Ness, the co-CEO at Ann Arbor, Mich.-based data center company Online Tech, would never be hired again. Instead, the entrepreneurial pursuits that started before he completed his computer science degree at Michigan expanded into a three-decade career of launching and managing successful high tech companies.
He was honored for that track record by the prestigious Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award program. Ness was named one of 33 finalists for the Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Michigan and Northwest Ohio region. Finalists will be honored at an awards gala in Detroit on June 20, when winners will be announced. Regional winners (typically between 8-10 are selected) become eligible for the annual Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year national awards, presented in November.
The program recognizes high-growth entrepreneurs who demonstrate excellence and extraordinary success in such areas as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities.
Ness, a past chairman of the Small Business Association of Michigan, has often spoken publicly about the role entrepreneurs must play in the turnaround of Michigan’s economy. The self-described “serial entrepreneur” is a strong proponent of economic gardening, a development model that seeks to create jobs by supporting entrepreneurs in their quest to grow small businesses organically and sink deep roots into a community.
He has done just that with Online Tech since leading a group of investors to acquire the company in 2003 and turning what was one of Ann Arbor’s first Internet Service Providers into a leader in secure, compliant hosting featuring private cloud hosting, managed cloud hosting, hybrid cloud hosting and colocation services.
Serving as CEO since the purchase, Ness has overseen Online Tech’s tremendous growth both physically (from 600 to more than 60,000 square feet of capacity) and financially (an average of 30-percent annual growth). That steady growth got a significant boost in September 2012 when News-Press & Gazette Company invested $20 million to help Online Tech expand into new markets across the Midwest.
Prior to Online Tech, Ness co-founded CompanyCrafters, WorkWell Health and Safety Systems, and Systems and Software Group. WorkWell was acquired by Liberty Mutual in 1998 and SSG was acquired by Appnet in 1994.
A guest lecturer at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, Ness encourages his students to consider a career as an entrepreneur, as he did in the mid-80s by “extending my Ramen Noodle diet for another five years.”
Ness says many people consider starting their own company only after losing a corporate position, but he believes the opposite approach is wiser.
“These days, companies don’t keep people around for 30 years. You really have to look out for yourself,” Ness said. “I want people to say they’re going to try to start a company, and if that doesn’t work they have a backup plan.”
Online Tech, Michigan’s largest managed data center is becoming the largest in the Midwest, expanding into at least four new markets. The “Fort Knox’’ for data is known for complete redundancy – “backups for everything” – from multiple back-up generators and backup systems to locations straddling two power grids and even two CEOs.
Online Tech leads in secure, compliant hosting services including cloud hosting, managed dedicated servers, Michigan colocation and disaster recovery. Online Tech’s Midwest data centers assure mission critical applications are always available, comply with government & industry regulations, and continue operating after a disaster. Backed by independent HIPAA, PCI, SSAE 16, and SOC 2, Online Tech delivers the security, privacy, and availability expected from world class data center operators. For more information, call (877)740-5028, email [email protected] or visit www.onlinetech.com.
Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year is the world’s most prestigious business award for entrepreneurs. The unique award recognizes the significant contributions of entrepreneurs who inspire others with their vision, leadership and achievement.
Ernst & Young is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. Worldwide, our 167,000 people are united by our shared values and an unwavering commitment to quality. We make a difference by helping our people, our clients and our wider communities achieve their potential. For more information, visit ey.com
Press Contact: April Sage, Director or Marketing, Healthcare Vertical, Online Tech, 734.213.2020 x 113 or [email protected]
Photo Credit: Leisa Thompson