2018 Entrepreneurial Excellence Award honorees

Early Stage

Jim and Kristine Blessing

151 Kitchen & Bar, Elmhurst

Nominated by Beth Marchetti with DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau

Jim and Kristine Blessing are no strangers to the Elmhurst community. After starting their family and residing in Elmhurst for many years, they desired to enter the restaurant business, creating spaces that are family friendly, but also wanted to raise the bar for what patrons could experience.

They have Pints in Elmhurst, Barrel House Social in LaGrange, but their newest endeavor is 151 Kitchen & Bar. In just under 2 years, this has become a jewel of a dining experience representing the best of what DuPage is capable of in dining. With a warm, welcoming atmosphere and modern-americana décor, 151 welcomes its patrons into a unique space that uses everything from craft cocktails and unique farm-to-table meals to give an unforgettable experience.

With backgrounds in finance and investment banking, Jim and Kristine have created a true partnership. Winning early awards and reviews from critics around the Chicago area, along with receiving 5-Star appreciations from international tourists visiting the area for the first time.

They are a bold and elegant embodiment of Midwestern flavor and entrepreneurship.

David and Heidi Files

David and Heidi Files

Energy City Brewing, Batavia

Nominated by Harriet Parker of Il SBDC at Waubonsee Community College and Jamie Saam of Batavia Main Street

Energy City Brewing was launched in a small basement space in March of 2017 and on its first Saturday bottle release, instantly drew lines around the block. Since opening, the company has grown tremendously, going from brewing one barrel at a time to contract brewing multiple 30 barrel batches per month.

David Files - with a master's degree in chemical engineering and a focus in fermentation - knows how to brew beer, and to prove it, their beer is currently on tap and for sale at over 30 restaurants, bottle shops and other retail locations in Northern Illinois.

The magnetic draw and knowledge of the unique product they have created goes far beyond the Fox Valley region. Energy City Brewing is tapping into a market that many of us cannot even imagine or understand.

They are true beer aficionados. In just little over a year, Energy City has made a name for themselves in the Craft Beer market, and you can expect to see more exciting things from them in the future.


Gene Faut

Gene Faut

3D Exhibits, Inc., Schaumburg

Nominated by Lisa Sinicki with LGS Communications

Gene Faut graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 1990 with a B.A. in Marketing Communications. After an introduction from an acquaintance, he found himself working as an account executive at Exhibitgroup/Giltspur - one of the largest exhibit design and fabrication companies in the United States.

Although Faut was new to the exhibit design and fabrication industry, he learned fast. Within months, he was helping companies of all sizes to create trade show marketing programs that articulated their brand messages and connected with potential customers.

In 1997, Bill Dixon, founder of 3D Exhibits, reached out to Faut, as he knew that in order to grow 3D Exhibits the way he envisioned, he would need Faut's intelligence and vision. He kept a close eye on how the trade show industry evolves and became an early adopter of the idea that an exhibit house should be a complete marketing resource. Under Gene's watch, 3D has grown and thrived by expanding their capabilities to include strategy, marketing, technology and measurement services.

Jim Feltner

Jim Feltner

FPM Heat Treating, Elk Grove Village

Nominated by Tom Merrick

With his father, Don, being one of the founding members of FPM in 1979, Jim Feltner has been involved with FPM from an early age. As he will tell you, heat treating is in his blood. He started on the production floor learning the business from unloading trucks to running heat treat furnaces. A true example of learning the business from the ground up.

After graduating from The University of Southern Indiana, Feltner returned to FPM and started his career in sales.

Fast forward to today, he is now the vice president of sales and marketing with an emphasis on building a strong team atmosphere of honesty and commitment to the FPM motto, and continues to be friendly and easy to do business with.

Feltner's lifelong commitment to FPM is to see the company into the future with leadership and effort at all levels.

Amy and Matthew Goles

Matthew and Amy Goles

Prairie Wellness Counseling Center, Batavia

Nominated by Holly Deitchman with Batavia Chamber of Commerce

Matt and Amy Goles met in 1999 in an abnormal psychology class while attending the University of Illinois at Chicago. Both Matt and Amy felt drawn to the field of psychology, specifically counseling. They both went on to complete bachelors and masters programs in clinical psychology and both graduated with masters degrees from Roosevelt University, with honors.

After working in community mental health centers and employee assistance programs, Matt and Amy transitioned to the therapeutic day school setting. Matt worked in the high school and Amy with the grade school portion. After a few years, they decided to venture into the world of private practice.

Opened in September 2013, the mission of Prairie Wellness Counseling Center is to promote healthy living and empower individuals for positive change. Prairie Wellness serves individuals of all ages, as well as families, couples and groups. The staff of highly trained clinicians have a wide range of clinical experience and specialties.

Since its beginning, Prairie Wellness has increased from a single office with 2 clinicians, Matt and Amy, to five offices and seven clinicians.

Brad Parker

Brad Parker

Parker Restaurant Group, Chicago

Nominated by Beth Marchetti with DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau

In this day and age, an entrepreneur has to be able to keep a solid vision despite obstacles from opposition and even doubts from the community. Brad Parker has done just that.

Building his career from nothing into one of the area's newest and most creative entities has been no small feat. Within the first 4 years of existence, Parker Restaurant Group has opened four different restaurants in the Chicago area and has only just begun.

It all began with the creation of The Hampton Social, which focuses on east coast sophistication and cuisine along with a special love and branding for rosé. Right below The Hampton Social is the Bassment, which features an attractive old-school vibe with live music. After the success of his first two businesses, he opened a Hawaiian-fusion eatery called Mahalo, found in Wicker Park. Parker Restaurant Group continues to expand and sets the high bar for suburban restaurants with its newest location in Burr Ridge and future locations in South Barrington, Old Orchard, and Naples, Florida.

When asked about the key to success, Parker repeats that keeping the vision and working without fear has been his strongest tools.


Kirby Corkill

Kirby Corkill

Jarvis Lighting, Elk Grove Village

Nominated by Patrick Deering

Kirby Corkill is a 2011 graduate of Lawrence University, with a degree in Operatic Performance. Driven to "create", Corkill expanded beyond music creation during college, taking myriad business and entrepreneur courses while simultaneously rebuilding a vintage motorcycle in his college dorm room his senior year.

Founded by Corkill in 2011, Jarvis Lighting is a manufacturer of LED lighting solutions for commercial and industrial applications. Jarvis Lighting has expanded to include 22 employees, including its 20,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Elk Grove Village, as well as a sales team located across the country.

With a desire to provide U.S. manufactured products, Jarvis Lighting's team of product designers and engineers have researched lighting applications in a number of industries, which benefit from the value of LED technology in both energy and cost savings, as well as reduced maintenance and down time. As a result, the Jarvis Lighting product line represents a unique collection of innovative fixtures.

Jarvis Lighting is a supporter continuing education of its employees by funding their participation in continuing education programs related to LED lighting, energy efficiency education and manufacturing improvement opportunities.

Andre Janus

Andre Janus

Cristaux International, Elk Grove Village

Andre Janus began his business from his parents' house and built it into a robust company that employs approximately 50 people. Hard work during his mid-twenties along with help from his partner is testament to his drive, creativity, and vision to develop a people first venture.

Cristaux practices full-transparency within the company and encourages making mistakes for the sake of continual learning. Cristaux integrated a goal of finding as many local and domestic vendors as possible to give Cristaux better alternatives to manufacturing overseas.

In the last 18 months, they have added over 30 vendors in Elk Grove Village alone varying from printers, anodizing, polishing, aluminum cutting, logistics, and more. In doing so, the entire organization as a whole has become much more educated on overall manufacturing than ever before.

Cristaux has invested in CNC and water jet machines for rapid prototyping purposes. Cristaux is also in the process of purchasing newer 3-D printers + 3-D scanners which give them the ability to scan concepts and recreate them in 1/10th the time.

Chris McCarthy

Chris McCarthy

Earth Paint, Wood Dale

Nominated By Deb Brown with Daily Herald

Chris h McCarthy as spent the last 11 years working real estate both in sales and construction. He has run a painting company that has painted nearly 12,000 rooms, applying more than 42,000 gallons of paint. After joining the junior board at little city foundation, he found that many people were looking for work and many had skill sets that would be great for making paint, and Earth Paint was born.

The Little City workers, who come from the Countryside Center and the Palatine location, do everything from unloading gallons of paint when deliveries arrive, to sorting the paint and dispersing the color, to crushing the old cans to be recycled. Business has gone so well that Earth Paint has moved from it's original 300 square-foot facility to its current 3,000 square foot warehouse in Wood Dale. The larger facility means more employees from Little City and the ability to operate for more hours and on the weekends.

Recycling paint is not a turnkey business. It requires innovation and constant process improvement.

Every day brings a new challenge or opportunity to create bench marks for a fledgling industry. Most people have leftover paint in storage that they may not want anymore, and with such a staggering amount of product sitting idle, it was time for someone to find a way to put it to good use. Recycled paint is not an item in high demand, yet; but with McCarthy's dedication to his team and mission, he feels that people will realize that his paint will change minds and the planet.

Employee Owners

Crafts Technology, Elk Grove Village

Having supplied specialized industrial tooling for 125 years, Crafts Technology is one of the oldest, if not, the oldest tooling company of its' kind in the United States. Started in Boston, in 1893, the company was originally founded as Arthur A. Crafts Company. Subsequent to its founding, the company was relocated/consolidated in the Chicago area for more than 50 years and in Elk Grove Village for over 20 years. The company's specialty was and still is in the business of developing custom industrial tooling and wear parts using the hardest known materials on the planet.

These, now state of the art materials and fabricating processes are used to develop and produce specialty wear parts and tooling from synthetic diamond and tungsten carbide materials. Crafts Technology industrial tools and wear parts can be found in every corner of the globe, and in a wide variety of fortune 500 companies that leverage these super hard and long wearing materials to advance their product capabilities and production efficiency.

Crafts Technology continues on a path to further develop a culture that is "innovation centric", driving business growth through the leveraging of business opportunities that demand investment in time, energy and resources to develop technologically advanced high-performance wear parts and tooling.


Jay Cash

Jay Cash

Sign A Rama, Libertyville

Nominated by Norman Roth with Roth Sales

An entrepreneur at heart, Jay Cash has founded, successfully operated, and sold a number of businesses right out of college. Although he worked in the corporate world for a few years, he ultimately returned to his roots of entrepreneurship with Sign A Rama. Cash and his wife Michelle have owned this full service sign shop operation in Libertyville for 10 years.

Sign A Rama, Libertyville is proud to be involved in many community not-for-profit activities and events. Last January, they set up a one-month food drive for the Lake County Food Pantry - including a Sign A Rama initial donation, helping to accumulate and donate over $4,000 in food and necessities.

Cash is also the co-founder of Founders 55, a group of business leaders that underwrite resources to the community in many ways. Currently, Founders 55 is working on three initiatives: Bringing a life-size replica of the Charters of Freedom which includes The Constitution, The Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence to Lake County.

Emilia DiMenco

Emilia DiMenco

Women's Business Development Center, Chicago

Nominated by Hedy M. Ratner

Under Emilia DiMenco's direction, the WBDC expanded its successful business assistance program to Kane and DuPage counties with a facility in Aurora. WBDC has four additional offices from locations in the Chicago area to Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Kansas City and St. Louis. WBDC has served 80,000 women to start and expand their businesses; has conducted over 13,000 entrepreneurial training workshops; now has produced on line and on-demand seminars.

Under DiMenco's leadership, WBDC has established two micro lending programs with a lending pool of nearly $1.7 million and has provided over $82 million in financing. With its debt/equity placement and its direct lending programs, Emilia has met her goal of over $1 billion in government and corporate contracts for women business enterprises.

New initiatives include its ScaleUp program provided in 5 economically disadvantaged communities and has expanded its Latina business program offering bilingual business services and its LEAD program helping Latina owned businesses. Emilia has also emphasized and expanded WBDC's Early Childhood Development Business program and developed an eLearninglibrary, and launched an entrepreneurship program to serve military veterans and their families.

Carol Levin

Carol Levin

Green Oaks, Libertyville, Mundelein, Vernon Hills Chamber of Commerce, Libertyville

Nominated by Michael Babicz with Libertyville Manor

For 16 years, Carol Levin has served as public relations/marketing director for the GLMV Chamber of Commerce - the area's largest and most active business advocacy organization. She is often at the forefront of their wide array of marketing and promotional programs designed to help the business community connect, learn and grow.

Her contributions to the local business community began in 2002 when she came upon an ad in the Daily Herald for a part-time PR director at the chamber. She applied and was hired, which began an exciting role that would change and grow through the years with the marketplace, economy, along with advances in technology.

She continues to apply daily, her experience, knowledge, and leadership to assist the chamber and business with social media, public relations, marketing and more. She is always willing to go above and beyond to assist business professionals to reach their goals and achieve success!

Jamie Saam

Jamie Saam

Batavia MainStreet, Batavia

Nominated by Holly Deitchman with Batavia Chamber of Commerce

A Batavia native, Jamie Saam provides a wealth of experience in economic revitalization as a business owner and community leader. Jamie has successfully built strong relationships with local partners, Batavia MainStreet members, city leaders and staff, and the citizens of Batavia.

Her community involvement is extensive as a former Batavia alderman and Batavia MainStreet board member, board member of the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, member of the Batavia Arts Council, and overall volunteerism with numerous groups and organizations.

Through her role at Batavia MainStreet and her service to the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau board, Saam has made an exponential impact on the success of local business owners. If you know Saam or follow her on Facebook and Instagram, you will see that almost all of her posts are in celebration of a local business.

Saam's upbeat and positive personality draws entrepreneurs in, and her steadfast support of their ongoing success keeps them coming back for more.

It's believed that some of her fire is fueled by the fact that she is also an entrepreneur, a co-owner of Bulldog Plumbing in Batavia with her husband.


Gary Gregg

Gary Gregg

The Austin-Gregg Corporation, Lake Zurich

Gary Gregg has been an entrepreneur in the Chicago area for more than 40 years. He has owned and operated 6 successful business including an advertising sales company, Eichner & Gregg, a computer rental company; Gregg Computer Rental Corporation of America, an office sharing complex; Executive Office Center, a franchise sales company and The Stone-Gregg Corporation, where he represented franchisers and assisted them with the sale.

All of those were sold, except the current 25-year-old payroll service bureau which is currently operating very successfully and profitably in Lake Zurich. Gregg has always been willing to take risks and turn them into a profit. His most enjoyable and successful business has been the current payroll service.

Gregg was awarded Salesman of the Year by Plough Broadcasting Company and is an active member of the Lake Zurich Chamber of Commerce, along with BNI, a business networking group that contributes frequently to the community and charitable group.

Bob Hansen

Robert Hansen

Funway Ultimate Entertainment Center, Batavia

Nominated by Holly Deitchman with Batavia Chamber of Commerce

Robert Hansen, more commonly known as Bob, began his entrepreneurial journey in 1981 in Oak Brook Terrace with the opening of Jus-Fun Amusements. Jus-Fun offers go carts, batting cages, and bumper boats. At the time, Jus-Fun had 10 employees and a $120,000 annual budget. In 1986, Hansen opened a game room in Bolingbrook, then ventured out to Batavia in 1990 with the purchase of Funway Ultimate Entertainment Center.

Funway is a family entertainment center with a state of the art bowling complex, batting cages, indoor bumper cars, outdoor bumper boats, arcade games, community meeting space, and putt-putt course. Funway has grown to employ over 65 full and part-time employees and has an annual budget over $2 million.

Hansen doesn't stop and continues to feed his entrepreneurial spirit, with a new expansion. He purchased the adjacent property and is building a 35,000 square foot outdoor facility to be a stage for national go cart races.

Neal Karbin

Neal Karbin

Lexco Cable Manufacturing, Norridge

Nominated by Lisa Behning & Natalie Dubs from Red Caffeine Marketing & Technology

Neal Karbin grew up in the back of his father's bicycle shop during late 1960s and 1970s, working after school and on the weekends. His father and his uncle were looking for ways to supplement their income from the bike shop, so they came upon a security cable they had seen originally overseas and after much success, Karbin's father and his uncle bought a 3,000 square foot building on Belmont Ave in Chicago to house and expand the growing bicycle security cable business.

In 1978, Karbin left college and started to work full time to continue the expansion of the family's business. After discussions within the family, the company was split with Karbin and his father continuing with the cable business and his uncle the bicycle business. Karbin's motivation for going into business was twofold: to see the company his family had built continue to succeed, and to find a way to provide for his own family. Although Karbin and the company have experienced failures in one form or another, total failure has never been an option.

For over 40 years, he has striven to create a positive work environment while creating a quality product valued by his customers. Lexco's culture is a testament to Karbin and his family - loyal employees who work day-in and day-out because they enjoy what they do and who they work with.

Eric Lundstrom

Eric Lundstrom

Focus Capital Advisors, Downers Grove

Nominated by Eric Dunn

Eric Lundstrom co-founded Mann Lundstrom & Co, CPA's at age 26 in the relatively small business community of Schaumburg in 1978. The firm grew quickly and merged into Friedman Eisenstein Raemer & Schwartz, or FERS, in 1982 to expand focus on the Northwest Suburbs. As a member of the firm's Executive Committee, Lundstrom played a prominent role leading the firm to become the 20th largest CPA firm in the USA before the firm was sold to RSM McGladrey.

Throughout most of his career, Lundstrom has been a specialist in the world of mergers and acquisitions. His deal-making skills combined with significant tax and finance knowledge are a unique and a powerful combination when it comes to structuring a successful transaction. The idea of helping clients grow through acquisition was new in the 1980s and this new service was a major driver of the growth of FERS and the success of its clients and staff.

In 2000, Lundstrom founded Focus Capital Advisors to provide quality confidential service to middle market companies looking to grow through strategic acquisition or divest to turn their hard work into cash. Their specialty is finding value and solutions for problems to optimize a transaction for the sellers and buyers they represent. Lundstrom has been instrumental in over 200 transactions across the continental United States.

For most business owners the family business represents their life's work and the mission for Focus Capital is to make sure every ounce of value is uncovered for the client.


Aaron Del Mar

Aaron Del Mar

Adrenaline Special Events, Palatine

Nominated by Jamie Barr with Vicarious Productions

Throughout his life, Aaron Del Mar has always had a competitive spirit and a passion for success. He has channeled this passion into creating and managing his own businesses that draw over one million dollars in revenue. His business, Adrenaline Special Events, or ASE, is an event management company specializing in the formation and production of athletic events.

ASE hosts events throughout the nation and is most known for its Santa and Halloween Hustle 5K races, with proceeds supporting a local charity.

Del Mar has also founded the organization, 'Fathers Helping Fathers', a front-runner in the struggle to raise awareness about the positive influence a father has on child development and on family structure itself. The significance of Aaron's work for this organization is the strong proponent of changing legislation to give fathers more rights, responsibility, and accountability in child custody cases.

Del Mar also plays an active role in his community which includes coaching and mentoring for young children, political aspirations, and continually donating his time and money to various charitable organizations.

Cody Snick

Cody Snick

Central States Signs, Elk Grove Village

Nominated by John Horn

After graduating from Lake Park High School in 2010, Cody Snick began his sign career working for another company.

Shortly after he decided to leave and began his own business, Central States Signs in 2012, and from 2013 to 2017, the revenue for the company has grown over 300 percent. Snick's marketing strategies, increase in the economy, and production capabilities assisted in this growth.

One unique quality of his company is the ability to not only produce signage but the ability to install the signage. Many wholesale companies don't have install crews, creating a beneficial quality to Central States Signs. In addition, another unique quality of Central States Signs is their automated production machines. These machines allow for faster and more efficient production in order to get the signage to their customers and/or installed in a timely manner.

Within their community, Central States Signs has donated to Shriner's Hospital for Children, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and participated in Catholic charities.


Jim Elsener

Jim Elsener

The Business Ledger

Twenty five years ago, Jim Elsener - like most entrepreneurs - recognized a need.

In such a large marketplace like the Chicago metropolitan area, the business news emphasis was primarily on Chicago and the large companies located here. Many successful small to mid-size companies located in the suburbs and the executives responsible for their success largely went ignored. In 1993, the entrepreneurial urge came to Jim Elsener and the Business Ledger began publishing.

Over the next 25 five years, the Business Ledger has given a voice and provided coverage to suburban businesses both in print and at recognition events such as the Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards. Elsener became a visible person within the local business community, a friend to many business men and women, and a mentor to his staff.

Although there were ups and downs during the past 25 years, the proof of the Business Ledger's ultimate success is supported by the paper's acquisition in 2011 by the Daily Herald Media Group, when it became the Daily Herald Business Ledger.

Is Elsener retired? There is not a simple yes or no response to that question. He still helps out at the Business Ledger, enjoys his family and grandchildren, travels, and recently wrote and published his first book.

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