AKRON  After being selected earlier this spring as a finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 Award for Northeast Ohio, Akron RubberDucks Owner and chief executive officer Ken Babby was named the winner of the prize at a special gala event held late last month at the Hilton Downtown Cleveland hotel. 

The EY awards program is in its 31st year recognizing entrepreneurs who are excelling in areas such as innovation, financial performance and personal commitment to their businesses and communities.

Being selected as the regional winner makes Babby a candidate for the national honor in November.

“This is an incredible honor, but it reflects the dedication and passion our amazing team has contributed throughout the last five seasons,” Babby said. “Everyone on our team plays an essential role in our growth and success. We are built to serve Akron and the Northeast Ohio community, but I’m proud their hard work is now being noticed nationally.”

Winning the award was a chance to pause and reflect on all of the changes Babby and his staff have made since he purchased  the then-named Akron Aeros franchise in October 2012. Alterations have included the removal of 1,100 seats at Canal Park to install two premium seating sections, a nickname change from Aeros to RubberDucks, a renovation of the playing surface and Akron hosting the Eastern League All-Star Game and Home Run Derby for the first time in 2016.

During that time, the franchise has set new merchandise sales records, and on a national level, was honored in 2015 as the top promotional team by Minor League Baseball with the Larry MacPhail Award.    

“When (RubberDucks General Manager) Jim Pfander and I set a vision and values for this company five years ago, we wanted to set a new standard for the role Minor League Baseball can play in a community. We wanted to be more than just a baseball team and become a conduit to serve a greater purpose in the community,” Babby added.

As a candidate for the national award, Babby has a chance to join internationally known entrepreneurs as Howard Schultz of Starbucks Coffee Company, John Mackey of Whole Foods Market Inc., Pierre Omidyar of eBay, Inc., Reid Hoffman and Jeff Weiner of LinkedIn Corporation and Mindy Grossman of HSN, Inc., all of whom were previously recognized by the EY program.

The contest includes business leaders in more than145 cities and more than 60 countries throughout the world and award winners in several national categories, as well as the Entrepreneur Of The Year National Overall Award winner, will be announced at the Entrepreneur Of The Year National Awards gala in Palm Springs, California, on Nov. 18.