2019 Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards honorees

Updated 9/24/2019 2:42 PM

Joe Barron
Joe Barron -
Joe Barron

Owner, head of game design and operations, Gray Matter Games, Glen Ellyn

Category: Early Stage

Nominated By: Travis Linderman, managing director of Innovation DuPage

Gray Matters Games of Glen Ellyn is a small business with a big idea that has already achieved remarkable success in its first two years in business. Joe Barron is a game designer who has set out to Brighten Your Play.

He has been designing innovative party games full-time since 2017 and has published four games, including You Bet-Cha, Ridiculous Expositions, Badmoji and the award-winning Game of Wolf, which, all combined, are sold at over 3,000 stores in five different countries.

He and his wife, Lauren, run Gray Matter Games, a company rooted in family, fun, and community. The company is guided by the mantra, "be a force for good," and lives that value every day by donating a meaningful portion of profits to Alzheimer's research.

Fershawnda Green
Fershawnda Green -
Fershawnda Green

Founder and president, Poppin Plates, LLC, Lansing

Category: Early Stage

Nominated by: Hedy M. Ratner, co-founder and president emerita and consultant of Women's Business Development Center

Fershawnda Green is an innovative food service driven businesswoman. She has held many roles throughout her years in the food service industry, including Chef's Assistant, Assistant General Manager, and Restaurant Manager.

Today, Green is the proud business owner of Poppin Plates, LLC, a state-of-the-art commercial kitchen for entrepreneurs in the South suburbs. A commercial kitchen is essential to establishing and growing a legal food service business. The company provides all the tools needed for those just getting started in the business and also for entrepreneurs looking to scale their current business. 

Poppin Plates provides Hospitality Business classes taught by licensed chefs, restaurant managers and restaurant owners around the Chicagoland area. In addition to giving back to the community through Poppin Plates,

Green is also involved with Polished Pebbles Girls Mentoring Program, which provides girls ages 7 -- 17 with the opportunity to learn the vital skill life skill of effective communication.

Elia, left, and Laura Rodriguez
Elia, left, and Laura Rodriguez -
Elia Rodriguez and Laura Rodriguez

Co-founders and owners, Alianza Hispana Inc., Hanover Park

Category: Growth

Nominated By: Linda Siete, manager of Reflejos Publications, LLC

In 2000, sisters Elia and Laura Rodriguez had a dream to open their own business. Alianza Hispana, Inc. offers tax preparation, travel agency services, life insurance, retirement plans, real estate, auto insurance, notary, travel permits and more services to the Latino community and has a reputation for excellent customer service and community involvement.

Armed with their knowledge of accounting and administrative services, as well as a desire to build something of their own and help others overcome obstacles they themselves had faced, they opened their first office in Wheeling and then expanded to Hanover Park in order to reach more members of the Latino community. The company now has offices in Elgin and Round Lake Heights.

Alianza Hispana, Inc. has received the "People's Choice Business Award" from Reflejos Publications in 2015, 2017, and 2018. Elia and Laura's story is a true success story and the community looks forward to seeing more great work from them in the years ahead.

Matt Miller
Matt Miller -
Matt Miller

Founder and CEO, M14 Hoops, Aurora

Category: Growth

Nominated By: Harriet Parker, manager of the Small Business Development Center at Waubonsee Community College

Matt Miller started M14 Hoops, a basketball training academy, in 2009 based on his love of basketball and rooted in the principles of hard work, dedication, teamwork, and dreaming big.

The Aurora native started his college basketball career at the division one level and played his two final years at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky.

After college, he enjoyed a professional basketball career overseas and then returned home and started M14 Hoops. Miller started out working in a small office and renting space to teach basketball and leadership skills to youth. His business quickly expanded beyond available gym space, which led Miller to embark on his dream of building his own facility.

Today, M14 Hoops serves more than 3,000 players and employs more than 20 people at its 4,000-square-foot facility in Aurora, with the goal of increasing players' skill levels, confidence, and toughness on and off the court.

Darnell Holmes
Darnell Holmes -
Darrell Holmes

President and CEO, Pro-Pak Industries, Inc., West Chicago

Category: Growth

Nominated By: Eric Lundstrom, president of Focus Capital Advisors, Inc.

Pro-Pak Industries began in a garage in 1992 and has grown to a substantial supplier of critical infrastructure safety products to the underground utility markets. The business developed a cost effective way to mark the location of underground utility lines including water, sewer, electricity, gas and cable.

Darrell Holmes is a true entrepreneur who knows how to tackle problems by providing solid solutions that lead to business success. His ingenuity and drive led the business to develop its own brand, Pro Trace Wire & Cable, that today is approaching $20 million in annual sales and preventing dangerous accidents in the field.

Maria Teresa Ramos
Maria Teresa Ramos -
Maria Teresa Ramos

Ramos Tax & Services, Inc., Streamwood

Category: Growth

Nominated By: Marie Lazzara, public relations manager of JJR Marketing

Maria Teresa Ramos is president of Ramos Tax & Services, Inc., a family-owned and operated company that has been in business for 20 years. Ramos' sister, Sandra Ramos L. Magnani, serves as vice president, and their father, Jose Ramos, is co-owner.

They specialize in helping clients with individual tax returns and other services at their locations in Streamwood and Elgin and Madison, Wis. Ramos and her family believe that integrity, quality, and compassion are essential to their business. Their goal is to deliver high-quality services while providing unsurpassed customer service and education to the community.

Jason Johnson
Jason Johnson
Jason Johnson

President and owner, JNJ Heating & Air Conditioning, South Elgin

Category: Innovation

Nominated By: Linda Siete, manager of Reflejos Publications, LLC

In the 20 years since Jason Johnson incorporated JNJ Heating & Air Conditioning, he has grown his business from a staff of three to nearly 20. He is constantly developing new and creative ways to service his HVAC clients.

One of the unique aspects of his business is how he introduces his services and technicians to clients. Should you call JNJ Heating & Air Conditioning for a service or an estimate, you will receive a text message that includes not only the time your technician will arrive, but also a photo and brief bio of the individual performing the service. This simple gesture helps many feel more comfortable when greeting the technician at their home. An advocate for small business and the community, Johnson is committed to building his business within the community and supporting other local businesses as well.

Susan MacNicol
Susan MacNicol -
Susan MacNicol

Founder and president, Strategic & Creative Marketing, Inc., Aurora

Category: Innovation

Nominated By: Marie Lazzara, public relations manager, JJR Marketing

Supporting Nomination: Corey Livingston, senior director of integrated marketing (North America) at Level 3 Communications

Susan MacNicol is founder and president of Strategic & Creative Marketing Inc., also known as SC Marketing -- a full-service marketing firm that creates powerful strategies, plans and creative tactics to deliver sales results for clients.

Prior to launching her firm, MacNicol gained 15 years of corporate business experience in management roles within the media, entertainment, retail, higher education and business intelligence industries.

Established in 2001, SC Marketing has produced campaigns that range from print ads, emails and videos, to paid social media ads, and direct mail and digital strategies for clients ranging from small and mid-sized businesses to Fortune 500 enterprises, including notable organizations such as Nielsen, Office Max, Charter Cable and Time Warner.

Dave Calzaretta
Dave Calzaretta -
David Calzaretta

President/owner, Magnificent Events Inc., Plainfield

Category: Innovation

Nominated By: Ann Marie Imbordino, CEO, Director of Marketing and Public Relations of Chicago Buzz Marketing

David Calzaretta is a Northbrook native who has made a name for himself in the entertainment industry. He founded the award-winning national cover band, Maggie Speaks, in 1998. Since then, the band has played over 3,500 shows around the globe.

Through Maggie Speaks, Calzaretta gained exposure to all facets of the entertainment industry, and in 2000, he left the corporate world to open Magnificent Events, Inc., a company that helps clients produce high-quality events and secure top-quality celebrity and professional entertainment and production for their events.

Calzaretta is known for his custom entertainment creations for clients. His motto is, "If it doesn't exist, I will create it," whether this means a custom-themed event such as an evening of Yacht Rock, Disco, country or 80s music to the company's new Celebrity Sit-In model where famous lead singers sit in with Maggie Speaks for their greatest hits. Clients love Calzaretta's vision, creativity, and calm demeanor.

Brian Borkan
Brian Borkan -
Brian Borkan

President, BKB Commercial Corp., Long Grove

Category: Lifetime Achievement

Nominated By: Nicole Fiddler, commercial real estate broker of My Chicago Office

As a tenant broker, Brian Borkan has been working with tenants for over 35 years. He has negotiated more than 1,200 leases representing the tenant, which is more than any other commercial real estate broker in the Suburban Chicago office market.

He is a true advocate for tenants, and a great asset for landlords. His market knowledge of the Chicago area is unparalleled, and he has long standing relationships with almost every broker in the business.

More than all of his business success, Borkan is most proud of being married almost 40 years and raising three great kids who have, so far, given them four grandkids.

Michael Moyski
Michael Moyski -
Michael Moyski CPA

Founding partner and manager, Mathieson, Moyski, Austin & Co., LLP, Wheaton

Category: Lifetime Achievement

Nominated By: Vickie Austin, founder, CHOICES Worldwide

Michael Moyski is the managing partner and one of the founders of Mathieson, Moyski, Austin & Co., LLP, an accounting services firm based in Wheaton.

Established in 1987, MMA & Co. has grown from three to nearly 30 employees with ambitious plans for doubling that growth in the future. Licensed as a CPA in 1979, Moyski has contributed to shaping the mission and vision of the firm for more than 30 years and was instrumental in developing the firm's first strategic plan.

With his leadership, the firm is now a member of CPAmerica, an alliance of accounting firms throughout the country and world that share best practices. Over the years, he has invested his time and talent in people, building long lasting relationships.

Robert Lambert
Robert Lambert -
Robert Lambert

Founding partner, Samurai Business Group, Chicago

Category: Lifetime Achievement

Nominated By: Sue Harrawood, president, Peace of Mind Virtual Assistance

Robert Lambert is a dynamic, high-energy executive with a solid record of leading and building successful businesses, generating millions of dollars in revenue and growing profits. Samurai Business Group, LLC is a sales and business development performance firm that has developed a revolutionary, results-driven Samurai Sales and Sales Management Mastery programs.

Lambert has successfully coached, mentored, and trained people throughout his career. Several have gone on to become top executives with Fortune 1000 companies or founded successful entrepreneurial firms.

He is a sought-after speaker and hosts the radio show, "Faith Marketplace Radio," on AM 1160 Chicago, on which he has done over 600 guest interviews with Christian business leaders and faith and work ministries nationwide.

Sue Reardon
Sue Reardon -
Sue Reardon

Co-founder, Suite Spotte Coworking, LaGrange

Category: Outstanding Support to Entrepreneurs

Nominated by: Steve Ryan, founder & CEO of RyTech, LLC

Suite Spotte Coworking opened its doors in December 2014, as the go-to-grow workplace for entrepreneurs, small business owners, remote workers, and teams. The business first opened its doors in downtown LaGrange and a growing demand warranted a second location in Forest Park.

Sue Reardon is focused on building what entrepreneurs need most, a community of individuals who support, nourish, and push you to do and be better. Her passion and enthusiasm for the success of others is second to none and she is always willing to go the extra mile, provide the right piece of advice, and lend a listening ear.

The guidance, support, and community that she provides entrepreneurs certainly make her worthy of being recognized for Outstanding Service to Entrepreneurs.

Terrie Simmons
Terrie Simmons -
Terrie Simmons

Director, Women's Business Development Center, Aurora

Category: Outstanding Service to Entrepreneurs

Nominated By: Natalie Bonner, CEO and president of Talented Tenth Social Services

Terrie Simmons is an entrepreneur and civic leader, the first director of the Women's Business Development Center in Aurora, the first female chair of the Board of Quad County African American Chamber of Commerce and the first in her family to graduate college.

She is the owner of Strategic Exceptions, a professional business consulting firm that offers mentoring, corporate training, grant writing, and business development services, among others, to professionals. She is also the co-founder of CoLab, a business development company and the founder of the Lewis Simmons Foundation, a nonprofit organization that provides resources and training to the underserved population.

Simmons also helped bring a Women's Business Development Center to Aurora and has supported businesses in securing almost $1 million in funding, creating 200 jobs, and 30 business startups.

Kyle DeSantis
Kyle DeSantis -
Kyle DeSantis

President and owner, Drury Lane Theatre & Events, Oakbrook Terrace

Category: Regional Spirit

Nominated By: Beth Marchetti, executive director of DuPage Convention & Visitors Bureau

The Drury Lane Theatre has been a major force in the Chicago area throughout its 50-year history.

Kyle DeSantis is the third-generation family member to oversee Drury Lane. Under his leadership, the theater continues to be known for producing breathtaking Broadway classics, top-rated musicals, bold new works, hilarious comedies, and unforgettable concert events.

He grew up backstage at Drury Lane. As a teen, he began learning the business by selling tickets, then moved on to working in the areas of theater production, sales, marketing, and food and beverage. Today, he is at the top of his game as president and CEO.

Throughout the family history, Drury Lane has staged more than 2,000 productions in collaboration with some of the nation's leading actors, artists, writers and directors. DeSantis defines his role as one of finding ways to maintain the theater's current audience, cultivate a new audience, and keep things fresh and exciting.

Mary Lawrence
Mary Lawrence -
Mary Lawrence

President, Richards Graphic Communications, Inc., Bellwood

Category: Regional Spirit

Nominated By: Hedy M. Ratner, co-founder, president emerita, consultant of Women's Business Development Center

Richards Graphic Communications, Inc. was started in 1935 by Mary Lawrence's grandfather. She took over the company in 1990.

Richards Graphic is a full service resource for asset management, offset printing, digital imaging and distribution. They are a leader in creating internet-based, customized marketing collateral for corporations with multiple locations and thousands of employees.

Lawrence is a leader in her industry. She is treasurer of the Great Lakes Graphic Association, a leading volunteer on the Women's Business Development Center's Ambassador Advisory Committee, and a board chair of the Magdalene House of Chicago, a nonprofit organization which provides assistance to female victims of sex trafficking.

Ann Marie Imbordino
Ann Marie Imbordino
Ann Marie Imbordino

Founder and CEO, Chicago Buzz Marketing, Naperville

Category: Young Entrepreneur

Nominated By: Megan Davvy, social media director of Fred Astaire Ballroom Dance Studios

Ann Marie Imbordino is a multi-passionate entrepreneur, award-winning digital marketing strategist and publicist, writer, and artist. She oversees campaign development, artistic strategy, copywriting, media relations, and provides leadership to her team of busy bees. She specializes in arts, entertainment, hospitality, and eco-lifestyle communications with a passion for small and local businesses, helping to tell the stories of those in the community making positive change.

Imbordino has an entrepreneurial and philanthropic spirit. Through her company she created the Fund Chicago Project, which she donates free and subsidized communication services to nonprofit organizations lacking funding for these efforts. The program is in partnership with her internship initiatives with North Central College students creating fun, community-focused projects that allow students to learn while helping others.

Andy Fuller
Andy Fuller
Andy Fuller

CEO/chief hunter, Mosquito Hunters, Northbrook

Category: Young Entrepreneur

Nominated By: Ross Van Beek, First Vice President of First American Bank

Andy Fuller founded Mosquito Hunters in 2014 to help people enjoy their yards more by keeping mosquitoes and ticks at bay. To Mosquito Hunters, the only thing better than summer is a mosquito-free summer.

Fuller began franchising Mosquito Hunters in 2016. Two years ago, Mosquito Hunters had two locations. One year later, they had eight. Today, they have 70 locations across the country with more on the way.

Fuller's favorite part of serving as CEO of Mosquito Hunters is getting to work with small business owners every day. 

Natalie Bonner
Natalie Bonner -
Natalie Bonner

Founder and president, Talented Tenth Social Services, Plainfield

Category: Young Entrepreneur

Nominated By: Blake Murry, contractor, Geneva Construction and Jillene Allen, executive director, Talented Tenth Social Services

Natalie Bonner started the nonprofit, Talented Tenth Social Services, four years ago, with the mission of educating and empowering disenfranchised families in the Chicago area by providing community initiatives, programs, and referrals that cater to people of all ages.

Bonner has created four different programs that have developed the potential of the company's workforce. Project E.L.I.T.E, a program caters to entrepreneurs who will hire their own employees, SMART SYSTEM, their before and after school program/half-day and full-day care program for children, Project S.U.C.C.E.S.S, a program that focuses on providing training to those who wish to enter the workforce, and their mental health programs that deal with family and individual counseling, support groups and crisis intervention.

Bonner has partnered with many organizations for charitable and civic causes and is always looking to find a way to give back to the community.

Ruth Bernal
Ruth Bernal -
Ruth Bernal

President and CEO, Workforce Works, Bensenville

Category: Young Entrepreneur

Nominated By: Hedy M. Ratner, co-founder, president emerita, and consultant of Women's Business Development Center

With 13 year experience, Ruth Bernal has learned the ins and outs of Illinois business and how to provide peace of mind to business owners while helping companies save money on administrative costs.

Bernal has grown her company, Workforce Works, to successfully perform human resources and benefits services in the Northwest suburbs and Chicago area. Over the last six years, she has interacted with hundreds of employees in various industries and has focused on helping businesses with profit, productivity, increased business, reduced liability and employee satisfaction. Always striving to improve,

Bernal attends Human Resources Management meetings and events to learn the latest workplace trends. She also has a passion for helping employees find their voice at work.

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