Valley Business FRONT Post – Top 16 Entrepreneurs

Handshake 2.0 asked Dan Smith, editor of Valley Business FRONT, this question:

"Who is on your top ten list of people who live and work in the area of Virginia that Valley Business FRONT covers, who are entrepreneurs, i.e who organize, operate, and assume risk for business ventures?"

Dan Smith, editor, Valley Business FRONT replied:

There are simply too many good entrepreneurs in the region to try to compile a comprehensive list, but I will give you the names of some who have impressed me (risking leaving out a good many people with a small list of 16) over the years:

Kent Murphy, Luna Technologies Kent Murphy, Luna Technologies (this is one of the most remarkable technology success stories in the region's history and it continues to grow and prosper as a public company)

Victor Ianello, Synchrony (founded a small technology – engineering – manufacturing company a few years ago which has grown significantly)

Vinod Chachra, VTLS (started a library technology service at Virginia Tech, grew to an international company)

Bonz Hart, Meridium (internationally known technology company grown from nothing)

Vinod Chachra, VTLS Nicholas Taubman, Advance Auto (retired; now a diplomat; developed his family's company into the national aftermarket auto parts giant)

Bill Rakes, law parther (Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore) and bank co-founder (HomeTown Bank), among other things

Cameron Johnson, several businesses (he's 23 and has been a business owner since 9; founder of more than a dozen successful businesses; friend of Oprah, and he's a millionaire)

R.J. Kirk, Third Security (the region's angel, moneyman; people with ideas love him)

Sardar Biglari, Western Sizzlin (national restaurant chain worth about $17 million; Western Sizzlin has 30 restaurants in 17 states; founded in Augusta, Georgia, in 1962–I was living there at the time and was 16 years old; now headquartered in Roanoke)

Robin Brooks, Brooks Food GroupRobin Brooks, Brooks Food Group, Bedford (inherited a small food service company from her late husband and has grown it into a national force)

Paul Story, Blue Ridge Copier (built a small Roanoke copier company into the region's powerhouse)

Cabell Brand, TAP (built his family shoe business–Stuart McGuire–into a huge national player, sold it and became the founder of one of the most successful private poverty programs in history)

Richard Wells, Leisure Publishing (successful home-grown publisher of Blue Ridge Country, Roanoker, Pinnacle and various other publications; most successful niche publications in the region and more than 35 years old)

Heywood Fralin, several businesses dealing with development (began as a lawyer and became a major developer in the region)

Ron Willard, Smith Mountain Lake developer (major, major player at the region's swimming pool)

Ed Walker, developer/lawyer (Fralin's son-in-law who develops the right projects for the right reasons; extremely important to the region's future)


Photos courtesy of Valley Business FRONT.

Read more business best-of-the-best in Valley Business FRONT's FRONTlist, debuting in the December 2008 issue.

The Valley Business FRONT Post is written by Dan Smith, Editor, Valley Business FRONT, a monthly business magazine featuring the Roanoke Valley and the New River Valley of Virginia.  Dan Smith writes the blog fromtheeditr.

Dan Smith's e-mail signature quotes Kingsley Amis:  "If you can't annoy somebody, why write?'

The opinions Dan Smith expresses are solely his own and are not necessarily shared by Handshake 2.0.

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  1. Missing from this list are Pat Matthews and Bill Boebel, co-founders of Mailtrust in 1999.

    Stuart Mease explains most eloquently why:

  2. Nice quote in article by Jeff Sturgeon from R. J. Kirk showing why people with ideas might, according to Smith, “love him”:

    Kirk said some business people seem to find it hard to believe Southwest Virginia will produce more biotech successes on par with Vyvanse.

    “I ask, ‘Why not?’ ” Kirk said.

  3. Tracy Wilkins, founder of TechLab, doesn’t toot his own horn; but he has built a really solid business of his own and has also helped numerous younger entrepreneurs as well.

  4. Honestly, I don’t know how a “Top” list can even be created? Sure, you could base it on widgets sold or dollars made, but in truth all entrepreneurs should be celebrated as “Top”. Taking the first step to create an opportunity where at one time there was none sets them apart from the rest of us.

    This coming from the guy who always wants to be on the “Top” list, yet hates “Top” lists. Yes yes … as a friend of mine describes me, I’m “simply complex”.

    Can’t argue with any of these suggestions as great SWVA entrepreneurs, however!

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