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. The 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
Past winners include:
2020: Kevin Conroy, Exact Sciences
Conroy was part of a small team that moved the nearly defunct Exact Sciences (NASDAQ: EXAS) from Boston to Madison in 2009, recognizing that Wisconsin offered the talent, research capacity and overall climate to turn around the company and build on some existing cancer-detection technology. Conroy and Maneesh Arora, who later served as Exact’s chief operating officer, knew from previous stints at other Madison-based companies it would be possible to develop a non-invasive colorectal cancer test using a combination of DNA-based techniques. Today, Cologuard is a leading non-invasive alternative to conventional colorectal cancer screening. Most recently, the precision oncology company pivoted to help provide COVID-19 testing supplies by converting laboratory space to that use.
Tom Still, Tech Council; Don Reed, River’s Edge Foundry; Kim Hendricks; and Jim Berbee (2015 award recipient)
2019: Sue Marks, Cielo
Serial entrepreneur Marks is the founder and chief executive officer of recruitment leader Cielo. Headquartered in Brookfield, Cielo is the world’s leading strategic recruitment process outsourcing partner. In January 2019, the company reported serving 177 clients from 95 countries and 39 languages, employing about 2,000 people worldwide. The company began with Marks’ founding of Pinstripe in 2005. She previously founded two other startups in the human resources field, ProStaff and HRFirst, which were sold in 2000.
2018: Dude + Kerry Frank, Comply365
The Franks lead Comply365, which revolutionized the flight decks around the world with its software products and now counts about a dozen Fortune 500 companies among its clients. The company’s secure, mobile enterprise platform is used well beyond the airline industry to increase productivity, mobility and compliance. Comply365 was founded in 2007 and moved to Wisconsin in 2012 after the state offered tax incentives and pushed for the company to be a part of the Beloit renaissance.
2017: Zach Halmstad, Jamf
Halmstad is an Eau Claire native and a UW-Eau Claire graduate. He studied as a pianist and earned a degree in music, but it was his work in the campus information technology department that fueled his interest in streamlining IT platforms. The tools he created to efficiently set up and maintain campus computers later became the foundation to launch JAMF Software (now Jamf), which created the “Casper Suite” to manage Apple devices such as iPhones, iPads and Macs.
2016: Mark Gehring, HealthMyne
Mark is a serial entrepreneur who has founded and grown a series of medical imaging and digital health companies. A biomedical engineer and self-taught software developer, Mark co-founded Propeller Health in 2010, a digital therapeutic for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients. That company has $23 million. Clinical trials have shown that Propeller Health users reduce rescue inhaler use and experience significantly fewer emergency room visits.
2015: Jim Berbee, Berbee Information Networks
Jim Berbee’s persistence, commitment to quality and community involvement cuts across all lines. He founded Berbee Information Networks Corp. in 1993 and grew the company to 800 employees, 11 offices and two data centers in six Midwestern states. One of the nation’s largest privately held solution providers at the time, it was acquired by CDW for $175 million in 2006.
2014: Craig and Lea Culver, Culver Franchising System Inc.
The story of Culver’s is evidence that innovation is possible in every industry, and that entrepreneurs can find different ways to finance a growing business. The Culvers’ persistence and commitment to quality have helped them stand out in the crowd. Today, the Culver’s restaurant chain spans more than 500 restaurants in 21 states.
2013: Fred Foster, Electronic Theatre Controls
Fred Foster’s persistence and vision has helped put Wisconsin on center stage in the entertainment technology world. Foster continues to be ranked among the top 10 “Most Powerful People” in the entertainment-technology industry by Live Design Magazine.
2012: Kay Koplovitz, USA Network
Kay Koplovitz launched the USA Network in 1977 and served as its chair and chief executive officer until 1998. In 2000, she co-created Springboard, a national organization that fosters venture capital investment in women-led high-growth companies. Companies selected and presented by Springboard have raised more than $5 billion over time.
2011: Bob Hillis, Direct Supply Inc.
Direct Supply began as the nation’s first “virtual distributor” in 1985 and is a 100 percent employee-owned company that provides a continuum of products, technology and services in the field of eldercare.
2010: Bill Linton, Promega Corp.
Linton is an entrepreneur who built one of the first true biotechnology companies in Wisconsin – as well as a commercial foundation for the state’s life sciences ecosystem.
2009: Toni Sikes, The Guild
Toni Sikes built the nation’s largest online arts retailer, The Guild, from a warehouse on Madison’s East Side. Her story is an inspiring example of an entrepreneur who built and rebuilt her companies to adapt to changing times.
2008: Michael Cudahy, Marquette Electronics
Cudahy is the founder of Marquette Electronics, whose story epitomizes what it means to grow a business by rapidly seizing opportunities and marshaling forces in the midst of market challenges, uncertainty and risk.
2007: Jan Eddy, Wingra Technologies
Eddy could have walked away from Wingra Technologies when she sold it – the first time. But she didn’t, and the company (now part of Qwest) is stronger for her efforts today. The 2000 sale of Wingra did not go as planned for the company or its employees, and Eddy recognized that, intervened and re-purchased the firm at considerable personal risk to herself.
2006: Kenneth Hendricks, ABC Supply
A high-school dropout from Janesville who joined his father in the roofing business, Hendricks overcame skeptical investors and more to build the largest U.S. wholesaler of roofing supplies, with annual sales exceeding $3 billion. In late 2006 he was named Inc.’s Entrepreneur of the Year. Hendricks died in a December 2007 accident, and his family agreed in 2009 to rename the award in his honor.
2005: Robert F. Cervenka, Phillips Plastics
Cervenka founded Phillips Plastics 40 years ago and guided its growth in a multi-million company with 14 Wisconsin facilities. Cervenka faced several points in which he doubted he would make payroll, even taking out a loan against his family car in order to make ends.
2004: Don Weber, Logistics Health, Inc.
Weber’s courage and persistence allowed him to start LHI in 1987 after the traumatic failure of his first business – which ended with a sheriff’s foreclosure on his home. Today, LHI is one of the fastest-growing firms in La Crosse and a model workplace for its employees.