8 Companies to Watch in 2015

Talent is created and curated in Chattanooga, and people all over the nation have taken notice. Here are 8 local companies we’ll be watching in 2015. We think you should too.

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By Meghan O’Dea

While many Chattanoogans are settling into the new year, local companies are making their own plans for 2015. What are local startups aiming to accomplish? Nothing less than transforming the future of our city with innovative new approaches to well-established fields like medical insurance, legal counsel, and education, while revolutionizing it all with Chattanooga’s lightning-fast fiber optic internet.

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It was hard to pick just 8 companies to include on our list for 2015, because there’s no shortage of successful businesses in Chattanooga’s fast-growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. Our combination of big-city ideas and small-town community feel is prompting innovative companies like these to call Chattanooga home.

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With companies such as Salesforce, IBM, Microsoft, and Oracle expanding cloud platforms that store, organize, and translate data, businesses around the world now have access to valuable information needed to outperform their competition. Yet despite this ever expanding reservoir of data, companies often struggle with adapting information from cloud platforms to meet their individual business needs. Enter Skuid, a cloud-based resource that lets businesses and services easily drag, drop, point, and click their way through easy-to-use interfaces designed for different cloud platforms.

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Skuid’s simple, but powerful premise has enabled it to grow revenues over 200% a year. According to Skuid president Ken McElrath, the company is participating in what he calls “the consumer-ization of everything, making data simple to use in revolutionary ways.” This will include new developments that allow users to perform what-if scenarios, create dynamic colorful charts, and filter millions of rows of live cloud data in milliseconds.

The company’s success has attracted the attention of Silicon Valley venture capital firms as well as local investors. According to McElrath, “The rest of the country is realizing they can stretch their dollars much further here without sacrificing speed to market or product quality.” Now that’s a beautiful thing.

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Want to know where the next big startups are? Look no further than where entrepreneurs are calling up the lawyers of PUSHTOSTART. The innovative startup provides flat-fee legal services to startups at an affordable rate, which is an inexpensive alternative to retainers or in-house counsel.

Lawyer Scott Maucere was inspired to start the company after realizing that many startups weren’t getting the legal services they needed – just the legal services they could afford. So he founded PUSHTOSTART as an alternative to his traditional law firm.

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PUSHTOSTART has spent a year fine-tuning its model and is now scaling to serve a national market. Maucere now has plans to offer a new set of legal products for early-stage startups targeting seed-level and higher ventures.

The company’s entirely new method for offering legal services has led some to describe it as “the Rolling Stone of the legal world – not explicitly rebellious, but purposely disruptive.” Armed with an innovative legal model designed to meet the needs of businesses, PUSHTOSTART is spreading Chattanooga’s close-knit sense of community nationwide.

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The RootsRated team says they ask themselves one question every day: “What would it be like if the best outdoor experiences were available to people at their fingertips?”

Why? Well, if you’ve ever tried to find directions to a great scenic trail or recommendations for a top rock climbing spot, you may know how hard it can be to find reliable information online. That frustrated Fynn Glover and his brother Ry during a 16,000 mile trip throughout North America, so they decided to interview college students about the barriers they faced when trying to find outdoor experiences. They ended up talking to a total of 1,200.

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The outcome of their research was RootsRated, a website and iOS app that pairs a user-friendly online platform with the kind of local expertise you can typically only find at local bike shops, sports stores, and outdoor retailers like Chattanooga’s Rock/Creek. The RootsRated staff obtains first-hand information about parks and wildlands from the people nearby who know them best, and then generates easy-to-read articles written by professionals.

It’s a simple solution to a longstanding problem, and cleverly, it’s also one that eschews the trend for crowdsourced material. That’s because RootsRated wants to ensure the absolute credibility of their information. So next time you’re looking to hit a local trail, check RootsRated first for expert recommendations.

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Founded when electronic signature technology was still in its infancy, Chattanooga-based SIGNiX has become a leader in providing one of the few digital signatures in the world that is as legally sound as it is simple to use.

Company founders say what sets SIGNiX apart is that it offers independent, rather than dependent, signatures. To verify most electronic signatures, you must connect to the e-signature vendor’s server to verify the signature. In contrast, SIGNiX signatures are baked into the document, so they are independently verifiable at any time by any third party expert.

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SIGNiX’s President and CEO, Jay Jumper, has 15 years of experience in digitally-based startups. He says the keys to healthy growth are offering solid products that can stand the test of time and predicting where technology will grow next. He has bet on cloud-based technology. “In the next few years our technology will be a worldwide solution because the applications meet the strict international regulations for authenticity of signatures that most competitors cannot,” he explains.

With an outlook like that, SIGNiX’s future could make last year’s involvement in a half-trillion dollars of real estate transactions look like small potatoes. Now, to accommodate new growth, SIGNiX has expanded into additional office space at Warehouse Row.

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With several educational startups already under their belt, Dr. Dane and Sheila Boyington founded Learning Blade in late 2012 to address the need for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education in schools and to help middle schoolers see the value of STEM careers. The online educational platform integrates STEM with a variety of classroom curricula including academic standards. Teachers can use Learning Blade to supplement their lessons or as a separate career exploration unit.

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Learning Blade has already seen a huge amount of success, meanwhile garnering support from the Hamilton County Commission and Battelle Memorial Institute, which is the world’s largest nonprofit research and development organization. Dow, Cisco Systems, Inc., and AREVA are all providing corporate sponsorship in their local areas, and the company hopes more big names will see the value of making Learning Blade available in their communities.

According to the Boyingtons, Learning Blade is especially helpful for contextualizing STEM for young people who don’t often get exposure to it, and pilot programs at Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy and Girls Inc. have shown what an impact Learning Blade can make for these students.

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What Amazon is to books, SupplyHog aims to be for the construction industry. Over the last four years, the company has used its proprietary software to sell millions of dollars of building materials online nationwide. Now, the company is offering its software to businesses and contractors alike. The website acts as a one-stop shop for vendors, manufacturers, and industry professionals looking to communicate, research, and purchase whatever they may need from one another.

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Company leaders say SupplyHog has been able to grow in part due to the accelerator programs of Silicon Valley’s 500 Startups and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s DreamIt Ventures, which helped them hone their skills and raise over $4 million in venture capital. “Starting a company is a scary thing,” says CTO and cofounder Philip Brown. “But going in with the proper mentorship is the first way to stay strong.”

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SupplyHog found equally crucial support in the Chattanooga entrepreneurial community, which offered the young company the technical infrastructure, EPB’s Gigabit-per-second network, and supportive investors and business advisors. “You can get everything you need to start your business right here,” says Brown.

This spirit of community is exactly what SupplyHog hopes to foster online as it gains new ground within the construction industry – an industry worth $1 trillion in the U.S. alone. SupplyHog wants to give thousands of distributors, retailers, and mom-and-pop shops in construction the tools they need to thrive in this everchanging, digital world.

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It’s been a big year in the insurance industry. The Affordable Care Act rolled out, major insurers modified their policies, and local hospitals adjusted to major changes in healthcare reimbursements. Through it all, American Exchange not only grew a successful startup, but guided its customers through what has become a complex industry.

So what’s their secret to success? American Exchange president Bobby Huffaker chalks it up to, 1) sticking to the basics of meeting customer needs, and, 2) asking the right questions. “As long as you do everything possible to deliver the best service, the rest will follow,” he explains.

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American Exchange’s strategy of establishing themselves as a resource is paying off. The company has signed up thousands of people in private health plans across the country over the past five months and continues to gain more than 100 applications a day.

Company leaders say their goal for American Exchange is to gain 1% of the $19.7 billion private individual health insurance market – an ambitious vision for a very young startup. But with their friendly and resourceful approach, they might just achieve it faster than you can say “co-pay.”

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Chattanooga’s ultra-fast gig-a-bit-per-second internet offers companies the technology needed to compete more successfully. It also provides students, given the proper training, the infrastructure needed to prepare for advancing technical skills required for current and future jobs.

Enter Tech Town, a technology and entrepreneurial learning center dedicated to providing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) training. TechTown plans to train 450 children and teens each year through after-school programs and camps. It also plans to offer classes to adult learners looking to build skills for current jobs.

The first location will be at 325 Market Street at the Chattanooga Lifestyle Center, where there will be 23,000 square feet of space to host classes, workshops, competitions, and other programming focused on coding, robotics, digital media and other tech-related pursuits. The facility is set to be open by summer of 2015.

The company’s CEO is none other than Cordell Carter II, former chief of staff of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

“We feel that technology is a great equalizer,” Carter says. “Offering a community space where learners from different backgrounds and socioeconomic levels can learn side by side will enhance their life experience and help them thrive in complex environments.” That kind of egalitarian focus might just be even more innovative than the high-tech focus itself.