Based on what they’ve seen from this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year entries, Nicole Davis, Ernst & Young’s program director for the annual competition, says, “We are excited about the incredibly strong and incredibly healthy entrepreneurial environment in Utah. Regardless of the economy, there’s no shortage of great ideas, great people, and great stories.” In fact, it might be the economic slowdown that has caused more entrepreneurs to rise to the surface. Whatever the reason, the amount of applicants this year increased by 30 percent over last year, Davis says. “And this was also the most competitive year we’ve had as far as innovation, new technology and new ways of looking at business,” adds Davis, who is now in her seventh year of heading up the program for Ernst & Young.
From Logan to Cedar City, and from dance floors to headphones, the 2008 finalists cover a lot of territory. Each story is inspiring and could constitute a feature in itself. Here’s a brief glimpse of these remarkable trendsetters that continue to wow Utah and the nation.
CEO, Move Networks
How does an online company handle growth, not to mention bandwidth, when they’re adding 100,000 new unique viewers everyday? Just ask John Edwards, the brains behind Move Networks. He’ll tell you the answer is Move’s remarkable technology along with his vision of delivering a television-quality viewing experience online. As a pioneer in an entirely new entertainment medium—online television—Edwards relishes the chance to try new things and approach problems in new ways. “We are experiencing a cultural revolution in the way that people consume, interact with, and comment on entertainment, including TV, music, news, sporting events and film,” says Edwards. As the partner of choice for the largest media companies in the world, it’s no wonder that Edwards is also dealing with internal growth issues. Move ended 2006 with 25 employees and 2007 with 100. Currently at 150, Edwards is expecting to end 2008 with more than 200 employees in offices worldwide.
Co-founder, Chairman and President, Doba
Jeremy Hanks says he’s always looking for the easy path. Growing up on a farm, he tried to find ways to get through his chores quicker and more efficiently. As an avid outdoorsman, if he’s on a backpacking or hiking trip, he looks for ways to turn roadblocks into hurdles and get to his destination more quickly. And so it makes sense that that’s exactly what he’s doing with Doba. As the owner of an online retail business, Hanks experienced difficulties dealing with his inventory, which is how he came up with Doba, a Web platform that hooks up suppliers of products (manufacturers and wholesalers) with appropriate retailers. His solution is changing the way the world of physical inventory works. Although Hanks wouldn’t say that being an entrepreneur is necessarily easy, he is definitely on the fast path. In 2007, Doba was ranked first on Mountain West America Capital Network’s list of Utah’s fastest-growing companies and number 23 on the Inc. 500 list of fastest-growing privately held companies in America.
JOHN SPERRY, CEO
RICHARD HANKS, Chairman and President,
When Mindshare Technologies landed a contract with McDonalds, they were competing against 22 other companies, some with thousands of employees and offices all around the world. With well-deserved confidence, John Sperry and Richard Hanks convinced the client that their “Mighty 32” employees could do the job as well as any of the big guys. And, according to McDonalds, they have. John Sperry says their company was based on the belief that “there’s nothing more powerful than learning from your customer.” Since developing their real-time customer feedback technology, Mindshare is currently collecting about 40,000 surveys per day and turning them into real-time usable reports for their clients. Their technology offers customers a simple, anonymous way to compliment – or complain about – the businesses they patronize in 25 different industries, including travel, food and beverage, hospitality and retail. Profitable since 2005, Mindshare and its Mighty 32 have just hit their 60th consecutive month of revenue growth.
Chairman, R&O Construction
Orluff Opheikens is an uncommon leader with a lot of common sense. Under his leadership, R&O has grown steadily during the last 33 years, now ranking 247th in the Engineering News-Record’s “Top 400” contractors in the nation. When asked how he keeps his customers satisfied, he said, “We didn’t sit down one day and say that’s what we ought to do. It’s just who we are.” Opheikens not only keeps his clients happy, but he constantly has the best interests of his employees at heart. In fact, during the almost-catastrophic industry downturn in the early ‘70s, R&O weighed their potential projects not by how much money they’d make, but by how many hours they could keep employees working. Whether you’re talking to his employees, his customers or his colleagues, Orluff Opheikens’ “good-guy” reputation is just common knowledge.
President and CEO,
Discovery Investment Group
It takes an optimist to see the bright side of the current real estate market. But it takes more than just an optimist to keep his real estate investment company doubling every year, even in an economic downturn. That would take someone like Paul Gifford—a quintessential optimist to be sure—but also a savvy businessman who has found a different way of looking at the market. Gifford credits Discovery’s consistent growth to their “ability to move on the fly. We’re not just stuck in residential and saying, ‘Wow! I hope the market comes back!’ We’ve moved into other segments [including commercial and industrial] that still make sense.” Gifford says he’s pretty good at not dwelling on past mistakes. Looking at his stunning track record over his last 15 years in real estate, he hasn’t had much to dwell on.
CEO, G Code Ventures
Brandt Andersen likes solving problems and G Code Ventures was established to solve one of Andersen’s problems—how to manage and invest the money he made in a software business he started during college. “I founded G Code with a goal,” said Andersen. “To only invest and work on projects that are highly creative and interesting.” But creative and interesting don’t even come close to describing Andersen’s two main projects. And to call them diverse is another understatement. On one hand, G Code owns the Utah Flash, an NBA minor league team feeding the Celtics and the Jazz, and fueling Andersen’s competitive spirit and passion for basketball. On the other hand, Andersen has partnered with world-renowned architect Frank Gehry to develop a landmark community in Lehi that will encompass a 10,000-seat arena, 5-star hotel, theatres, restaurants, retail and residential properties. Andersen has confidence that this development will end up being the gold standard for green building which has not been done in a community this size.
Marketing Manager/Sales Support
President, Suh’dutsing Technologies
Suh’dutsing Technologies is unique among Utah businesses in that it’s 100 percent tribally owned by the Cedar Band of Paiutes. When the business was created in 2002, some of the founders argued against the name, wanting something simpler. President Travis Parashonts prevailed, maintaining that the name Suh’dutsing—which means “the cedar people”—was a critical piece of their business model. “We are marketing our culture,” he said. “That’s our image; it’s the native image.” While striving to preserve the Paiute culture and tradition he represents, Parashonts acknowledges that a Native American information technology company is anything but traditional. In marketing their turnkey technology solutions to businesses, they are also non-traditional. They don’t even have an advertising budget—they just let all the awards they’ve racked up speak for themselves. Those awards must be speaking very loudly, as Suh’dutsing has opened up three satellite offices in the US, and is currently expanding with new contracts overseas.
Dave Thomas began his career as a junior high school band teacher. With music in his blood, he started doing marketing jingles for radio and TV, and in 1982 he founded his first of several ad agencies. ThomasArts was founded in 2003, based on a 21st century marketing model—which means, as Thomas says, “We have the ability to reach out to everyone, one-on-one, wherever they are; whether through TV, radio, newspaper, mail and all the new media—phones, computer, the Internet and outdoors.” He’s definitely struck a chord in the advertising world, as his original “family business” has grown from four employees in 2003 to 127 in its California, Utah, Ohio and Minnesota offices. Thomas’ motto is “Better lucky than good,” and he graciously admits to a lot of good fortune. But if you spend just 10 minutes with this guy, you’ll know he’s also very good at what he does. And being good goes a long way toward luck.
President, American Name Services
In college when her friends were reading lifestyle and celebrity magazines, Jill Grammer-Williams was reading Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal. “I was the dork reading the business books,” Grammer-Williams laughed. Her extracurricular reading definitely paid off, however, and today this self-proclaimed “wild child of the business community” admits that she loves to stir things up to make ideas happen. For 13 years, she’s been shaking up the mailing list management industry by pitting her proprietary software system and spitfire determination against the archaic technology of the dinosaurs in her industry. The end result—or the making things happen part—is evidenced by the consistent growth American Name Services has experienced, capped by 85 percent growth in 2007. Her management skill is also evident in the fact that this phenomenal growth was accompanied by only a 15 percent increase in employees.
President and CEO, Wescor, Inc.
Wayne Barlow is an inventor/entrepreneur, citizen lobbyist and industry leader, who founded Wescor in 1970 with the intent to develop, manufacture and market medical devices worldwide. Barlow has invented or co-invented unique innovations for the laboratory diagnosis of cystic fibrosis which have made Wescor a world leader and well-respected name in diagnostic and research laboratories. As an electrical engineer, his list of medical innovations is impressive, But, he has also spent considerable personal time and effort working to secure the future of the American medical device industry by helping to shape FDA legislation and agency policy. Barlow’s community service efforts are equally impressive and he has been awarded several honors, including the “Professional Achievement Award” from the USU Alumni Association and “Outstanding Alumnus Award” from USU’s department of electrical and computer engineering.
President, Xlear, Inc.
If eight tons of concrete hadn’t dropped on Nathan Jones in the Gulf of Mexico, he’d probably still be an underwater welder instead of president of Xlear, Inc., the industry leader in the manufacturing and distribution of xylitol products, which help prevent tooth decay and ear infections. When Jones noticed his physician father mixing up xylitol in saline solution to help prevent ear infections in his young patients, he recognized an opportunity and dove right in, trading his wetsuit for a business suit. In the early years, at an explosive 80 percent annual growth rate, Jones barely had time to come up for air. But it’s been smoother sailing for the last six years as the adventurous Jones has steered the company into a consistent—and much more manageable—20 percent annual growth rate.
CEO, Agel Enterprises
Glen Jensen never liked taking pills. So it was not surprising when one night he actually dreamed about a better way to swallow nutritional supplements—in an easy-to-take, gel-based solution. The only problem was that the early products his team came up with almost made him throw up . . . several times. From that inauspicious beginning have come nine tasty “gel-ceutical” products and seven gel-based skin care products, as well as a thriving international business that is breaking new ground wherever it goes. “There is not another company in the industry doing what we are doing,” said Jensen, “and our continued rapid growth is a testament to the vitality, innovation and creativity that is found here.” With more than 900 percent growth since 2005, its first year, it looks like Agel’s future prospects won’t be too hard to swallow.
Although he doesn’t consider himself a reckless risk-taker, Hanko Kiessner opened a new division of the Europe-based packaging business in Utah with little support from the Packsize executive team. His good instincts turned out to be right on, however, as Packsize has now exported Kiessner’s U.S.-developed business model to Europe, spurring the company on to 400 percent growth in just the last year. “I had the vision of what this business model should look like from the beginning,” said Kiessner, who was willing to personally shoulder huge risks because he believed the U.S. market was ready for an on-demand lean packaging solution. Under the new model, Packsize enables end users of corrugated boxes to make their own corrugated packaging at the right moment in the right quantity and in the right design, with no waste. With Kiessner’s serious emphasis on sustainability and the environment, it also sounds like he’s come up with the right vision at the right time.
Founder and CEO, Seastone
To say that Seastone is pushing the envelope is a gross understatement. In the last eight years, Seastone has pushed the envelope right out of the gift card market. When gift cards first hit consumers in 2000, retailers often just stuck them in plain envelopes, or worse, simply handed them over unwrapped and unadorned. Enter Warren Osborn with his ultra-creative gift card packaging and accessories company and the retail gift card market exploded; the industry currently weighs in at approximately $100 billion annually. Osborn currently boasts 21 of the top 25 retailers in the world as his customers. When you see Seastone’s range of innovative products such as a mini-toolkit for Home Depot gift cards and a tackle box for Cabela’s cards, or a wooden pirate treasure chest and a tiny Hannah Montana handbag - you’ll understand why Seastone is the market leader in gift card packaging and why sales increased 250 percent in 2007 alone.
DIANE WILLIAMS, CFO & VP of Finance,
JOHN HANSEN, COO,
SALLY TILEY, CEO,
AL TILEY, President,
The story of Companion Systems is indeed a Cinderella story, starting in 2002 when Companion Systems was $24 million in debt, with no cash and no credit. With the clock ticking just before the deadline, plant manager Al Tiley, along with co-workers John Hansen, Sally Tiley and Diane Williams, were able to step in to save the business, buying all the outstanding stock . . . and all the debt. Their turnaround would have put even the Fairy Godmother to shame, as they became profitable in less than two years, with gross revenues increasing 200 percent in the last four years. With award after award, including Utah Business of the Year and Utah Manufacturer of the Year, Al, John, Sally and Diane have every reason in the world to believe in “happily ever afters.”
Chief Marketing Officer,
JONATHAN BONNETTE Co-Founder,
United First Financial
When United First Financial launched in 2006 with the goal of helping homeowners across the nation finally see the light at the end of the financial tunnel, one of their biggest hurdles was overcoming the “it’s too good to be true” stigma. After conducting a one-year trial of their Money Merge Account system, United First Financial customers were well on their way to paying off traditional 30-year mortgages in as little as half to one-third of the time. With continual improvement always in mind, United First has now launched their latest Money Merge Account system upgrade, which is even more user friendly and state-of-the-art than before. Skyler Witman describes it as “upgrading from a skateboard to a bullet bike.” With the impressive backgrounds, skills and knowledge of this outstanding team of leaders, it’s no wonder that they’re achieving widespread attention, including being honored by Personal Real Estate Investor magazine with the Editor’s Choice Award in March 2008.
President and CEO, Titanium Solutions
Titanium Solutions was founded on the principle that “bad things happen to good people.” As a commercial and mortgage banker, Todd Sibley knew from experience that there is always a better solution than foreclosure. He founded Titanium Solutions in 1999—long before the current mortgage crisis began—partnering with mortgage servicers to offer solutions to homeowners who are behind on their mortgages. Prior to Titanium Solutions, contacts were made via mail and phone with success rates in the low single digits. With Titanium’s personal contacts, the company has been able to achieve average success rates in the mid 50th percentile. Sibley—the epitome of a people person—counts his success by the number of families who have avoided foreclosure and are occupying their homes.
President and CEO, ProPay
In a simplified explanation of his complex payment services company, Gary Goodrich says that ProPay uses innovation to make payments “safe, simple and affordable for people who have not been able to accept credit cards in the past.” At first glance, ProPay seems to be like David up against a host of Goliaths, including PayPal and eBay, to name a few. But rather than going head-to-head with these giants, ProPay has concentrated on smaller niche markets, particularly in the direct sales industry. Having built the reputation of being a staunch guardian of cardholder data, ProPay has now become the protector of the small businessperson. While the territory is littered with tombstones of many that have tried and failed, this strategy has led ProPay to consistent revenue growth every year for the last seven years.
Founder, Mozy Inc.
Josh Coates knows there are hundreds of ways to lose your data. He hears from customers every day who’ve dropped their laptops and lost everything. He’s had several clients whose homes or hardware have been struck by lightning and he even heard from an Israeli man who said a Palestinian rocket blasted into his living room and destroyed his computer. Coates also knows there are hundreds of ways to back up your computer. So why have half a million consumers and 20,000 businesses around the world chosen Mozy’s remote online backup service? “We’re simply the first to be super easy . . . and really affordable,” says Coates. “And we’ve become famous in this little tiny niche that’s really dull and not very sexy. But we’re making money. And that’s important.” That was also important to EMC Corporation, which recently acquired Mozy for $76 million and wisely kept Coates at the helm.
Although AtTask has a pretty impressive list of clients—including Apple, Johnson & Johnson, Google, GE, Amazon and Ernst & Young—CEO Scott Johnson says, “We are really our own best customer.” The innovative “business intelligence technology” that AtTask offers their clients is also helping AtTask be more productive, maximize their resources and manage their tremendous growth. This is a great endorsement for their product since they’ve efficiently transitioned from four employees to nearly 100, and their monthly revenues have grown more than 600 percent in the last two years. In addition, AtTask’s project and portfolio management software is available in six languages and they have offices in the U.S., London, Beijing, Armenia and Tokyo.
President and CEO, Xactware
Xactware provides computer software solutions for every phase of a building’s life—from remodeling to totally replacing a building; from determining the rebuilding cost of a home for insurance purposes to sending and receiving estimates electronically. Jim Loveland was appointed President and CEO of Xactware at a time of unprecedented challenges for the property repair industries Xactware serves. The record-breaking storm season of 2004 was soon to be followed by the monster 2005 storm season which included Hurricane Katrina. Loveland guided Xactware through the aftermath of both storm seasons with no slowdown in its services and oversaw a substantial rewrite of the company’s flagship product, refocusing the company on customer service and easier-to-use products. A year after Loveland took over, Xactware opened offices in Canada and the United Kingdom; and in 2006, Loveland announced a major achievement: a merger with the insurance industry’s oldest and most respected service provider, ISO. In Loveland’s three years at the helm, Xactware has experienced a growth rate of 200 percent.
President and CEO, Skullcandy
Rick Alden’s got it figured out when it comes to a work/play balance. In his words: “I always say that you’d better be the best example of your own customer. If you’re not your own customer then you’re not going to understand what your customers really want. Fortunately, we’re selling to a bunch of snowboarders and skateboarders, which makes for a really fun work environment.” But it takes more than being good on your board to shred the competition with annual revenue growth as high as 571 percent in 2006. He downplays any genius in building his Skullcandy brand of core audio products—mainly best-selling stereo headphones, protesting that it was more accidental than calculated. But there’s no question the guy is brilliant when you look at how almost overnight, he built his popular brand by collaborating with already-established big names in the snowboarding and skateboarding world. Fun work environment, indeed.
CEO, SnapLock Industries
When the call came about making the world’s largest logo that could be seen from space, Jorgen Moller was certain it was a prank. It wasn’t. And Moller’s team started working around the clock to produce the “face from space”—Colonel Sanders—with 87,000 square feet of SnapLock’s flooring tiles. With no tools required, Moller said installation “was a snap!” Easy installation’s the watchword on all of the multi-patent SnapLock products, which include portable dance floors, exhibition and safety floors, and garage, athletic and gymnasium flooring. “Our premium garage flooring is the biggest hit we’ve had,” Moller said. “We sell millions of feet of this product each month around the world. It’s made us all proud that we’ve created an industry. It did not exist prior to us coming out with this product line.” SnapLock’s tagline is “We look forward to flooring you.” They’re apparently flooring the competition too with their 60 to 70 percent growth over last year in the international market.
CEO and Founder, Costume Craze
Costume Craze began seven years ago, originally called Matthew’s Robes, which was, as Maloney describes it, “an experiment that went really, really well,” and has since turned into one of the world’s largest online costume retailers. Maloney’s vision and business savvy have guided the company through monumental growth—from selling one product (monk’s robes) to offering 1,500 new products a year. Her foresight inspired the development of a highly sophisticated proprietary technology for determining the right product mix, a factor that has given Costume Craze a real competitive advantage. And somehow she’s been able to keep this usually seasonal channel flowing successfully year round, while dealing with huge personnel swings (from 35 employees to more than 200 at Halloween). Maloney has racked up scores of awards for herself and for Costume Craze and judging from her past success, she is definitely fulfilling her personal philosophy: success is the only option.
BOB HARMON, Vice President for the Customer,
RANDY HARMON, Vice President
of Consumer Affairs, Harmons
The Harmon brothers have spent the last 30-plus years trying to answer the question that’s on every family’s mind, “What’s for dinner?” The answer has changed dramatically since the brothers’ grandparents opened the first Harmons — a roadside fruit stand — in 1932. Seventy-six years later, with the continued success and disciplined growth of the Harmons chain (13 stores with 13.9 percent growth in the last year), Bob and Randy are defying the odds, as far as third-generation family businesses go. They attribute their success to creating an entire culture around their belief that “food is fun!” They’ve certainly made their stores fun—with lots of innovations imported from the “best of the best” around the country. And they’ve made a practice of treating their employees well, knowing that unhappy associates don’t make happy customers. As they like to say, “We’re in the people business. We just happen to sell groceries.”