For the second year in a row, we're proud to bring you the Entrepreneur of the Year program in conjunction with the Nashville chapter of Entrepreneurs' Organization. Like last year's honorees, these 10 executives have that little something extra propelling them toward success. They're dogged, visionary and contrarian. They trust their instincts but still work like mad to overcome obstacles. And they are an affirmation of the fact that, even in a mediocre economy, there are plenty of good growth stories close to home. We hope you enjoy getting to know our 2011 Entrepreneurs of the Year.
When you operate an environmentally sensitive business, having your neighbors be “green” helps. Bobby Bandy, owner and chief manager of the East Nashville-based EarthSavers, know this first hand.
“For the first three years, I parked my recycling truck in front of the house and the neighbors were very tolerant,” said Bandy, a former architect who studied design at the University of Tennessee.
About nine years ago — as the development community’s support of the recycled-material-oriented Leadership in Energy and Environment Design standards began to grow — Bandy envisioned starting his own business. He realized there was a significant desire in Nashville for recycling services beyond the “guy with a truck model.”
“I had a small architectural project to start off with, but I knew income from architecture was up and down with some fat months and many lean ones,” he said. “So I decided to develop a part-time recycling route … for consistent monthly income while building the architectural business.
”Looking back, he said his architecture fared “OK,” but that EarthSavers consistently grew as “the word got out about what we offered.”
Many locals recognize the EarthSavers biodiesel-fueled trucks but may not realize the company offers its “recycle first/trash last” services to municipalities and homeowners associations.
“Our marketing strategy is having the cleanest, best-looking and most visible trucks serving as our ‘mobile billboards’ and being found easily on the Web,” said Bandy, who supports many green and health-related causes.
Bandy said he expects EarthSavers’ revenue to grow from $860,000 in 2010 to $1.4 million this year and sees his employee base growing from nine to 14 during the same period. That’s good news for our broader economy, too: Bandy said Environmental Protection Agency statistics show that every green-collar job a company like EarthSavers creates in recycling collection results in another position in the materials recovery and remanufacturing sector.
Down the road, Bandy said EarthSavers might handle construction and demolition recycling. For now, however, the company can celebrate its recent winning of a four-year contract with the City of Oak Hill.
— William Williams
Beth Chase wanted more than the junior partnership offered her in a previous employment. So, in true entrepreneurial fashion, she struck out on her own six years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
“I wanted to be involved in something I started that had my personality and my fingerprint on it,” Chase said.
Chase and four other partners manage the day-to-day operations of C3 Consulting. Chase calls the shots as president, CEO and founding partner but the partnership group assumes the responsibility of business development, marketing and the like. C3 Consulting is a management and information technology consulting company based in Brentwood.
Founded in 2005, the company now employs more than 50 consultants and expects to earn revenues of about $10 million in 2011. Mergers and acquisitions are a specialty for the company. Technology integration is critical to the success of such effort and C3 brings that expertise along with the implementation of different pricing plans and organizational changes to the consulting table.
“We simply help lay it all out for our clients and help them see the project, whatever it is, to completion,” Chase said. C3, like most management and IT consulting ventures, is compensated on a project-by-project basis. C3’s consultants have between 15 and 30 years of experience.
“Our people are our product,” Chase said.
Recruiting talented consultants has been a hallmark of C3. Social media has helped by allowing current employees to connect with alumni associations and similar organizations to cull talent. As to future plans for growth and development, C3’s goal for now is to get better.
“We always have a goal to get better. We hadn’t planned for 20 percent plus growth last year but got it,” Chase said. “So, this year our plan is for another 25 percent.”
— Philip Nannie
Sherry Stewart Deutschmann
Sherry Stewart Deutschmann takes a very simple approach to ensuring her business mail company is successful: She pushes the envelope with everything from employee benefits to workplace conditions to finances.In fact, some contend LetterLogic, which was founded in 2002 and handles the production and delivery of both electronic and traditional print mail, ranks among Nashville’s most innovative and unusual companies.
For example, Deutschmann allows her employees to bring their children and pets to work. She pays 100 percent of employees’ various types of insurance and shares with each team member 10 percent of LetterLogic’s monthly profits. Plus, all employees have a company-paid Metro Transit Authority bus pass.
The result is strong employee satisfaction and retention. Of note, Deutschmann is comfortable saying publicly she puts more focus on her employees than on LetterLogic clients, feeling this approach — with which most business owners would likely be skittish taking — is beneficial to everybody.
“When the employees’ needs are well met, they can happily focus on taking great care of the customers,” Deutschmann said. “LetterLogic team members treat each other like ‘favorite cousins’ — making work a lot of fun.”
LetterLogic has no debt and Deutschmann is projecting revenues will grow 25 percent to $23 million in 2011. With the fast success has come numerous accolades. The company has been recognized as an Inc. 5000 Company for four consecutive years and by Entrepreneur Magazine and the Women's Presidents Organization as one the Top 50 fastest-growing female-led companies in North America for three consecutive years.In 2009, Ernst & Young honored Deutschmann as one of only nine women nationwide with the Entrepreneurial Winning Women Award. Closer to home, the Nashville Technology Council awarded LetterLogic the Green Award in 2010.
“Maintaining the culture while experiencing tremendous growth has been a challenge,” Deutschmann said. “We have slowed the hiring process to ensure that new additions to our family are a good cultural fit. Finding that fit is just as important as having the job skills and talent.”
— William Williams
Anyone who has ever spent any time in Nashville or paid even an iota of attention has long known that our fair city has long been a Mecca for health care entrepreneurship. And in recent years, few have illustrated that fact with more vigor than the team behind Simplex Healthcare.
Like so many entrepreneurs before him, Simplex Founder and CEO Doug Hudson saw a trend and found a way to serve a rapidly growing need. His company, a supplier of mail-order diabetic supplies, has, in its four years of existence, already become the third-largest of the 52,000 Medicare suppliers in the sector and now works with more than 230,000 clients.
This is somewhat familiar territory for Hudson, who was previously the CEO of HearingPlanet Inc. Under his leadership, that distributor of hearing aids became the largest company of its kind in the nation. Simplex’s expansion shows the same signs of reaching a similar status.
Since a $50 million infusion of capital in 2007 from venture capital giant New Enterprise Associates, the company has more than doubled in size and hopes to continue. In the past few years, Simplex has stayed in the news by hiring more upper-echelon employees and being one of the leading local companies on the Inc. 5000 list of the country’s fastest-growing private companies. Its 2009 revenues checked in at $193 million and grew to about $220 million last year.
Diabetes Care Club, a subsidiary of Simplex, is an endeavor aimed at helping millions of diabetes patients as well as serving as a social network for those living with diabetes. Getting in on a growth market is the aim of every entrepreneur. And as America’s waistlines and the incidence of diabetes continue to grow at alarming rates, Hudson has found fertile ground in which to grow his latest company.
— Walker Duncan
Ever since Christina Mathis was 11, she’s found it difficult to hear the word “no.” So when, at that tender age, she starting cutting all of her neighbors’ yards in the trailer park where she grew up, nobody told her she couldn’t do it.
“I just took it upon myself to get the mower and start cutting the grass and charged each neighbor $5,” Mathis said.
Some call that gumption. Some might call it assuming a little too much. Mathis calls it the way she does business.
“I’ve never dealt with or even heard an objection in my life,” she said. Mathis is now president, CEO and owner of Signature Suites, a corporate housing company. She attributes much of her success to the 11-year old girl who couldn’t and wouldn’t hear “no.” In the sales world, that’s called overcoming objections before you get them, a fundamental sales principle.
“I’ve been known to not let people out of my office before they signed a lease with me,” Mathis said. It’s little surprise that Mathis came out of the blocks running in 2003 with Signature Suites. During her first week of operations, she acquired 100 units, most of which were then altered to specification — meaning furniture was brought in, fixtures put up and other amenities added.
Mathis acquired these units quickly because she had garnered a contract with the Department of Defense to provide housing services to Fort Campbell personnel. This is why Signature can boast of 90 percent occupancy rates at every point since its inception. Sixty of these units are in the Alara Farms, Alara Brook and Alara Cool Springs developments in Franklin. In addition to the Department of Defense, Mathis has relationships with the corporate relocation departments of Nissan, HCA, American Express and others.
Signature Suites earned $2 million of revenue in 2010, up about a third from the year before, and expects about the same for 2011. As to the future, Mathis is looking to add a satellite office in either Jackson or Chattanooga.
— Philip Nannie
In July 2005, during the early-morning rush hour, suicide bombers attacked the public transportation system in London. Fifty-six people died and more than 700 were injured. While the world looked on, victims and bystanders were frantically using their cell phones to call friends and relatives.
They also were taking pictures. And, en masse, those at the scene were attempting — unsuccessfully — to email those photos to local television stations and other media outlets. That’s the day Parker Polidor dreamed up Cell Journalist. Within 24 hours of the bombing, Polidor envisioned creating an information technology platform that would allow media outlets to efficiently use photos uploaded from cell phones.
TV stations, for example, could then select which of those pictures to broadcast to viewers. At the time, no such technology existed.
“At the end of the day, this tragedy was the catalyst for me. I began the process of pulling an all-star team together to keep this from happening again,” Polidor said.
The London tragedy was the first time local media outlets had to deal with a massive influx of user-generated content, Polidor said. It resulted in a story that perhaps wasn’t reported as it could or should have been. Cell Journalist now provides turnkey technology platforms to more than 130 media outlets across the country including local TV stations 2, 4 and 5. Company revenue for 2010 was $425,000 and is estimated to hit $1.1 million this year.
Polidor, whose firm now employs six, bases that revenue on what he identifies as an unmet need in the marketplace from companies like the Associated Press, CNN, Google and others.
“These organizations want this content,” Polidor said. “We’re expecting this to be a primary revenue source for us.”
— Philip Nannie
Miranda Whitcomb Pontes
Miranda Whitcomb Pontes freely admits to being a gut-level, heart-felt decision maker. As one of the driving forces behind the redevelopment of the 12South neighborhood, she’s been willing to make big plans with high stakes based on little more than a gut feeling. But Pontes isn’t without the good common sense that makes for successful business owners. She presents her business plan, ideas and vision to a group of trusted advisors before developing the details.
“I’ve learned you can make heart-felt based decisions and still succeed,” she says. Pontes owns Frothy Monkey, a longstanding and popular coffee shop and restaurant at the heart of 12th Avenue South’s retail strip. She’s also the founder and owner of Burger-Up, a full-service restaurant that opened last year just down the street from Frothy Monkey, and has just partnered with local architect Nick Dryden to open LB’s Market House, a deli and neighborhood market.
Burger-Up is an example of Pontes’ passion and how her gut overwhelmed a more conservative approach. The project was difficult to finance. In fact, banks wouldn’t touch the loan without a full collateralization, to which Pontes reluctantly agreed. In other words, the numbers didn’t add up.
But Pontes pushed onward and is on track to post some impressive numbers: Frothy Monkey opened its doors in 2004 and now earns close to $1 million in revenue, while Burger-Up is on track to post revenues of about $2.5 million this year.
Pontes employs a total of 50 people and expects to hire up to 40 additional staffers by year-end. A big part of that growth will come from Pontes’ plans to open a second Burger-Up location in June. She’s negotiating for the space on Cool Springs Boulevard now occupied by Burgers-N-Cream.
— Philip Nannie
Entrepreneurs thrive on inefficiencies in their market space. As industries develop, certain niches grow at a breakneck pace while others lag behind complicating the infrastructure. Having spent 30 years in the intellectual property business, Tim Smith was primed to see the huge inefficiencies wrought by the massive changes in the entertainment industry over the past decade.
In the Internet age, with masses of content available to consumers in real time across platforms, the producers of that content need to be able to establish their ownership of it in real time. This is the established mission of MyWerx, a sort of LinkedIn for owners and users of copyrighted content.
“We describe ourselves as an ‘Interested Party’ network,” said Smith. “We’re trying to democratize copyrights.” With millions of YouTube channels in existence, thousands of bands on MySpace and Facebook and just as many Flickr accounts, it is difficult for producers to establish ownership of their works. MyWerx endeavors to change that by giving creators a low-cost platform that helps them monetize their content and plugs them into a network of users so they can avoid lost revenue and uncollected royalties.
In proper Nashville fashion, Smith, who has broader plans for his technology and its capabilities, chose the music industry as his first target. That pain has turned MyWerx into a go-to for organizations such as performing-rights organizations BMI, ASCAP and others.
“People don’t change unless they are in great pain, and the music industry is in great pain right now,” he said. For now, the music industry is MyWerx bailiwick, but expansion is in the works. Copyrighted and patented materials are in no way unique to the music industry and Smith has recently been in talks with a number of universities to help them monetize the research and new technologies they are spinning out.
Content and technologies of all kinds will likely continue to become more and more readily available. Smith views his company’s purpose as being a vital part of the infrastructure that will make sure that those who create those ideas are able to profit from them.
— Walker Duncan
Tennessee Title Services
Josh Terry will not be deterred by frustrating circumstances. His success proves it. Terry lost his job in December 2006 and then started Tennessee Title Services about 13 months later — just as the real estate crash was really beginning to hit home. The timing couldn’t have been worse, but Terry saw opportunity amidst the hard times.
“Many thought this was a gamble, and possibly foolish,” Terry said of starting his business, which handles the closing paperwork for real estate transactions and now has offices in Brentwood, Hendersonville, Hermitage and Murfreesboro.
“However, the vision for Tennessee Title was ‘growth and service,’” he added. “In an environment where contacts/networking is key, I knew the company would be successful despite the down market.”
And it has been, which bodes well for Terry and his team as the real estate market recovers. Terry was so confident in TTS’ prospects that he did not have the venture financed to get it up and running, opting instead to pump his own money and that of its other owners into its establishment.
“If you are willing to take big risks, you can reap big rewards,” he said. “There are always opportunities to be had, no matter how good or bad the market is. You can’t listen to the naysayers.”
Terry said he expects to grow the company from its current 10 employees to 13 by year’s end. Similarly, he is projecting that revenues will grow from about $1 million in 2010 to $1.2 million in 2011. Of note, Terry said a key to growing TTS effectively is staying focused and not overextending.
“This year, we are investing in membership fees of different trade associations locally,” he sad. “We will likely not [spend money on] software or technology in 2011.”
— William Williams
Informatics Corp. of America
It’s a fairly common story in the entrepreneurial world: A young professional spends the early days of his career working through the corporate world to find he’s hungry for a change and the opportunity to make a difference. In those instances, it helps to be in the right place at the right time.
That’s where Informatics Corp. of America CEO Gary Zegiestowsky found himself when he met former Vanderbilt University Medical Center leader Harry Jacobson, who was in the market for a non-health-care pedigreed CEO to help run the latest spinout from VUMC’s tech transfer office — bringing a product to market and growing the business into an established player.
Zegiestowsky had spent his career with corporate giants such as GE, Cendant and Andersen Consulting, but was looking for a career shift.
“I was looking for something rewarding where I really felt like the company was making a difference,” he said. ICA’s technology, which provides electronic health records, was originally licensed in 2005, and has helped the company become a market leader and a beneficiary of the ever-changing health care market.
“Our heritage, having been created at a leading institution like Vanderbilt has allowed us, in a short time, to become one of the established players,” Zegiestowsky said.
Also helping the company was adoption of massive health care reform. Now technologies like ICA’s, which seek to provide better information and outcomes to hospital networks and community clients, are viewed as more of a necessity than the convenience or added bonus they were once considered.
Under Zegiestowsky’s leadership, ICA has more than quadrupled in size and ranks as one of the top three providers in the space. And as health care reform — in whatever form it finally takes — looms over health care providers, ICA is positioned to keep on growing.
— Walker Duncan