Gala held to celebrate entrepreneur of the year

A black-tie gala celebration in Silicon Valley brought some of the Bay Area's brightest business minds together for the Ernst and Young 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year Awards ceremony at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. 

Thirty finalists listed alphabetically in the program from Addepar to Zazzle were selected from hundreds of nominees. 

"What I noticed about our group specifically this year with our finalists...they're really passionate about a bigger purpose and impacting their communities," said Rebecca Norris, co-director of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. 

One of the finalists was Juan Sanchez, President of Clase Azul Spirits which makes high-end tequila in Mexico packaged in hand-crafted bottles. He said his company has tried to make a difference for people in some of Mexico's smallest towns.

"We have a ton of folks in very, very small towns, less than 1,500 people where we are the main employer in town, so I think (it's) the combination of responsibility, combined with social awareness," said Sanchez, who was honored with the company's founder and CEO Arturo Lomeli. 

Some say although cities in other parts of the nation have become growing tech hubs for startups, Silicon Valley and the Bay Area have a critical mass of top talent that make the region an ideal place to grow their business. 

One finalist, Joe DeSimone, CEO of Carbon sported a 3-D printed bow-tie, and said he had moved his 3-D printing startup company from North Carolina to the Bay Area.

"Our company could not have grown at the speed we've grown or advanced our technology at this rate unless we were in Silicon Valley," said DeSimone, "Being an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley must be what it was like being in Florence during the Rennaissance." 

Other finalists such as Doug Merritt, the President & CEO of Splunk which creates data analyzing software say it is an exciting time being part of a technological revolution. 

"What I like about what's happening right every company is becoming a tech company," said Merritt, "People are bringing data and technology and new thinking to industries that have been run the same way for decades or centuries."

Finalist Amir Dan Rubin is President and CEO of OneMedical, which is creating a network of health care offices and utilizing an app to better connect customers and health care providers. 

"In the Bay Area, we have people who say I think that's a great idea, even though it's never been done before, even though it's big, it's challenging," said Rubin, "So this environment in the Bay Area is very special."

These entrepreneurs say they recognize that success also can create challenges, with higher housing costs and tech inequality in the community.

Some say they're reflecting on how to use their products or economic power to develop solutions and give back. 

"Data can help," said Splunk's Doug Merritt, "Getting more efficient on home building, understanding where the pockets of economic benefit are."

Former Google executive-turned-underwear-entrepreneur Heidi Zak had encouraging words for those who want to build a business, but said it can take a long time to succeed and taking risks is part of the job.

"Take the plunge, you're never going to regret trying because the worse that can happen is you learn a lot. And that's not a bad thing," said Zak, who co-founded ThirdLove with her husband.

Zak and her husband were among ten entrepreneurs who won Entrepreneur of the Year awards Friday night. 

The ten winners will move on to a national competition. Many said it was rewarding just to be recognized for their work. 

The Entrepreneur Of The Year 2019 Northern California Award winners are:

•           Joseph DeSimone, Co-Founder & CEO | Carbon, Inc. 
•           Arturo Lomeli, Founder & CEO | Clase Azul Spirits
•           Juan Sanchez, President | Clase Azul Spirits
•           Amir Dan Rubin, President & CEO | One Medical 
•           Stephen Hawthornthwaite, Co-Founder & CEO | Rothy's, Inc.
•           Ralph Clark, CEO | ShotSpotter
•           Doug Merritt, President & CEO | Splunk Inc.
•           David Spector, Co-Founder & Co-CEO | ThirdLove
•           Heidi Zak, Co-Founder & Co-CEO | ThirdLove
•           Stephane Kasriel, President & CEO | Upwork Inc.