SEIZING THE DAY, EVERY DAY
Construction waste management, commercial real-estate development, financial tech, nutritional and personal products, financial services—this year’s 20 in Their Twenties honorees hail from an eclectic mix of business disciplines. But all bring to their jobs every day a sense of possibilities, and they are doing their best to realize both their organizational potential, and their own. Since the first 20 In Their Twenties class in 2008, Ingram’s has been honored to spotlight these young executives and business owners. By virtue of their success, they have demonstrated that they possess the qualities to be considered future leaders in the business community. Please join us in congratulating members of this year’s class, and those from prior years, and in thanking them for helping strengthen the entrepreneurial fabric of the city.
Alexis Albright, Exceptional Waste Solutions
Master of waste management and KC beauty queen: whether a tiara or hard hat, Alexis Albright is comfortable wearing many hats, a character trait that comes in handy at her company, Exceptional Waste Solutions. Even as founder, president and CEO, this former Miss Kansas City in the Miss Missouri pageant competition isn’t afraid to dig in and get her hands dirty in other roles by focusing on jobs such as vendor negotiation and site setup for a niche company operating in the construction sphere. The University of Missouri alumna founded EWS in 2016 after working in construction and recognizing the need for better waste management services at project sites. It has grown from servicing locations in one state to six. Along the way, revenues have surged 1,200 percent since Year One. Albright takes pride in the culture she is building at her company.
Jeffrey Bentz, Cushman & Wakefield
Making an impact on the Kansas City urban core has always been among Jeffrey Bentz’s goals. Once he determined how he was going to make that impact, he was ready to take flight. Bentz is a senior associate at Cushman & Wakefield, where he started his career in 2013 after graduating from Missouri State University with a degree in business and real estate. Bentz has completed over $125 million worth of real-estate transactions, which led to over $350 million of new developments. Some of the most notable transactions on his resume? The historic Power & Light Building, Corrigan Station, and the Union at Berkley Riverfront. These transactions have begun to transform the urban core, he says. “Continuing the transformation has motivated me and confirmed my career path as a real-estate entrepreneur was the correct path for me,” Bentz said. “I look forward to continuing to make an impact in the community and create new development opportunities for growth in the Kansas City metropolitan area over the decades to come.”
Stephanie Brown, Five Elms Capital
As a vice president at Five Elms Capital, not only has Stephanie Brown helped move the company forward internally by developing training programs that better prepare analysts, but every day, she helps move other, outside entrepreneurs and businesses forward, too. Her efforts propel, promote and protect entrepreneurship, and she strategizes with CEOs to determine whether pursuing acquisitions or growing organically is the right move. She negotiates the deals to ensure that both Five Elms and its clients benefit. “Whether it’s removing toxic shareholders to empower the CEO to seize the market opportunity head or providing capital and expertise to companies lacking subject matter experts,” Brown says. “It’s through these processes and conversations that I contribute to the ongoing success of entrepreneurs and their businesses.”
Taylor Buford, Heartland Opportunity Partners
Jumping on board at Heartland Opportunity Partners in January 2017, Taylor Buford continued nurturing his entrepreneurship at this small private equity fund, but he proved he was no rookie. “When I was 16 years old, instead of getting a car for my birthday, I received a group of vending machines and was tasked with the challenge of learning what it takes to run a business,” he said, first at a local level, then scaling up. Buford has helped raise over $1 million for investing in various business ventures, including the purchase of over 60 Pizza Huts. Most recently, he and a business partner recognized a need for CDL drivers in the transportation industry, so they started a placement service called DriverEnlist, where he serves as managing partner.
Through high school and college, Brett Carmical served in many organizations and was bred to be a leader. His leadership, though, was not truly put to the test until he was hired as human-resources generalist for LLL Transport in 2012 straight out of school. LLL Transport had recently been acquired by a private-equity firm, and he was tasked with building the HR department. He didn’t disappoint; he quickly moved up through the ranks, and when LLL Transport acquired another company in 2015, he yet again assumed the HR responsibilities for both companies. When he’s not fulfilling his goals for what is now Girton LLL Transport, he works on another component of his life that adds to his entrepreneurial portfolio: filmmaking.
Alex Edwards, Nothing Bundt Cakes
Even when cupcakes were all the rage, Alex Edwards didn’t shy away from an opportunity he saw in the competitive arena of baked goods. He opened the original Overland Park Nothing Bundt Cakes store in 2013, and after the second full year, topped $1 million in sales. Five years later, the franchise continues to boom. With a second store in Mission and a third in the Northland, the fourth store will open in Lee’s Summit this month, with $2 million in projected sales. While he makes it seem like a piece of cake, none of this would be possible without keeping his priorities in order. “As my business grew, I realized that in order to truly help my leadership team succeed, I needed to be the best possible version of myself,” he says. “It sounds simple, but in my opinion, an entrepreneur not only improves their industry–they improve themselves and from there improve those around them.”
Jorge Flores, J.F. & Associaties
Jack of all trades? More like master. Jorge Flores works as a police officer in Kansas City, Kan. (graduating valedictorian from the Police Academy), while owning and managing J.F. & Associates Real Estate, and he’s also on the boards of two non-profit organizations. Flores’ tireless dedication to career and community isn’t a new trait. “I spent my high school years working two jobs, seven days a week and was able to purchase my first home,” he recalls. “I decided that real estate would be my second career, so I signed up and obtained my real-estate license, and while working nights and in school full-time I managed to sell over 20 homes.” At 26, while Flores continues to serve the community and manage his company, his entrepreneurial vision is clear as he looks toward the future and furthers his education at the UMKC School of Law.
Conner Hazelrigg, 1773 Innovation Co.
By creating the Sunshine Box, a solar-powered contraption that allows people to charge their mobile devices sans traditional power sources, Conner Hazelrigg has proven that entrepreneurship is not limited to for-profit ventures. “I have been able to find the median between purpose and profit, which allows me to grow more as an individual than if I were to choose one,” said Hazelrigg, CEO and founder of 1773 Innovation Co. “I exercised my entrepreneurial spirit by creating a product to increase individuals’ economic standing that inherently serves to decrease the energy gap in developing nations.” Since the first boxes went into use, they have charged 60,000 cell phones in two years, in 16 underdeveloped countries on four continents. That, in turn, has led to creating income sources for many.
Johnny Hilgers, Spring Venture Group
Joining Spring Venture Group in 2011, Johnny Hilgers jumped on board as a junior analyst. Since then, he has risen to executive vice president, and with his ascent, and the company is sizzling with growth. “At Spring, I realized the massive potential early on of what we could do with data to improve all aspects of our business, so I became relentless on studying modern machine learning and optimization techniques,” Hilgers says. “By combining my passion for analyzing data with a fortified mathematical/statistical understanding and entrepreneurial mindset, data science was born at SVG.” The first step to that was introduction of machine learning to improve the process of acquiring prospects online. That alone increased revenue 8 percent for the policies Hilgers and his team were writing after the roll-out.
Quinton Huffman, Honeywell
Quinton Huffman’s engineering prowess has taken him into cockpits of Air Force planes, inside Navy submarines and into briefings with generals in the Pentagon. As an engineering technical manager at Honeywell, Huffman has spent the past seven years developing national-defense products. He has developed software to work with the Air Force’s F-15E fighter jet and worked on revamping Honeywell’s project-management system. On the latter effort, he oversaw 60 engineering projects worth $40 million in annual revenue, and after he stepped in, cost forecasting was up by 25 percent. He uses his entrepreneurial skills to breed more of the same. “I am spreading the entrepreneurial mind set to my employees,” Huffman says. “I guide them to each be entrepreneurs in order to progress Honeywell’s newest, most technical products.”
Daniel Kusmin, Cobbs Allen
Nothing worth having comes easy, the saying goes. Daniel Kusmin lived it, moving from the account management side of things at Lockton to risk consultant at Cobbs Allen. And a risk it was, giving up a steady book of business for unchartered waters. But that, he says, is entrepreneurship. He was advancing quickly at Lockton, but decided his skills were more conducive to sales. After joining Cobbs Allen, Kusmin says, “I failed for the first seven months of being on my own and went 0-15 on the deals that I worked on. Finally, I started to have some success and since February of 2018, I have written $145,000 in new recurring revenue. I have also been tasked with inheriting and managing a $700,000 existing book of business,” he said. “I expect to close out the 2018 year with close to $200,000 in new business written.”
Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs
Patrick Mahomes’ is the kind of entrepreneur who makes the very most of what he was born with. In his case, lots and lots of athleticism. But in addition to talent, he had a vision of where he wanted it to take him, and the drive to make it happen. That made him the Chiefs’ No. 1 draft pick last year, and earned him a $16 million guaranteed contract. In his first five games as starter, Mahomes has passed for 1,513 yards and 13 touchdowns with two interceptions— and five wins. Beyond just stats, Mahomes has reignited an electric fire in Chiefs fans, and with his leadership on the field even has some (OK, most) already envisioning the crowd that a Super Bowl parade would draw. Hailing from Whitehouse, Texas, Mahomes made his mark at Texas Tech before skipping his senior year to follow his dream of playing in the NFL.
John Nolan, Stonegate LLC
John Nolan places no limits on his entrepreneurial ventures. His work ethic carries him and ensures success, no matter the variety of business he dabbles in. “Throughout my undergrad and young professional career, I’ve been constantly searching for new ways to stand out and overachieve because that is the only normal I know,” Nolan said. Starting in college, Nolan founded a lawn-care business that became North American Landscape Solutions—and generated $2 million in sales annually for four years. After school, he ventured into health care, founding Heartland Healthcare Providers, a staffing agency with special focus on nurses. He serves as vice president, growing the company to more than $5 million in sales annually. But that still wasn’t enough for his entrepreneurial spirit. At the beginning of this year, he also founded Stonegate LLC, a cremation-services company
Ryan Othmer, Great Western Bank
When Ryan Othmer moved here from Topeka, he knew few people. But brick by brick, he built his business and his montage of contacts. “Every entrepreneur starts from ground zero and must absorb as much knowledge as possible while in the beginning stages,” Othmer says. “But to move forward, an entrepreneur must be willing to take risks, have the ability to persevere through obstacles while maintaining upmost integrity.” Now a senior commercial lender at Great Western Bank, he’s grown his portfolio and continues to exceed his production goals. Othmer’s performance isn’t happenstance, but a direct reflection of his hungry attitude: “My business was built meeting after meeting,” Othmer said. “By understanding how I can be a reliable resource for those around me, and by executing the help I promised.”
Anna Petrow, Anna Petrow Photography
At just 22, Anna Petrow started her own photography company, and if her name rings a bell, it might be because you’ve seen her work published in The New York Times, Jetsetter, or local titles. With the mantra “eat well, travel often,” Petrow has found a niche in just that: food and travel photography. Her company has yielded 35 percent annual revenue growth the past three years and she has a client list that spans coast to coast (and includes notables like James Beard Award winners), but her greatest accomplishment has been helping put Kansas City on the culinary map. “This city with Midwestern roots, a penchant for hard work and a dedication to placing community over competition deserves its place on the national stage,” she said. “It’s an honor to use my craft every day to shine a light on the makers, chefs and incredible businessmen and women of this city.”
Zach Pettet, NBKC/Fountain City Fintech
Integrity sits at the core of Zach Pettet’s motivations. “I’ve always been passionate about finance, but the standard entrylevel opportunities in the financial industry came with too many ethical questions for me,” he says. “My internship experience at a top-tier investment bank in college was a perfect example. “I asked hundreds of questions about the how and the why of selling complex financial products to average Americans. My managers rarely had answers.” He left there committed to “leveling the paying field for those who interact with our financial system.” With the realization that he was destined for an alternative financial path, Pettet worked with a number of KC start-ups, but landed at NBKC as fintech strategist and director for Fountain City Fintech. In this role, Pettet travels the country, pushing KC as a leader in fintech.
Katie Petty, Wild Heart
From sixth-grade science fair project to sealed with a patent: Katie Petty’s innovative spirit runs deep. “Being an entrepreneur isn’t something I ever thought I could be labeled as 16 years ago; I just felt this overwhelming passion and excitement to develop products to help make life easier for pet owners,” she says. That’s exactly what she did by developing a brushless paw wash. As president of Wild Heart, Petty still uses the same design for the paw wash that she developed during the science fair, and this fall, her company will be adding collars and leashes to its product catalogue. And though she is passionate about producing her paw washer, Petty says her biggest accomplishment to date is being able to use her platform to mentor others, whether they are students or adults.
Samuel Robinson, Dredge America
Dredge America is a national hydraulic-dredging contractor specializing in preserving lakes, waterways and lagoons, and Samuel Robinson helps drive success as its vice president. He hopped on board in 2012 after earning his master’s from the University of Tennessee School of Engineering, and has been a part of over 40 unique dredging projects across the countryas the company doubled in revenues the past five years. “Creating innovative solutions to our clients’ problems and maintaining our niche in the market is what makes us successful,” he says. While expansion is a plus, Robinson said managing the growth hasn’t always been easy, and that the only consistency in the business is inevitable change. “The key to our success now and in the future is being able to adapt to change, learn from our mistakes, continue to take calculated risks and never lose site of our vision,” Robinson said.
Brady Simmons, Signal Kit Service/Domenari
In 2016, Brady Simmons co-released Signal Kit Service, a communication suite for the K-12 community, and in less than two years, he and his team surpassed 2 million users. The service includes mass communication, internal collaboration, business intelligence and industry-leader oversight. Fast forward two years, and in September, Simmons entered a new sphere as his second entrepreneurial effort unfolded: he closed a transaction with Domenari Capital, launching himself into the world of venture capital and private equity. “With the Domenari team,” Simmons said. “I will be working on investments that will add to our extensive portfolio of worldwide projects with companies such as Amazon and other name-brand media ventures.” Keep your eyes on Domenari this quarter: the company will be working on a nine-figure exit of a current mineral project.
Shauna Upperman, Zhou Nutrition
After building a seven-figure reselling business and becoming disillusioned with “constantly chasing new inventory,” Shauna Upperman and her husband, Alex, created their own product line, Zhou Nutrition, in October 2014—a decision based on both passion and logistics. “Having sold products in a wide range of categories online, dietary supplements checked a lot of the boxes for us as a great opportunity–high perceived value, consumable, small and light for shipping, and a heavy emphasis on marketing and branding, which I have always loved,” Shauna said. After the first product became successful on Amazon within the first two months, the pair continued to build the brand and then sold Zhou to a public-strategic buyer for just under $20 million. She has stuck with Zhou since its acquisition—one reason, perhaps, that the company is set to exceed $40 million in revenue this year.