Small business was celebrated Tuesday night at the Greater Louisville Inc. Inc. Credible Awards, in which owners praised the local business community and the city of Louisville.
A recurring theme was that these companies were proud to have started here and will continue to grow here, providing economic growth and employment in Louisville. The event was at the Kentucky Center for the Arts.
The Inc. Credible Awards began in 2000, and have grown ever since, celebrating Louisville’s bustling small businesses. The awards are presented in eight categories for businesses that operate with fewer than 100 employees. The companies have to be owned and operated in the greater Louisville area, and have been operating since before Jan. 1, 2015. Companies are nominated by others or can apply for the awards.
Kent Oyler, president of GLI, said small businesses are the backbone of the local business community. “You’re the moms and pops, the family entrepreneurs, the nonprofits, the employers who are the driving force of the American economy, and you, small business, are the future.”
He added that the size of the business doesn’t dictate importance, “I know the big guys have the advantage of scale, but we have the advantage of passion, and that’s what we’re celebrating tonight — the passion of small business.”
The winners are:
Small Business Leader of the Year
Winner: Tendai Charasika, owner and founder of SuperFanU, a platform to help teams connect with their fans.
Charasika credited his parents as inspiration for his drive in business and in life: “I’m honored to be up here representing not just SuperFanU but the Louisville community, and moments like these always make me think about my inspiration. You know, when I think about my father who is an immigrant from Zimbabwe, Africa, he literally walked barefoot and started his education at the age of 14 and then made it to the United States and became a small-business owner and entrepreneur. But most importantly this award this award is for my mother, who has been my rock and my inspiration, and who’s taught me so much about courage and about being involved and perseverance and love.”
He stressed diversity and unity as a way to move forward as a business community.
“As a native of Louisville, Ky., we’re all in this together, so we can wrap our arms in a huddle and go score together.”
Small Business of the Year
Finalists: Elite Homes, Office Resources Inc., PMR Companies, SmartBox and Venture First.
Winner: Solid Light Inc., a company that designs and builds visitor experiences to engage, enlighten and inspire.
Jonathan Noffke, executive director of project finance, accepted the award on behalf of the company because the owner and president, Cynthia Torp, was out-of-town on business.
Noffke said he’s seen the company grow from about 12 employees to nearly 40. “We are, at the heart of it, a Louisville company, and we’re very, very proud to be proud to call ourselves Louisvillians.”
Many local companies have partnered with Solid Light, he said. “It’s so gratifying to be a part of the small biz community and see your work everywhere you go.”
Very Small Business of the Year
Finalists: Ashley Rountree and Associates, Helping Other People Excel (HOPE), Hi-Five Doughnuts, Louisville Family Fun and RE Solutions.
Winner: WordsFresh, a copywriting company.
Mary Pat Nimon, owner and founder of WordsFresh, said, “We love to write, and we love what words can do in any kinds of tech and any communication.”
She emphasized the importance of good writing for businesses.
“We believe that great writing supercharges all communications,” Nimon said. “We also think it’s really noble work to help build the companies and organizations that make a difference in our community. Helping other people succeed is a splendid way to live. I can’t imagine doing any other work.”
Nonprofit of the Year
Finalists: Anchal Project, Waterfront Botanical Gardens, WaterStep and Wayside Christian Mission.
Winner: Shawnee Christian Healthcare Center, an organization providing health care services in the West End.
CEO Phyllis Platt said it was an honor to be among such a great group of nonprofits and small businesses.
“I think what makes us an incredible organization is not really anything that I do, but an incredible group of team members who see possibilities in the West End of Louisville and who really work hard every day.”
Inclusion and Diversity
Finalists: Benson Group LLC and Peptides International
Winner: El Kentubano, a free publication for the Latino community in Louisville.
Luis David Fuentes, founder and owner of the magazine, accepted the award and
talked about his journey from Cuba. “As an immigrant, I had really hard times in the beginning,” Fuentes said. He swept floors for a living, became an engineer, then led his magazine to success.
He talked about how much he loves the United States.
“On behalf of the community, I want to express our gratitude for welcoming us, for supporting us for opening your arms and receiving us, for bearing with our English,” he said. “I feel that we are blessed. Thank you for letting us enjoy the freedom. The freedom that I have here. The freedom that I don’t have in my home country. The freedom to vote, love to express our opinion.”
Finalists: Oasis Solutions and TriBlue Corporation
Winner: Switcher Inc., a platform that helps users create video for social media.
Nicholas Mattingly, founder and owner, accepted the award. “We are growing, it’s a lot of fun and we’re so happy to be in Louisville,” he said. “As a technology company, there’s a kind of polar expectation that you need to be in New York or San Francisco or one of the coasts. And we plan on being here and being an employer.”
Health and Wellness
Finalists: FieldTrip and My Health E.
Winners: Milk and Baby, a company that sells clothing for new and nursing mothers.
Beth Knockwafel and Kim Inge, co-founders, accepted the award together. They said they couldn’t do it without each other and the support of their families.
“We’re not always perfect partners, we’re perfect puzzle pieces,” Knockwafel said. “And I want to thank the public library. Almost everything I’ve learned, I’ve gotten from books at the public library.”
People’s Choice Award
Winner: Oasis Solutions, a software consulting and training organization.
Annette Manias, president, accepted the award, which was based on online voting. She said she asked everyone she knew to vote, and she thanked the audience and the community.