2018 Heartland Region Minnesota Finalists

2018 Heartland Region Minnesota Finalists

The local runner-ups from the EY Entrepreneur of the Year competition.

Luke Shimp, president

Double Black Diamond, Inc.

Founded: 2013
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Employees: More than 350
Mission: Deliver a 21st century tavern experience to customers through Red Cow restaurants featuring high-quality burgers and alcoholic beverages.
Major impact: Shimp opened five Red Cow restaurants in the Twin Cities within a few years, and each of them produced self-sustaining cash flows within 90 days. He plans to operate three Red Rabbits, featuring authentic Italian cuisine, by 2019. He is obsessed with providing employees with excellent training, promoting from within, and giving customers superior food and beverage offerings. He inspects wine in his restaurants with a laser thermometer to ensure that customers are being served red wine at the right temperatures.

Bob White, president and CEO

Entellus Medical

Founded: 2006
Headquarters: Plymouth
Employees: 280
Mission: The medical technology company focuses on producing products for treating chronic and recurrent sinusitis in adult and pediatric patients.
Major impact: White led Entellus through an IPO. After becoming a public company, it met Wall Street expectations for 13 of 14 quarters and recently was sold to Stryker. Entellus launched more than two dozen products since late 2014. White’s drive was enabling patients to access faster, less invasive, and cheaper alternatives than other sinus treatments. He also established a culture of fun for employees.

Sabin Ephrem, president and CEO; Jeremy Langevin, evp, staffing agency; Chris Staley, evp, digital agency

Horizontal Integration

Founded: 2003
Headquarters: St. Louis Park
Employees: More than 200
Mission: Provide companies with digital marketing and technology expertise on a project and staffing basis.
Major impact: The company’s annual revenue is approaching $100 million. In 2018, company leaders expect revenue to increase by 15 percent. The founders are filling a market gap and executing well on their vision. They recognized that IT companies know how to technically implement projects, but were weak in business discipline and incorporating user-experience concerns. In turn, they wanted to blend in the strengths of ad agencies that are creative and good at developing strategies, but lack technological feasibility skills.

Joel Theisen, CEO and founder


Founded: 2004
Headquarters: Edina
Employees: 550
Mission: Provide premium home care services that focus on whole-person solutions that address the unique needs of each client.
Major impact: The company has developed a platform for tracking the outcomes of private-pay clients. Lifesprk’s care model has helped reduce health care costs for senior citizens. It has achieved 68 percent fewer visits to emergency rooms and reduced hospitalizations by 78 percent. Each Lifesprk employee has a life plan, which allows employees to integrate their personal and professional goals. Within three years, the company wants to achieve $60 million in revenue and serve five million clients.

Christine Lantinen, president

Maud Borup, Inc.

Founded: 1907
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Employees: 100
Mission: Wholesaler that supplies seasonal and everyday gourmet candy, beverage mixes, baking kits, and savory food gifts.
Major impact: The company develops more than 150 new products a year. It makes its own formulas, flavor profiles, and molds. It has a line of products that does not contain MSG or artificial color or flavors. Maud Borup has incorporated 33 sustainable processes in its business, including recycling and repurposing. It is focused on expanding its online and direct-to-consumer businesses. It has a diverse workforce, including many Somali and Hispanic employees. Lantinen is an Army veteran and sole owner.

Gary Cunningham, president and CEO

Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA)

Founded: 1971
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Employees: 30
Mission: Offer business consulting and access to capital and market opportunities for minority entrepreneurs.
Major impact: Minority entrepreneurs often lack access to adequate financing to develop their businesses. In the past four years, MEDA increased its loan fund from $5 million to $17.8 million. MEDA also has established a minority business development ecosystem of services by collaborating with seven other organizations. To increase its impact, MEDA restructured the enterprise. It now focuses on its core mission by targeting services to businesses already generating $1 million or more that want to scale up.

John “Ozzie” Nelson Jr., chairman and Co-CEO


Founded: 1977
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Employees: 1,100
Mission: Provides global design, architecture, and consulting services.
Major impact: NELSON has grown into a 26-office enterprise. It emphasizes a welcoming culture, collaborative focus, and investment in employee training. During its tenure, NELSON has completed more than 40 acquisitions. It has expanded its scope, now serving clients that range from legacy financial institutions to retail and healthcare clients. Its services include interior design to tenant management services and large-scale shared space developments. NELSON creates work teams that have the right players instead of the best players.

Bruce Zeilinger, CEO

NXC Imaging

Founded: 1964
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Employees: 100
Mission: Company is a distributor and service provider of capital medical equipment.
Major impact: NXC was originally an analog x-ray distributor. Under Zeilinger’s leadership, the company is now a high-tech provider of specialized health care equipment. In an intensely competitive business, NXC established exclusive sales agreements with vendors. The employee-owned company has pursued ways to improve health care. It worked with Hologic and Mayo Clinic to develop 3-D mammography, which allows women to get early detection of breast cancer. When he forms work teams, Zeilinger balances experience, innovation, and diverse perspectives.

Dan Stoltz, president and CEO

SPIRE Credit Union

Founded: 1934
Headquarters: Falcon Heights
Employees: 250
Mission: To provide financial services that improve the lives of credit union members and those living in the communities in which it operates.
Major impact: SPIRE doubled its assets from 2009 to 2017. Stoltz became CEO in 2010 when the credit union’s financial condition was battered by the recession. Through a series of mergers, SPIRE expanded and now serves customers across 17 branches in Minnesota. After a key SPIRE leader suffered a brain aneurysm, Stoltz restructured the management team by creating new senior vice president positions for the credit union’s four business lines. He also incorporated variable pay into compensation for most employees.

Angelina Lawton, founder and CEO


Founded: 2011
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Employees: 30
Mission: A sports technology firm that helps professional and collegiate teams create effective sales presentations to showcase their brands and drive revenue.
Major impact: The company developed an approach to marketing and sales proposals that gives clients access to sophisticated data analytics, user trends, and industry insights through the use of cutting-edge technology. Lawton and her team built a software as a service product called the digideck, which is now the core of the business. After success with sports clients, the company is now pursuing the business-to-business sales and marketing arena to expand its revenue. Sportsdigita recently closed with a Chicago-based firm on an investment round.

Martha Krueger, co-founder and CEO, and Emily Pritchard, co-founder and COO

The Social Lights, LLC

Founded: 2011
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Employees: More than 30
Mission: This social media agency partners with consumer companies to expand their audience and reach their business goals.
Major impact: The founders developed their business plan while students at the University of St. Thomas. In 2017, they doubled the company’s revenue and increased their employee headcount by 35 percent. The business recently moved into a new headquarters in Northeast Minneapolis. Krueger and Pritchard have emphasized employee development and engagement, which has yielded a high rate of retention. They stress accountability and transparency and have hosted town halls to outline goals and disclose company financial information.

Mark Jacobs, CEO

The Watkins Company

Founded: 1868
Headquarters: Winona
Employees: 145
Mission: Manufactures and distributes J.R. Watkins natural personal and home care products and Watkins gourmet spices and extracts.
Major impact: The Jacobs family has owned this historic business since 1978. Its roots are as a door-to-door sales company. Today it is a multichannel consumer products company, and products are now available online and in brick-and-mortar stores. Tens of thousands of stores carry Watkins products, including Target and Walmart. The product line was reformulated to meet high-quality standards for organic and natural goods. Watkins intends to grow by 300 percent over the next five years.

Benjamin VandenWymelenberg, founder and CEO, and John Guenveur, co-owner and head of sales

Woodchuck USA

Founded: 2012
Headquarters: Minneapolis
Employees: More than 40
Mission: Designs and manufactures high-end custom wood products for people and businesses.
Major impact: In starting this business, VandenWymelenberg liked supporting manufacturing jobs in the United States and bringing nature back into people’s lives. This company was born while he was a University of Minnesota student. The business serves a niche of providing customized boxes for corporate gifts. A recent innovation allows customers to upload their own logos, which can then be used on Woodchuck products. The business is now expanding into commercial interiors for architecture firms and general contractors.

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2018 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

Pat Ryan

Pat Ryan

The current chairman of the board at Ryan Cos., as well as its former CEO and president