Big Idea Pitch Competition Judges

Ken Bahk
Co-founder and managing partner of Kaleidoscope Health Ventures

Ken Bahk, Ph.D. is the co-founder and managing partner of Kaleidoscope Health Ventures (KHV), a venture development firm with a mission to realize health equity for all by reinventing the health innovation model. KHV brings together world-class startups, partners, investors and talent to address socioeconomic and health issues while providing high-value services to support a new wave of life science startups and healthcare solutions.

Prior, Bahk spent 19 years in life sciences and healthcare; enabling new technologies from idea to commercialization as a senior executive, venture and impact investor for family offices and board member for multiple market-leading exits. He has served in thought leadership roles for organizations including the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, Association for Molecular Pathology, the American Society for Microbiology, and for the topic of Innovation for the JP Morgan Annual Healthcare Conference and the White House.

Ken is a member of the Board of Directors at Inflammatix and Project N95. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Master of Science in Neurobiology and Physiology from Northwestern University and his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management.

Steve Byers
CEO, Byers Brewing

Steve grew up in the rural parts of Indian Creek School district. After middle school, he moved in with his father in Sycamore, IL. Graduating in 2006, he didn't know what to do for work or school. After an unsuccessful semester at NIU, he worked for a small family business in Sycamore called Soft Water City. Quickly he started taking classes at Kishwaukee College and eventually moved down to Illinois State University. He settled into a biology education major. Graduating in 2013 with one child, he and his wife Megan moved back to DeKalb. After subbing for a year, he landed a full-time position at Huntley Middle School in DeKalb. After five years of teaching, he moved to DeKalb High School.

Byers Brewing Company began as the Free Range Beer Company with a friend Byers homebrewed with. After years of talking about the concept of starting a business, the idea began to take shape; although his friend had decided not to be a part of the business. With just equity in their home, Steve and Megan were able to acquire financing to open the business. Delays from the equipment manufacturer nearly cost too much, even before the doors officially opened. Eventually the pieces came together and the business was launched.

The Byers Brewing Company is a nanobrewery. Each batch of beer is only about 93 gallons. The business plan was to keep beer as fresh as possible and focus on sales in the taproom in order to maximize margins. Eventually, Steve would like to compete in national brewing competitions. Brewing achievements would not only bring customers to the brewery but also help to reinvigorate DeKalb's downtown area.

Nick Dinges
CEO, Dinges Fire Company

Nick Dinges’ work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit started at the age of 10, when he began mowing yards in his hometown of Sublette, Illinois. Over the next 12 years, he developed a respected lawn care business servicing 76 accounts in Sublette, Amboy and Woodhaven Lakes (the world's largest campground). This experience allowed Dinges to completely pay for college and to graduate Western Illinois University debt-free.

At the age of 22, he was hired as a professional firefighter/paramedic for the City of Rockford, Illinois. For Dinges, this was the best job in the world (bar-none). He was assigned to some of the busiest engine, ladder and ambulance companies in the Midwest, including: Rockford E-1, E-2, Ladder-2 and Charlie-27. He also enjoyed 20+ run days and many multi-fire shifts.

During the same period, Dinges was given the opportunity to be part of the newly founded Illinois Fire Store. He partnered in the business shortly after his 23rd birthday. He truly enjoyed selling fire, EMS and rescue equipment. The company rapidly grew out of a small home office and into a one-room office in Amboy, Illinois. Over the next several years, Dinges moved into the role of vice president of sales and managed growth of the organization into one of the premier fire equipment distributors in the Midwest.

In 2011, Dinges became the CEO/owner and began to carry out his vision of the business as Dinges Fire Company (Amboy, Illinois):

  • 4x sales growth since 2016
  • Management of 20+ full-time staff
  • Management of 60+ 1099 sales staff
  • Sales staff covering Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri
  • Firetruck sales staff covering Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota
  • Launched mobile service programs throughout the Midwest
  • Executed (2) acquisitions in Wisconsin and Michigan
  • Trending to be largest fire equipment dealer in Midwest by 2025
  • Custom-built a sales portal/CRM technology application – DFC owns

Additional career highlights:

  • Assistant Fire Chief/Paramedic – Sublette Fire Protection District (1997-2001, 2012-Present)
  • Career Firefighter/Paramedic – City of Rockford, IL (2001–2008)
  • Adjunct Instructor - Sauk Valley CC – Helped teach fire behavior program to 3,000+ fire fighters
  • Owner Leatherhead Metals – Developed Product Line and Trademark Owner
  • Owner Dinges Mowing Company – startup lawn mowing and landscape company
  • Investor in Vanguard Safety Wear – firefighter, rescue and wildland glove distribution company
  • Investor in 911 Network – Software and eCommerce Platform for Public Safety
  • Consultant - Leatherhead Fire Tools – developed product line and distribution launch
  • Board president – Sublette 365 – Created a non-profit to support Sublette, Illinois
  • Board member – Bradford Mutual Insurance
  • Board Member – Amboy Education Foundation

Griff Ehrenstrom
Principal, Clarite Advisory LLC

Griff Ehrenstrom is a specialist in the construction and delivery of messages that are differentiated and memorable. Griff advises on all aspects of sales process design, presentation coaching and public speaking.

Prior to establishing Clarite, Griff managed the C&IS Consulting Division of Northern Trust Company’s Global Sales. The group worked with sales and product people worldwide to develop and deliver market messages that are distinct, and conducted a traditional management consultancy for large, complex clients and prospects of Northern Trust.

Prior to this position, Griff spent twelve years as division manager and as sales representative for North American Sales. The group is responsible for sales to institutional funds, large corporate ERISA, public funds, Taft-Hartley funds, insurance companies and the endowment/foundation marketplace. Before moving into sales, Griff was a product manager for Passport, which is Northern Trust's online information delivery tool. In this role, he was responsible for planning, development, testing, rollout and internal communications.

Before Griff began in product management, he served as an online delivery consultant and an accountant.

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