Press release

EY announces the Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Award Winners in the Gulf Coast Area

Houston, 16 June 2017

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Joining three decades of groundbreaking entrepreneurs in the Gulf Coast Area.

EY announced the Regional Winners for the Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2017 Award in the Gulf Coast Area. The award recognizes entrepreneurs who are excelling in areas such as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities. The winners were selected by an independent panel of judges, and the awards were presented at a special gala event June 15, 2017 at the Marriott Marquis Houston.

The winners for the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 Gulf Coast Area Award include:

Banking and Capital Markets: Swapnil Agarwal, Founder and CEO, Nitya Capital, Houston, TX

Community Impact: Wallace Davis, CEO, DHI Telecom Group, Houston, TX

Consumer Products: Wan Kim, CEO, Smoothie King, Metairie, LA

Energy and Utilities: Ben Cowart, Chairman and CEO, Vertex Energy, Inc., Houston, TX

Energy Services: C. Christopher Gaut, Chairman and CEO, Forum Energy Technologies, Inc., Houston, TX

Engineering and Construction: Bill Sims, President and CEO, Accent Wire, Tomball, TX

Health Care: Joe Freudenberger, CEO, OakBend Medical Center, Richmond, TX

Services: Michael Soper, President and CEO, Legacy Funeral Group, Houston, TX

Technology: Rick Pleczko, President and CEO, symplr, Houston, TX

Transformational CEO: Jim Mastandrea, Chairman and CEO, Whitestone REIT, Houston, TX

Since 1986, EY has honored entrepreneurs whose ingenuity, spirit of innovation and discipline have driven their companies’ success, transformed their industries and made a positive impact on their communities. Now in its 31st year, the program has honored the inspirational leadership of such entrepreneurs as:

  • Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee Company
  • Pierre Omidyar of eBay, Inc.
  • Mindy Grossman of HSN
  • Robert Unanue of Goya Foods
  • Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn
  • Andreas Bechtolsheim and Jayshree Ullal of Arista Networks
  • Hamdi Ulukaya of Chobani
  • James Park of Fitbit

As Regional Award Winners, they are now eligible for consideration for the Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 national program. Award winners in several national categories, as well as the Entrepreneur Of The Year National Overall Award winner, will be announced at the Entrepreneur Of The Year National Awards gala in Palm Springs, California, on November 18, 2017. The awards are the culminating event of the Strategic Growth Forum, the nation’s most prestigious gathering of high-growth, market-leading companies.


Founded and produced by EY, the Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards are nationally sponsored in the US by SAP America, Merrill Corporation and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

In the Gulf Coast Area, regional sponsors include Colliers International, DLA Piper, ADP, Solomon Edwards, Chatham Financial, Pierpont Communications and Houston Business Journal.

Company Boilerplate

About Entrepreneur Of The Year®

Entrepreneur Of The Year®, founded by EY, is the world’s most prestigious business awards program for entrepreneurs, chosen from an independent panel of judges including entrepreneurs and prominent leaders from business, finance, and the local community. The program makes a difference through the way it encourages entrepreneurial activity among those with potential and recognizes the contribution of people who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement. As the first and only truly global awards program of its kind, Entrepreneur Of The Year celebrates those who are building and leading successful, growing and dynamic businesses, recognizing them through regional, national and global awards programs in more than 145 cities in more than 60 countries.

About EY’s Growth Markets Network

EY’s worldwide Growth Markets Network is dedicated to serving the changing needs of high-growth companies. For more than 30 years, we’ve helped many of the world’s most dynamic and ambitious companies grow into market leaders. Whether working with international mid-cap companies or early stage, venture-backed businesses, our professionals draw upon their extensive experience, insight and global resources to help your business succeed. For more information, please visit us at or follow news on Twitter @EY_Growth.

About EY

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services we deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. We develop outstanding leaders who team to deliver on our promises to all of our stakeholders. In so doing, we play a critical role in building a better working world for our people, for our clients and for our communities.

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This news release has been issued by Ernst & Young LLP, a member of the global EY organization that provides services to clients in the US.

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