EY Names Entrepreneur of Year Award Southwest Winners

The Southwest regional winners now are eligible for consideration in the national EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award program.

Nicholas Kennedy

Global assurance, tax, transaction, and adviser services firm EY announced the Southwest winners in its Entrepreneur of the Year Award program Saturday during a gala event at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. 

The winners were named from a group of 47 North Texans who were regional finalists for the award. EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award has recognized business leaders in more than 145 cities in more than 60 countries across the globe. The finalists came from a diverse background in business.


Southwest regional winners of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Award. [Photo: Chris Savas Photography via EY]

“EY has been recognizing leading entrepreneurs for over three decades,” said Debra von Storch, EY Americas Entrepreneur Of The Year program director, in a release. “The class of winners in 2017 represent new ways of thinking, disruptive business models, and overall dynamism that make this country a great place to do business.”

The winners were chosen by an independent judging panel composed of previous winners, top CEOs, investors, and other regional business leaders, according to EY.

Regional winners now are eligible to be considered for the Entrepreneur of the Year National program, the winners of which will be announced Nov. 18 at the Entrepreneur of the Year Awards gala in Palm Springs, California.

The Entrepreneur of the Year Overall Award winner will then compete for the World Entrepreneur of the Year Award in June 2018 in Monaco.

The Southwest regional winners for the 2017 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Award include the following (D CEO has more about the winners here):

Kathryn and Craig Hall EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2017

Kathryn and Craig Hall [Photo: Chris Savas Photography via EY]

Master Entrepreneur Of The Year

Kathryn Hall
Co-proprietor and vintner, HALL Wines
Craig Hall
Chairman, HALL Group
Craig Hall moved his company to Dallas in the early 1980s and had to rebuild after filing for bankruptcy in 1992. He married Kathryn Walt, an attorney and co-founder of North Texas Food Bank, a year later. Today, the HALL Group is a diversified powerhouse with interests in real estate, financial lending, hospitality, winemaking, art collecting, and investments.


7-Eleven CEO Joe DePinto [Photo: Chris Savas Photography via EY]

Retail Master Entrepreneur Of The Year

Joseph M. DePinto
President and CEO, 7-Eleven Inc.
DePinto has taken an active approach in leading the Irving-based company by improving company culture, transitioning to a franchise model, and making significant changes to the retail chain’s food offerings and marketing.

Social Entrepreneur Of The Year

Nathan Sheets
President and Chief Steward, Nature Nate’s
The McKinney-based honey company became Nature Nate’s when Sheets changed the name of North Dallas Honey Co. after he bought it. It has 90 employees and puts its products on the shelves of major retailers.


Dr. Sulman Ahmed [Photo: Chris Savas Photography via EY]


Dr. Sulman Ahmed
Founder and CEO, DECA Dental
Ahmed grew up in Zimbabwe, and came to the U.S., where he attended dental school. He opened a private practice in 2009. Dallas-based DECA offers a one-stop shop for same-day appointments, a service guarantee, and payment plans. It grew to four locations in its first year. By 2016, the company had grown to 70 locations.

Consumer Products

Suzy Bátiz
Founder and CEO, Poo~Pourri
Batiz launched Poo~Pourri in 2007 and has made a success of her oil-based before-you-go bathroom spray through clever packaging and a funny viral video. She’s sold more than 22 million bottles in 42 countries.


Lewis L. Bird III
Chairman and CEO, At Home
Bird became CEO in late 2012 when the company was still called Garden Ridge. He moved the company’s headquarters to North Texas and changed the name to At Home.

Real Estate & Construction

Dallas Tanner
Chief investment officer, Invitation Homes
John Bartling
President and CEO, Invitation Homes
Invitation Homes was formed in 2012 when the bottom dropped out of the housing market when the private equity firm Blackstone Group entered the fray. Invitation bought up foreclosed homes on the cheap, with the gamble paying off last year when Invitation went public raising $1.54 billion and transforming the single-family rental market.


Aaron Graft [Photo: Chris Savas Photography via EY]

Business and Financial Services

Aaron Graft
Founder, vice chairman, and CEO, Triumph Bancorp Inc.
The company is a unique, publicly traded community bank with a commercial-finance emphasis on factoring, asset-based lending, and equipment finance. It has $2.7 billion in assets.

Technology & Media Services

Greg Brown
President and CEO, Learfield Communications LLC
Plano-based Learfield manages multimedia rights and sponsorships for more than 120 college sports programs, conferences, and arenas, including Southern Methodist University and University of North Texas. Brown has been at Learfield for more than 30 years.


Robert Michelson [Photo: Chris Savas Photography via EY]


Robert Michelson
CEO, RMG Networks Inc.
A serial entrepreneur, Michelson came in to turn around RMG Networks in 2014. It now employs 180 people worldwide and generated $37.6 million in revenue last year.


Dan Flaherty and Jason McCann of VARIDESK [Photo: Chris Savas Photography via EY]

Emerging Consumer Products

Dan Flaherty
Founder, Varidesk
Jason McCann
CEO, Varidesk
The Coppell company was launched after Flaherty found it hard to find a reasonably priced stand-up desk when he was diagnosed with sciatic nerve pain. Now, the company has 162 employees, 50 products, and sales to one million “fans” in roughly 130 countries. 


Nicholas Kennedy [Photo: Chris Savas Photography via EY]

Emerging Services

Nicholas Kennedy
Founder and CEO, RISE Air
Kennedy launched RISE Air in 2014 without even one day of work experience in the airline industry. The membership-based air travel service now has carried more than 25,000 passengers in Dallas, Austin, Houston, Midland, and San Antonio. Earlier this month, RISE was acquired by Surf Air, a California airline membership company. Kennedy will stay on as president of the Texas region. Watch our video on RISE and Kennedy here.

Emerging Technology

Stephanie Alsbrooks
CEO and founder, defi SOLUTIONS
Alsbrooks scraped together her own money, along with cash from friends, to launch Grapevine-based defi Solutions five years ago. It offers software-powered loan origination for the auto lending business.

Read more about the Southwest regional winners and finalists here

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