MILWAUKEE – Bob Hillis, an entrepreneur and visionary leader who founded Direct Supply, which began as the nation’s first “virtual distributor” in 1985, will receive the eighth annual Ken Hendricks Memorial “Seize the Day” award at the Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference.

The award, which celebrates entrepreneurial leaders who have been crucial to Wisconsin’s economic growth, is named in honor of the late Ken Hendricks, a Beloit businessman and 2006 “Seize the Day” award winner who died in an accident in late 2007.

Hillis will accept the award and speak noon Tuesday, June 7, during the annual Entrepreneurs’ Conference in Milwaukee. To register for the luncheon or the full conference at The Pfister Hotel, visit

Direct Supply is a fully employee-owned company that provides a continuum of products, technology and services in the field of eldercare.

Hillis’ persistence was exemplified by the start-up years of Direct Supply. He drew his first salary of $44,000 in the company’s seventh year after burning through his savings and an investment from his father-in-law. He also mortgaged his home to finance the early years.

“Bob Hillis epitomizes what it takes to make a start-up company successful, even when times are tough. His persistence built one of Wisconsin’s leading companies to what it is today,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council.

In addition to Hendricks, who later won Inc.’s “Entrepreneur of the Year” award, past winners of the Seize the Day award have been Don Weber of Logistics Health Inc., La Crosse (2004); Bob Cervenka of Phillips Plastics, Phillips (2005); Jan Eddy of Wingra Technologies, Madison (2007); Michael Cudahy of Marquette Medical Systems, Milwaukee (2008); Toni Sikes of The Guild and, Madison (2009); and Bill Linton of Promega, Madison (2010).

The “Seize the Day” award is not given for technical innovation but for innovative leadership – the ability to take hold of business opportunities and transform them into successes. Candidates for the award will have demonstrated:

Vision — Recognizing opportunities where others do not.

Courage — Vigorous, dedicated pursuit of opportunities in the face of risk and skepticism.

Adaptability — Rapid and repeated reinvention in response to changing markets.

Persistence — Maintaining optimism and effort in the wake of setbacks.

Resourcefulness — Overcoming obstacles and finding ways to fund growth.

Recognizing the important role the arts play in nurturing a vibrant entrepreneurial culture, each year’s award has been a unique art piece. This year’s sculpture was once again created by Rivers’ Edge Foundry, Beloit, a business launched with the help of the late Ken Hendricks and Diane Hendricks, who has agreed to sponsor the award for 10 years in his name.

The recipient of the award is selected from the nominees by members of the Entrepreneurs’ Conference steering committee.

Other highlights of the ninth annual Entrepreneurs’ Conference include:

  • Headline speeches by Tim Kane of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Jeff Rusinow, founder of Silicon Pastures; Joe Sweeney, author of “Networking is a Contact Sport;” and Mark Schmitz, principal and creative director of ZEBRADOG;
  • The Top 12: Finalists in the Governor’s Business Plan Contest square off;
  • “Start-up Café” offering one-on-one instruction on social media, lean start-up and mobile applications;
  • And plenty of chances to network over food and refreshments!