Small Business Growth Panel
Dr. Sonat Birnecker Hart
President, KOVAL Distillery
After receiving an MS from Oxford and a PhD from the University of London, Sonat Birnecker Hart spent over a decade teaching and lecturing in both the United States and Germany. In 2008, she gave up tenure in hopes of a different quality of life – one that would afford an opportunity for her to work with her husband, give up commuting, and return to the city she loved: Chicago. To achieve this goal, she and her husband, Master Distiller Robert Birnecker, founded one of the first urban craft distilleries in the US, KOVAL Distillery, where she has spearheaded much of the product development, distribution and marketing. She is also the co-founder of Kothe Distilling Technologies, a distillery startup consulting firm, also serving as a representative for many distillery equipment companies, including Germany’s leading pot still manufacturer, Kothe Destillationstechnik. She and her husband have taught and consulted for over 2500 people (in the last few years alone), mostly through the workshops they host for distilling hopefuls at their distillery in Chicago. KOVAL’s spirits have won gold medals on both sides of the Atlantic and their distribution reaches coast to coast, as well as internationally in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Japan, Canada, Australia and beyond.
Sarah Hollenbeck and Lynn Mooney
Owners, Women & Children First
In 2014, our co-founders, Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon, sold the bookstore to two of their staffers, Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck. The change in ownership kept the store “in the family” and renewed the strength and vitality of our mission to promote the writing of women and other marginalized voices. We strive to offer a place where everyone can find books reflecting their lives and interests in an atmosphere in which they are respected, valued, and well-served.
Co-Owner, Michelle Lytle Photography and The Lytle House
Michelle is an experienced and skilled photographer working out of the Chicagoland area. She has studied at Columbia College Chicago as well as the Academy of Art University in San Francisco where she built on her experience in both digital and film mediums. Well into her 12th year of business, she has had the pleasure of working closely with over 500 couples, documenting and preserving memories of their big day. In addition to her work with weddings, she has a passion for photographing animals, inspired by her 12 year old Min Pin, Peter. Acting as unofficial assistant in all aspects of her work, Pete has inspired her to take the care, attention, and candid quality of her images and apply it to a slightly furrier subject; crafting intimate portraits that display each pet’s unique personality.
President, Place Consulting
Kimberly has more than 20 years’ experience leading nonprofit organizations and is the leading expert on BIDs (SSAs) in Chicago. She has served as Executive Director of four organizations in Chicago and Baltimore, working in diverse communities with varying constituencies. Her professional background has provided her with expertise in affordable housing development, community organizing, TIFs, BIDs, commercial district planning, strategic planning, Board development and fundraising. Kimberly has had direct involvement and accountability for the creation, management or administration of forty Special Service Areas and four Tax Increment Financing districts. She has extensive experience in community outreach, and enjoys looking for ways to make community participation fun and rewarding. She is addicted to traveling, hot yoga, and karaoke.