Honoring Louisville’s Greats

Chris Sullivan of Outback Steakhouse, Ulysses Lee “Junior” Bridgeman of Bridgeman Foods, Inc. and James H. Booth of Booth Energy Group.

Chris Sullivan of Outback Steakhouse, Ulysses Lee “Junior” Bridgeman of Bridgeman Foods, Inc. and James H. Booth of Booth Energy Group.

By WESLEY KERRICK
Contributing Writer

Some people work for long established companies, some for burgeoning startups, others for themselves. And, of course, there’s everything in between. But wherever you work, you know this: your employer didn’t come out of nowhere. Trace it back far enough, and somebody put together the know-how and the capital to get that business off the ground.

The Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame recognizes people like that. On Nov. 19, it will induct four new members. Now in its fifth year, the induction ceremony will be held for the first time at Mellwood Arts and Entertainment Center, 1860 Mellwood Ave., beginning at 6 p.m. Organizers are expecting around 300 people – their biggest turnout yet.

This year’s inductees are James H. Booth of Booth Energy Group, Ulysses Lee “Junior” Bridgeman of Bridgeman Foods, Inc., Chris Sullivan of Outback Steakhouse, and John A. Williams, Sr. of Computer Services, Inc.

Three budding new entrepreneurs will also be recognized at the event: Ankur Gopal of Interapt, Jennifer Mackin of The Oliver Group and Nate Morris of Rubicon Global.

During the ceremony, the inductees will tell the story of how they grew their company from an idea to a prosperous success. “It’s an inspiring evening,” said Hall of Fame co-founder Brian Raney. “You get to hear all of the ups and downs, and hear what it was like for them and the people around them.”

The event will have two main functions: to honor past accomplishments and to empower tomorrow’s up-and-coming leaders. Event manager Tonya York is excited about both. “We’re preserving and celebrating some of the best of the best, while also encouraging the entrepreneurs of the future,” she said.

Before and after the ceremony, young entrepreneurs will have the chance to network with potential role models and mentors. “It’s an opportunity you don’t get very often to just be with some amazing entrepreneurial brainpower,” York said.

“It’s an amazing gathering and group of kind of the crème de la crème of entrepreneurs who are from Kentucky, and who’ve done extremely well,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being in the same room with a really large group of amazing people.”

Raney’s co-founder of Kentucky Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, Bobby Clark, said startup businesses need mentorship and guidance just as much as they need capital. “Experience is the key.”

“By recognizing the greatest Kentucky’s had to offer, we’re providing an opportunity for mentorship, and for learning by example,” he said.

Raney said the event also raises public awareness of the vital role entrepreneurs serve in the economy. He remembers walking around UK’s campus asking students if they recognized the names of some highly successful entrepreneurs from Kentucky. “They were like, ‘Nope, don’t know who that is,’” he said. “Nobody had ever heard of these very successful entrepreneurs, so we wanted to do something to recognize them.”

So, in 2010, Raney and Clark founded the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame.

“As a kid you hear about players in the NBA all the time, and you’re like, ‘Well, I want to go play basketball in the NBA then,’” Raney said. “So we were hoping that as a kid you might hear about the successful entrepreneurs a little bit more.”

The job creation that often comes with new businesses is certainly noteworthy. For example, past Hall of Fame inductees Ronald Geary and Bruce Lunsford founded companies that together created 90,000 jobs, according to Clark. “I think it is a very important path to our economy, not only in Kentucky but in the United States, to promote entrepreneurship.”

Himself an entrepreneur, Clark has been passionate about entrepreneurship since college. “I knew then, or learned from others, that creating jobs, pursuing your passion is a liberating opportunity,” he said.

As in years past, Clark will be the emcee at this year’s event. “It warms my heart to be a part of this evening, and of the ongoing support of entrepreneurship throughout the commonwealth,” he said. “It’s one of the most thrilling nights I have each year. It’s wonderful to get up and share what I’ve been passionate about for the last about 30 years of my life.”

This is only the second year the event has been held in Louisville. It was in Lexington previously, where the actual Hall of Fame is housed at Awesome Inc, a business incubator that creates and grows high tech startups.

Seating is $75 per person; reservations are required. To reserve a seat, call Dees at 502.419.6370 or visit www.kyehof.eventbrite.com. For more information about the Hall of Fame, including bios of new and past inductees, visit www.entrepreneurhof.com.