2024 Midwest SME Forum: A Look Back

Future Readiness: Expanding in the US Market

Our all-day Midwest Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SME) Forum is designed to provide participating businesses the ability to connect directly with like-minded companies and industry experts. This year's theme, "Future Readiness: Expanding in the US Market", addressed the opportunities and challenges that businesses encounter as they navigate the dynamic landscape of the US market.  

This event serves as a hub for like-minded professionals, fostering opportunities for new professional connections to expand business in the US. Four different panels delved into crucial topics, sparking discussions on strategies for success. Attendees explored how to develop new skills, stay informed about industry trends, and harness emerging technologies for growth and success. 

See below for a look back at the 2024 Midwest SME Forum, and stay tuned for more information on the 2025 event.

Opening Keynote

Daniel Zimmer, SAP Labs U.S.

Topic: Bay Area Update: An SAP Success Story on Driving Innovation in AI

Sr. Director, Head of Engagement

Daniel is part of the leadership team within the office of the Managing Director at SAP Labs U.S. He leads internal employee engagement programs as well as thought leadership initiatives within SAP's rich external ecosystem in North America. All engagement programs are focused to contribute to SAP's global goal, to be the #1 Enterprise application and Business AI company.

About SAP Labs U.S.

As the market leader in enterprise application software, SAP is helping companies of all sizes and in all industries run better by redefining ERP and creating networks of intelligent enterprises that provide transparency, resiliency, and sustainability across supply chains. Its end-to-end suite of applications and services enables our customers to operate profitably, adapt continuously, and make a difference worldwide. SAP is committed to bringing out the best in everybusiness – helping customers reach agility at scale, achieve more across their value chains and drive sustainability at their core. Our goal is to be the #1 Enterprise application and Business AI company.

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Explore our 2024 Panels

Panel 1: The Future Is Now: Grow with New Technologies and AI while Mitigating Risk

How can you leverage the power of new technologies and AI to grow your business and increase competitiveness, while also managing the risks and challenges they pose? Our panel of experts shared their insights and best practices on topics such as driving innovation, reducing complexity, data privacy, cybersecurity, ethical AI, regulatory compliance, and more. Attendees learned how to identify, assess, and mitigate the potential threats and liabilities that come with adopting and deploying new technologies in your company.

Proudly presented by

Andreas Ruzic, Rittal North America LLC

EVP Rittal North America & CEO Rittal USA

Andreas joined Rittal in May 2021 and is the CEO of Rittal in the U.S. as well as the Executive Vice President for our Canadian subsidiary. In this role he is focusing on the customer experience, leading the executive team and growing the business while building strong relationships with our partners, customers and future customers. Andreas graduated in Industrial Engineering at the University of Applied Sciences in Rosenheim/Germany and brings over 20 years of senior and C-level experience covering a variety of industries including manufacturing, aviation & aerospace, retail, telecommunications, and supply chain management.


About Rittal

Rittal North America LLC is the U.S. subsidiary of Rittal GmbH & Co. KG in Germany and was founded in Springfield, Ohio in 1982. Its parent company, Rittal, was started in Germany in 1961 and has grown to include offices in more than 70 countries and manufacturing facilities on 4 continents.

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Barbara Wittmann, Digital Wisdom Collective


Barbara Wittmann, an award-winning author, and Digital Leadership Expert, excels in aligning People & Technology for global expansion. As the CEO of IT Zeitgeist LLC and founder of the Digital Wisdom Collective, she pioneers digital leadership globally. With a background as a member of SAP’s Business Process Renovation Team and holding multiple technology patents, Barbara is a Certified Coach, passionate entrepreneur, and Transformation Guide, embodying leadership traits essential for driving innovation and growth in today's digital landscape. A German native, Barbara relocated to Colorado in 2016 for love and was recently appointed President of the Colorado GACC Chapter.


About Digital Wisdom Collective

The Digital Wisdom Collective is dedicated to enhancing collaboration, leadership, and transformation skills to leverage emerging technologies. Our unique Peer Community offers the safe space for skill development and knowledge sharing through a proven Training Framework. We enable your in-house leaders and teams to quickly capitalize on tech improvements, giving your organization a significant transformation edge. Join us for a quantum leap in capability and mindset, paving the way for digital solutions crafted with the next generation in mind.

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Jackson Hallauer, SAP

Lead Data Scientist

Jackson is the Lead Data Scientist at SAP Fieldglass, responsible for driving the creation of innovative technologies. He spent the first half of his career with Caterpillar applying data-driven solutions to the mining industry, before joining SAP to develop AI applications aimed at enhancing workforce management. With a passion for natural language processing, his current work focuses on the ethical deployment of AI to maximize both business efficiency and customer satisfaction.


About SAP
SAP, founded in 1972 by five visionaries, revolutionized the business world by establishing the global standard for enterprise resource planning (ERP) software with its innovative SAP S/4HANA system, leveraging in-memory computing for advanced data processing and supporting AI and machine learning. From its humble beginnings with a single customer, SAP has grown over 50 years to serve over 400,000 customers worldwide, continually driven by the pioneering spirit of its founders. The company's journey from creating real-time, integrated business software in a small German office to becoming a global leader in business solutions highlights its enduring commitment to transforming industries. Today, SAP is a powerhouse in the cloud, with 269 million users, offering over 100 solutions across all business functions and operating 57 data centers globally, cementing its role as a pivotal player in making enterprises intelligent, networked, and sustainable.

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Sreelatha Surendranathan, UL Solutions

SVP, Chief Digital Officer

Sreelatha leads UL Solutions' digital strategy to deliver compelling and integrated digital solutions and capabilities that serve our customers’ current and future needs. She is passionate about women in STEM, building diverse teams with opportunities for minority voices to be heard. She leads change as UL Solutions creates new digital business models geared to the future.

Prior to joining UL Solutions in 2021, Sreelatha served as Vice President of software at GE Healthcare, and worked as Chief Technology Officer, Vice President, and Senior Director of global engineering at SCO Logistics, Transplace and Perot Systems. She is also an entrepreneur, having founded and run a product company in the Logistics and Transportation space.


About UL Solutions

A global leader in applied safety science, UL Solutions transforms safety, security and sustainability challenges into opportunities for customers in more than 100 countries. UL Solutions delivers testing, inspection and certification services, together with software products and advisory offerings, that support our customers’ product innovation and business growth. The UL Certification Marks serve as a recognized symbol of trust in our customers’ products and reflect an unwavering commitment to advancing our safety mission. We help our customers innovate, launch new products and services, navigate global markets and complex supply chains and grow sustainably and responsibly into the future. Our science is your advantage.

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Panel 2: Fuel Your US Expansion: Gathering Localization Insights for a Profitable Road Ahead

The US market is diverse, dynamic, and competitive. To master it, companies need to tailor their products and services to meet the needs and preferences of different customer segments and leverage local partnerships, networks, and resources to gain a competitive edge. Attendees heard diverse perspectives from companies who have successfully utilized marketing, sales, financial, and distribution opportunities to intelligently prosper in the US.

Proudly presented by

Amanda Marx, HARTING Americas

SVP Marketing, Digital Strategy & IT at HARTING Americas

Amanda and her team are responsible for spearheading top of funnel growth for HARTING Americas, delivering modern digital-first marketing that resonates with prospects and customers in the region. She brings a background of both agency and in-house experience with large global brands to HARTING and is passionate about bringing great customer experiences to life that drive customer growth and loyalty.


About HARTING Americas

HARTING is the gold standard in connectivity for industrial environments and mission-critical applications. As the pioneer in connectivity, HARTING combines the quality and customer service of its family-owned operations with a global footprint backed by in-region manufacturing facilities and local teams with deep engineering expertise. With a reliable and robust approach to connectivity for any environment, HARTING enables improved efficiency and sustainability and future-proofs the businesses of today to power the innovations of tomorrow.

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Matthias Amberg, Rödl & Partner

CPA / Partner

Matthias Amberg, originally from Dortmund, Germany, is a German Steuerberater and US CPA and Partner at Rödl & Partner in the US, based in Chicago. With over 20 years of extensive public accounting experience in Germany and primarily in the US, Matthias focuses on advising Mittelstand companies from the German speaking countries within various industries such as manufacturing, distribution, construction, pharmaceuticals, food, retail, and technology on their US tax and accounting matters.


About Rödl & Partner

As Rödl & Partner USA, we have specifically tailored our accounting, auditing, tax and business consulting services to the unique needs of your foreign owned business in the United States of America. For more than 45 years our core practice has been serving the accounting and tax needs of primarily German speaking and other foreign owned companies operating in the U.S. Our headquarters is located in Atlanta, GA. We have other offices in Birmingham, AL, Charlotte, NC, Chicago, IL, Cincinnati, OH, Detroit, MI, Greenville, SC, Houston, TX and Manhattan, NY.

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Stefan Leitz, Cherry Digital Health

Director, Global Business Development and Sales

For over two years, Stefan has been responsible for the global BD and sales within the channels, developing new business areas and comprehensive solutions, as well as cooperation in the national subsidiaries. He holds over 25 years of experience in sales management, business development, and international marketing in various industries. In his previous roles, Stefan has worked primarily for midsize companies in Europe, China, Indonesia, the United Arab Emirates, and the USA. He holds an international Marketing & Sales Management Bachelor's degree from DHBW Mannheim. Since 2024, Stefan is also Chairman of the North American Project Group within the German Health Alliance, now cooperating also with GACC Midwest.


About Cherry Digital Health

Founded in the United States 71 years ago, Cherry Americas LLC has a rich history of innovation, bringing exceptional computer input device products to market. With headquarters in Germany and a global workforce exceeding 500 dedicated professionals, their company's expansive portfolio spans Peripherals, Gaming, Components, as well as Digital Health and Solutions verticals. From ergonomically designed mice to ultra-silent and fully washable keyboards and premium desktop sets, their offerings epitomize precision and tactile superiority. Trusted by a diverse array of users, Cherry’s products consistently deliver unparalleled performance. As Cherry continues to expand its footprint worldwide, the company is actively growing their sales team within the US market.

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Torsten Reinhardt, HEIDENHAIN Corporation


After attending school and University in Germany and Great Britain, Torsten Reinhardt came to the US in 2001 as a corporate finance expatriate of Mannesmann Dematic. He has since worked as CFO of the US subsidiaries of several medium sized German home-based corporations. In 2022 he joined the HEIDENHAIN Corporation as its North American CFO. Torsten is passionate about quality products Made in Germany and promoting German style workforce development from apprenticeship to retirement age.



The HEIDENHAIN company was founded in Berlin in 1889. The history of the company’s graduation products paved the way for its leading role in high-accuracy measurement technology. HEIDENHAIN also shaped the machine tool industry as an early pioneer in state-of-the-art technology for CNC controls. Today the companies in the HEIDENHAIN group develop and produce linear, angle and rotary encoders, CNC controls and other leading edge industrial devices for demanding positioning tasks and its practical software solutions for the Digital Shop Floor empower end users to fully digitalize their manufacturing ecosystem. Products from the HEIDENHAIN Family of Brands are used in high-accuracy machine tools, industrial and robotic automation as well as manufacturing and processing systems for electronic components. The HEIDENHAIN Corporation acts as the North American representative for all of the Brands in the HEIDENHAIN family supplying a number of critical and innovative industries, including machine tools, electronics, robotics, medical technology, elevators, and metrology. Its main location in the US is in Schaumburg, IL where besides its US manufacturing and distribution it also houses its state of the art end user training academy for HEIDENHAIN CNC controls. 

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Panel 3: The Automotive Roadmap: Navigating Economic Challenges While Driving the Technology Transition

The automotive industry is undergoing a major transformation, driven by trends such as electrification, automation, connectivity, and shared mobility—and companies need to adapt. At the same time, players in the automotive industry need to stay resilient in the face of economic headwinds. Attendees learned about innovating and differentiating your products and services while collaborating with other players in the mobility ecosystem.

Proudly presented by

Austin Hanohano, Digatron Group

Regional Sales Manager

Austin is passionate about the future of mobility and sustainability. He leverages his value-added selling skills, communication prowess, and domain expertise to drive EV and battery industry sales and growth. Austin has 15 years of sales experience in the automotive and battery sectors, where he has created custom solutions, cultivated relationships, and delivered value to my clients and partners.


About Digatron Group

Digatron is an international group of companies with headquarters in Aachen (Germany) and global manufacturing facilities in the USA, India, and Italy. Its vision has always been to energize the battery world with advanced turn-key power electronic solutions for research laboratories and battery producers. For over half a century, the company has become a recognized partner of the leading battery and automotive industry internationally. Digatron’s most recent innovations are from manufacturing turnkey solutions for Lithium-ion Cell assembly & formation equipment to manufacturing automotive DC fast charger infrastructure equipment used by charge point operators to meet the rapidly expanding electric vehicle market.

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Justin Robinson, Detroit Regional Partnership

Executive Vice President, Economic Development

Justin Robinson oversees economic development programming at the Detroit Regional Partnership, an 11-county regional economic development agency responsible for attraction 50,000 new jobs and $10 Billion in capex into the Detroit Region between 2020-2029 (10-year period). Justin leads several business units for the organization including business development, industrial site readiness, talent services and mobility programming.


About Detroit Regional Partnership

The Detroit Regional Partnership (DRP) is responsible for marketing the business case for the 11-county Detroit Region to global business leaders and influencers, with the mission to attract new companies, technology, jobs and investment into our market. Over the last 4-years (2020-2023) the DRP has attracted more than 100 international and domestic companies in the mobility, advanced manufacturing, technology and logistics sectors, creating $8.6 Billion in new investment and 33,000 new jobs. Our primary services include market data, incentive strategy and negotiation, real-estate selection and market connections.

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Lisa Clemmons Stott, Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity

Electric Mobility and Innovation Director

Lisa is in the Director's Office at the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, working as the point person for the electric vehicle sector on the Governor's business development team. Illinois passed the Reimagining Energy and Vehicles Act in November 2021. As the sector has grown with wins like Stellantis, Rivian, Gotion and Lion Electric, the state hosting its first EV Industry Day conference and matchmaking event for manufacturers on April 25.


About Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity

The mission of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO) is to create equitable economic opportunities across the State of Illinois. By attracting and supporting major job creators, investing in communities, strengthening Illinois’ world-class workforce, fostering innovation, and ushering in the new clean energy economy, DCEO works to fortify Illinois’ reputation as a global economic powerhouse while ensuring Illinois is the best state to live, work and do business.

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Tobias Banik, tesa North America

President & Regional Manager

Tobias Banik is the President and Regional Manager of tesa tape North America where he leads business operations for the pressure-sensitive adhesive manufacturer across the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. Over his 13 years at tesa, he’s held various engineering and management roles in Singapore, Germany, and now the U.S. 


About tesa

tesa is a multinational company that develops adhesive tapes and self-adhesive product solutions for various industries, commercial customers, and end consumers. There are over 7,000 tesa adhesive solutions that help improve the work, products, and lives of customers. tesa invests in the development of environmentally friendly products, solvent-free manufacturing, and the use of renewable energy sources at its facilities.

tesa is active in 100 countries and operates plants in the U.S., Germany, Italy, China, and Vietnam. tesa opened its first production facility outside of Europe in Sparta, MI in 1982. In collaboration with its international clients, tesa develops innovations that are customized at both the product and process level. Over 130 tesa tapes may be used in electric vehicles, while more than 70 may be used in smartphones. Globally, tesa employs about 5,200 people.

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Panel 4: Workforce Development That Works For All: “Get Them & Keep Them”

Your workforce is your most valuable asset. How can you attract, retain, and develop the best talent for your business while creating a culture of engagement, empowerment, safety and performance? How can you leverage technology and data to enhance your talent management processes and outcomes? Our panel of experts discussed how to build and maintain a high-performing and diverse workforce for your company. 

Proudly presented by

Geoffrey Somary, Ipsen Group


Geoffrey Somary, Ipsen Group CEO, believes the drivers of a successful company are inspired employees, customer-focused innovation and doing the small things with excellence. He oversees the global companies of Ipsen based in the US, Germany, China, India and Japan where the company manufactures and services heat treatment technology that transforms metals and alloys for mission critical applications.


About Ipsen

Excellence in thermal processing allows you to push the boundaries of what’s possible: whether it’s transforming space exploration, crafting better medical implants or developing more efficient cars and jet engines. Backed by more than 75 years of experience, Ipsen's global team works in concert so that manufacturers and commercial heat treaters can innovate with confidence. We equip manufacturers to perform precise, repeatable heat treatment that enhances safety, enables innovation and fuels business growth. Today, Ipsen has more than 11,000 systems installed in 70 different countries worldwide.

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Mario Proehl, H.E.A.T. - Academy GmbH & Co. KG

CEO & Owner

Mario Proehl is the founder and managing partner of H.E.A.T. – Academy GmbH and offers consulting, security training and the implementation of security services for companies, organisations and state institutions with increased security risk and activities in risk or high-risk countries. Mario Proehl served in the Bundeswehr for 23 years. From 1996-2013 he served in the German Special Forces (KSK). He has been a self-employed security consultant since 2013 and has since taken on numerous assignments in Germany and abroad including the Czech Republic, Mexico, Japan, Jordan, Libya, Egypt, Uganda, Paraguay, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan.


About H.E.A.T. – Academy GmbH & Co. KG

The H.E.A.T. – Academy GmbH & Co. KG offers training for employees of aid organisations, companies and authorities who will be employed to crisis areas and areas with increased security risks. In addition, we offer security consulting to organisations, companies, and individuals on projects and offer our services worldwide. In 2018, the first 5-day Hostile Environment Awareness Training (H.E.A.T.) was successfully conducted as a course by MP-Protection, a security company with Mario Proehl, CEO. In 2019, H.E.A.T. – Academy by MP-Protection was established as an independent course format. Since then, numerous other H.E.A.T. courses and all kind of security trainings were implemented for various clients, with the course format’s contents tailored to the needs of the client. In 2022, H.E.A.T. – Academy GmbH & Co. KG was founded as an independent company and training for employees of diplomatic missions was developed as a new course format. In 2023,  advanced H.E.A.T. courses were added to the portfolio.

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Nick Zasada, Vetter Development Services, USA

Director Process Development and Manufacturing

Nick has been with Vetter Development Service Chicago since 2012 and leads the Process Development and Manufacturing Teams. In this role he is focusing on establishing and executing the pharmaceutical manufacturing process of parenteral molecules from compounding to visual inspection and packaging. Nick earned a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison as well as an MBA from Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.

About Vetter Development Services, USA

Vetter is an independent international contract development and manufacturing organization (CDMO), headquartered in Ravensburg, Germany, with a clientele that includes the world’s leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies. Its Chicago facility is the company’s first U.S. site and provides development support and aseptic manufacturing for preclinical through Phase IIb injectables, primarily complex biologics.

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Samera Ludwig, Kilpatrick


Samera Syeda Ludwig focuses her practice on labor and employment and business immigration. For more than 20 years, she has represented employers in both state and federal courts and in administrative proceedings throughout the country. As an experienced litigator, Samera counsels and represents businesses on matters involving employee discipline, employee claims of discrimination, and harassment and retaliation and conducts internal investigations. Samera also advises employers on immigration policies and employment related issues including obtaining non-immigrant and immigrant visas, providing immigration related guidance during corporate mergers and acquisitions, and assisting employers with I-9 employment eligibility and verification compliance.


About Kilpatrick

Kilpatrick is trusted counsel to the world’s most innovative companies. To serve our groundbreaking clients, we are at the forefront of client service, a leader in DE&I, and on the cutting edge of law and technology. With recognized strength in the technology sector and a full range of service offerings, we deliver practical, business-centric solutions built upon strong and enduring connections. Kilpatrick has offices in the eight of the 10 largest metro areas in the U.S. Overall, the firm has 18 U.S. offices and 22 offices worldwide.

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