Last year, EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® celebrated 25 years of innovation and inspiration. We look back at how things have changed in that time, and what's ahead for the award-winning entrepreneurs.
Try to imagine a world without Facebook. Amazon. Google. Even the web itself. A world without hybrid cars. Hand sanitizer. Ubiquitous bottled water. The even more ubiquitous Harry Potter.
A world where no one outside Seattle can order a Starbucks latte. Where not a single moviegoer thrills to an animated film from Pixar. Where face-to-face sales in brick-and-mortar stores define the retail trade.
That was the reality in 1986, the year a handful of EY partners in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, launched an award program to recognize the contributions that entrepreneurs make to:
- Job creation
- Economic growth
- Quality of life in their communities
The result was Entrepreneur Of The Year, now celebrating its 25th anniversary and spanning more than 140 cities in more than 50 countries. It is the only truly global program designed to celebrate those innovators who possess the creativity, the tenacity and, most of all, the vision to picture the world not as it is, but as it can be.
Today's headlines are dominated by news of unemployment, slow economic growth and geopolitical uncertainty. Many worry about the future of innovation and our ability to respond to new global challenges.
We faced a similar situation back in 1986. The US economy was shifting from rapid recovery to slower growth. The American entrepreneurial spirit was in need of a boost. And while the stock market was advancing hand over fist, it was setting up for 19 October 1987 — the infamous Black Monday — when world markets crashed.
There's a lesson in there.
True entrepreneurs meet challenges head on. They find ways to succeed despite the odds. The past 25 years of amazing innovations and business success — across virtually every industry and market, and despite economic highs and lows — testify to that courage and character.
"Despite the challenges, the 2011 nominees posted an incredible 28% revenue growth and 27% employment growth from 2008 to 2010."
Whether they start businesses from scratch or carry existing companies to new levels of success, entrepreneurs begin with an idea and transform that potential into reality. In doing so, they create not only products and services, but also jobs, markets and wealth, improving the lives of employees, customers and communities.
Entrepreneur Of The Year participants bear that out. Even in the face of continuing global economic challenges and high unemployment levels, the 2011 nominees posted an incredible 28% revenue growth and 27% employment growth from 2008 to 2010, according to figures compiled by EY.
They achieved this during a period when overall US unemployment rose by 5%.
The Entrepreneur Of The Year program is designed to recognize that indomitable spirit. Over the past 25 years, the program has honored more than 8,000 such innovators.
Leaders such as:
- Jeff Bezos of Amazon
- Michael Dell of Dell Inc.
- Howard Schultz of Starbucks
- Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google
- Sara Blakely of SPANX
- Howard Lutnick of Cantor Fitzgerald, L.P. and BGC Partners, Inc.
They are visionaries who would be obvious choices with the benefit of hindsight, but who were not always identified as future successes before their history was written.
Those honored in the program aren't only founders and inventors, although many of them have developed game-changing products and services. They are also multigenerational family business leaders and transformational CEOs.
They hail from all industries, including established and emerging sectors. To be nominated, they must have been responsible for designing and executing a recent business growth strategy.
New year, new start
In the United States, the process starts each January with a call for nominations from 26 regional programs throughout the country. The selection criteria represent a "balanced scorecard" that considers financial performance, evidence of business innovation and commitment to developing the organization and giving back to the community.
Independent panels of judges, many of whom are past winners, select regional winners across various industries and then ultimately select national winners, including a single overall US Entrepreneur Of The Year.
Each November, these national winners are revealed at the US Entrepreneur Of The Year gala, the largest gathering of entrepreneurs in America. The overall US winners for 2011, Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn, will represent the United States at the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year event in Monte Carlo in June 2012.
A key to the success of the Entrepreneur Of The Year Program is that the judging panels are formed of peers who remain independent of EY and program sponsors.
A majority of the 26 regional judging panels in the US are made up of Entrepreneur Of The Year alumni, with the remainder drawn from private equity and venture capital firms and other community leaders.
In fact, alumni become members of an active entrepreneurial community.
They get access to a private online portal, newsletters and updates, participation in regional and national events and continued involvement in the program as nominators, judges and council members.
The result is a network of successful entrepreneurs who go to one another for business advice, partnerships, access to new markets, introductions to other leaders and, increasingly, a common advocacy for entrepreneurship in Washington, DC.
A vital part of the community is the EY Strategic Growth Forum®, created in 2007 to focus on the needs and opportunities of high-growth entrepreneurs.
At the Forum, participants get together with CEOs, corporate development teams, venture capital and private equity sources, and capital markets participants. They also have a chance to hear speakers discussing emerging trends in business strategy and execution.
Innovators and incumbents alike benefit from these connections. Entrepreneurs look to market leaders for go-to-market strategies, including access to manufacturing capacity and distribution channels.
Market leaders depend on entrepreneurs for the new ideas and technologies that will keep them ahead of the competition.
What wondrous innovations will emerge over the next 25 years?
Will they involve gene therapy, personalized medicine, fuel cells, nanotechnology, quantum computing — or transformative technologies no one has yet imagined? Will they arise from the start-ups or the stalwarts? Will they reach us through business models still on the back of an envelope or not yet on the horizon?
We can't wait to find out.
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