2013 Finalists

2013 Finalists

Thomas Auth

Vomela Specialty Company
Founded: 1947
Headquarters: St. Paul
Revenue: $168 million
Employees: 1,050

After a career in accounting and a stint as CEO of North St. Paul-based Interactive Technologies, Auth purchased Vomela in 1990. The company designs, manufactures, and installs graphics for retail, trade shows, and transportation services, with a client list that includes Target, Best Buy, and Macy’s. Vomela has acquired 16 businesses since 1997 and has facilities in 19 cities in the United States and Canada.


Alan Bignall

ReconRobotics, Inc.
Founded: 2006
Headquarters: Edina
Revenue: $21 million
Employees: 60

ReconRobotics’ micro-robots have saved countless lives in the dangerous environments that police and military personnel encounter. The one-pound throwable Throwbot can see in darkness and can take action within five seconds. Bignall found the robot systems’ research and design at the University of Minnesota’s Distributed Robotics Laboratory. In three years, he raised $8 million to launch the company, investing a substantial amount of his own money. The U.S. military and other forces have deployed almost 4,000 robots across a distribution network of 33 countries.


Mike Derheim

The Nerdery
Founded: 2003
Headquarters: Bloomington
Revenue: Nearly $37 million
Employees: 440

Derheim and two other programming pioneers pooled $200 of their pocket money to build a firm that designs and engineers websites, mobile apps, social media, and other online interactive projects. Derheim became CEO in 2010. Nearly half of his company’s revenue stems from its work as a development partner to 520 advertising and marketing agencies nationwide. The Nerdery opened its third office, in Kansas City, this year.


Matthew Dornquast

Code 42 Software
Founded: 2001
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Revenue: $26.4 million
Employees: 229

CEO Dornquast and two colleagues combined their management and IT backgrounds to found Code 42 as an IT consultancy. In time, the partners saw a new and more promising opportunity: online data storage. In 2007, Code 42 launched its CrashPlan data backup and services suite, which has evolved into products for both personal and business data. The number of the company’s employees doubled in 2012, and it now has more than 1 million users and 5,000 businesses; Apple, Google, and Adobe are among its customers. The company raised $52.5 million in funding in 2012.


Jerry Foster

Foster Group, Inc.
Founded: 1989
Headquarters: West Des Moines
Revenue: About $8.5 million
Employees: 33

Foster Group is a financial planning and investment advisory firm that works with clients on a fee-only basis to preserve capital, grow assets, and manage marketplace risk. Less than four years after Jerry Foster founded his firm, he partnered with brokerage services giant Charles Schwab, allowing the company to maintain independence yet have a strong brand presence. Foster Group now has more than 850 clients across 36 states.


Bob Gardner

Gardner Builders
Founded: 2010
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Revenue: More than $13.3 million
Employees: 16

A California native, Gardner moved to Minnesota in 2002, built contacts, and started a general contracting firm focused on corporate offices, seeking out the smaller projects that bigger companies overlooked. His clientele has grown to include Morgan Stanley, Wells Fargo, and RBC Capital Management. Gardner was one of the first contractors whose field staff operated on iPads to provide updates and photos to key players in the project.


Brenton Hayden

Renters Warehouse
Founded: 2007
Headquarters: Minnetonka
Revenue: $5.2 million(in Minnesota)
Employees: 102

Hayden’s property management service introduced an innovative approach to handling eviction, rent, and property protection—offering these services à la carte. The services are provided to landlords as accidental and protection insurance. Renters Warehouse has handled $1.5 billion in residential real estate leasing transactions; it manages more single-family homes than anyone else in Minnesota, in addition to owning exclusive rights for rent protection in the state. Renters Warehouse operates nine offices nationwide.


David Kristal

Augeo Marketing
Founded: 1999
Headquarters: St. Paul
Revenue: Nearly $100 million
Employees: 200

Kristal founded loyalty marketing company Augeo out of necessity: His family’s restaurant business was losing money, and he needed a way to build a loyal customer base. As CEO and chairman of Augeo, he has led the development of loyalty and incentive programs for clients’ salespeople and other employees, as well as for their customers. Augeo’s clientele includes Pepsi and Home Depot, and it has grown from $4 million six years ago to now close to $100 million. It currently has five offices across the country.


Brian Kueppers

Apex Information Technologies
Founded: 1995
Headquarters: St. Paul
Revenue: Nearly $43 million
Employees: 90

Kueppers recognized that a new process surrounding medical bill forms was emerging in the early 1990s; he founded Apex to sell laser-printed forms to customers. After several outsourcing ventures failed, his company built all of its own technology, including data processes and e-statements, starting in 2008, and transitioned all of their clients by 2011. Apex creates customized forms for health care and financial customers, including online bill-pay and form fill-out options.


Bruce Lehrman

Involta, LLC
Founded: 2007
Headquarters: Cedar Rapids
Revenue: Undisclosed
Employees: 102

Involta specializes in building data centers in locations where the cost structures are the lowest, but the demand for such facilities are still strong. The company, which Lehrman founded, provides cloud offerings to secondary markets outside of the largest metropolitan areas. Involta built its seventh facility in Tucson, Arizona, this year, after constructing two in Duluth. Signs that the opportunity Lehrman saw was real: Involta’s employee head count doubled in one year, and its revenues increased 70 percent from 2011 to 2012.


Michael Le Jeune

Fabcon Precast, LLC
Founded: 1971
Headquarters: Savage
Revenue: $ 153.5 million
Employees: 600

Le Jeune accepted the CEO position at Fabcon in 1996 and found himself confronting numerous challenges, from plant quality issues to outdated office communication systems. The company, which designs, manufactures, and installs precast concrete wall panels, had gone through an acquisition the year before he started. Le Jeune quickly moved to improve production quality management; in 2000, he was able to open another plant, in Pennsylvania. Although the recent recession resulted in a loss of two-thirds of its revenue, Fabcon’s profits have improved to 75 percent of their pre-recession record levels.


Jim Masterson

LightEdge Solutions
Founded: 1996
Headquarters: Des Moines
Revenue: $28 million
Employees: 120

When Masterson took over as CEO of LightEdge in 2004, his predecessor had been fired, the founders had dispersed, and the company’s $8 million in revenues was overshadowed by the same amount in debt. He convinced the major vendors and employees that he could turn the Internet service provider around, and started the financial workout by bringing in equity to pay off its payables. A little more than two years later, he transformed the company into an early provider of cloud services for small and midsize businesses. LightEdge also has data centers across the country.


Douglas Milroy

G&K Services
Founded: 1902
Headquarters: Minnetonka
Revenue: $870 million
Employees: 7,800

G&K Services provides 160 branded uniform and facility services programs in the U.S. and Canada; more than 1 million people wear G&K work apparel every work day. When Milroy was appointed CEO in 2009, G&K was chasing growth at the expense of profitability. He redoubled the focus of the company on customer satisfaction. Evidence of the company’s growth: Revenues increased $47 million from 2011 to 2012.


Chip Pearson and Zach Halmstad

JAMF Software
Founded: 2002
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Revenue: More than $25 million
Employees: 200

Co-founders Pearson and Halmstad loved Apple computers and were frustrated by the lack of tools needed to support IT departments’ Apple products. JAMF’s flagship product, Casper Suite, enables organizations to support Apple technologies alongside Microsoft and other technologies, yet preserves the Apple experience. The company added iOS management capabilities following the advent of iPhones and iPads.


Thomas Salonek

Intertech, Inc.
Founded: 1991
Headquarters: Eagan
Revenue: $14 million
Employees: 75

The company that Salonek founded designs and develops software solutions for Fortune 500 businesses, midsize companies, and state governments. It also provides other IT consulting services as well as online and live-instructor technology training; it added 1,000 new classes through a national partnership. Clients include HP, Intel, Target, Lockheed Martin, Accenture, and NASA.


Bruce Simon

Omaha Steaks
Founded: 1917
Headquarters: Omaha
Revenue: $463 million
Employees: 2,000

Omaha Steaks has been in Simon’s family for five generations, but the leadership role simply wasn’t handed down to him. Early on, he saw how the Internet could help boost the company’s national mail-order distribution of trimmed meat, lobster, and other products. Omaha Steaks became one of the first companies on AOL in 1992 and had its own website three years later. Simon became president and CEO in 1994. Omaha Steaks is one of the few companies in the country that irradiates all its ground beef, a precaution used to reduce foodborne illness.


Jon Troen

Rock Communications and Colorfx
Founded: 1976
Headquarters: Des Moines
Revenue: $90 million
Employees: almost 600

Even though the decline of print media was beginning to shrink the publishing industry in 2003, Troen optimistically took the position of vice president at Rock Communications. Instead of competing based on price, he opted to offer more services in addition to print, including mobile, digital, photography, and design. In 2007, he purchased Colorfx, a digital and offset commercial printing company, which immediately doubled both employees and revenues. Since becoming president in 2005, Troen has led the company through four acquisitions and has launched two new companies in non-print communications.


Tashitaa Tufaa

Metropolitan Transportation Network
Founded: 2003
Headquarters: Fridley
Revenue: $12 million
Employees: 265

Tufaa’s first job for his company was driving two homeless children to school. After an aggressive marketing campaign the summer before the company’s launch, he borrowed a van from his wife to provide transportation for homeless students to their school districts. His reputation grew as a driver who would accept jobs without hesitation. In 2006, he bought his first school bus; over the next seven years, he added 300 buses. Tufaa’s company now transports 15,000 students in several school districts.

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