These are just a few of the many qualities that make our community a fertile soil for budding businesses.
Every spring, CityScope® magazine turns a spotlight on some of Chattanooga’s most forward-thinking and innovative companies. Some are launching a groundbreaking product or service. Others are growing their revenues or employee base. All are primed to flourish in the year ahead.
Here are eight companies to keep an eye on in 2016.
By Laura Childers
Customers take three pictures of each foot on the Feetz app, which then generates a 3-D model within up to 2 millimeters of accuracy in just 60 seconds.
We’ve all had that friend or family member who just can’t seem to find shoes that fit. Now one local company has designed an ingenious solution that harnesses the power of 3-D printing and your very own smart phone.
Founded in 2013 by Lucy Beard, Feetz wants to systematically change the way shoes are made. Customers take three photos of each foot using the company’s mobile app and select the design and colors they want. Feetz uses that data to create custom-fit, tailor-made shoes with 3-D printers, and ship them back within a week’s time.
Beard believes the time is ripe for tailor-made products. Today’s consumers are searching for ways to customize every item they buy, she says.
“Consumer expectations are high, and now the technology is ready to meet those expectations. We’re asking: Why would you need a tailor when the smart phone is such a powerful service and scanning device?”
Last year, the company announced it had raised $1.3 million in seed funding to begin beta testing. It also acquired a backlog of thousands of orders from eager customers.
This February, Feetz’s website went live as the company launched its first collection of women’s shoes manufactured right here in Chattanooga. This will be followed by a first collection of men’s shoes and a Series A round of funding later this year.
“This year is exciting for us as the ideas become reality. We know it’s just the beginning,” Beard says.
In February, CodeScience was named a “Best-of-the-Best” professional services organization by Services Performance Insight (SPI), the leading research consultancy in the professional services industry // Photo by Daisy Moffatt Photography
If there’s an app for that, CodeScience might have built it.
The local startup is a superstar on Salesforce’s AppExchange, a digital marketplace for software apps often described as the business equivalent of Apple’s App Store. You just wouldn’t know it because CodeScience’s name isn’t on any of its hundreds of products now available for download.
“We don’t hold proprietary ownership of anything we help create,” explains CodeScience operations director Coni Thomas.
It seems like everyone uses Salesforce these days, but that doesn’t mean everyone has the technical skills to customize it to their needs. That’s where CodeScience comes in. The company’s team of consultants – or “CodeScientists” – guides clients step by step through the stages of the app development life cycle: from product design, build, and test to distribution, sales, marketing, and support.
“We take an idea and turn it into a moneymaker in a very small window of time,” says Thomas. “It’s an end-to-end approach that takes clients far beyond launch on the AppExchange. We help get the right product to market.”
In 2015, the company soared to new heights with a 91% increase in profits. Last year also saw them doubling head count to a total of 52 employees, 18 of whom are stationed at the company’s Chattanooga headquarters in the Business Development Center.
Growing awareness for the CodeScience brand has Thomas optimistic that 2016 will see similar, if not greater, revenue growth. The year ahead will also see the company moving into a new downtown headquarters at 1401 Chestnut St. to accommodate its expanding team.
(from l to r) founder/CEO Platt Boyd, production technician Marc Simons, designer/project manager Melody Rees, cofounder/algorithmic designer Chris Weller, mechanical engineer Tony DiSanto, computational engineer Dr. Bruce Hilbert
You probably never thought you’d see the day when buildings were constructed in the same way the body builds bones or a tree grows branches. And yet local startup Branch Technology is doing just that through the power of cellular fabrication (or “C-Fab”) – a groundbreaking technology you could mistake for something straight out of Marvel’s Iron Man.
Here’s how it works: the company’s freeform 3-D printer – touted as the world’s largest with its print envelope of 25 feet wide by 58 feet long – fabricates complex geometric matrices designed by architects. These matrices are then shipped to a construction site, where they are outfitted with low-cost, traditional construction materials for strength and stability. The final product is a structure built in the most effective form possible using as little material as possible.
“This kind of cost-effective design freedom has the potential to revolutionize the way we build buildings,” says CEO Platt Boyd, who worked as an architect for 15 years before founding Branch in 2013.
The company made its public debut at GigTank 2015 where it won the Investor’s Choice Award on Demo Day. Since then it has been featured in Fortune, Architect magazine, and Inc. magazine, who hailed cellular fabrication as one of the “10 Most Disruptive Technologies of 2015.”
To date Branch Technology has completed two large-scale interior projects – one located in the Edney Building downtown and one 18-foot installation displayed at the Museum of Design Atlanta in January. It’s also completed an angel round of funding totaling $900,000, which it plans to follow with a $1.5 million Series A round later this year. On top of that, it’s in the running for a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to be announced in July.
The year ahead will see the company partnering with up to 12 architectural firms on pilot projects. It will also build the first-ever 3-D printed house right here in Chattanooga as part of their Freeform Home Design Challenge. “We’re looking to show off the most amazing thing our technology can do,” Boyd says.
Steam Logistics has grown sales 1,185% from 2013-2015 and added 20 employees. Pictured here (l to r): Logistics Coordinators Andrew Corbitt, Kristen Rossi, and Arron Gribble (seated) with Chief Sales Officer Jason Provonsha. // Photos by Rich Smith Photography
“You could call us a Travelocity for international freight,” says CEO Steve Cox.
That, or the global counterpart to one of the most successful startups ever launched in Chattanooga.
Cox, who served as Access America’s executive vice president until 2013, says the company was born out of missed opportunities: “We had 500 brokers and every single day they were turning down requests for international shipping.”
Regaining those opportunities has since translated into revenues reaching $5.4 million in 2014 and $9 million in 2015 for the company, which is now headquartered downtown at 835 Georgia Ave.
In the year ahead, Cox hopes to hit $15 million in revenues – a figure that seems almost trivial when compared with his long-term goals.
We’re a company of entrepreneurs,” says CEO Steve Cox.
“We aim to be a $1 billion company with over 300 employees,” Cox says. “People might smile at that when they hear we’re just a 25-member operation now, but we have the same ownership group and we plan to outpace our last endeavor.”
Steady growth is practically hardwired into the company’s DNA, thanks to its performance-based compensation system.
“You won’t get anywhere in this industry without an aggressive sales team and world-class customer service. Our system takes care of itself – by affording you a raise if you go and get it. I consider it true capitalism.”
“I consider it true capitalism.”
With Torch, parents can observe and manage a child’s online activity from a separate phone, tablet, or computer.
What if you could pause the internet at dinner, program it to shut off at bed, block inappropriate websites, and learn where and how long your kids are surfing – all in one device?
Now you can thanks to Torch, the smart Wi-Fi router for parents created by Lamp Post Group’s newest portfolio company (also called Torch). Featured in both Forbes and Fortune, the router is to-date the most comprehensive and user-friendly solution on the market for monitoring a child’s Internet use.
“It’s all about giving parents back the power in their own households,” says Torch co-founder and CEO Shelley Prevost.
The product comes in response to a pivotal shift within American families. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 1 in 3 parents say they’ve had concerns or questions about their child’s technology use in the last year. What’s more, the past five years have seen a fivefold increase in tablet ownership among families with children ages 8 and under, according to a study published by Common Sense Media.
Last fall saw Torch taking the internet by storm. A marketing campaign launched in October reached more than 60 million impressions, and a corresponding Kickstarter campaign well exceeded its $150,000 fundraising goal.
This spring, the company will ship a first round of more than 1,000 routers to pre-order customers around the world. Meanwhile, the team members back home – 8 full-time, two part-time – are entering 2016 with a full-court press on marketing. They also aim to complete a Series A round of funding in late summer/early fall.
“We’re keeping our heads down,” Prevost says.
“One of the cool things about being a father-son organization is that everybody here feels like family,” says Vikus COO Trey Mullins. Pictured here: The growing Vikus staff outside their company headquarters off Shallowford Road. Shown center is President and CEO Billy Mullins and COO Trey Mullins // Photo by Rich Smith Photography
Where some startups explode onto the scene, others build momentum until reaching a breakthrough.
The latter best describes Vikus, a company that develops and markets hiring software custom-made for senior care providers. Today more than 1,400 senior living communities across the nation use Vikus to make better hiring decisions. The company predicts that number will double within the next two years.
CEO Billy Mullins founded the HR company back in the ’90s out of his desire to help employers find the right people. Seven years ago, he transitioned Vikus to an exclusive focus on senior living and long term care providers.
“We realized our software could actually help sustain someone’s life,” says Billy Mullins, who now co-owns Vikus with his son Trey.
Research shows the annual turnover rate for senior care workers is a whopping 45% – which translates to about 1 in every 2 hires quitting before the end of their first year. What’s more, an estimated 60% of these turnovers occur within the first 90 days.
“The public likes to ask, ‘How are we going to pay for the aging population with Medicare?’” Trey Mullins says. “But we’re asking who is going to take care of all of these people?’”
Vikus helps answer that question through features ranging from access to job boards to built-in industry benchmarks for comparing applicants. The idea is that by improving the way employers recruit and assess potential candidates, it will both improve care and decrease a company’s turnover rate by a sizable amount.
It’s working great, company leaders say. Vikus clients see a 20% reduction in turnover on average.
Text Request employees (l to r) Matt Holland, Rob Reagan, Seth Paul, James Dawson, Brian Elrod, Jamey Elrod, Foster Benson, and Kenneth Burke // Photo by Graham Manor/Innerlight Photography Co.
With texting now the dominant form of communication for Americans under 50, one local company is helping the market catch up.
Launched in November 2014, Text Request gives businesses an online platform for real-time texting with customers. “It’s like Outlook for texting,” says the company’s marketing and communications director James Dawson.
More than 200 businesses nationwide now use the tool, the largest portion of them home service franchises like Merry Maids, Fast Signs, and Two Men and a Truck. Dawson predicts that client base will average a 20% monthly growth rate through the end of 2016.
For consumers, the perks are obvious: no more hold music, calls at inconvenient times, automated messages, or phone tag. For employers, Text Request streamlines the sales cycle and boosts customer retention, as the same person who won’t pick up a call will usually text.
Text Request’s online dashboard allows employees to text from wherever they are – and yet no message is deleted. “For a lot of business owners that’s a huge plus, because it gives them oversight and accountability for what’s being said,” Dawson says.
October saw Text Request finish in the top 16 at Techweek in New York City. Since then, the company has rolled out a text-enable feature for existing landlines and 1-800 numbers, and it hopes to complete a Series A round of funding, move downtown, hire a few more employees, and introduce new software features – all within the year.
“I like to tell people that we’ve got great stuff on the table, but even better stuff waiting in the kitchen,” Dawson says.
Featuring an interactive code, Zipflip’s window sticker directs potential buyers back to your car’s profile on Zipflip. Pictured here (l to r): COO and Co-founder Joe Alegre, Marketing Assistant Katey Alegre, and VP of Engineering Rob Reagan // Photos by Laura McNutt
Say goodbye to Craigslist ads and “for sale” signs. Zipflip is revolutionizing peer-to-peer sales of used cars – a market accounting for a whopping third of used car sales in the U.S.
“We’re trying to do for private car sales what Airbnb has done for lodging,” says CEO Tim Kelly.
Some people just don’t want to buy from a dealer, and yet peer-to-peer sales are fraught with issues like safety and fraud.
With Zipflip, sellers create an online profile for their car. The online platform does the rest of the work, from setting a price, to seller and title verification, to helping get the word out through social media.
Seperately, the seller can print out a customized Zipflip window sticker that lists key things about the car along with an interactive code for potential buyers. Buyers just have to scan the sticker code to be directed to the online hub where they can bid on the car, ask questions, and more.
In early 2015, the company won the $20,000 grand prize at Edmunds.com’s Hackomotive competition for entrepreneurs in the car shopping industry. Out of that came a strategic partnership with the third-party car shopping website.
“We learned a ton about what worked and what didn’t,” Kelly says.
A beta version launched in April 2015 introduced Edmund’s True Market Value pricing system. Sellers put in their 17-digit VIN and mileage and get a report telling them everything there is to know about the car.
Now the company is in the process of building Zipflip 2.0. The new and improved version, slated for a June launch, will have better functionality and tighter integration with social media.
In the year ahead, the company also plans to add a chief marketing officer and complete a Series A round of funding.