2023 Top 100 Alumni Entrepreneur Awards

Written by: Jasmine Simmons

The Thomas F. Cone Center for Entrepreneurship at Belmont University hosted the fifth annual Belmont Entrepreneur Awards Monday, Dec. 11 in the Fisher Center Performing Arts.  

Each year, the Cone Center recognizes 100 alumni across 10 different industry categories from fashion to social impact. Honorees also included 10 rising businesses that have started in the last three years.  

“Entrepreneurship is bringing the idea to life and making it tangible,” said Elizabeth Gortmaker, executive director of the Cone Center for Entrepreneurship said. “It is solving problems and creating solutions. It is economic development and job creation. It’s the power that comes from starting with an idea, creating something new and the confidence that comes from that. It takes courage, it takes humility and it take a team.” 

Forty-two majors, 47 cities and 31 new faces were represented among the top 100 entrepreneurial alumni honored Monday night. Earlier in the semester, Entrepreneur Magazine and the Princeton Review ranked Belmont’s undergraduate entrepreneurship program the best in the state

The businesses recognized on the Top 100 List collectively employ 5,000 people and the annual revenue of the combined businesses equals half a billion dollars. 

In addition to recognizing the annual Top 100, the event honors three alumni through special awards — the Peer Award, the Community Award and the Industry Impact Award. 

“The true magic of entrepreneurship is the impact,” said Gortmaker. “Two years ago, we introduced the impact awards as a way to honor founders who have truly embodied the impact that entrepreneurship brings to their industries, to their peers and to their mentors.” 

Harry Allen (2022 Peer Award recipient) presented the 2023 Peer Award to Ryan Reisdorf (College of Health Sciences and Nursing). Founder of Placemat, Reisdorf is serving for the second year as one of Belmont’s Entrepreneurs-in-Residence (EIR).  

The Peer Impact Award recognizes the power of peer mentorship. Placemat’s mission is to nourish and improve communities big and small through feel-good food experiences. As an EIR, Reisdorf dedicates time each week to students and fellow entrepreneurs by encouraging them to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams.  

“I have to give a lot of gratitude to Belmont,” Reisdorf said. “I believe in changing for the better and helping people succeed. I believe in a healthier future. I’m very thankful for my time here at Belmont.” 

This year’s Community Award recipient, which was given by 2022 honorees Evan and Jenny Owens, is co-founder of Slim & Husky’s Pizza Beeria EJ Reed (MBA ‘12). Slim & Husky’s opened a new location on Belmont’s campus at the start of the fall 2023 semester.  

“In all they do, they invite others to the table and use food as the gateway to make meaningful relationships and impact,” said Evan Owens. “He’s the perfect example of using entrepreneurship to create a better world.” 

Community has been a part of the Slim & Husky’s recipe since day one. Focused on empowering communities, Slim & Husky’s awards high school student employees across all their restaurants PREAM scholarships to attend the college or university of their choice.  

Co-founders of BarBees Bartending Willow Sprague (international business ‘18) and Jess Blakley (economics and political science ‘19) accepted the 2023 Industry Impact Award. Barbees Bartending offers mobile cocktail classes in states all over the nation, including California, Texas and Florida with a new headquarters in New York. 

“We love this university, it shaped us and brought us together,” said Sprague. “We are best friends turned business partners, and we love what we do. We love celebrating, we love cocktails, and we decided to bring those two together and start a cocktail class company.” 

“We couldn’t have done all that we’ve done without the impact of the people in Belmont’s entrepreneurship program,” Blakley said. “The real impact award goes to you all.” 


President Greg Jones presented the Belmont Entrepreneurial Legacy Award to founder of Crown Bakeries, Belmont Trustee and namesake of the student dining hall Cordia Harrington. 

“In the midst of raising three kids as a single mom, she began to dream dreams,” Jones said. “That entrepreneurial spirit has always been in her. Sometimes she would rise before dawn and go to bed well after dawn because she had this vision and imagination.” 

Her perseverance, legacy and tenacious entrepreneurial spirit were honored through Belmont’s Entrepreneurial Legacy Award. A custom vase from alumni couple Ben and Rachel Whisler (studio arts ‘15, ‘16), founders of RV Pottery, was presented to Harrington.  

“It’s a great honor and privilege to be with you all tonight and to be among you as friends,” Harrington said. “We’re making a difference every day. We’re employing people. We’re helping our customers be more successful. We’re helping our associates have a great life and God is working through us and blessing us. I’m blown away by this honor.” 

The event also featured a variety of alumni businesses including:  

  • Pack Films, founded by Matthew Horvath (video production ‘12), created video highlights of five alumni businesses which were played throughout the evening. 
  • Attendees took home pictures captured at a photo booth from the Nashville Smile Bar, founded by Jen Watkins (marketing ‘11).  
  • Lauren Sartain (music business ‘07), founder of LMA Designs, arranged floral centerpieces for the event. 
  • The Nashville African American Wind Symphony, founded by Ashley Crawford (M.M. instrumental pedagogy and classical flute performance ‘14), played live music to open and close the event. 
  • Slim & Husky’s sponsored food for the evening. 

This semester, offices within the Cone Center relocated to the newly opened Jack C. Massey Center where for the first time in the 20-year history of fostering entrepreneurship, a dedicated hub exists that unites all facets of Belmont’s entrepreneurship program: fostering the way for even greater collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits.