President & CEO
Smart Business Network
Fred co-founded Smart Business Network in 1989 with a single publication in Cleveland, Ohio. In the years since, he has built the company into a leading multimedia and content marketing business providing print and digital marketing services to a national client base.
Founder & CEO
NexusAI & ConceptDrop
Phil is CEO and founder of Nexus A.I., a Chicago-based human capital management company. Prior to founding Nexus AI, he worked at Zodius Capital, Ernst & Young and BrandMuscle. He has an MBA from Case Western Reserve University and is a master’s in data science candidate at Northwestern University. In 2016, LinkedIn named him to its Next Wave List of the top 100 professionals under 35 in America.
Attorney at Law
Howard & Howard Attorneys PLLC
Bob Ambrose is a trial lawyer with an emphasis on prosecuting and defending business disputes. He has represented clients in a wide array of complex disputes, including cases involving class action securities litigation, director and officer defense, errors and omissions, consumer fraud, trademark counterfeiting and infringement, FDIC claims against former bank directors and officers, broker liability, employment discrimination and wrongful termination.
Senior VP, Head of Structured Finance
First Midwest Bancorp
Joe joined First Midwest Bank in 2015 to lead the Structured Finance team, which originates, structures and manages a portfolio of private equity-backed, middle-market companies across the Midwest. Previously he was at GE Antares Capital, where he led teams in underwriting, diligence, documentation and syndication of new transactions, as well as monitored a personal portfolio of over $500 million in committed senior credit across a broad investor base.
Principal, Private Equity
Joe is a private equity principal with CliftonLarsonAllen LLP (CLA) and has been with CLA since 2001. He has 18 years of assurance and consulting experience, which includes working with a wide range of closely held companies as they deal with the challenges of mergers and acquisitions.
Robert Barnett III
Wexford Capital Partners, LLC
Robert is managing partner of Wexford Capital Partners LLC, an independent sponsor platform for principal investing. He was a managing director and sector head of BMO Capital Markets’ Commercial and Industrial Group. Previously, he was head of Midwest Large Corporate Banking for Bank One Corp.
Gale is founding director of IrishAngels, an investment network affiliated with the University of Notre Dame. Formed in 2012, IrishAngels has 225 active investors, making it one of the largest angel groups in the country. She also founded IrishAngels Ventures, an early stage venture capital fund. To date, she has led 50-plus investments totaling over $25 million in seed and Series A capital.
Elizabeth A. Browne
Vice President & Head of Business Development
DNS Capital, LLC
Elizabeth is a vice president on the investment team and head of business development at DNS Capital, which takes a long-term and flexible approach to investing by building relationships with business owners, management teams and entrepreneurs to align interests, evolve businesses and create lasting value. Previously, she was an associate in Goldman Sachs’ investment management division in Chicago, advising entrepreneurs, business-owning families and family offices on asset allocation, portfolio management, and direct investing strategies.
Executive Vice President
Paul is executive vice president and market head of Wintrust Commercial Banking, where he is responsible for leading and coordinating middle-market banking across all of the Wintrust banks. He has spent his entire career serving middle-market organizations in the Greater Chicago area. Before joining Wintrust in 2010, he spent more than 25 years with JPMorgan Chase and its predecessor banks, American National and Bank One.
Founding Member & Managing Director
Cendrowski Corporate Advisors
Harry is a founding member of Cendrowski Corporate Advisors and a licensed CPA in Michigan, Illinois and Florida. He is a veteran of the private equity and venture capital industries as an investor, founder and advisor to several funds. He has served as an expert witness in numerous disputes, as court-appointed receiver for multimillion dollar estates and as the accountant to the trustee in high-profile bankruptcy cases.
Brendan is CEO at Banner Solutions, a PE-owned portfolio business. He is a C-suite executive with 30-plus years of diversified leadership experience within global corporations, publicly traded companies and private equity owned mid-cap specialty distribution and manufacturing businesses, serving industrial, commercial and consumer markets. He has a reputation for value creation as a CEO, corporate director and member of a variety of board/executive committees.
Office Managing Partner
Jenny is office managing partner in Chicago at Marcum LLP and partner-in-charge of Assurance Services and the SEC Practice group for the Midwest region. She also represents the Midwest region on the firm’s national Diversity Program board.
She has more than 20 years of experience providing auditing and consulting services for public and private clients in a variety of industries. Her experience includes writing business plans to assist start-up companies in obtaining funding, as well as buy- and sell-side due diligence engagements.
Ty, executive chairman of TPC Training and CEO1ST partner, is the former CEO of Jones & Bartlett Learning, a division of Ascend Learning and a leading provider of educational solutions. Previously, he was CFO of Ascend Learning, where he implemented a roll-up strategy that resulted in 20 acquisitions.
Horwood Marcus & Beck
Jeffrey is managing partner of Horwood Marcus & Berk and a partner in the Business and Finance Group. He serves as outside general counsel for a wide variety of privately held startup, early stage and later-stage businesses, including manufacturers, distributors, service providers, technology companies, finance companies, financial service companies and real estate companies. He also acts as outside general counsel and transactional counsel to numerous entities.
Executive VP, Commercial Banking
Fifth Third Bank
Brian P. Kerwin
Chairman, Corporate Practice
Duane Morris LLP
A trusted deal lawyer for 30 years, Brian has helped numerous business owners in the sale of their companies in a variety of industries. He is chairman of Duane Morris’ 175-lawyer Corporate Practice Group and a member of the 800-lawyer firm’s Executive Committee. He was selected for twelve consecutive years by Chambers USA as a top lawyer in Corporate/M&A.
Marc has a wealth of digital marketing domain expertise from senior executive roles at aQuantive (Avenue A | Razorfish and Atlas), Right Media and Centro. He served as COO and executive vice president of global expansion at Centro and at Right Media, played an active role building the company into the fastest-growing media network in the world. Previously, he was a founding member of aQuantive’s Atlas division.
Managing Director, Commercial Banking
Stephanie is a managing director in BMO Harris Bank’s middle-market banking group in Chicago, bringing more than 20 years’ experience and management in corporate banking. She leads a local team of commercial banking experts with focus on building relationships with middle-market companies by providing financial solutions to increase enterprise value, fund business growth, manage cash flow and optimize working capital.
SWC Technology Partners
Bob is president of SWC Technology Partners. As the primary policymaker of SWC for more than 15 years, he is committed to setting the tone for the company’s core values, culture and business strategy that have grown the business. He has over 25 years of experience building and leading long-term strategies that enable business transformation through technology. He has completed multiple M&A transitions.
Smart Business Network Inc.
Lee is managing partner of Smart Business Network Inc., a national events, media and marketing company founded in 1989, primarily responsible for expanding the company’s Aspire deal-making conference throughout the U.S. He plays a key role in establishing corporate policies and developing long-term strategy and growth plans. Previously, he founded and chaired the Growth Group at national law firm Arter & Hadden LLP (now Tucker, Ellis & West), which focused on working with middle-market and high-growth technology companies.
Private Wealth Advisor
Kristi is a private wealth advisor in the Investment Management Division of Goldman Sachs & Co. She previously worked on mergers and acquisitions in the investment banking division of Mesirow Financial, providing valuation analyses and advisory services for middle-market business owners looking to sell their companies. She is a member of the firm’s Disability Interest Forum, which supports local community organizations and raises awareness across the firm.
Glaucon Capital Partners, L.L.C.
Len brings more than 30 years of experience working in finance and capital markets, including co-founding a private equity firm focused on investments in lower middle-market companies. He has originated and invested more than $1 billion of privately held senior subordinated debt and equity securities, managed teams of up to 30 employees and performed all aspects of the investment process, including sourcing, negotiating, structuring and financing transactions working for Merit Capital Partners, Banc One Capital Partners and The Prudential Capital Group.
Angela is a vice president in the Private Investments Group of PSP Capital Partners, responsible for sourcing and executing new investment opportunities and providing portfolio company oversight, with a primary focus on the food and consumer sectors. She serves on the board of two PSP portfolio companies. Previously, worked in the Leveraged Finance Group at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, where she helped structure and execute capital markets transactions that supported leveraged buyouts, corporate-to-corporate acquisitions, balance sheet restructurings and other strategic debt financing initiatives.
Capital Group Chicago
Jim is a managing director at Capital Group Chicago, an independent private equity firm. Throughout his career in middle-market private equity buyouts with both funded and independent firms, he has been involved with all aspects of the business, from transaction sourcing and execution to portfolio company management. Previously, he was a senior managing director and an Investment Committee member at Corinthian Capital Group, where he was chairman of six companies.
Market Executive of Illinois Middle Market Global Commercial Banking
Bank of America Merrill Lynch
Renée is market executive of Illinois Middle Market Global Commercial Banking for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, responsible for banking services for middle-market companies with revenue between $50 million and $2 billion. She manages 16 Relationship Management teams covering general, security alarm, construction and technology industries. Metcalf, a senior vice president, has been in her current position since 2010.
Steve co-founded and is managing partner of Livingstone’s U.S .operations, where he drives strategic growth initiatives, including business development, recruitment and client relations. He is chairman of the board of directors, where he has overseen many of the company’s most ambitious strategic global growth initiatives, as well as the hiring of key senior leaders and the expansion of the firm.
Dan Needham joined Wynnchurch in 2013 as an adviser. He is the co-founder of Lotos Groupe LLC, a merchant bank and advisory firm focused on M&A support services, strategic growth and new channel development to executives of private and public companies. Previously, he was an officer and managing director of Charter Consulting, an operations-oriented management consultancy focused on operational efficiencies, merger integration and acquisition initiatives.
Illinois Venture Capital Association
Since 2004, Maura has been executive director at the Illinois Venture Capital Association, which advocates for Midwest investors of private dollars into private companies. Previously she worked at Sears, Roebuck and Co. in corporate strategy, marketing and customer relationship management. She serves on the executive board of 1871, the advisory board of the Illinois Growth & Innovation Fund and as a judge for the Chicago Innovation Awards and mHUB’’s Fourth Revolution Awards.
Co-Founder & Partner
Lightspring Capital Partners
Meghan is a co-founder and partner at Lightspring Capital Partners, a firm focused on control equity buyouts and mezzanine investments in the lower middle market. Prior to founding Lightspring, shewas a partner with Waveland Investments, where she co-led 19 platform equity investments. She has nearly two decades of experience investing equity in small businesses.
RSM US LLP
Linda is director of Business Development of RSM US LLP in Chicago. With more than 25 years of experience servicing middle-market companies across manufacturing, distribution and business and professional service industries, she specializes in helping organizations identify, evaluate and address their business opportunities and challenges. By connecting companies with RSM resources, she successfully helps organizations to accelerate growth and profitability. She is responsible for sourcing audit, tax and consulting engagements including M&A diligence, QOE, cyber security, tax consulting, ERP selections and specialty tools.
Svoboda Capital Partners
Jeff joined Svoboda in 2004 and is responsible for evaluating potential investments, leading due diligence, executing transactions, fundraising and managing portfolio companies. Jeff currently serves on the Boards of Cigar Accessories Holdings, Bully Pulpit Interactive and Sonoma Creamery, and was previously involved with Infinite Packaging Group, SWC Technology Partners, OPT Holdings (Optronics/Primos), The Glover Park Group, Nth Degree, and Coffee Bean International. Previously, Jeff was an associate at Robert W. Baird & Co.
National Head, Tax Planning
Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP
Saul is the national head of Katten's Transactional Tax Planning practice and a member of the firm's board of directors and Executive Committee. He concentrates his practice in the area of tax and corporate planning for private equity, venture capital, mergers and acquisitions, and international transactions, and in investment and management compensation arrangements.
Prairie Capital Advisors
Kenneth co-founded Prairie Capital Advisors with Robert Gross in 1996 after the industry veterans recognized a universally underserved need for objective financial advisory consultation for closely held businesses. Today, he continues to grow Prairie Capital Advisors’ reputation as the most widely respected firm of its kind, designing and implementing customized ownership transition strategies including private sales, management buyouts and Employee Stock Ownership Plans for businesses nationwide.
Dan E. Silberberg
CEO / Founder
Dan has more than 45 years of experience in consumer products. He has particular expertise in strategy, innovative business models and exponential top-line growth. He has a strong understanding of strategy, branding, product positioning, finance planning and marketing, driving enterprises to the next level. He is launching a cognitive technology platform of strategic assets, DIGINTEL Inc., a Software as a Service business model targeting health care, financial services, retail and CPG.
Darren is a partner of Prairie Capital, with experience in financing leveraged buyouts and managing a relationship-based lending portfolio of middle-market companies. He is the former chairman and a current board member of the Illinois Venture Capital Association. He is active in volunteer and fundraising services and is a former president of the founding board of Polaris Charter Academy.
Managing Director - Investments
Equity Group Investments
Kathleen is managing director at Equity Group Investments and has served as a core member of Sam Zell’s investment team since 2000. She is on the boards of GreyCastle Holdings Ltd. and Wapiti Oil and Gas LLC and is the portfolio manager for the Zell Credit Opportunities Fund. She also dedicates time to the Leadership Council of a Better Chicago.
Nick is a managing director with Cyprium Partners, a private equity fund with offices in New York, Cleveland and Chicago. Since its founding in 1998, Cyprium has completed 75 non-controlling investments alongside founders, entrepreneurs and management teams. Previously, he worked for Northlight Capital.
Teri D. Tadros
Director of Development
Teri is Director of Development at Frontenac, a Chicago-based private equity firm, and is responsible for coordinating the firm’s professional outreach including the sourcing of transactions and CEO1ST executives. Frontenac invests in lower middle market companies in the consumer, industrial, and services industries.
Spiral Sun Ventures
Mark is an entrepreneur dedicated to helping early stage companies and their management teams scale their businesses. The lack of seed capital available to early stage companies focused on better-for-you products inspired him to co-launch Spiral Sun Ventures. He also serves as CEO of Dormitus Brands, which acquires, redevelops and monetizes iconic dormant brands.
Mark A. Thomson, CPA
Mark provides financial and business advisory services for a variety of industries, including manufacturers, distributors and service organizations. He provides guidance on audits, reviews and compilations, strategic management, income tax planning, litigation support and business advisory issues. He also has extensive experience with buy/sell situations and has helped clients plan for, and complete, their sales transactions.
Regional Executive & Managing Director, Investments
Alex Brown A Division of Raymond James
Roger manages the Chicago office of Alex. Brown and has over 20 years of experience working with families of significant wealth. As a Wealth Management Specialist, he focuses on the needs specific to business owners going through a liquidity event. Strengths include presale planning, assembling your professional team, asset protection, investment management, family office services, philanthropy and building your legacy.
Managing Director, Business Development
Bill has more than 27 years of investment banking and corporate finance experience. He has completed a range of financial advisory assignments, including mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts and capital raising on behalf of private equity firms and public and private company clients. Previously, he was a managing director with National City Capital Markets Investment Banking Group, where he provided investment banking services within the Industrial group.
Locke Lord LLP
Michael represents private equity funds (including SBIC funds), banks, companies and entrepreneurs in M&A, debt finance and venture capital transactions in a wide variety of industries. He has substantial experience with technology, health care, energy, and food and beverage transactions. He also serves as an officer on the Executives’ Club of Chicago Leadership Circle Advisory Board.
CFO & Executive Vice President
ACH Food Companies, Inc.
Steve is CFO and executive vice president of ACH Food Cos. Inc. He brings 35-plus years of experience in the foods industry with a variety of large and mid-sized businesses, publicly listed, PE and privately owned. His background includes 23 years with Sara Lee in corporate and operating CFO roles at Compact Industries and Enesco.