It might be Father’s Day this weekend, but moms took center stage at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year event Friday night in downtown Seattle.
Several of the night’s winners took time to celebrate the contributions and sacrifices of their mothers, pointing out that their journey to the winner’s circle did not come alone.
Universal Cells CEO Claudia Mitchell — who sold her gene editing company earlier this year for $102 million — talked about the “long and arduous journey” she started 20 years ago when she moved alone with her four month daughter from Rio de Janeiro to Paris to work on her PhD. Mitchell said that Universal Cells was “supported by many people.” But she centered on the contributions of her mom who loaned her the money to get the company off the ground, but passed away three months before the acquisition.
“She couldn’t see the culmination of all of the hard work, so I wanted to dedicate this award to her tonight,” said Mitchell.
Olowo-n’djo Tchala, founder and CEO at health and beauty products company Alaffia, also dedicated the award to his late mother, and said he’d take it to her gravesite in his home country of Togo. Tchala — one of eight kids — said he learned many important lessons from his mother, including humility, sharing, endurance and “that you can get a lot out of culture.”
But he also learned entrepreneurial lessons, such as how to understand potential customers. He retold the story of selling items at the markets near his village in Togo.
“She taught me early on … she said, go to old ladies, they will feel sorry for you, so she taught me how to know my audience. And that’s why I chose the co-ops and the Whole Foods to sell natural product,” he said to laughs from the crowd.
But one of the biggest lessons was the importance of hard work.
“We grew up in 8X10 room, but when the sun is up, you know it is time to work. When the sun goes down, it is time to go to sleep. So I learned hard work,” he said. “What she meant by that is you should never be a beggar. To be a beggar, you lose your dignity. And she doesn’t have a child that doesn’t have a dignity, and therefore I continued to work at a young age, and today. So, on her behalf, I will continue to do what I have always done, to empower women in West Africa through the private enterprise, and at the same time creating jobs here in the state of Washington so that the families in America, they too, can feed their families.”
The evening ended, fittingly, with an emotional David Wasielewski, managing partner of Din Tai Fung Restaurant, bringing his mom on stage, holding back tears as he thanked her for her inspiration and commitment.
“I have my mom next to me. She is the most important person in my life,” said Wasielewski, who moved with his family from Taiwan to the U.S. in the fifth grade. “She taught me everything I know.”
Here are all of the winners on the night:
Workflow Optimization: Cole Morgan, co-founder and CEO of Snap! Mobile Inc., a Seattle company that helps groups manage fundraising campaigns.
Family Business: Mike Fritz, CEO of DWFritz Automation, a Wilsonville, Oregon company that was started in 1973 and now sells inspection and assembly automation tools worldwide.
B2B Software and Services: Eugenio Pace, co-founder and CEO of Auth0, a Bellevue-based software company that secure login information.
Lifetime Entrepreneur: Werner G. Nistler Jr., founder and chairman of Touchmark, a developer of full-service retirement communities.
Life Sciences: Claudia Mitchell, co-founder and CEO of Universal Cells, a Seattle biotech company whose gene editing tools help make “universal donor” stem cells. The company sold for $102 million to Astellas Pharma earlier this year.
Media and Advertising: Sean Muller, founder and CEO of iSpot.tv, a Bellevue-based maker of TV advertising measurement software.
Mold-Breaker: Olowo-n’djo Tchala, founder and CEO at Alaffia, an Olympia based social good company whose beauty and body care products are sold at Whole Foods and other stores.
Food, Beverage and Hospitality: David Wasielewski, managing partner of Din Tai Fung Restaurant, a restaurant chain started in Taiwan that specializes in dumplings and set up shop in the Seattle area seven years ago.
Editor’s Note: EY is a GeekWire sponsor, and GeekWire co-founder John Cook was a member of the panel of judges for the EOY Pacific Northwest awards this year.