Mastermind Conference

Vision & Purpose

We want to help you grow!

Calling All Aspiring Entrepreneurs, Business Owners, Non-profits, Civic Leaders

How We can Help You

Do you have goals and ideas you would like to turn into businesses? Are you motivated, but need some guidance? Are you unsure how to get started, or move your leadership skills to the next level? If so, this Mastermind Conference is for you.

We believe successful people leave clues. So why not learn from those who are already successful? At the Mastermind Vision And Purpose Conference you will learn from accomplished business leaders, who will share crucial lessons they have learned on their journey.

Avoid the long road to success. With the right knowledge and insight, you can make your journey to achieving your goals shorter and easier. Come with a purpose, and you will leave with a clear vision and an actionable plan you can implement right away.

Tickets are limited so sign up now and we'll see you at the conference!

Conference Speakers


Jeff Gear,

Keynote: From $0 to $6 million in two years

Would you roll back your business revenue by $6 million per year and consider yourself more successful? Jeff did exactly that, taking his company from $2.9 million to $20M, then purposefully scaling back to $14M, and the story is one you don’t want to miss. He’ll also discuss starting up TSR Concrete Coatings (with partner Tyler Russell) in 2016, and in just 9 months becoming the largest residential concrete coating company in the country. He’ll touch on marketing, adapting to change, and much more.

Jeff describes himself as "a 33 year old, handsome, slightly chubby Caucasian male." He’s the father of Bianca and Jaxson, and a lifelong resident of the Freeport area. He served on Freeport’s Police Department for three years.

Then he answered a Craigslist ad that would change his life, and joined the sales force of Erie Construction. Jeff formed 866-GET-A-PRO three years later with partner Chris Bowling, and took it to $20 million in revenue. Meanwhile, he started up TSR Concrete Coatings with partner Tyler Russell in 2016. Tyler was moving back to the region and looking for employment, and Jeff wanted his race shop floor coated. "After several attempts to find someone to do the project,” Jeff says, “I pitched the idea that instead of Tyler going to work for someone, we should explore a partnership in the concrete coatings world."

By the first of March they were ready, and by the end of the year they had taken in $2.2 million in revenue. The next year, revenue was $6 million! Plus, TSR was the #1 residential concrete coating company in both years and Tyler and Jeff both received leadership awards for their willingness to help others in the industry grow their businesses, too.


Vanessa Hughes

Keynote: Understanding Business Financial Literacy

When opportunity knocked, Vanessa answered, starting an unplanned adventure. She was managing the Freeport branch office of a staffing company. Vanessa had, in her own words, “meandered through her early twenties,” and had settled on the idea of pursuing a career in gemology and jewelry design. Then, the opportunity to purchase the branch arose. She decided to make the leap, rebranded the business as Hughes Resources, and never looked back.

Under her leadership, that team has grown a $1 million dollar staffing company to $9 million, while increasing net income by twenty-seven times. They’ve opened branches in Monroe, Dixon, and Beloit. This year, they were awarded Business of the Year by the Greater Freeport Partnership.

She notes her job is never dull because there is variety in every day. She and her team work with thousands of job seekers and over a hundred client businesses. Staffing in the manufacturing sector is like a “real life ‘How It’s Made,’” she says, and she enjoys learning how job seekers came to be where they are. Hughes Resources provides growing companies with hard-working employees and connects individuals with meaningful employment opportunities.

When she’s not leading her team at Hughes Resources, Vanessa gives back to her community as a member of area boards and committees, including past positions at VOICES, the Freeport Art Museum, Freeport Area Chamber of Commerce, and Freeport Noon Rotary Club, and currently serves on The Workforce Connection board, and St. John UCC’s Council.


Dan Levitt,
Vice President of Achievement Dynamics

Keynote: Sales training and development

Dan Levitt is Vice President of Achievement Dynamics, a leader within the Sandler Worldwide Training organization. His professional experience includes over 30 years of successful sales and sales management experience in enterprise software and technology. He is an effective public speaker, and consultant who speaks and trains throughout the United States.

Over the last several years Dan has built an extensive client base in providing sales and sales management training and development to small and medium sized business owners and entrepreneurs. Dan understands that effective sales skills are a process, not merely a set of techniques that can be taught in a few seminars or lectures. For this reason, Achievement Dynamics, Inc. coaches and trains individuals and sales teams on an ongoing basis to reinforce the principles of the Sandler 7-step system. The result for management: increased sales and revenues, a more dynamic and motivated sales force and an enhanced bottom line.

Dan lives in Denver and has earned degrees from Colorado State (Finance) and University of Denver (MBA)

Our Team


Emarc Malavolti,

Emarc is the founder of Freeport Mastermind, and is a constant promoter of the group’s efforts.

Originally from Haiti, Emarc was adopted in 2001 and grew up in Caledonia, Illinois, on a five acre chicken farm with 22 siblings. He studied at Highland Community College, tried several different jobs and was even a youth minister for a time, but things really clicked when he became an entrepreneur. In 2016, Emarc developed Fresh2Go, a pocket-sized oral hygiene kit that guarantees fresh breath. The following year, Fresh2Go won the Freeport Fish Tank competition, the Spirit of Entrepreneurship award at the EigerLab FastPitch competition, and became a hit in the stateline region. Emarc was also chosen by Northwest Quarterly as one of "25 Local People Who Inspire."

Emarc founded Mastermind as a monthly meeting where local business owners and other “success-seekers” can learn from each others’ failures and successes. He also recently launched Honest—a site where car owners can find pre-screened mechanics, body shops and detailers in their area—with Alex Marck.


Dean Balbach,

Dean has not only caught the Mastermind vision, he’s helped expand it internationally. He’s also indispensable when it comes to arranging Mastermind events.

Dean grew up on a farm, and says it taught him “hard work helps you to be successful, and as an entrepreneur you reap the benefits of that hard work, and not somebody else.” He is a practicing account, and also has a passion for church missions and mentoring youth.

Dean was asked to attend a Saturday morning Mastermind meeting. “I listened to people share their success and their failures in business and life,” he says. “They were real and transparent. I saw how it inspired and encouraged others. I thought, ‘This could help people locally, nationally and internationally.’ I launched Mastermind in Mwanza, Tanzania, Africa. It will help some of the poorest of the poor have a better life, to help their families, and educate their kids.” Dean became involved with as well, because he saw it was a product with potential and he had always wanted to grow a business from the ground up. “Entrepreneurship is the future worldwide,” he says.


Tim Hood,
Highland Community College

Tim has given valuable support and advice to Mastermind, and expanded the organization’s reach by making it part of Highland’s Lifelong Learning program. He has also been a featured speaker on leadership and team dynamics at Saturday Morning Mastermind sessions and the inaugural Mastermind conference.

Tim was a leader in the corporate world and discovered he loved teaching. He served as an instructor and administrator, including as the Chief Academic Officer at Kaskaskia College in Centralia, Illinois. When an opportunity came up to join the senior staff at Highland as Vice President of Academic Services, he and his wife were careful to make sure they had “buy-in” from their four daughters. The whole family fell in love with Freeport, and his wife even became a downtown business owner. In 2015, Tim became President of Highland.


Mark Diddens,
Precision Landscape / Sparrow Lawn

Mark was part of the original Saturday morning Mastermind group, and his advice, contributions and sponsorship have greatly helped the organization grow and improve.

Mark founded Precision Landscape in 1997, and the company’s distinctive black trucks have become a familiar site around the region. In 2011, partner Josh Hardacre came aboard, and Precision has grown to have dozens of employees serving customers year round in Freeport, Galena, Monroe and the surrounding areas.

This year, Precision will become Sparrow Lawn and launch a national franchising system. They’ll keep the distinctive black trucks, though.

Mark serves on the Stephenson County Board, and is chairman of the Court Services committee.


Christopher Clukey,
Modern One Marketing

Christopher develops content for the Mastermind website and maintains our social media presence.

Originally from the Portland, Maine area, Christopher is an Air Force veteran, serving as a crew chief and aircraft inspector. Later, he worked in corporate recruiting and found he had a talent for crafting impactful marketing copy. He has been writing professionally for 15 years, including as a reporter, feature writer, history columnist and copywriter. He served as managing editor of a national trade magazine for three years, overseeing a relaunch of the publication and the buildout of their website and online forum. He joined Peace of Mind Marketing in 2017.

Christopher recently celebrated 25 years of marriage to Carol, and is the father of Nathan, Ginny, Peter and Sandra. He stays active in the Freeport community, serving as a church elder, scout leader and elected member of the Stephenson County Board.


Alex Marck,
Modern One Marketing

Alex plays an essential part in planning and staging Mastermind’s events, and is a frequent presenter, giving members new techniques to expand their businesses.

A Freeport native and graduate of Aquin, Alex heads up Peace Of Mind Marketing, a full service agency with offices in Freeport and Denver. He already had experience launching and running his own businesses while still in high school, and proved his project management skills while coordinated the most ambitious Eagle Scout project in the history of the Blackhawk Area Council. Alex is also a graduate of the University of Illinois-Chicago where he earned a Bachelor of Design in Graphic Design.

Since 2013, Peace Of Mind Marketing has created websites, associated social media content and smartphone apps for dozens of organizations across the U.S., ranging from the Madonna Renewal Center to large veterinary practices and international consulting firms.


Bob Solberger,
Modern One Marketing

Bob is the developer and webmaster for the Mastermind site and has been instrumental to the success of the group by lending a hand anywhere else he can.

Like Alex, he is a Freeport native who launched into the entrepreneurial life while he was still a teenager, founding a business with Alex and a mutual friend. Bob is the developer for Peace of Mind Marketing, crafting the code for their clients’ websites as well as building and overseeing advanced development projects and creation of custom apps. He’s also an additional asset to coworkers and clients in every project phase, often asking the perfect question in discovery meetings and providing excellent post-launch customer service.

Bob is also an Eagle Scout and is active as a Scout leader.


2018 Conference Gallery

2019 Conference Gallery


We're Excited to see you at the Mastermind Conference

Mastermind Announces Partnership with Highland College


"The leaders of a program designed to inspire entrepreneurs and Highland Community College are partnering to motivate even more people in the Freeport area to chase their business dreams.

Highland will be partnering with Mastermind, which brings both aspiring and successful entrepreneurs together each month to network and learn from keynote speakers. The speakers share their setbacks and triumphs and offer advice to the rest of the group."

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