Entrepreneurship is vital to the U.S. economy, but it can be challenging and requires special qualities to yield success. Among them are curiosity, ingenuity, and a drive to bring an idea to life, often with limited help.
Through the creation of small businesses—which account for nearly half of all U.S. employees and the vast majority of businesses in America—entrepreneurship helps drive innovation across industries and create solutions to niche problems, both new and centuries old. Yet, there’s a lack of recognition for the grit, grind, and incredible amount of time and sacrifice it takes to build, sustain, and grow a successful business of any size.
That’s why in 1986, EY—one of the largest professional services networks in the world—created the Entrepreneur of the Year® program, which identifies and recognizes business leaders who are successfully building a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous world for all. Nominees go through a rigorous evaluation process where an independent panel of judges considers a variety of factors, including entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, growth, and impact. Regional award winners are considered for the Entrepreneur of the Year National Awards, presented in November at the annual Strategic Growth Forum®. Award winners not only gain access to EY’s vast network of high-performing leaders, but also increase exposure and elevate the brands and companies they lead.
In late June, EY announced the winners for the Greater Los Angeles region, which is a vibrant, inspiring, and diverse place to do business across multiple industries. Here, the winners share thoughts on the challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship and advice for next-generation entrepreneurs.
ON OVERCOMING CHALLENGES: TAKE ON ANY TASK AND KEEP CUSTOMERS CENTRAL
Jon Elliott, CEO of Bluebeam: “No truly great or enduring entrepreneurial endeavor is fully realized without a committed team of passionate people. So, while there have been many difficult moments, the most challenging have always been those times where I felt ‘alone with my vision’ and had to find a way to inspire the team to make the vision ‘ours’ and pursue it together with persistence and belief.”
“Starting a business from the ground up is not even remotely glamorous. It’s an immense amount of hard work. Blood, sweat, tears, and then more of the same. When you’re truly invested in something, you want to give it everything you’ve got; you have to if you want it to be successful. That includes rolling up your sleeves and executing tasks you wouldn’t typically engage in. In those early years … I was acting as the office valet, moving cars so our agents could get to their listings on time.”- Mauricio Umansky, Founder and CEO of The Agency:
Teddy Fong, CEO of Million Dollar Baby Co.: “Early on in my career, we had to figure a lot of things out for ourselves and didn’t have someone in the room that told us, ‘Hey, I’ve seen this before and this is the best way forward.’ However, it was also to our advantage because we didn’t solve problems the same way others did. We put ourselves in the shoes of the customer and asked, ‘What would we want and expect?’ That has been our continuous learning approach and I hope we never lose that.”
ON WHAT MAKES THE SACRIFICES MEANINGFUL (HINT: IT’S NOT THE MONEY!)
Rolando Pozos, President and CEO of La Amapola: “I am very grateful for heading a company like Amapola that uses Latin food as a way to bring joy and wellness through the taste of our traditions and heritage. I am proud to know that Amapola’s products bring families together as a way to celebrate and enjoy a delicious meal.”
Henry Hernandez, CEO of Inter-Con Security: “The most rewarding part for me has been watching the team realize my grandfather’s dream to build a profitable company that also gives back to the community.”
“You have independence as an entrepreneur … the freedom to make your own decisions and create your own journey. You can create an impact and use your creativity. You also get flexibility and work-life balance which, for myself, is super important because I am a father of three. I get to build relationships and network. I get a sense of fulfillment and purpose where I feel like I’m making a difference in the lives of others.”- Nick Mathers, Founder and CEO of Wish You Were Here Group:
Nate Patena, CEO of DrinkPAK: “There is no question that people are the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur. We are very fortunate to have grown our ranks to over 500 employees in the three short years of our existence, and we have been maniacally focused on ensuring their well-being not only at work, but in their lives outside of the company. The modern employee has shown that culture, balance, and an opportunity to quickly grow and advance are equally critical to their personal happiness. There is truly no greater reward than watching a line operator purchase their first home or a quality technician send their kids to college because of the opportunities they have built for themselves at DrinkPAK.”
ON WHAT THEY WOULD TELL THE ENTREPRENEUR READING THIS: HUMANS FIRST,
FEARLESSLY FAIL, START WITH PROBLEMS AND NOT SOLUTIONS
Ryan Bartlett, Co-founder and CEO of True Classic: “Stop waiting and start working. Figure things out as you go, be an expert problem solver, and stay curious so that you’re constantly getting more efficient. Most importantly, put humans first in every aspect of the business, both customers and internal employees. That’s how you build a big customer base and keep your employee retention high.”
“Embrace failure fearlessly, stay resilient, and take full responsibility. Surround yourself with an inspiring and supportive network. Seek knowledge, adapt, and work hard. Stay laser-focused on your vision and purpose. With passion, perseverance, and a growth mindset, you WILL achieve your goals.”- Paulette Pantoja, CEO of Blu Digital Group
Matt Danna, Co-founder and CEO of Boulevard: “Start with a problem, not with a solution. Before you ever start building, coding, or designing a product, make sure that there’s a real problem in need of solving, and that you truly understand the full scope of that problem. Especially in the tech industry, many startup founders take the opposite approach—they build a solution first and then search for a problem it can solve. Building from an ivory tower inevitably dooms a company to failure. Even if it means taking a little longer to get your minimum viable product to a place where it’s truly viable, starting at the beginning and completely immersing yourself in the problem you’re trying to solve is always worth it in the long run.”
ON WHAT THE EY ENTREPRENEUR OF THE YEAR AWARD MEANS TO THEM
Prashant Samant, Co-founder and CEO of Akido: “Our nomination is highlighted by the recognition that social enterprise and entrepreneurship can work hand in hand. It is inspiring to have a global organization like EY not only support but celebrate the vision that one can build a meaningful business based on the premise of tackling important social issues.”
Lauren Wang, Founder and CEO of The Flex Company: “The Entrepreneur of the Year award is both humbling and incredibly meaningful to me. It serves as validation for the hard work and dedication my team and I have put into building The Flex Company. It also reinforces the importance of our mission to set a new global standard for [menstrual] period health.”
Entrepreneurship is transformative for those who embark upon the journey and aim to help the communities that benefit from their work, but the process is hardly linear. EY hopes that spotlighting these engines of our economy—whose owners are creating new products and services, jobs, and new markets defining our future—will not only help them further thrive but also help other entrepreneurs who can learn from their example.
The Entrepreneur of the Year Award winners become lifetime members of a global, multi-industry community of entrepreneurs. Since 1986, the program has recognized more than 11,000 U.S. executives who join other ecosystem alumni in more than 60 countries—all supported by vast EY resources.
For more information and updates visit ey.com/us/eoy