Meet the winners
Houston innovators recognized at annual regional entrepreneur competition
Eleven Houston-based executives have been crowned regional winners in the Entrepreneur Of The Year program, run by professional services firm EY.
The 11 executives now will move on to national Entrepreneur Of The Year program. National winners will be named in November.
“Every year, we are completely blown away by the accomplishments of our Entrepreneur Of The Year Regional Award winners, and 2023 is no different,” AJ Jordan, director of the Entrepreneur Of The Year program for EY Americas, says in a news release. “They are change-makers and champions of business and community, and we are so proud to be honoring them. We can’t wait to see how these leaders will continue to improve lives and disrupt industries.”
Here are the 11 local winners from the program’s Gulf South region.
Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines
Intuitive Machines, founded in 2013, is a publicly traded space exploration company. The company’s upcoming mission will send the first U.S. spacecraft to the moon since 1972 as well as the first-ever commercial lunar lander. Its Nova-C spacecraft will carry commercial and NASA payloads.
Earlier this year, a joint venture led by Intuitive Machines nabbed a contract valued at up to $719 million for work on NASA’s Joint Polar Satellite System. The company, which went public in February 2023, forecasts revenue of $174 million to $268 million this year.
“Steve’s visionary mindset and ability to assemble and inspire a talented team have been instrumental in our collective success,” the company says in a statement about the Entrepreneur Of The Year award. “He consistently fosters a culture of excellence, empowering our diverse group of engineers, scientists, and visionaries to pioneer groundbreaking solutions and deliver outstanding results.”
Gaurab Chakrabarti, co-founder and CEO of Solugen, and Sean Hunt, co-founder and CTO
Solugen, founded in 2016, makes and distributes specialty chemicals derived from feedstock. The startup is reportedly valued at more than $2 billion. To date, Solugen has raised $642.2 million, according to Crunchbase.
In naming Solugen one of the most innovative companies of 2022, Fast Company noted that the carbon-negative process embraced by Solugen and the startup’s “ability to sell flexible amounts of chemicals to companies looking to lower their own footprint have helped the company make inroads in a traditionally slow-moving industry.”
Daryl Dudum and Matthew Hadda, founders and co-CEOs of Specialty1 Partners
Specialty1 Partners, which launched in 2019, supplies business services to dental surgery practices. These services include HR, recruiting, payroll, accounting, operations, marketing, business development, compliance, IT, and legal.
In 2022, Specialty1 Partners appeared at No. 72 on the Inc. 5000 list with two-year revenue growth of 2,921 percent.
“Supporting our partners and helping them grow while continuing to build partnerships with industry-leading, innovative surgical specialists is what we focus on every day,” Dudum says in a 2022 news release. “It’s not just about growing our network — we are committed to helping our partner practices grow and succeed on their terms.”
Ludmila Golovine, president and CEO of MasterWord Services
MasterWord Services offers translation and interpretation in more than 400 languages for customers such as energy, health care, and tech companies. The woman-owned business was founded in 1993.
“I’m grateful to our exceptional team and to each of our translators and interpreters who every day live our mission of connecting people across language and culture,” Golovine says in a news release about the Entrepreneur Of The Year honor.
Roger Jenkins, president and CEO of Murphy Oil
Murphy Oil is involved in oil and natural gas exploration and production primarily onshore in the U.S. and Canada, and offshore along the Gulf of Mexico. The publicly traded Fortune 1000 company, founded in 1944, racked up revenue of nearly $4 billion in 2022.
“Over the years, the company has grown and evolved to become a leading independent energy company, with strategic assets around the world,” Murphy says on its website. “All the while, we have remained true to our mission — to challenge the norm, tap into our strong legacy, and use our foresight and financial discipline to deliver inspired energy solutions.
Mohammad Millwala, founder and CEO of DM Clinical Research
DM Clinical Research, founded in 2006, runs 13 sites for clinical trials. Its areas of specialty include vaccines, internal medicine, pediatrics, gastrointestinal, psychiatry, and women’s health.
“DM Clinical Research is in a period of rapid growth with multiple new study sites added over the last two years in addition to the quadrupling of our staff to over 500 employees,” Millwala says in a January 2023 news release. “We expect this transformational growth trajectory to continue for the foreseeable future, on the road to becoming the leading independent clinical research network in the nation.”
Mark Walker, co-founder, chairman and CEO of Direct Digital Holdings, and Keith Smith, co-founder and president
Publicly traded Direct Digital Holdings owns three operating companies that offer online platforms for advertising. Three years after its founding in 2018, the company became the ninth Black-owned business to go public in the U.S.
The company posted revenue of $88 million in 2022, up 131 percent from the previous year.
“Direct Digital Holdings’ success is rooted in the hard work and commitment we have long seen in taking advantage of advertising opportunities targeting underserved communities and [that] markets often overlook,” Smith says in a news release about the Entrepreneur Of The Year award.
Omair Tariq, co-founder and CEO of Cart.com
While technically headquartered in Austin, Houston-funded Cart.com's co-founder and CEO, Omair Tariq, also was a Gulf South winner in the Entrepreneur Of The Year program.
The e-commerce company moved its headquarters from Houston to Austin in 2021. However, Tariq remains in Houston. In May 2023, Tariq delivered the commencement address to MBA recipients from Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business, where he earned his MBA.
Cart.com, founded in 2020, offers software and services to thousands of online merchants. To date, the pre-IPO company has raised $421 million in funding, according to Crunchbase.
“We want to be the commerce-enablement infrastructure for the largest brands in the world,” Tariq told the Insider news website in 2022.