A large cast of entrepreneurial-minded business folks gathered at the 21st Annual Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards this week for E-Day. The Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center honored nine individuals who have demonstrated the vision, discipline and leadership that it takes to make a lasting impact on small business, often the driver for our economy in the region and beyond.
Jim Oberweis kicked off the event with an energetic recap of “the good, the bad and the ugly” of building, rebuilding, and adapting companies in changing economies and evolving markets, from financial services to his family’s signature ice cream at Oberweis Dairy. His business story, along with his political one, with him recently elected to an Illinois Senate position, is one of perseverance.
Coming in second multiple times running for office and enduring through some humbling professional and personal times has given him the life lessons that he now teaches to his kids and 17 grandchildren. “If you love what you are doing, you will do it well, and your rewards will be there,” Oberweis remarked.
Don Babcock of NIPSCO provided his trademark energy, telling us that just as we cheer, “I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream,” that he wants to scream about the great things we have going on here in Northwest Indiana, we just need to figure out how to scream together.
Paul Williams of Big Dog Transportation, the Northwest ISBDC Client of the Year, referenced the example of Garry Bradley, “who is the greater [recipient], and I will strive to live up to him.”
Jeanne Sommer of Century 21 Alliance Group was honored with the Woman-Owned Business of the Year award. She talked about the importance to be involved in the community for its economic health and to “help people choose to stay and live in Northwest Indiana.”
Wade Breitzke from 27 Entertainment, recipient of the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, brought his passion to “be the absolute best in everything we do”, and the crowd could clearly see through his video that “the crazy thing is we are just getting started.”
Christine Newton of South Shore Insurance, winner of Emerging Small Business of the Year explained, “I have a high tolerance for success and I am a good problem solver. Without challenges, life would be boring.”
Cole Doolittle, the Entrepreneurial Success of the Year with Waste Revolution, later stated “As leaders in a business, you need to be able to see the good and how to get there."
Georgeann Quealy of Integrated Flavors gave a very specific example of the economic impact of small business within our economy by noting, “We have doubled the number of our employees who have all come from our communities.”
E-Day’s Small Business Person of the Year Melissa Neff shared, “My personal role models are ones that have not only achieved success, but also give back.”
The day culminated with the honor of the Lifetime Achievement Award going to Gus Olympidis of Family Express. “20 years ago, entrepreneur extraordinaire Dennis Ribordy was the first recipient of this award. He remarked at the time that “you are going to need a good lawyer and a good accountant to be successful as an entrepreneur’. But then again, if they had all the answers they would be an entrepreneur.”
The award's principal purpose is to inspire others. Gus thanked...
… his learning of closet philanthropy, “My parents taught me how you give without recognition.”
… Northern Indiana Bank, “For making character loans that would not be possible today”
… his team, or “living brand” for withstanding the turbulence of perpetual innovation, and
… his wife, “partner of 30 years and friend who has endured a tsunami of ideas and projects.
He continued, “I want to thank every entrepreneur who did not believe in the concept, 'You did not do that.'”
In closing he told us all of today’s examples tell us to “move on, dream on, and the ‘little engine that could’ still can today."