Dan Kotter, Program Director, is gearing up for this year’s annual Greater Washington EY Entrepreneur of the Year (EOY) Awards Gala. This event recognizes and honors entrepreneurs from a variety of industries throughout the Greater Washington area. It is a celebration of community engagement and dedication.
WashingtonExec discussed with Kotter just what defines a winning candidate and what it means to be nominated, while also shedding light about what we can expect at this year’s black-tie. The Gala will be held on June 18, 2015 with some stiff competition by finalists in the healthcare, federal IT and hospitality industries.
WashingtonExec: Could you tell us a little bit about your role at Ernst & Young (EY) and what made you particularly drawn to this entrepreneurial event?
Dan Kotter: I’m in the audit practice, so even as a young staffer when I started out of college, the companies that I enjoyed working with the most were those that were really trying to change the future. Whether it was a new internet service provider, such as, AOL , or a new life science biotechnology company searching for a cure for cancer – those were the initial companies that I really liked to work with because of the growth and the excitement that existed. I’ve been with the firm just over 16 years and my roles within the firm have dealt principally with those types of companies as well as our venture capital backed group in helping identify needs and resources for companies that are looking to grow. The EY Entrepreneur the Year (EOY) Awards are right in line with what I’ve done previously in helping successful or fledgling entrepreneurs come together with an environment and received recognition for the jobs that they create, the markets that they try to attract and really quite awe inspiring the challenges that each one of them seem to overcome.
WashingtonExec: Do you have a favorite aspect to the EOY Greater Washington event?
Dan Kotter: In this community there are a lot of government contractors; aerospace and defense are huge in this market. That is one of the unique things about this program – in year’s past we’ve seen companies that are either in food, retail, distribution, technology, health, IT services, services and real estate. The diversity that exists in the DC marketplace is represented in the program. Government contractors really play an important role in this community and those that have been successful are the entrepreneurs. Many of our award winners cut their teeth in some of the largest government contractors and through their own innovation they left those government contractors to start their own companies – that’s where the entrepreneurial bug has bit and that’s where they have continued to push forward. Despite facing initial challenges, they continue to persevere and move forward. A couple of the finalists were not native English speakers when they first came to the country so they have persevered through other difficult challenges and have been very successful in the companies that they lead today.
WashingtonExec: I can imagine that this is a very competitive space compared to some of the other EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards ceremonies across the country. Have you all considered breaking off into an EOY Northern Virginia and EOY Washington DC?
Dan Kotter: The EOY Greater Washington is tied to the core of individuals rather than a geographic location. Some of the geographic location is how we are divided up – our markets or our geographic locations but the entrepreneurs that we see have a broader reach than just their geographic location. Jose Andreas is a good example. He’s well known across the country, not just in the Greater DC area.
Many of the companies that were nominated this year doubled their revenue growth when compared to the prior year. I think on average revenues over the last three years were up 50-60%, and the number of employees was up 97%.
WashingtonExec: Many of our readers are in the federal contracting industry and are interested in learning more about the nomination process. How are your awards different from other annual awards in our area?
Dan Kotter: One noticeable difference is that our one judging panel is made of independent judges; the majority of whom have been prior winners. As entrepreneurs they know what it takes to be an entrepreneur and are able to recognize the sacrifices that have to be made. Many of the companies that were nominated this year doubled their revenue growth when compared to the prior year. I think on average revenues over the last three years were up 50-60%, and the number of employees was up 97%. Sure there is going to be growth from the larger companies but the backbone of the growth is really in the entrepreneurial companies; the small businesses that drive innovation, create jobs, that and spur the next thing to come out of the DC market.
WashingtonExec: Can you talk more about what industries in the DC area you are seeing high growth?
Dan Kotter: The overall technology space is resurging and then in specifically in the DC market one of the white hot industries is the cyber; whether it is cyber security, information security – that seems to be on everyone’s radar. In every boardroom that I’ve been associated with – cyber security is first and foremost. There are several companies in the area that have done very well. There have been several successful M&A exits for those entrepreneurs and that will hopefully breed the next round of entrepreneurial growth right now as they take those proceeds and fund the next things.
The other areas that have been growing rapidly are the health information technology space – the Affordable Care Act and the state exchanges have created additional needs and services that have historically been unmet. Some of the entrepreneurial companies have been able to react quickly and are more responsive to meet those needs as they have arisen.
Finally, technology will always be there as the software models evolve making sure that your computer runs better to predicting what I may buy next. The technology aspect continues to be impressive.
WashingtonExec: Every year EOY recognizes entrepreneurs whom are still in high school, through The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). Do you have any updates for us regarding past winners?
Dan Kotter: The National NFTE winner from a couple of years ago founded a company that made trendy bow ties. I still have two bow ties in my repertoire from two seventeen year old kids who just could not have been more excited about their business that they had formulated and the product that they were making.