Three companies from our region will be competing next month in the Greater Los Angeles segment of Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year awards.
Rick Stollmeyer of MindBody, Jessica Firestone of Tempest Telecom Solutions and Jeff Green of The Trade Desk are among the 19 finalists.
The program is now in its 27th year, and I’ve made the trek to the awards event at a swank location in Los Angeles during most of the past 13 years that the Business Times has been publishing. Although there’s not supposed to be cheering in the press box, I find myself rooting quietly for our tri-county entrants to take home the hardware.
The Entrepreneur of the Year program has done a good job of recognizing that the Highway 101 corridor punches above its weight in producing noteworthy businesspeople. (Full disclosure: I was a semi-finalist myself a number of years ago.)
But it’s also true that some world-class companies and their owners have been passed over for the top prize — John MacFarlane, founder of software.com and now head of Sonos and Lynda Weinman of lynda.com among them — while others such as Killick Datta’s company, Global Feet, are no longer around. I thought that Pete Jordano of regional food distributor Jordano’s deserved at least a nod as a finalist, and I thought that past winner Mike Towbes should have joined Sara Miller McCune in the national round of competition that follows the LA awards.
It seems to me that in recent years, the program has not been as engaged in the emerging technology sector in our region as it was in the past. And since the awards categories are not announced in advance, I’m never happy when the evening program pits two regional stalwarts against each other in the same industry sector.
This year I have my hopes that the judges will recognize at least one of our region’s three finalists as a winner — and I’m glad that there is representation from all three counties in our region. Here’s what I hope the judges take into account:
• For San Luis Obispo-based Mindbody and CEO Stollmeyer, it may be hard to appreciate the incredible impact that one company can have on a small community. The software that Mindbody has brought to the fitness, health and yoga studio space has had a huge global impact, but perhaps just as important, Mindbody has become the new face of tech in the SLO region and one of the county’s largest employers with more than 300 employees. The firm has said it would like to staff up to as many as 1,000 employees in coming years. That is a huge development for the future of the Central Coast as a technology center.
• For Santa Barbara-based Tempest Telecom, the noteworthy story is, at least in part, the rise of women to the top ranks of the tech sector. Picking Firestone of Tempest in 2013 might be a quiet vindication for skipping over Weinman of Lynda.com a few years back.
• Finally, for The Trade Desk and founder Jeff Green, there is just something about the entrepreneurial DNA in our region. Green was involved with an advertising exchange based in the Santa Barbara area that was sold to Microsoft — and now, just a few years later, he’s been wildly successful in building a new form of advertising exchange service that operates at a blazing fast speed and has attracted a lot of attention.
They are up against some stiff competition. Other finalists include Mel Elias, CEO of The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf; Jeff Stibel of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility; and Bob Sinnott, head of money manager Kayne Anderson.
Because there may inevitably be a built-in bias bias in favor of established names within LA County, the fact that none of our finalists has wow-factor name recognition could make it a long night.
But for now, let’s cross our fingers and recognize that between them, this year’s finalists have created more than 10,000 jobs and increased revenue 53 percent since 2010. That’s according to an analysis of data supplied by the finalists to the Entrepreneur of the Year folks.
The winners will be announced Academy Awards-style at a June 18 dinner at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. We’ll see you there — or bring you a full report when the results are in.
• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]