Entrepreneurial Excellence • Northwest Indiana Business Magazine

Entrepreneurial Excellence

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Outstanding professionals recognized for success and leadership.

by Laurie Wink

The 10 winners of the 2014 Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards join a rich roster of distinguished business professionals who've been honored by the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for 23 years. This year's E-Day Award winners were applauded by a packed audience at a Nov. 12 luncheon at the Radisson in Merrillville.

Ross Pangere, founder and president of The Ross Group Inc. in Portage, was the inspirational keynoter who talked about overcoming challenges. Pangere had a freshly minted college degree and bright prospects when he lost his eyesight. But he's never lost sight of his goals. After helping expand his family's construction business, Pangere launched his own building design and construction company. His success is based on a “customers first” approach.

Like Pangere, the 2014 awardees have inspiring stories. Their motivation to achieve excellence isn't about winning awards. It comes from a desire to serve customers, empower employees and give to their communities.

Carmella Saraceno
Miller Beach Market Place, Gary
SBDC Client of the Year

Carmella Saraceno has boundless energy and the rare ability to meld an artistic sensibility with business savvy. She's a sculptor who sees opportunities and is driven to fill needs. At this juncture in her life, Saraceno has trained her visionary powers on Gary, calling it “the coolest place in the world, with so much potential.”

Since moving to the Miller Beach area with her husband and daughters, ages 10 and 14, Saraceno has catalyzed development in the lakefront enclave. After realizing a lack of convenience stores in her neighborhood, she opened Miller Beach Market Place in 2013 to “bring milk to Miller.” Customers can find basic necessities along with an array of fresh produce and artisan food products at the specialty convenience store, which is open seven days a week.

The store is housed in half of the 5,000-square-foot building she owns on Shelby Street in Miller Square. She plans to convert the other half into a commercial kitchen for food entrepreneurs and a performing arts center and gallery.

A year after opening the food store, Saraceno launched Carmella's Cafe on the Lake in Marquette Park, a lakefront gem surrounded by the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. The cafe serves bagels, croissants and a full range of coffee drinks from 6:30 to 10 a.m., then switches to a menu of hot dogs, Italian sausage, spinach pie, pizza and hand-scooped gelato. She intends to make the cafe a year-round destination.

Bill Gregory, a business advisor with the SBDC, nominated Saraceno for the SBDC Client of the Year award. He says, “When I first met Carmella in spring 2012, I knew I'd need to join her in her journey or get out of her way. I can't wait to see what comes next!”

Julie Olthoff
Via Marketing, Merrillville
Women in Business Champion

Julie Olthoff, founder and president of Via Marketing, is a passionate advocate for business women, and in recognition of this commitment, Brian Rusin of Peoples Bank nominated Olthoff as the Women in Business Champion.

“ I TRY TO MAKE THINGS BETTER FOR WOMEN” Julie Olthoff, founder and president of Via Marketing.
“I TRY TO MAKE THINGS BETTER FOR WOMEN” Julie Olthoff, founder and president of Via Marketing.

“It's one of those things that I would do no matter what,” she says. “I try to make things better for women. I've known and been mentored by so many awesome women and I appreciate their impact on my life.”

Olthoff launched her advertising agency 27 years ago and has steered it through economic ups and downs while navigating changes in communications technology. During that time, she joined with Ann Peters to publish a directory of business women in the region that has spun into the nonprofit organization, “e Engaging Northwest Indiana Business Women.” Its mission is to support career advancement for professional women in Northwest Indiana through education, mentoring and leadership development.

Throughout her career, Olthoff has been active in government service, including stints on the city of Merrillville Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals. In November, she was elected as District 19 state representative. Her goal is to make a difference on women's issues and advocate to stop violence against women. Being thrust into the new role is challenging. “I feel like I've jumped into a river, and the river is going 55 miles an hour.”

Dr. Subir Bandyopadhyay
Indiana University Northwest, Gary
Small Business Advocate of the Year

Subir Bandyopadhyay, a professor in Indiana University Northwest's School of Business and Economics, makes it his business to help entrepreneurs start and expand small businesses. He says receiving the Small Business Advocate of the Year Award is an important recognition that, “I'm doing something that the community values.”

“If anybody needs support it's the small business community,” says Bandyopadhyay. “They have few employees and everybody is pressed for time.”

“ IF ANYONE NEEDS SUPPORT, IT’S THE SMALL-BUSINESS COMMUNITY” Subir Bandyopadhyay, professor in Indiana University Northwest’s School of Business and Economics.
“IF ANYONE NEEDS SUPPORT, IT’S THE SMALL-BUSINESS COMMUNITY” Subir Bandyopadhyay, professor in Indiana University Northwest’s School of Business and Economics.

Bandyopadhyay gets high marks for his workshops on branding, marketing, social media and business planning, offered to clients of the SBDC. His commitment to encouraging entrepreneurs to start and expand businesses fits perfectly with IU Northwest's emphasis on community engagement and economic development.

“We have a mission at IUN to help businesses develop around the state,” he says. “We also assist nonprofits.”

Anna Rominger, dean of the School of Business and Economics, nominated her colleague for the award and says, “I celebrate with him the recognition this award brings.”

Leanne Hoagland Smith
Advanced Systems, Valparaiso
Small Business Journalist of the Year

Leanne Hoagland Smith is a journalist, columnist, blogger, book author and performance coach who's fundamentally a results-driven trailblazer always on the lookout for the next opportunity. She began her career as a salesperson but says, “I've always been a journalist at heart.” Receiving the Small Business Journalist of the Year award was “emotionally satisfying.”

The owner of Advanced Systems, Hoagland Smith is a performance coach for executives in large corporations and owners of small businesses. Her clients also include students, ranging from middle school to college. She helps them take control of their lives through a 20-hour Career & College Success Boot Camp. Participants develop a goal-driven action plan and learn communication skills, critical thinking and a solid work ethic.

Hoagland wrote her book “Be the Red Jacket in a Sea of Gray Suits: The Keys to Unlocking Sales Success” with small business owners and salespersons in mind. Published in 2009, the book instructs readers on how to differentiate themselves in a competitive marketplace.

“My goal is to educate people by bringing information forward that they're not aware of,” she says. To do so, she is constantly learning herself.

Marti Masterson, Masterson Insurance, nominated Hoagland Smith for the award and says, “Leanne continues to challenge the status quo. She does not back down from conventional wisdom and appreciates how each person can contribute something in his or her own way.”

William (Terry) Florida
Midwest Construction Services, St. John
Emerging Small Business of the Year

“Emerging” is an apt word for Terry Florida's business. As president of Midwest Construction in St. John, he's never finished setting and achieving goals. William Winterhaler, of Centier Bank, nominated Florida for his “dynamic leadership and hard work.”

Midwest Construction Services is a thriving enterprise that delivers asbestos, lead and mold remediation services in compliance with ever-changing environmental regulations. The company also handles interior demolitions and is licensed in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan.

Florida entered the emerging remediation field in 1986, working his way from laborer to site supervisor on jobs in more than 10 states. After years of enriching others, Florida decided to start his own company in 2008, during an economic downturn. His commitment to quality customer service buoyed him through the tough time. Now Midwest Construction Services is a $1.2 million company. Florida hopes to take it to $3 million by expanding his customer base to the steel mills.

“To be an entrepreneur you need to have foresight and have financial capability,” he says. “You need to have the ability to lay out a roadmap and be nimble enough to get through obstacles.”

Dr. Jorge Benavente
Benavente Eyecare, Munster
Minority Owned Business of the Year

Although he's been in business for 37 years, Dr. Jorge Benavente continues to challenge himself by trying different things. “Life is a continuous learning process,” he says. “You have to adapt and keep up with the changes.”

“YOU SURVIVE ON SHEER ENTHUSIASM” Dr. Jorge Benavente, owner of Benavente Eyecare.
“YOU SURVIVE ON SHEER ENTHUSIASM” Dr. Jorge Benavente, owner of Benavente Eyecare.

Now 77, Benavente moved at the age of 4 from Mexico to East Chicago, where his father worked at Inland Steel. Years later, after graduating from Indiana University's optometry school, Benavente returned to East Chicago and got a contract to provide safety glasses to the steel industry that had employed his father.

The owner of Benavente Eyecare has achieved a competitive advantage by seeing niche opportunities. At one time, he had the optometry concession at Sears in Merrillville's Southlake Mall. He serves the Spanish-speaking community and accepts Medicaid patients.

Tom Rowland, of Treehouse Financial, nominated Benavente for the Minority Owned Business of the Year award, and says, “He decided a long time ago he would never turn anyone away because they couldn't pay for his services.”

In 1996, Benavente relocated his practice to Munster, where he sponsors Little League teams and is an active member of the local Rotary and Lions Clubs. True to his belief in continuing education, he earned an MBA in 2009.

Benavente is energized by helping people and doesn't plan to retire anytime soon. “When you own a business, you survive on sheer enthusiasm. I like what I'm doing.”

Dave Smith
Ridgeway Petroleum Inc., Indiana and Illinois locations
Family-Owned Business of the Year

Dave Smith is a third generation business owner. His family went from supplying home heating oil, to supplying fuel to gas stations, and now, owning and operating gas stations.

Beginning at the age of 10, Smith learned to work hard and serve customers by accompanying fuel truck drivers to gas stations. And he learned a lot about team work when he was an offensive tackle for the Cincinnati Bengals. Now, as company president, he draws on this experience to motivate employees.

“On a football team, everyone has a role to play and how they perform that role affects the entire team,” Smith says. “That's how I run the business, addressing the employees as members of the team.”

Under Smith's leadership, Ridgeway Petroleum has expanded to seven retail gas station/convenience stores employing 95 people. Donald McCormick, of Peoples Bank, nominated Ridgeway Petroleum and says, “This family-owned business has maintained its success by focusing on the company mission to satisfy customers by delivering safe, clean and friendly service at every visit and through good corporate citizenship.”

Smith hopes that, in the future, one or more of his four children will take the family business to the next level, whatever that might be.

Jim Harting, Margo Warnke and Ray McMillan
Pyro Industrial Services, Portage
Entrepreneurial Success of the Year

Pyro Industrial Services, in Portage, was named the Entrepreneurial Success of the Year on the strength of the nomination from James Magera, of 1st Source Bank, who says, “The company has grown while maintaining a high level of quality service in a very competitive industry.”

“EACH ONE OF US HOLDS THINGS TOGETHER” Pyro Industrial Services CEO Jim Harting, chief financial officer Margo Warnke and President Ray McMillan.
“EACH ONE OF US HOLDS THINGS TOGETHER” Pyro Industrial Services CEO Jim Harting, chief financial officer Margo Warnke and President Ray McMillan.

He added, “Pyro's ownership team of Jim Harting, Margo Warnke and Ray McMillan have proven themselves to be outstanding leaders in the community and business.”

Margo Warnke, company CFO, speaks for her colleagues in saying, “We were just very honored to be recognized.”

Pyro Industrial, a general contractor, provides refractory services and coating-line equipment to utilities, steel manufacturers and refineries in Indiana and five other states. Business has doubled in the last two years says Warnke, who started with the company nearly 30 years ago as a self-described “Girl Friday.” Now, as CFO, she handles payroll for 30 full-time employees and up to 500 union bricklayers and laborers during peak periods.

Harting worked his way up from the machine shop to CEO. McMillan, a resident of Illinois, is in charge of sales.

“We're like a wheel,” Warnke says. “Everyone has a spoke. Each one of us holds things together.”

She calls company founder Jack Carlson “a dynamic, charismatic leader. “He believed in hiring talented people he could trust,” Warnke says. “He made every customer and every employee, no matter what they did, feel good and special.”

It's a legacy the trio at the top is committed to continuing.

Larry Kondrat
Calumet Testing Services Inc., Griffith
Small Business Person of the Year

Larry Kondrat started with Griffith-based Calumet Testing Services right out of high school in 1978 and has been instrumental in its expansion. CTS provides non-destructive testing services to ensure fabrications meet welding codes and quality standards. Over the past 35 years, CTS has grown from four employees to 30 and has more than 800 customers, largely as the result of Kondrat's leadership.

John Freyek, of First Merchants Bank, nominated Kondrat for the Small Business Person of the Year award, saying, “Through his gifts of leadership, example and generosity, he has made life immeasurably better for the people of Northwest Indiana.”

“ IN ORDER TO KEEP GROWING, WE NEED A WORKFORCE” Larry Kondrat, president of Calumet Testing Services.
“IN ORDER TO KEEP GROWING, WE NEED A WORKFORCE” Larry Kondrat, president of Calumet Testing Services.

Kondrat refers to his career as “an interesting ride.” He says, “We've kept growing, a little bit here and a little bit there.”

Five years ago, CTS launched the Calumet Welding Center to train a new crop of welders for jobs that are opening up, as an increasing number of skilled-trades employees retire.

“In order to keep growing, we need to have a workforce,” Kondrat says. “We get kids that haven't even held a wrench before. We give them intensive hands-on training and then work with them to get jobs. We teach employability skills as well.”

Kondrat estimates about 10,000 welding jobs will become available every year in Northwest Indiana. “This is a skill that's not disappearing,” he says. “Everything in the world is put together with welds.”

Bob Urschel
Urschel Laboratories, Valparaiso
Lifetime Achievement Award

Bob Urschel is a third-generation entrepreneur who began working in the family business before he graduated from high school. The Valparaiso based family business was started in 1910 by his grandfather, William Urschel, who invented the Gooseberry Snipper to remove stems and blossoms from berries. Today, Urschel Laboratories has 500 employees who design and manufacture food cutting machinery used by major food processing companies throughout the United States and more than 100 other countries.

Bob is handing over the highly successful business to his son Rick, who became CEO and president in 2013. The company is completing a $104 million expansion that will move its global headquarters to Chesterton this year.

Although the family business continues to thrive, Bob Urschel is not one to claim credit for its success. In fact, he shuns the spotlight, leaving it to others to tout his talents and explain why he is worthy of the Lifetime Achievement Award.

James Jorgensen, of Hoeppner, Wagner & Evans, says, “Urschel Laboratories is the best in the world at what it does. It is the product of its outstanding and visionary people. Bob Urschel is the best of the best.”

Rex Richards, president of the Greater Valparaiso Chamber of Commerce, notes, “After 44 years, he has passed the reins on to his son but remains committed to bettering the community he calls home.”

The annual Entrepreneurial Excellence Awards celebrate individuals and businesses that contribute to the economic vitality of the seven counties in the Northwest Indiana region served by Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center. Lorri Feldt, the center's regional director, thanked the funding partners for supporting the event. The sponsors include: NIPSCO, Centier Bank, The Times Media Co., the Regional Development Co., WeCreate Media, Wintrust Commercial Bank, The Idea Factory, BMO Harris Bank, First Merchants Bank, First Financial Bank, 1st Source Bank, Horizon Bank, Peoples Bank, Pyro Industrial, Hoeppner Wagner & Evans, Purdue University Calumet, Indiana University School of Business and Economics, Urschel, and Northwest Indiana Business Quarterly.


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