By AJ Jordan, EY Americas Entrepreneur Of The Year Director
This is my favorite time of year. The holiday season is just around the corner, and in a normal November, the EY Private team would be spending a week in beautiful Palm Springs, California, hosting the best and brightest in business at the Strategic Growth Forum®. And that wonderful week would culminate in a black-tie gala honoring the best entrepreneurs in America, the national finalists and winners of the Entrepreneur Of The Year® US Award.
This year’s national awards celebration — like everything else in 2020 — was different, taking place on a virtual stage rather than in a glamorous ballroom. But, virtual or not, the thrill of celebrating the Entrepreneur Of The Year national finalists and winners was as powerful as ever, if not more so, because our 2020 honorees never stopped powering through, leading their great companies even as the ground shifted under their feet. With their vision, ambition and ingenuity, they are the embodiment of “unstoppable.” And I’m very proud to introduce them to you:
Entrepreneur Of The Year National Overall Award winners
Aman Narang, President & Co-Founder; Steve Fredette, President & Co-Founder; Jonathan Grimm, CTO & Co-Founder, and Chris Comparato, CEO, Toast, Inc.
Aman Narang, Jonathan Grimm and Steve Fredette founded Toast to revolutionize how restaurant owners manage their businesses. Toast offers a unified software platform designed to help restaurant owners bridge the divide between point of sale, payment processing, marketing, labor management, online ordering and more — all from a mobile device. Once Chris Comparato signed on as CEO, the Toast recipe was perfected, and since then, this cloud-based software company has become one of the fastest-growing businesses in New England, employing 1,500 people and serving restaurants across the country.
When the COVID-19 pandemic all but shut down the restaurant industry, Toast took a leadership role to preserve revenue, revamping its to-go app and online ordering functions to minimize face-to-face interactions. Through the company’s Rally for Restaurants initiative, Toast also offered temporary relief from monthly fees and access to free products to all its customers, and it encouraged communities to purchase gift cards to help local restaurants survive.
Through the company’s philanthropy arm, Toast.org, they focus on solving food challenges affecting communities across the US, including food insecurity, hunger, waste, inequality and accessibility. Their most recent initiatives include providing 50,000 meals through the No Kid Hungry program and rescuing half-a-million pounds of food with Project Bread. Toast is making quite an impact.
Nick Green, Co-founder and CEO, Thrive Market
Nick Green’s focus on affordable, healthy food stems from his family’s financial struggles when he was a boy. Despite being turned down again and again by venture capitalists, who said that the healthy food industry would not appeal to those with lower incomes, Green persisted. He founded Thrive Market with the mission to be the world’s most sustainable and accessible online grocery store. Today, Thrive has more than 650,000 paid members who, for a membership fee, receive high-quality natural and organic products at 25% to 50% off retail, shipped to their door. And for every paid member of Thrive, the business donates a free membership to a low-income family.
Saeju Jeong, CEO and Co-founder, Noom
Saeju Jeong’s father, a prominent physician in South Korea, told his 20-year-old son he had one regret in his career — that he couldn’t keep people from getting sick. These words inspired Jeong’s dream: to create a company that provides preventive health care. When Jeong later moved to the US, he met his co-founder, and in 2008 they brought their dreams to life with Noom, a mobile health app. Today, Noom has been downloaded in more than 100 countries. While Noom’s initial mission was to aid in weight loss through psychology-based behavior change, the company is now expanding to help manage stress and anxiety.
Erin Bradley, Founder and CEO, ZYIA Active
ZYIA Active’s story began on a moonlit hike, when Erin Bradley was surrounded by women actively supporting one another — physically and mentally — to reach the top of a mountain. This experience inspired her to launch ZYIA, a high-end, direct-sales activewear company built on a community of women empowering women. In less than four years, ZYIA has grown to more than 300 full-time employees and 40,000 sales representatives, embodying its vision to empower others through its four pillars: Community, Activity, Uplift and Light.
Justin Christian, Founder and CEO, BCforward
Well-thought-out business plans are an integral part of successful enterprises. But the ability to improvise can help, too. Just ask Justin Christian, who dreamed of being a jazz trumpeter. His career aspirations changed, but he never lost his knack for improvising at the right moment. Three years into a comfortable corporate job, Christian used $1,000 and joined with a partner to form BCforward, a global IT consulting and workforce fulfillment firm. Christian later took full ownership and then started Stafforward, a subsidiary of BCforward focused on non-IT industries. Together, BCforward and Stafforward employ nearly 6,000 people and have a presence in 47 states, Puerto Rico, Canada, Europe and India. With these two businesses harmonizing together, Christian has created the perfect duet to solve difficult consulting problems.
Mike Salguero, CEO, ButcherBox
An immigrant from Paraguay who came to the US as a child, Mike Salguero started his subscription-based online food delivery service, ButcherBox, with $10,000 and a Kickstarter campaign to source pre-orders. One of Salguero’s main motivations in starting ButcherBox was to find better food to help his wife cope with an autoimmune disease. He ended up transforming the nature of the meat industry by creating a food system that is better for customers, animals, farmers, businesses and the planet. Today, his company commits itself to its values of authenticity, accountability, humility, being member-obsessed and relentlessly striving to improve.
Laureen Asseo, Founder and CEO, Fresh N Lean
When an 18-year-old Laureen Asseo began preparing meals that would help her father improve his health, she didn’t realize she was also creating a business. Working in her one-bedroom apartment, she used whole foods, natural ingredients, no refined sugars and no artificial ingredients. And when friends and family noticed the improvement in Asseo’s father’s well-being, they asked her to prepare healthier meals for them, too, and Fresh N Lean was born. Now, 10 years later, the company offers over 110 food choices, prepared and shipped fresh, and employs 450 people. This company that got its start from a daughter’s efforts to help her father is now one of the leading direct-to-consumer healthy-meal providers in the US.
Dr. Gordon Vanscoy, Chairman and CEO, PANTHERx Rare
Dr. Gordon Vanscoy developed a passion for helping people with complex medical issues while working for one of the first specialty pharmacies. Inspired by the experience, Vanscoy founded PANTHERx Rare, providing specialized medications for people with rare diseases, along with an unsurpassed level of care and support. One example of this care relates to an enzyme replacement drug the company is providing to treat a disease that impacts about 1,000 babies. Without this enzyme, the mortality rate is 95%. But with this drug coupled with the PANTHERx team’s careful guidance to families on how to weigh the babies, measure the medication and properly inject it, the babies are surviving. Today, PANTHERx Rare is the largest independent specialty pharmacy in the US and the nation’s only health entity accredited as a rare disease pharmacy.
Brian Niccol, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc.
When Brian Niccol joined Chipotle Mexican Grill as Chairman and CEO in 2018, the company was struggling to rebuild trust in its brand after a number of food safety incidents. Niccol was undaunted. He had big plans, including investments in technology and innovation, employee retention and development, and responsible, sustainable farming. Chipotle now works closely with farmers to ensure that ingredients are natural, and animals are raised with care. The company has grown more than 250% under Niccol, who has seen to it that every aspect of Chipotle — from field to kitchen — advances its motto: “Food with Integrity.”
Raj Vattikuti, Founder and Executive Chairman, Altimetrik
Two-time Entrepreneur Of The Year regional winner Raj Vattikuti was frustrated with the conventional approach to digital transformation. Often, consulting companies would promote a solution before understanding the problem. He founded Altimetrik to help businesses identify the right data to make sure they were choosing the right technology. Under Vattikuti’s leadership, Altimetrik has grown into a global enterprise with more than 2,500 employees and double-digit revenue growth in just eight years. The Vattikuti Foundation has donated more than $40 million for cancer research, and amid COVID-19, it donated funds for mobile testing centers for senior citizens and other vulnerable populations.