Entrepreneur of the Year Awards Honor Visionary Leaders who Transform Businesses in KC and Around the Globe  

Sports are a common thread and include KC Current and Chicken N Pickle
Students stand for a selfie.

Five game-changing entrepreneurs were awarded during the Henry W. Bloch School of Management Regnier Institute’s 37th annual Entrepreneur of the Year Awards.

Started in 1985, the event celebrates the contributions of entrepreneurs in Kansas City and beyond by recognizing the work of students as well as local, national and global-industry entrepreneurs and leaders. 

This year’s event was held at the H&R Block headquarters - the industry-shaping business entrepreneurs Henry Bloch and his brother, Richard Bloch, founded.

Prior to the awards ceremony, attendees learned about business ventures by students from Bloch and the Kansas City Art Institute at the Student Venture Showcase.

“Their dedication and passion is truly inspiring,” said UMKC Chancellor Mauli Agrawal. “Celebrating risk takers and innovators is one of the reasons I look forward to this event.”

The 2023 awardees:

Henry W. Bloch International Entrepreneur of the Year and Entrepreneur Hall of Fame Inductee
Marcelo Claure, Founder and CEO of Claure Group and Founder of Brightstar

Man on a video screen.Claure is a global entrepreneur and the founder and CEO of Claure Group, a multi-billion-dollar global investment firm. He is a well-known entrepreneur and operator after building Brightstar from a small local distributor to the world’s largest global wireless distribution and services company. 

As an investor, Claure was also the CEO of SoftBank Group International where he launched SoftBank’s $8 billion Latin America Funds and had direct oversight for SoftBank's operating companies like ARM, SB Energy, WeWork and others. Claure also helped orchestrate Sprint's $195 billion merger with T-Mobile, creating what is now one of the most valuable telecommunications companies in the world.

"The journey of an entrepreneur is never a straight line," said Claure, who delievered remarks via video. "My goal is to continue innovating, lead with integrity and inspire future entrepreneurs."

Claure owns Club Bolívar, Bolivia's largest professional soccer team, and is a co-owner of Spain's Girona FC, in partnership with City Football Group.

Claure was inducted into the Entrepreneur Hall of FameLocated on the main level of the UMKC Bloch Executive Hall for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the hall of fame gives students and the community a peek inside the journeys of Kansas City’s entrepreneurial stars. The dedicated gallery space was the vision of Joe and Judy Roetheli, creators of Greenies dog treats. Their goal is to honor entrepreneurs and inspire students. Exhibits of the hall include an interactive touchscreen featuring inductee biographies, artifacts from their lives and words of inspiration from the entrepreneurs themselves.

Kansas City Entrepreneurs of the Year
Chris Long, Founder of Palmer Square Capital Management
Angie Long, Chief Investment Officer of Palmer Square Capital Management

Three people hugging on a stage.Chris Long founded Palmer Square Capital Management, an approximately $27 billion asset manager focused on corporate and structured credit with offices in Kansas City and London, in June 2009. Currently, he serves as chairman, CEO and portfolio manager. He serves on the Board of Directors of the KC Sports Commission and Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and in many roles related to Princeton University. 

Angie Long is chief investment officer and one of two principal owners for Palmer Square Capital Management. Her career includes experience at JPMorgan Chase & Co. where she was named a managing director at age 29 and held many senior roles. She serves on the Board of Directors of Union Station as well as the KC 2026 World Cup Board. She is a member of the 100 Women in Finance and is a CFA charter holder.

Along with co-owner Brittany Mahomes, the Longs brought a National Women’s Soccer League franchise back to Kansas City. The Kansas City Current has built the only training facility in the world with a women’s professional team as the sole tenant. They are also building the world’s first stadium devoted to a women’s professional soccer team.

"We get to lead two amazing organizations - both of which have powerful platforms to be a positive force on a global basis," the Longs said at the event. "It is a privilege we do not take lightly. We are fortunate to work with some of the most talented, passionate people in both the investment world and the sports business. Together, and as a result of the hard work, innovation and leadership of these organizations, it is exciting to look at the impact."

Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship
David Johnson, Founder of Chicken N Pickle and CEO of Maxus Realty Trust

Man standing on a stageJohnson had already founded and developed a successful real estate management company when he created Chicken N Pickle in 2017. The concept burst onto the scene, and now has eight venues open, with seven more announced across several states.

Community engagement is at the core of the Chicken N Pickle culture, with programs that provide strong support for 2,029 charitable organizations in the surrounding areas where each of the Chicken N Pickle locations are based. Extra money is raised for charities through their cup sales, and more than $100,000 was donated just through those extra dollars to support the community.

"My team embraces the community everywhere they go, and they deserve all the credit," Johnson said. "We've found that by doing good, good things happen to us."

Johnson is currently on the board of Verimore Bank, KC Crime Commission, MU Dean’s Board and Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.

Student Entrepreneur of the Year
Lesly Romo

Woman with a microphoneRomo is a business administration student and bilingual real estate professional. Over the past year, she has achieved more than $2 million in sales and possesses a comprehensive understanding of the real estate industry. Currently, Romo holds the role of vice president of projects for UMKC Enactus, where she takes the helm of multiple innovative initiatives that leverage social entrepreneurship to drive meaningful change.   

Romo is working to establish a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting financial literacy in the Hispanic community. She is also looking to construct a multifaceted soccer facility. The aim is to create an inclusive space for soccer enthusiasts of all backgrounds. 

"This serves as a commitment to turn my wildest dreams into action," Romo said."We will unite people through their love of soccer as they come to Kansas City for the World Cup (in 2026)." 

All proceeds from the event directly benefit the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation’s student and community programs. The Regnier Institute at the Bloch School focuses on connecting students and community members with a comprehensive combination of world-class research, renowned faculty, cutting-edge curriculum and experimental programs driven to deliver results and nurture the next generation of entrepreneurs.

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