Because second-stage entrepreneurs are so focused on their businesses, their contributions often go unnoticed by the media, policymakers, economic developers and community stakeholders. Thus, celebrating growth entrepreneurs and communicating their value is part of our mission.

Second-stage growth companies deserve recognition for a variety of reasons:

  • Clever competitors — They’re agile at adapting to industry trends and changing regulations. With national and global markets, they bring outside dollars into local communities. Many are attracting venture capital, raising investor awareness for their region.
  • Outstanding employers — In addition to being powerful job creators, they practice diversity, have established strong corporate cultures and creative HR policies.
  • Continuous improvement — From introducing new products to perfecting internal processes to setting new standards for customer service.
  • Good citizens — Many have revitalized blighted areas by renovating or building new facilities. Others have a strong track record of philanthropy; whether they support social or environmental causes, they are determined to make a difference.

Companies to Watch

Companies to Watch® (CTW) is an awards program developed by the foundation specifically for second-stage entrepreneurs. CTW honorees are selected not only for their past and projected growth, but also their special strengths, such as having a distinct competitive edge, deploying a new technology in a traditional industry, establishing external markets and attracting new dollars to their region or serving their community in some special way.


CTW launched in Michigan in 2005 and has been conducted in several states. Ongoing programs are held in Michigan, Florida and Colorado, where they are run by local hosts who collaborate with public and private interests to create a culture of support for second-stage companies.

Awardees tell us this recognition has benefitted them in a number of ways, from raising their visibility in the marketplace to boosting employee morale. To extend the life of CTW beyond the awards ceremony, local hosts and sponsors of CTW provide various post-event opportunities to assist honorees, ranging from media coverage to networking events.

In addition, the foundation holds exclusive leader retreats for CTW awardees at Big Rock Valley, which enable them to take advantage of our leadership curriculum and interact with other second-stage entrepreneurs from around the country in a peer-based learning experience. “Unlike other awards that become dust collectors on your desk, Companies to Watch is an ongoing opportunity,” says Bonnie Alfonso, CEO of Alfie Logo Gear in Traverse City, Michigan.

Know of an outstanding second-stager in Colorado, Florida or Michigan? Click on the respective link to find out how to nominate them for a Companies to Watch award!

Second-Stage Rockstars

This series of articles examines the ongoing impact of second-stage companies, looking at not only their economic growth, but also how they may be transforming their industry, creating engaging workplaces or excelling as corporate citizens.

“We started the company because we thought we had something special to offer the market, and being a Companies to Watch winner helps validate that. Yet perhaps more important, it’s very motivating. It doesn’t mean we’ve arrived, but signals that we are on the right path — and challenges our organization to continue to play up to that level.” 

 Kevin Fahl co-founder of Alternative Mechanical LLC in Grand Rapids, Michigan