Thank you to our 2019 Judges

Our judges are some of the most successful executives and entrepreneurs in the nation. And they love helping kids! If you are interested in being a Judge in other markets, please contact us.

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Chairman, Chicago Blackhawks | President, Wirtz Corporation | Co-Chairman, Breakthru Beverage Group

W. Rockwell (Rocky) Wirtz was named President of Wirtz Corporation and Chairman of the Chicago Blackhawks in October 2007, following the passing of his late father, William W. Wirtz.

Today, Wirtz Corporation is one of the largest privately-held and family-owned companies in the United States. As President of Wirtz Corporation, Rocky's role extends to a vast array of businesses from sports and beverage distribution to entertainment, real estate, agriculture, insurance and banking.

As Chairman of the Chicago Blackhawks, Rocky is responsible for all aspects of the club's operations. He was just 2 years old when his grandfather, Arthur Wirtz, purchased the Chicago Blackhawks in 1954. Rocky grew up within the walls of the storied Chicago Stadium, and he oversaw the team's historic Stanley Cup championship victories in 2010, 2013 and 2015. Rocky is also the Co-Chairman of the Executive Committee of the United Center and is a member of the National Hockey League's Executive and Audit Committees.

Rocky has led the family's beverage business, now known as Breakthru Beverage Group, since 1980. Today, BBG employs more than 7,000 associates and has operations in 14 states across the U.S. and Canada. Recognizing his many contributions to the beverage industry, the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America honored Rocky with a Lifetime Leadership Award in 2014. In addition to BBG, Wirtz Corporation also consists of Wirtz Realty and Wirtz Insurance, as well as banking interests at First Security Trust and Savings and First National Bank of South Miami in Florida.

Through it all, Rocky continues to lead his family's commitment to numerous civic and charitable organizations. Founded by his father, The Blackhawks Foundation has donated millions of dollars to dozens of organizations focused on youth programs, education, housing and health and wellness. Most recently, The Blackhawks Foundation built what is now known as the Fifth Third Arena - Chicago Blackhawks Community Rink. Since its opening at the end of 2017, 6,000 CPS students have participated in programming.

Rocky is a member of the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago and serves as a Trustee at The Field Museum of Natural History and Northwestern University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in communications in 1975. At Northwestern, he established the Virginia Wadsworth Wirtz Endowment for Visiting Artists in honor of his grandmother. In 2017, he endowed the W. Rockwell Wirtz Professorship in the School of Communication to attract top professors.

Rocky and his wife, Marilyn, reside in the northern suburbs of Chicago. Rocky has three children, Daniel, Hillary and Kendall; Marilyn has one daughter, Elizabeth. Rocky is also the proud grandfather of five grandchildren.

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Peapod Co-Founder, Chief Technology and Product Management

Mr. Parkinson co-founded Peapod with his brother, Andrew, in 1989 when he was 29 with $50,000 in seed money from friends and family. Delivering groceries via the computer, Peapod is the pioneer of e-commerce, being the oldest e-commerce company in the world. It maintains its leadership as the largest e-grocer in the country serving the Midwest and the East coast.

As Chief Technology Officer and Head of Product, Thomas was responsible for Peapod’s web and mobile product development, IT infrastructure, supply chain and transportation systems, and R&D. Mr. Parkinson has over 35 years of software development experience specializing in product management, UI design, application development and database design. He has a passion for creating unique on-line experiences and delivering superior customer service.

Thomas holds a Masters in Industrial Design from Pratt Institute and a BA from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. For fun, he plays in a rock band, Who’s Your Daddy. Thomas and his wife have placed 1,534 orders with Peapod, which is the equivalent of one order every week since the founding of the company. 

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Founder, | Winnetka Music Festival

Val Haller is founder/CEO of the music website (launched 10 years ago) – first music site specifically created to help busy adults keep up with new music. She is a member of 2112music [startup incubator] at Fort Knox Studios, Chicago; writes the music column for Make It Better magazine and BA50 blog; authored a weekly “Music Match” series for the New York Times; is a regular guest on the morning television show “You & Me This Morning” (WCIU “The U”); launched an indie concert series at Chicago Botanic Garden, writes a personal music blog mini music note, and hosts a long-running professional house concert series in her Chicago home which has expanded to private country clubs, ad agency gigs and other corporate events. 

Her business has branched out in myriad directions; Val interviews bands, covers pressat music festivals, launched music club for adults, hosts live events, provides festival concierge services, and recently launched a mobil app ValslistRadio (playlists for your iOS/Android).

In June 2017, Valslist co-produced and launched a premier inaugural boutique music festival Winnetka Music Festival in her hometown of Winnetka, on the N. Shore of Chicago. Billed as an “Emerging Artist Showcase” Valslist curated the music lineup for the fest with 2 main stages, a Family Stage, and an intimate indoor stage at The Winnetka Chapel, an historical landmark. The fest included 3 large sponsors, support on WXRT’s “93 Days of Summer”, and cover story in NS Magazine (part of Modern Luxury.) First year attendance was 10k+, 17 acts, craft beer + food trucks, establishing the fest as an annual event, moving it to Father’s Day Weekend.

Val has been vetted by Oprah, Katie Couric, WGN, FOX, Chicago Sun-Times, WNYC public radio, NYT, NS Magazine, and music industry moguls, Bob Lefsetz, Norm Winer of WXRT, Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, and more. 

But her mission is simple:  she wants to get the best new music to an audience who doesn’t have time to find it on their own.  You. For more information on Val and Valslist, visit her website at

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Managing Director, Merrill Lynch

David D. Donaldson is currently the Managing Director, Chicago Metro Market Executive of the two Flagship offices downtown at 225 W. Wacker Drive and 33 W. Monroe. The Complex consists of 190 Wealth Management Advisors to whom clients currently entrust over $27 Billion in assets.

David joined Merrill Lynch in 1996 as the Financial Planning Specialist for the Great Lakes Complex. After 3 years in the role he joined the Merrill Lynch Financial Planning Group in Princeton, New Jersey as the Eastern Division Sales Manager. He helped lead a transformative process in the firm to incorporate comprehensive financial planning, which has led to Goals Based Wealth Management and the consultative practices that help clients today.

 David is a graduate of Michigan State University, where he lettered on the golf team. In 1993 he was named to the All Big Ten Academic Team. Prior to joining Merrill Lynch he spent 3 years as a golf professional, splitting time between Michigan and Florida. 

David and his family currently reside in Winnetka, Illinois.  David and Erin are active supporters of By the Hand Club, a Chicago-based after school program that helps high-risk inner-city children.

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Owner, Spynergy Wicker Park

At 27, Liza brings some youth to our panel of judges. No stranger to indoor-cycling (Liza was just 10 years old when her mom Jen Solberg and aunt Tory Raith refined the Spynergy concept in Winnetka), Liza Solberg spent the last seven years living in New York, Denver and Los Angeles where she developed her marketing career. Her passion for spin started at the age of 15, when she began teaching student spin to her peers at the Winnetka studio, and continued to train friends and classmates during and after college, eventually joining her family business in the fall of 2017. Today, Liza has made her passionate hobby a career, combining her knowledge of fitness, music and community into an active, fun experience for like-minded exercise enthusiasts.

Spynergy prides itself on offering its riders a mainstay beyond work and home - a third place to gather with friends and family to get their fitness fix for the day and feel inspired to tackle their health and wellness goals. At the new location, Liza looks to break the mold on what has recently been defined as “boutique fitness.” Spynergy’s team of trusted, qualified, authentic instructors is dedicated to empowering riders of all levels to reach their wellness goals and redefine their capability with every ride – all while being accompanied by good spirits and stellar soundtracks. 

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Created & Hosted by:


Author, Speaker, MBA

Lowey Bundy Sichol (her last name rhymes with pickle) is an award-nominated author, speaker, MBA, and leading expert in teaching business and entrepreneurship to kids. 

Lowey is the author of the nonfiction biography series, From an Idea to..., that takes young readers (age 8-12) into the world of entrepreneurship through the true stories of how our favorite companies came to be. Titles include From an Idea to NikeFrom an Idea to Disney, From an Idea to Google, and From an Idea to LEGO. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019) 

Each year Lowey visits schools across the country and speaks to thousands of students, teaching them about entrepreneurship and inspiring them to think about how their ideas could one day change the world. Lowey is also the creator and host of IDEA Tank for Kids, an entrepreneurial competition that launched in 2019 and drew national media attention. 

Lowey’s passion for writing about business began in 2004 when she founded Case Marketing, a specialized writing firm that composes MBA case studies for business schools. Her MBA case studies have been read by business school students across the globe and are included in the internationally best-selling marketing book, Marketing Management, by Kotler & Keller (New York: Pearson, 2016). Prior to that, Lowey worked in brand management, marketing, and sales.

Lowey received an MBA from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth and a BA from Hamilton College where she played varsity softball and women’s rugby. An avid athlete, Lowey’s spends her free time coaching youth sports and along the shores of Lake Michigan with husband, three children, and two big dogs.

@LoweySichol | |