Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson writes a weekly column about management and leadership as well as diversity and other important issues for WRAL TechWire. His columns are published on Wednesdays. Thompson of The Diversity Movement was named an Entrepreneur Of The Yea 2023 Southeast Award winner.
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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Last week, I traveled to Atlanta with my family to attend the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award celebration, along with the friends and families of 37 other leaders and executives who had been named finalists for the award. The event was similar to award shows we all have watched on television: oversized stage, people in glittery clothing, lots of bright lights and cameras flashing.
What made this event so special for me was that it highlighted leaders and organizations in the Southeast, where I’ve made my home, raised my children, and built and led businesses. At the end of the show, I was the last name called of the 13 Southeast winners. From that moment on, the evening really speeded up – a one-minute speech (I took just a little liberty by going over the limit), a lot more flashing lights and cameras, and more smiles in one place than I think I’ve ever seen before.
During the excitement and celebration, though, while photos of the winners were being snapped, I took a quick moment to look at this group and thought deeply about what they had achieved. In building and running businesses that had major achievements, they were not just bringing money into local communities and providing employment, but also transforming lives. What an opportunity to authentically change the world and be recognized among such an inspirational group of entrepreneurs.
ENTREPRENEURS DRIVE THE ECONOMY
The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year award has been recognizing visionary entrepreneurs for nearly 40 years. Since the program launched, more than 11,000 U.S. executives have been honored, from household names like Starbucks’ Howard Schultz and Daymond John of FUBU to leaders who are committed to transforming their cities, states and regions by creating sustained success. As EY notes, the winners are “audacious entrepreneurs who test the limits of the possible…pacesetters who lift up their employees and communities.”
“Every year, we are completely blown away by the accomplishments of our Entrepreneur Of The Year Regional Award winners, and 2023 is no different,” explains AJ Jordan, EY Americas Entrepreneur Of The Year Program Director. “They are change-makers and champions of business and community…We can’t wait to see how these leaders will continue to improve lives and disrupt industries.”
The commitment to innovation and disruption, while also changing lives for the better, is our driving force at The Diversity Movement. Our focus is helping organizations create workplace excellence via diversity-led programs like online learning for frontline employees, executive assessment of cultural competency, building employee engagement through micro-learning, an expert-curated content hub called “TDM Library,” and client success teams that provide consulting and education services. Our products and people have directly impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.
ENTREPRENEURIAL VISION FUELING INNOVATION
In 2003, Zhang founded STAR in Simpsonville, South Carolina, to design and manufacture zero-emission vehicles for what she called the “aging-but-active Baby Boom generation.” Certainly an audacious ambition from the start, Zhang took the idea to the global market, utilizing the deceptively simple slogan: “Smiles per mile to measure success.”
Zhang focused on creating an innovative and positive business culture at STAR, built on her own belief system, establishing the company’s core mission: “To produce well-engineered, high-performance, safe low-speed electric vehicles that deliver an unforgettable driving experience.” STAR’s customer-centric approach led to a global network of authorized dealers and expansion of the product line across all off-road and low-speed vehicle types.
STAR is at the forefront of the low-speed electric vehicle market, which has experienced significant growth over the last several years as world populations have reacted to environmental concerns, government programs to incentivize sales and advancements in battery technology. Given climate concerns globally, one can only imagine what an impact Zhang (also an Inc. 2023 Female Founders 200 honoree) and STAR will continue to have as we all adjust to changing conditions and regulations created to keep the world liveable.
INNOVATION INSIDE THE HUMAN BODY
Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a disease that increases morbidity and mortality as the kidney function progressively declines until failure. There is no cure and roughly one in three Americans is at risk for CKD. On a global scale, the disease affects about 475 million people.
In the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 46% of adults older than 45 have CKD, with the majority of those (34%) older than 65. The disease is more prevalent among Black adults (20%) and Hispanic adults (14%) than other demographic groups. CKD is also an expensive disease, ranking among the most costly in the U.S. healthcare system.
Dr. Tim Bertram is the CEO of ProKidney (Nasdaq: PROK), a North Carolina company working in the field of cellular therapy focused on delaying kidney failure and the need for dialysis. Since there is no cure, the biotech company is focused on transforming the treatment options for CKD. ProKidney has introduced REACT, which according to the company, is a “first-of-its-kind, patented, proprietary therapy with the potential to preserve kidney function in patients at high risk of kidney failure.” The cell therapy utilizes a patient’s own kidney cells in the treatment process.
There is no stretch needed to understand the potential impact of ProKidney’s work under Bertram’s leadership. Half a billion people could ultimately improve their lives, and that equates to trillions of hours necessary for dialysis treatments. According to The Kidney Project at the University of California, San Francisco, kidney disease “disproportionately affects the nation’s minority and low-income patients…African Americans are 3.5 times more likely to have kidney failure. Native Americans are 1.5 times more likely to have kidney failure. Hispanics are 1.5 times more likely to have kidney failure.”
ProKidney is not only inspirational for its life-saving work, but for its commitment to North Carolina. Recently, the company announced that it would establish a biomanufacturing facility in Guilford County, leading to new jobs and investment in the Greensboro region.
“Innovative life science companies like ProKidney understand that North Carolina offers the key ingredients for business success,” said Gov. Roy Cooper in a statement. “Our leadership in this important industry sector is recognized around the world, thanks to the specialized workforce training and education systems that support North Carolina’s biotech companies.”
While I am certainly honored to have been named an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2023 Southeast Award Winner, I join in congratulating the other winners and finalists who are creating long-term value through their entrepreneurial spirit, purpose, growth and impact.
For a list of the other Southeast winners who are transforming the workplace and economy, visit EY.
About the Author
Donald Thompson founded The Diversity Movement to change the world. He was named EY Entrepreneur Of The Year® 2023 Southeast Award winner. As TDM CEO, he has guided work with hundreds of clients and through millions of data touch points. TDM’s global recognition centers on tying DEI initiatives to business objectives. Recognized by Inc., Fast Company and Forbes, Thompson is author of Underestimated: A CEO’s Unlikely Path to Success, hosts the podcast “High Octane Leadership in an Empathetic World” and has published widely on leadership and the executive mindset. As a leadership and executive coach, Thompson has created a culture-centric ethos for winning in the marketplace by balancing empathy and economics. Follow him on LinkedIn for updates on news, events and his podcast, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org for executive coaching, speaking engagements or DEI-related content. To further explore DEI content and issues impacting your work and life, visit TDM Library, a multimedia resource hub that gives leaders a trusted source of DEI content.