year old company and underwent a business "divorce."
Determined, Steele set out to build her dream business. With seven former employees plus Kathy -- "The Original 8" came together to start Red Caffeine Marketing and Technology.
Kathy focused on creating company values and culture with her team. She believes that good business is about valuable, rewarding experiences for all involved and fosters a positive corporate culture.
Red Caffeine will celebrate its third anniversary this November. They have grown to over 20 employees, and are on track to nearly triple their revenue.
Red Caffeine was also named a Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2016.
Owner of QT3 Systems in Aurora
Nominated by Clifton Mason of the Quad County African American Chamber of Commerce
QT3 Systems incorporates the latest nutritional programs with fitness to help clients achieve maximum results. They create customized programs and offer one-on-one training, boot camps, 90-day challenges and spa treatments.
Quint Thompson's path to becoming an entrepreneur started with him working his way from the bottom up.
He started cleaning bathrooms at an upscale gym. His determination and drive got him promoted to the front desk, running a juice bar and then into sales.
Learning and saving as he went, Thompson was able to put himself through school as he kept working toward his goal.
In 2013, QT3 started in a 500 square foot space. They have since moved to a space three times as large and have grown their client base by over 60 percent.
Thompson has come a long way from where he started and knows that success is a result of his hard work and dedication.
Founder of Pits for Patriots in Bensenville.
Nominated by Jan Petrella of Phillip's Interior Plants and Displays
Kelly Yearwood's passion for animals had always been a major part of her life, but in 2011 she left her paying job and profitable business to focus full time on the development of Pits for Patriots.
Pits for Patriots is a local nonprofit that supports our veteran and first responder community by pairing a highly trained pit bull service dog with a disabled partner.
Their motto is "saving not just one life, but two." Pit bulls are represented in disproportionately high numbers at shelters and often euthanized. Pits for Patriots thoroughly evaluates each dog before placing them with a veteran.
Yearwood and her husband Greg personally funded all the Pits for Patriots start up expenses. Their dedication and huge hearts are making an impact on both the veterans and animal communities.
Yearwood and Pits for Patriots are actively involved with community outreach, with programs for dog safety, service dogs, and spay and neutering services.
Lynn and John Day
Lynn and John Day
Owners of Bottle and Bottega in Glen Ellyn
Nominated by Elizabeth Gaucher of DuPage CVB
Longtime residents of Glen Ellyn, Lynn and John Day had a desire to own a business in the town they grew up in.
Lynn's background was in retail sales and management, customer service and event planning. John's background was in real estate and finance. Together they decided to open Bottle and Bottega in 2012 as an encore career.
Bottle and Bottega is an art and wine party business, where their motto is, "It's all about fun art, not fine art." They host public and private events with all the art supplies provided and a BYOB policy.
The grand opening was in January 2013 and they have been busy ever since. From 2013 to 2015, the number of registrants has increased from 7,000 to almost 13,000 per year, a growth of 186 percent.
They have hosted parties for almost 40,000 guests and reached a milestone in 2015 when annual sales exceeded $500,000.
President of Business Knowledge Systems in Plainfield
Nominated by Steven Jack of Idea Marketing Group
Business Knowledge Systems began in 2000 with just one client and one employee -- Chad Holstead.
Over the last 16 years, Chad has grown his IT consulting company to include nine technicians. In the past two years alone, BKS has grown by over 70 percent.
With the objective to enable clients to concentrate on their business while BKS manages the IT systems, BKS has grown its business through relationships and referrals.
In fact, over 90 percent of the expansion has been provided by referrals from satisfied customers. BKS recently continued its growth with the purchase of a Hinsdale-based IT firm.
Holstead is also actively involved in his community. He is the head of the Plainfield Kiwanis Club and organizes the annual Plainfield Soup it Up! Fundraiser.
Owner and founder, Gages Lake Auto and Light Truck, Gages Lake
Nominated by Diane Phillips
Mark LeBlanc took over Wildwood Services in 2006 with the basic idea of creating great customer service and renamed the company Gages Lake Auto and Light.
LeBlanc introduced a courtesy car program, which typically is not offered by small independent auto repair shops. Initially he provided three courtesy cars and now has a fleet of 23 courtesy vehicles.
In 2006, Gages Lake Auto sales were $600,000 with one location and four employees. In 2015, sales were $1.8 million with two locations and 13 employees.
LeBlanc's 10-year plan is to have five locations throughout Lake County, with each location averaging seven staff members.
He prides himself on attention to details and reputable service. All his technicians are sent to bimonthly training programs to keep up to date on new systems and methods of repairing vehicles.
Owner, EmotiPlush, Naperville
Nominated by Harriet Parker of Waubonsee Community College
After Padmini Sriman gave birth to her twins in 2002 and her son was diagnosed with Autism, she quit her job as an engineer to focus on managing her son's therapies.
Sriman found that her son needed a better way to communicate emotions and came up with the idea for her product, EmotiPlush.
In 2014, she raised over $7,000 in a Kickstarter campaign, found a manufacturer and launched her business.
EmotiPlush is a one-of-a-kind emotion-teaching doll that is capable of displaying a vast array of emotions. The product is making waves in the therapy and special education markets.
Currently EmotiPlush has 10 retailers, one distributor in Europe and one distributor in Asia. And sales have tripled since starting the business.
Founder, Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy, Crystal Lake
Nominated by Lauren Young of Freshly Baked Communications
After 15 years working as a physical therapist for larger corporations, Denise Smith found herself servicing 18 patients a day and felt her employers shifted to emphasizing quantity over quality.
She decided to create Smith Physical Therapy and Running Academy, a new business with a personalized approach to aid area patients and athletes.
Smith's innovative idea was "concierge physical therapy," which is a one-on-one approach that allows her to spend quality time with patients rehabbing from injuries and teach them ways to prevent future injuries.
The demand for this alternative medical model has increased in recent years and Denise recognized her patients need for more personalized care.
Her approach is working and because she is able to spend more time with individual patients, it often cuts down the number of required visits a patient needs.
It's been a win-win for both Denise and her rehabbed clients.
Founder and president. Grid Connect, Naperville
Nominated by Mara Conklin of Clarus Communications
Mike Justice is a serial entrepreneur, industrial networking expert, and has successfully built and sold several technology ventures.
In 2003, Justice started Grid Connect inviting many employees from a previous company in which he was involved to join his new venture.
Grid Connect is a rapidly growing manufacturer and distributor of networking products and wireless sensors with more than $13 million in sales worldwide.
Culture and professional growth are two of Justice's key elements at Grid Connect. Every Wednesday employees are treated to free lunches, complimentary massages on Thursdays and frequent table tennis matches at lunchtime.
Grid Connect has been named as a "Best Place to Work in Illinois" for the last two years and named a "Top 10 Small Business to Work for in Illinois."
Justice is also locally involved with Naperville North High School's Robotics Team, where he helps develop and sponsor young engineers.
Outstanding Service to Entrepreneurs
CEO, Caldwell Consulting Group LLC, Woodstock
With more than 20 years of experience in business strategy, leadership, team development and business transformation, Kathleen Caldwell has made a name for herself.
She's a highly respected adviser, success hypnotherapist, coach, speaker and author.
Her consulting business has grown by over 450 percent in the last 11 years and expects sales to increase by 200 percent in 2017.
Caldwell's commitment to helping entrepreneurs has always been a staple in her career.
She developed the WHEE Institute and WHEE Network, standing for Wealthy, Healthy, Energetic Edge. Caldwell's programs help entrepreneurs realize success in their business, health, personal and professional lives.
She has been awarded a Congressional Award of Excellence and in 2011 was named an Influential Woman in Business by the Business Ledger.
Co-CEO, co-founder, Small Business Advocacy Council, Chicago
Nominated by Darren Barr of All Funds & Games, Inc.
Mike Cavanaugh understands that giving the "small guy" a voice and helping them form alliances and create relationships is vital to the small business owner.
He helped create the Small Business Advocacy Council in 2010 to do just that.
SBAC has been integral in helping businesses and specifically, entrepreneurs, get their products and services to market. Through marketing, networking and business growth, SBAC has helped companies of all industry types launch, grow and thrive.
Cavanaugh created the SBAC Venture Pitch Community, which has helped over 50 companies connect with investors, customers and partners.
SBAC has realized a 300 percent increase in gross revenue year over year and remains committed to serving entrepreneurs and small business owners.
Co-Founder, Hershman-Cohen Law Firm, Chicago
Nominated by Michael Cavanaugh of Small Business Advocacy Council
Leslee Cohen had 20 years of experience as a corporate and securities lawyer at large law firms before starting her own business law boutique firm.
Her keys to success were simple: networking, giving and volunteering. Leslee volunteers hours of her time to support and encourage entrepreneurs.
She has served as the chairwoman of the Small Business Advocacy Council's Venture Pitch Community, a program that provides members with access to capital and business education programs.
Her motto was to "lift as she climbed" by helping other women to succeed in their business and professional lives.
Cohen co-founded and is the co-chair for the Coalition of Women's Initiatives in Law.
She also is a frequent speaker and mentor at WiSTEM, a start up accelerator program for women entrepreneurs, and at Elmspring, a real estate and technology startup accelerator program.
Founder, president, Grow Up Sales, Libertyville
Nominated by Dr. Norman Roth of Roth Sales Enhancers
Joe Micallef is a highly skilled business sales coach and sales culture expert with over 25 years of leadership experience. He has held senior management positions in Australia, Canada and the United States.
Grow Up Sales provides sales coaching and strategic advisory services to small- and medium-sized businesses.
Because of his passion to help others achieve a better quality of life, Joe often presents on a pro bono basis to local businesses such as Women of Influence, Freedom One Networking Group, and Schaumburg Business Association.
He is also a dynamic and highly sought after speaker for many organizations, especially those geared toward entrepreneurs.
Owner, Corporate Learning Institute, Wheaton
Nominated by Elizabeth Gaucher of DuPage Convention and Visitor's Bureau
Sue Cain is an expert in the field of corporate coaching, training and development and a consultant to numerous Fortune 100 companies crossing all industry sectors worldwide.
The Corporate Learning Institute is an innovative training, strategy and coaching organization. CLI helps client companies grow their business by cultivating their talent pipeline and developing innovative training solutions.
Cain began her career alongside her husband when they co-founded an adventure campus and conference facility in Michigan serving clients such as Whirlpool and the University of Chicago.
In addition to being an author, Cain is a licensed clinical social worker and an adjunct faculty member at the Illinois School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University.
She is currently working on reprising her role as a proponent of adventure-based learning. This fall she will unveil a new corporate adventure campus with the Hilton Chicago/Oak Brook Hills Resort and Conference Center.
President, La Banque Hotel, La Voute Bistro, and Ravisloe Country Club, Homewood
Nominated by Jodi Kennedy of La Banque Hotel
In 2009, Ravisloe Country Club was forced to close its doors following 108 years of operation as a prestigious country club and golf course.
Claude endreau, who is not a golfer, purchased the club because he felt it was an iconic property that should be preserved and open to the public.
Under Gendreau, the Ravisloe Country Club returned to the standards of its glory days and the course has been rated in the top 10 public courses in Illinois for the last three years. This year it's ranked number one among classic golf courses in Illinois.
Spurred on by the appreciation of the Homewood community, Gendreau took on another project and rehabbed a 1925 landmark property and turned it into a beautiful 18-room boutique hotel, La Banque, and a restaurant and bar, La Voute.
Gendreau's spirit and commitment are not driven by financial gains, but because of his love of community. By the way -- Claude also has a day job. He is the owner of Veterinary Specialty Clinic in Riverwoods where is also the Chief of Surgery.
Young Entrepreneurs -- under 40 years of age
Owner, Alder Grove Counseling, Downers Grove
Nominated by Amy Klug of Downers Grove South High School
Gina Hines, 34, saw a need in her local community and took it upon herself to come up with a solution.
In 2013, she realized Downers Grove was void of specialized counseling services for children and families. As a result, she founded Alder Grove Counseling in March 2014.
Less than a year later, they had experienced such growth that a new building with seven times the counseling space was acquired.
In May 2016, a satellite office was opened in Hinsdale. A third location is on the planning board for 2018.
Since Alder Grove Counseling opened, over 500 families have received ongoing services at the practice.
In her free time, Hines volunteers weekly at Wellness House in Hinsdale.
CEO, Cristaux International, Elk Grove Village
Nominated by Josh Grodzin, economic development director of Elk Grove Village
At only 23 years old, Andre Janus' company started out in his parents' basement in 2007. He had a desire to create and build something with like-minded people who shared a common goal.
Cristaux International originally started as a high-end awards company and over the last decade has grown into an international custom design and manufacturing powerhouse.
Cristaux ships to over 100 countries worldwide. In 2015, Cristaux purchased its own building. Janus believes in holding yourself accountable, never accepting mediocrity, being humble and staying hungry.
Now 32 years old, he is looking to expand and open offices in Amsterdam and Hong Kong within the next four years.
Founder, CEO, Project World Impact LLC, Wheaton
Nominated by Pat Bertsche of Matrix Design LLC
While many Millennials dream of changing the world, Chris Lesner has already spent hundreds of thousands of his own dollars to make his dream a reality.
At just 23 years old, Lesner has already started two successful companies, demonstrated a heart and a will to help others, and exemplifies an entrepreneurial, innovative and cause-minded spirit.
As a sophomore in college, Lesner started a marketing company in Indiana that quickly grew to serve Fortune 500 clients and had revenue of several million dollars annually.
Three years ago, Lesner founded Project World Impact. PWI created a central hub to support and feature nonprofits and causes. You can search to find nonprofits working all over the world by cause or location. He also established a marketing arm of PWI, which has exceeded $1 million in revenue to date.
Lesner doesn't forget to give back to others. During summers, he has employed dozens of paid college interns to teach them marketing to nonprofits.