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Downtown’s Rising Stars

The heart of our mission at VoyageChicago is to find the amazing souls that breathe life into our city. In the recent weeks we’ve had the privilege to connect with some of the Chicago’s finest artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and rabble rousers and we can’t begin to express how impressed we are with our city’s incredibly deep talent pool. Check out Downtown’s rising stars below.

Russell Lord

The story of Option L started around 2004. During the day, I was working for well-known Chicago photographer, Doug Fogelson and taking on occasional freelance assignments. At night, I was designing posters and flyers for parties and club nights. I was still spinning records a lot at the time. It exposed me to an immense range of different design styles. On one side, there was clean, modern design – balanced and restrained. On the other, there was high-impact graphical work that was gritty and didn’t seem to follow any rules. I got glimpses of the ways other designers were working and paid a lot of attention to process, hoping to learn everything I could from everyone I met. Read more>>

Scott Sturges

Started one of the first tech Startups ever at Clemson University back in 2001, turning traditional desktop software into web applications during the earlier years of the internet. Dropped out of college and moved to Chicago to setup shop shortly after. In 2006, I my interest shifted to 3D technology and I focused on research and development with the basic idea that at some point in time the web in general would make a shift towards 3-dimensional content and supporting software. It’s been a long time coming but finally 3D technology is making its way into the fold with new technologies rising in popularity such as Unity, WebGL, and Unreal Engine. Read more>>

Tracey Wood

International education seemed to be my calling very early in my life, starting with my desire at age 8 to learn French. Growing up in a small Midwestern college town afforded me the opportunity to value the pursuit of learning and the exploration of cultures outside my own, it wasn’t until college that I got to live abroad and make plans for a master’s degree in French literature. At the same time, I majored in French with a concentration in rhetorical criticism (a blend of classical rhetoric, writing and public speaking and group communication courses). I loved living in Paris, studying and pursuing knowledge in a way that broadened my understanding of the world. Read more>>

Nicki Worden

Becoming a mother changed my life in ways I never imagined and my passion for being a doula was literally “born” from my own experiences of childbirth. From C-section to medicated VBAC (Vaginal Birth after Caesarean) to un-medicated VBAC to homebirth VBAC, each my own unique birth experience taught me so much about myself, about what women are capable of, and how critically important education and support are to a positive and rewarding birth experience. The birth of my first child, my son, was a healthy C-section delivery and while I did experience some complications, even more than any complication, I came away from the experience feeling like I missed out on something. Read more>>

Hillary Marzec

A grad school mentor of mine once told me that I’ll always be teaching — maybe not in a classroom, but in some capacity. It’s who I am and it’s what I do well. I had never considered tourism as an avenue for a teaching career, but once I got involved in it in 2008 — my first job in tourism was as an architecture river tour guide — it opened up a whole new world of possibilities to me, and I’ve been moving forward on this path confidently and happily ever since. Over the next few years, I got experience guiding boat tours, food-tasting tours, and private yacht tours out on the lake; I eventually became head of Product Development at the boat tour company where I was working, which I saw as a wonderful opportunity to teach other tour guides (i.e., other “teachers”) not just what to teach, but how to teach. Read more>>

Anna Rodney

I have always been passionate about supporting families. From my first jobs at 18 as a preschool teacher and Respite worker to my 12 year career as a Special Education Teacher, my focus has always been families. After the birth of my first daughter 7 years ago I became more focused on supporting families through birth and postpartum. It was all so much more intense than I prepared myself for and I wanted my friends and family to be supported through their journey into parenthood. I trained as a doula over six years ago, but gained the courage to change careers three years ago. It was the best decision I have ever made. Read more>>

Keith Conner

Keith was born and raised in Flint, Michigan where my dad “CL” & mom “Eleanor” taught him he could be whatever he wanted to be. Keith chose art over engineering for General Motors. As a youngster, he attended the Flint Institute of Art. In 1971 Keith was accepted into the Genesee Area Skill Center’s “Gifted Artist” program. After graduating both high school & the Skill Center, he attended the American Academy of Art, Chicago and graduated in1976 with a degree in Design & Illustration. Keith worked as a science illustrator for Denoyer-Gepprert Co. (Times Mirror) where he produced science charts & filmstrips for the Ministry of Education of Saudi Arabia. Read more>>

Cristina Torres-Moore

After practicing medicine for several years and participated in research for pharmaceuticals development, I realized that advanced medicine was indeed important but at times too late, so I wanted to do something to help people to stay healthy with natural methods. Traditional Chinese medicine is a full system of medicine that allows treating the person as a whole with noninvasive methods, so I pursued a master degree while living in Chicago. This type of approach allows me to spend time listening to patients and understanding their concerns. Read more>>

Diego Leon

I was doing what most people, or at least my friends were doing, working the 9-5 in the banking industry. Unlike, most of my peers, I never felt a connection with my job, in fact I hated it. I like to do things that help people, that make an impact. Even though I grew up with pets, birds and dogs mostly, it never occurs to me that this was an area where I could make a difference. One day I took a friend’s dog for a walk by the beach and I posted on Facebook and that’s how people started asking me to do the same for their dogs. The rest, as they say, is history. Read more>>

Pamela Staker

My story has been a pretty consistent if not totally straight line from childhood to now. I am an abstract painter. My mom is an artist and she raised me on it. I also excelled at math and science. I went to the University of Illinois at Urbana/Champaign as a math major and switched to fine art my sophomore year. It’s not as big of a leap as it seems – everything is problem-solving. After I graduated with a fine art degree in painting, I moved to Chicago and worked several jobs in my field with both a commercial gallery and a not-for-profit artist run gallery and finally with an art advisory firm before going out on my own. Read more>>

Anthony Caruso

I grew up in Boston Massachusetts, in a family with generations of nurses and firemen. With the encouragement of my parents, I dreamed of a day where I can help people through medicine. It took three attempts to actually gain admission, and I learned of my acceptance to Loyola University in Chicago one week before classes began. I planned to spend four years in Chicago and then returned to my New England roots. However, I met the I grew up in Boston Massachusetts, in a family with generations of nurses and firemen. With the encouragement of my parents, I dreamed of a day where I can help people through medicine. Read more>>

Margie Smigel

I began my odyssey in real estate in the 1970’s in the East Fenway neighborhood (now known as the Symphony area) of Boston. I bought a building from Northeastern University while still in my 20’s. It was a brownstone that had last been used as a frat house (complete with profanities scrawled on the walls and a hole punched through the kitchen wall) in a neighborhood that had been recently ravaged by an arson-for-hire scheme. But I was living in the neighborhood already, having been drawn there by the cheap rents and the proximity to downtown. Read more>>

Myra Orenstein

My company, CATV, Inc., has been working with Cleveland Independents ( for the past 11 years. This organization of locally-owned independent restaurants is now the largest of its kind with approximately 90 members. I was visiting Chicago a few years back and asked several Industry folks where to dine and got the same 5-6 obvious responses. Frustrated, I did my homework and wound up having brunch at JAM in Logan Square. I typically don’t ask to talk with a chef and Jeff Mauro (partner) usually didn’t venture out of the kitchen but the night prior his partner had encouraged him to do so. Read more>>

D’Arcy Stuart

I have been working in, and now running, all of my family’s businesses since I graduated from Dartmouth College in 2008. These are an assortment of retail, entertainment, and professional services firms. My wife and I moved to Chicago in early 2015 to help our longtime partner and current Second City CEO Andrew Alexander with a large expansion of the Second City Training Centers in Chicago and Toronto. It has been a wild ride since then, due to a fire that nearly closed the business in August of 2015. Only since March have our Chicago employees been back under one (newly constructed) roof, and the projects we’re working on could fill the rest of this article and more. Read more>>

Thom Lobe

By training and practice, I’m a Pediatric Surgeon. So, perhaps it seems odd at first glance that at Regeneveda we focus on anti-aging and regenerative medicine. But from my perspective, it’s a natural transition. I’ve spent 40 years watching infants and children heal better and faster than their adult counterparts with similar diseases. In that 40 years, I have learned some of the secrets of staying young and healthy – looking and feeling better, through understanding genomics, nutrition, hormonal health and stem cell biology. Read more>>

Adriel Rodriguez

AmRide was established in 2011, we started driving family and friends in 2012. In 2014, we launched our app. During that time, our service area grew from central Connecticut, to encompass southern New England and Eastern New York. Through our partnership with AAA we expanded to the Cincinnati Metro market in 2015, in 2016 we entered into the Chicago market, and in the beginning of this year we introduced AmRide service to south west Florida. Starting and growing a business is never an easy task. Getting the right technology was our first hurdle, which we have been successful in developing thanks in part to a partnership with a group of UCONN graduates. Read more>>

Nat Truitt and Mark Heintz

We began 1776 Senior Care as a premium in-home senior care service because through our entrepreneurial and personal backgrounds we saw an opportunity to do things in the world of senior care differently and better. With our aging parents and grandparents, we both saw how tough navigating the changes that advancing age brings can be. We each faced personal situations including medical emergencies and the onset of dementia with our loved ones that made us recognize how valuable it is for families to have trusted resources and the knowing guidance and expertise of someone like a 1776 Senior Care Case Manager to turn to. Read more>>

Matthew Singer

Egg Chicago was actually born years ago as an upstart in the insight hunting space. I joined a handful of folks working out of a loft in the historic Tree Studio Building over on Ohio street. And spent a LOT of time immersing myself in the world of consumers to uncover insights that could guide companies to build better products and brands. From snack shopping with Millennial Moms, to tailgating with Grilling Enthusiasts, to accompanying Boomers on doctor’s visits, etc., I illuminated routine behaviors, as well as uncovered needs and desires by “walking in their shoes.” Then translated those learnings into roadmaps for strategic innovation and brand building. Read more>>

Theresa Sonneville

Lymphedema is often called the stepchild of the medical profession, and is not talked about nearly enough. It is often a side effect of cancer or the treatment of these cancers and it is something that takes a lot of people by surprise. When working at a DME facility I heard over and over again, “the cancer I could deal with, but this lymphedema is like a slap in the face. I survived the cancer but now I have to live with this the rest of my life.” Those born with lymphedema or lipedema are very often misdiagnosed and have difficulty getting the proper treatment or help they need. Even at the office I worked at, a lot of the fitters didn’t want to deal with the lymphedema condition because it’s scary and unpredictable. Read more>>

Jonathan Tuttle

I have been very passionate about digital and online since the early 2000’s. The internet has made such an incredible and disruptive impact on the world as we all have seen. That trend will continue for the foreseeable future and we need to position our companies accordingly to take advantage of this. I kept noticing that many small -mid size businesses were completely and or partially set up incorrectly along with no viable digital presence online which was frustrating to see. As we have all heard in the media this past year, that due to online shopping more than 8,000 plus retail stores have closed (and that trend isn’t going away). The solution is to have a well thought out digital marketing strategy to stay in front of the current digital generation along with growing your new client base to stay profitable. Read more>>

Matthew Brett

I’ve been a graphic designer and involved in branding and visual identity since I came to Chicago after university in 1992. Substance began in 2005. I was in Barcelona, Spain on holiday, sitting on the steps of the Miro Museum with a coffee, Suddenly I realized “I don’t want to work for other people the rest of my life.” After that epiphany, I sketched out a plan for myself, what I wanted my life and company to look like. Then I came back to Chicago, quit my agency job, and set about making it happen. I suppose it sounds a lot easier than it actually was. Read more>>

Carol Burd

For many years, I baked birthday cakes for my children, and then, years later, for her grandchildren. At Carol’s house, there was always something delicious baking in the oven. When her precious pups began having tummy troubles, Carol realized she wanted to provide them with food and treats she could feel good about. 2 Paws 4 U Pet Bakery & Treats sprouted wings in that kitchen full of ingredients like peanut butter, carob molasses and lots of love. Carol and her husband, Tim, share their home with Bear, Bailey, Lady and Prince, the inspiration for their family business. Read more>>

Cynthia Wade

I began on March 23, 2014. With a 100% volunteer staff, ministers to individuals sixteen and up, providing education and services to help people view change as opportunity rather than crisis.  Our vision is to create a ‘tribe’ of people who see crisis as opportunity, and change as a positive part of life. We want to enable everyone to embrace change joyfully; to move forward in life so that they can live the best they can be, and contribute all they can to the communities they live in. Read more>>

Gabrielle Martinez

I was raised in Dallas and exposed at an early age to small-business ownership. My family ran a modest Mexican restaurant and I quickly learned the importance of satisfying customers in a competitive marketplace. After graduating college, I initially pursued a law degree in Chicago. After one year, I realized my passions lay elsewhere and turned to a role in a catering business. My strength in logistics plus a childhood familiarity with the food space helped me quickly rise through the ranks, extending services to full-scale event planning. Read more>>

Stanton Kawer

I started at Blue Chip as its third employee in 1988. We were an advertising agency without any creative, media, or public relations departments. It was unrealistic for us to think that we could compete with the larger, more established ad agencies, so we spent a lot of time researching and identifying what areas in marketing and sales were being underserved. We discovered that ad agencies at the time were really focused on brand awareness, the consumer and national ad campaigns. They didn’t focus on the places where consumers purchase their brands. Read more>>

Elina Ozei

We came from the Ukraine and upon meeting my future owife, her father was already in the jewelry business. He asked me if I liked this industry and suggested I get a degree from the Gemological Institute of America. Upon completing that degree, I proceeded to move to Chicago, marry his daughter and together we started this jewelry wholesale business. The road, as many do, had its ups & downs. In the beginning, we started out as what’s known as “pocket dealers” selling, buying and trading at flea markets and the Maller’s Building (jewelry building) cafeteria. Read more>>

Drew Mauck

I accepted a PR job at a boutique agency in 2001, right as the economy was climbing out of the tank, and after nearly a decade of dutiful employment, I branched out and started 3Points. I did this so that I could be less formal and create a fast-moving and flexible business, one with little internal bureaucracy but producing consistent output. It’s been an incredible ride – we’ve seen steady growth each year, and that has enabled us to expand beyond where we started (at the intersection of trading and technology) to take on other tech clients, as long as they have a Chicago presence. Read more>>

Terri Bowen

King-Bruwaert House history originates from the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 hosted in Chicago. Suzanne King, a prominent Chicago socialite, met Francois Edmond Bruwaert at the fair. He served as the French Consul General to Chicago and the United States and was appointed to the international committee overseeing the six-month event. The couple married in 1894. The Bruwaerts traveled extensively throughout Europe during Edmond’s various ambassadorships and assignments. Read more>>

Michael Kelleher

In 1939 a group of Northwestern University men interested in developing their swimming talents formed an elite group called the Dolphin Club. They swam hard and won competitions all over the Chicago area. In 1940 an opportunity to compete in a Florida meet prompted the men to hold a swim carnival in order to raise money so their 15-member team could travel south for the meet. Both the carnival and the meet were so successful that the Dolphin Club repeated its efforts the following year. Read more>>

David and Robert Mendelson

Our family developed the technology and built the first paper mill in the United States that took old newspapers and made new newsprint out of them. The mill was called Waterway Paper Products and was located on the south side of Chicago back in 1917-1927. The family also had a company called Mendelson Brothers Paper Stock that collected all the old newspapers from the city of Chicago to supply the mill with raw materials. The mill supplied all the newsprint for the Chicago Daily News which was the evening newspaper in Chicago. Read more>>

Demetrious Walker

We are a non-for-profit 501 c (3) located in Dolton, IL. It all started a little over three years ago when our dynamic and energetic CEO and his partner decided to provide rehabilitative services and transitional living to veterans, mentally disabled, and non-violent offenders. Both these of these men had lived “colorful” lives up until this point. For a while, our future CEO had been plagued with the need to make a huge change in his life, a complete 360, if you will. Read more>>

William Duncan

My introduction to the world of hospitality began in the dish pit at a fish market restaurant in upstate New York in 1999. I loved that job. I began learning a lot about food, and been in love with the business ever since. I played in bands while working in restaurants and love live music. That eventually brought me to The Empty Bottle here in Chicago. There I met Bruce Finkelman, owner of the hospitality group 16 On Center, and he quickly became my mentor. Now I’ve been a partner in the company for the nearly 10 years, and act as the Director of Hospitality for the group’s concepts, including Moneygun. Read more>>

Jason Wynkoop

Over the past decade, there has been an increasing interest in the phase of life known as “young adulthood” and this group of “emerging adults”, often understood to be people between 18 and 30 years old. A number of people in our group have spent their careers working with teens and young adults and we had been hearing of an ever higher number of students struggling to make the transition from high school to college. We felt inspired to find solutions for students who needed more support than colleges were offering. Read more>>

Klára Moldová

In April of 1872, several Bohemian immigrants in Chicagoland put together a charter document and created a group, the Freethinkers Bohemian School Association, This corporation fostered several Czech language classes, mostly in Sokol buildings in Chicago and suburbs close to the Pilsen and East California areas. In 1908 the FBSA purchased a building in Morton Park (today’s Cicero). The school’s current home at West 22nd Place was established in 1921 as the Patronát české svobodomyslné školy v Morton Park. In 1937, the organization filed to change the name to T. G. Masaryk Free Thinking School Association in Cicero, Illinois. Read more>>

Chuck Kurth and Andrew Johnson

Andrew’s brother Ryan and I went to college together approximately ’99-03. At some point during that period, he and his brother Ryan started the business as a means to pay for college. Hence the name, Two Brothers. Fast forward several years, and after college we all kind of went our separate ways. Ryan pursued an opportunity to go overseas to work in the oil and gas industry. I pursued a job opportunity in Wisconsin. Andrew continued to run the small business known as Two Brothers. Read more>>

John Yaworsky

Starting out as a photographer, I moved into film and video about 20 years ago. Most of my work comes from referrals and I have great repeat clients. Nimble Digital Media, based in Chicago, is an Open Digital Agency that offers strategic Communications solutions designed to drive clients’ business goals. Helping individuals and organizations communicate effectively in today’s digital world, we facilitate meaningful interactions with stakeholders while positioning our clients’ interests across all screens. Read more>>

Christopher and Manfred Bauer

Coming to a foreign country with little cash and a big dream… This is the American Dream isn’t it. From nothing to something… No family, a foreign language, a new culture, and just enough cash to get by… That is how Manfred Bauer started Wein-Bauer, Inc. Manfred Immigrated from Austria in 1980, where he worked at his father’s winery just outside Vienna, his vision was to bring his families wines and story to America. Everything that could go wrong did in the first few years for Manfred but an entrepreneur never sees that as failure… they see it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Read more>>

Karina Kappel

I own a small boutique home-based bakery The Artful Baker. I love the creative aspect of designing and creating cakes and cookies of all sorts. I find myself lately however, gravitating towards developing healthier versions of cookies. My son has been recently diagnosed with several food allergies and fructose malabsorption (a hereditary condition where the small intestine cannot absorb sugar). That has led me to developing many gluten free and lower sugar cookies. Read more>>

Mitsukuni Baba

I have always had an interest in the type of work done here at the Japan America Society of Chicago, but have spent most of my professional career working in the private sector. I became interested in this field of work after I came to the United States after finishing college in Japan. I initially went to the United States to better my English language abilities and to study marketing; however, during my time abroad, I made many connections and because of those relationships, I started thinking about the importance of the American-Japan relationship. After my two years abroad, I returned to Japan and began working for a company in Tokyo, but the desire to do something related to this field lingered. Read more>>

Tammie Miller

I started my career in investment banking right out of College at the University of Chicago. I went to work for Lehman Brothers and didn’t have any idea what investment banking was. When I stepped off the plan in New York City, it was the first time I had been out of the Midwest (other than my interview to get the job) and I had one small suitcase which contained clothes my mother had made for me, and my cat. I soon learned that Wall St. was not the place for homemade clothes and adjusted to my new life as a New Yorker. Read more>>

Sergio Vicente

Growing up, I loved sports and fitness and in college I found a passion for food and cooking so I later went to a culinary school here in Chicago. After I graduated I worked in a few kitchens but stopped to pursue my love of health and fitness. I then became certified in strength and conditioning as well as nutrition. I began training clients as a personal trainer and served as a gym’s Head Fitness Trainer where I wrote the programming and guided client’s nutrition and diet for over five years. Soon after I quickly realized the strong correlation between fitness and diet and the balance of the two that is required for real lasting results. Read more>>

Sarah Wantz

I always knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I come from a family of successful entrepreneurs and felt it was destined to be part of my path. What I didn’t know (because you can’t know until you’re in it), is how incredibly difficult going out on your own is – reality check! I started at a fashion design label, working directly under the owners, doing a bit of everything. I gained invaluable experience in marketing, sales, customer service, trade show management, fashion shows, and more. The experience in understanding how a “small” business was run, was incredible. Read more>>

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