Meet 2019’s Entrepreneur of The Year
Eric Farr & John Wade | BrainStorm, Inc.
Since John Wade and Eric Farr acquired BrainStorm in 2002, and it has been their mission to transform it from a content and services company into a software company. And when ExxonMobil was looking for a software solution to train their 80,000 employees, BrainStorm took the leap. Working around the clock, Mr. Farr and Mr. Wade’s example sparked an incredible response from their employees, inspiring them to produce quality training videos that laid the foundation for what is now the software platform, QuickHelp.™
Mr. Wade and Mr. Farr have overcome many obstacles to make BrainStorm a successful and sustainable business. But by perfecting how users and organizations adopt their technology solutions, they are leading the EdTech industry in SaaS and machine learning solutions to becoming the only provider to aggregate and leverage big data surrounding real technology usage. And in the future, they look to use their connection of different data sources to create a one-stop digital learning marketplace.
Brock Blake | Lendio
Brock Blake created Lendio to advance the future of small businesses everywhere. Knowing firsthand how critical it is to have access to capital, he believed there was a faster, more efficient way for small business loans to be funded than individually visiting the thousands of lenders that offer a variety of loan products. So he built a tool to optimize that process, gathering all the information needed to submit to 75 different lenders. To further facilitate this consultative approach to business lending, they launched a marketplace lending franchise model in 2017, making them the first fintech company to introduce such a model.
Since Lendio’s inception in 2011, Mr. Blake has helped finance more than 60,000 small businesses across the US, creating more than 30,000 jobs. Rallying his team around the idea that giving even a small boost to underserved businesses can empower individuals to take advantage of opportunity, Lendio donates a percentage of every loan facilitated on their marketplace platform to Kiva microloans.
Doug Robinson | LGCY Power
Doug Robinson brings unprecedented vision and direction to the solar industry. Since founding LGCY Power in 2014, he has led the company to more than 12 years of success as the largest privately held residential solar sales company in the US. From forming a number of strategic partnerships to building a team of talented professionals, Mr. Robinson has established the company’s mission of providing extraordinary customer experience while encouraging everyone to be the best version of themselves.
Growing from only three employees to more than 65 across 19 states over five years, and with more than 700 sales reps in the field, LGCY Power is experiencing only the tip of the iceberg in an untapped market. And moving ahead, Mr. Robinson is looking to continue that growth and create new opportunities by growing the company’s sales force into multiple customer acquisition channels and adding additional products and services for their customers.
Consumer Products & Services
Farzad Mohebbi | Papa Pita
Fleeing religious persecution in the 1980s, Farzad Mohebbi and his family arrived in the US with virtually nothing. But having learned to bake pitas with his father in their struggling storefront bakery, his vision unfolded. Selling his few possessions, Mr. Mohebbi made the down payment on a loan so he could fight to keep Papa Pita open. Introducing everything from bagels to English muffins, he has successfully grown a bakery business that was previously nonexistent in Utah.
More than 30 years later, Mr. Mohebbi is still the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night, and his products are on the shelves of Costco, Walmart, Target, and other grocers across 28 states. His bakery has continued to be a bakery of firsts: it was the first pita bread bakery in Utah, the first bakery to eliminate high fructose corn syrup in all its products, and the first bakery to have a website. Mr. Mohebbi plans to continue that legacy.
Andrew Richardson | Edge
Andrew Richardson founded Edge Pest Control in 2008 in the face of tremendous hardship and adversity. In the midst of The Great Recession, he left the security of his six-figure executive job to pursue his dream. With nothing but a beat-up van and no employees but himself, he started knocking on doors. By rolling up his sleeves and focusing on the grind, he worked through countless 18-hour days and near zero checking account statements to build Edge into what it is today.
Now, as one of the largest pest control companies in the US with over 17 locations, Edge has not only gone through incredible growth, but incredible profitability as well. Named one of Inc. 5000’s fastest growing private companies for four consecutive years, Mr. Richardson is invested in creating opportunity and innovation for years to come. Customer and service focused, Mr. Richardson has evolved Edge from a door-to-door startup to a stunning success.
Dan Young | PC Laptops
Dan Young founded PC Laptops 25 years ago after the big box retailer he was working for went bankrupt. But after staying loyal to his customers and honoring warranties he probably shouldn’t have, he’s built a business that puts his customers and their satisfaction first. Expanding to nine locations and a 50,000 square-foot operations facility, Mr. Young continues to innovate and disrupt the market with customer loyalty he’s grown and cultivated for more than five years.
Mr. Young believes the best way to build a successful business is to take care of your employees, and he’s made it PC Laptops’ mission to always help those in need. Their code of honor is to never abandon a teammate in need and that mission of charity has now expanded beyond their team, and into their community. Including efforts to fight child trafficking and support local animals in need as well through organizations like Operation Underground Railroad and Nuzzles & Co., PC Laptops continues to put their community first.
Direct to Consumer
Sandi Hendry | Minky Couture LLC
Sandi Hendry began Minky Couture in 2009. Using Minky fabric, which resembles real mink, she began designing baby blankets for friends of friends until her network had grown exponentially. But when her 27-year-old daughter was hospitalized, she requested a larger blanket. And then, Ms. Hendry started making blankets for adults, too.
Since forming the company a decade ago, Ms. Hendry has overcome the stereotype of “it’s just a blanket” to create something truly incredible. A regular blanket might just be a blanket, but a Minky Couture blanket is made with love from one of over 40 home seamstresses here in Utah. By investing in the talented moms who choose to stay home to sew and contribute to family needs, Minky Couture is focused on using local work and talent to build a brand that encompasses Utah’s family values.
Nelson James | Signs.com, Inc.
Before launching Signs.com, Nelson James had a career in digital marketing. But when he saw the need to solve major pain points in the sign industry, he turned the idea of a digital signage company into something great. Building a powerful tool using HTML5 and SVG, he’s allowed his customers to build professional signs using cutting edge technology. And by providing fast service and design expertise from a network of professionals, Mr. James has focused on innovation to turn Signs.com into one of the fastest growing companies in Utah to date.
Mr. James’ leadership style stems from his goal to create an open, friendly, and transparent environment, one where everyone contributes. And that heart and soul has propelled the company beyond expectations. Their philosophy is that signage keeps people safe, supports causes, and celebrates milestones. So whether their signs help female entrepreneurs start businesses in developing countries or help foster business growth here at home, they are continually helping to improve lives through business.
Jesse Mecham | You Need A Budget LLC
When Jesse and Julie Mecham realized they were broke in 2003, they started tracking their money very carefully because debt just wasn’t an option. Developing spreadsheets and systems to keep them ahead, they were able to make ends meet. But when they needed an extra $400 to make rent, Mr. Mecham had an idea. So he asked Mrs. Mecham if she thought they could sell their system and what she would call it. She said no, and “you need a budget.” The company was born nonetheless.
Mr. Mecham didn’t set out to start a company, he just took the first step. And now, he is in a very different financial situation than he was in 2003. But his values haven’t changed. With 89 employees that are fully remote, productive, and collaborative, You Need A Budget promotes a culture where everyone has a voice. Helping their customers learn, save, and maintain financial literacy, You Need A Budget is more than just a software company‒it’s an education company, too.
Distribution & Manufacturing
Jared Starling & Casey Adams | Visible Supply Chain Management
Jared Starling and Casey Adams measure success by the success and growth of their clients. Facilitating a unique ecommerce supply chain, they help companies optimize the movement of their products from the manufacturer to the consumer, all the way through the full range of the supply chain. And pivoting from a warehousing and fulfillment company to a supply chain management company in 2012 hasn’t been without its difficulties but they are excited about additional growth.
As they blaze ahead, Mr. Starling and Mr. Adams believe that good management and leading a business is a constant effort, one without shortcuts. And they do their best to contribute to the business’s success every single day. They just ask themselves one key question: what can we do to help our customers build their businesses?
Matthew D. Wardle | JD Machine Corp
At any given time, there are approximately 4,000 jobs running through JD Machine’s machining corporation. With varying materials, geometries, and manufacturing steps, each customer has differing contractual and quality workmanship requirements―which makes managing those jobs and mitigating risk difficult. But with Matthew Wardle’s innovative risk management process and strong leadership, he makes all of that look easy.
Mr. Wardle’s leadership style can be described as direct, calm, and tenacious. Never content with the status quo, he’s constantly looking for opportunities to grow the business. And in a business where everyone is continuously striving for improvement, he makes a strong leader. Thoroughly believing that JD Machine both works and wins as a team, the term “employee” has been banned. Instead, everyone in the company is a team member. Growth comes when great people choose to stay with the team, and Mr. Wardle is a strong proponent of building from the ground up. Whether that means investing in his team or building relationships across the industry, he’s ready to innovate and develop the future for JD Machine Corp.
David Wright & Melanie Alder | Pattern
David Wright and Melanie Alder don’t exude the typical tech founder vibe. Soft-spoken and self-effacing, you’d never guess that their company is the number one third-party seller of health and personal care items on Amazon. And they started by shipping packages straight out of Ms. Adler’s living room. Now representing brands like TUMI, Nestle, Clorox, and more than 50 others, Pattern started as one of the 3,000 third-party sellers that joins Amazon every day. But through intense focus and determination, they’ve rocketed to success over just a six-year period.
Using proprietary software that tracks pricing, handles forecasting, reverse-engineers SEO algorithms, and so much more, Pattern is a tech company in its own right. And their newest software predicts marketplace movements and executes dynamic bids across thousands of keywords millions of times per day. But their focus is on their community of partners. By erring on the side of doing more for their partners rather than less, they will always emphasize generating long-term value over short-term gains.
Shawn Kory Stevens | Taft Clothing Inc.
Shawn Kory Stevens founded Taft as a newly graduated 24-year-old. With his first child on the way and piles of student debt, he took a gamble. Starting a business in the crowded footwear industry, he set to work designing and prototyping, all the while donating plasma, selling board games on Amazon, and working as a fly-fishing guide on the Weber River to provide for his family. And after all of that hard work and a little bit of luck, Taft Clothing took off.
Mr. Stevens likens being an entrepreneur to running a marathon in which the finish line is constantly pushed farther away, just as you are about to reach it. But that only pushes him harder to achieve his goals. Intentional about growing his brand as ethnically diverse and building a community around it, he’s made his mark among young, urban buyers. And with his innovative, consumer-conscious designs, he’s working to inspire and disrupt the entirety of the menswear industry.
Vess Pearson | Aptive Environmental
Vess Pearson founded Aptive Environmental in 2015 after joining with his longtime business partner David Royce. Coming off the sale of their last venture and spurred by the investment of all of Mr. Pearson’s assets, including his house, they intended to build the fastest growing pest control company in North America. Today, they’re on track to do just that. Having served over half a million customers and more than 13,000 reviews on Google, Mr. Pearson is focused on founding extraordinary success.
While pest control is typically viewed as blue-collar work, Mr. Pearson believes that every company needs to think like a tech company to be successful. By investing millions into the development of proprietary and cutting-edge software and technology, Aptive Environmental has “gamified” the work experience. With tournaments that offer prizes for exceptional work and apps that allow customers to share photos of pest-affected areas with technicians, they’re innovating the pest control industry and making it easy.
Davis Smith & Stephan Jacob | Cotopaxi
Davis Smith and Stephan Jacob are passionate about giving back, which was why they founded Cotopaxi. Leaving their respective homes, businesses, and families in Brazil and Germany, they came to the US to start a business that encompassed their passions. Amplifying their personal desires to address the unequal distribution of opportunity, they’ve incorporated social impact into every aspect of their business. From positively impacting the communities where their products are made through Fair Trade audits to creating opportunity for refugee communities here in Utah, they’ve made Cotopaxi more than just an outdoor brand.
Mr. Smith and Mr. Jacob embrace non-traditional approaches to building their brand, driving customer engagement through events and unique storytelling. From their pre-launch marketing event, which included the purchase of two llamas taken on a Utah college campus tour, to Questival, the annual adventure race that has had over 100,000 participants since 2014, Cotopaxi is focused on telling unique brand stories.
Kylee & Chad Champlin | Roolee
Kylee and Chad Champlin began disrupting the fashion marketplace early on in their business. Altering trendy fashion styles to make them more modest without compromising fashion integrity, they tapped into a previously untapped demand. Using social media to captivate their audience with innovative styles, Roolee grew a following so quickly that their competitors were struggling to keep up. And with such a quick turnaround time, they’re able to get products from concept to market in as little as one to three months.
Ms. and Mr. Champlin know that the most effective way of growing their business is by listening to their customers. With their newly released nursing and children’s apparel lines, they continue to fill marketplace voids and offer competitive innovation with weekly launches of dozens of new styles. And they don’t intend to stop. With plans to continue expanding into trending fashion areas, growing their wholesale line, and acquiring up and coming brands, they are committed to creating the best shopping experience for every customer.
Vivien & Fernanda Böhme | Böhme
When sisters Vivien and Fernanda Böhme started Böhme, they embedded taking risks into the business’s DNA. Just 23 and 24 years old, and with zero cash behind them, they trusted their gut and followed the data. Starting their fashion retail company in a time when people started spending less time in crowded clothing racks and more time cultivating shopping experiences, the Böhme sisters knew they needed to pivot their business approach. Taking a risk and putting their best foot forward, their personalized customer experience approach has now been copied all over the nation.
Vivien and Fernanda Böhme are passionate about giving back, too. As immigrants themselves, they built their business with a vision for helping others like them, helping them look forward to building a life beyond building homes they will never own, or scrubbing toilets. Involved in their community and the communities of their employees, they work to make a difference not only in their customers’ lives, but in their communities’.
Ali Hynek | Nena & Co. LLC
Ali Hynek founded Nena and Co. in 2013 as a one-of-a-kind handbag company. Inspired by her Guatemalan heritage, Nena and Co. manufactures woven textiles with the purpose of providing sustainable work to talented artisans in Guatemala. Embarking on the journey into textiles with her mother, Ms. Hynek has thoroughly come to understand the methods that traditional weaving entails. And she’s become intimately passionate about honoring the process, artisans, and communities behind it.
Located in American Fork, Utah and Antigua, Guatemala, Ms. Hynek is dedicated to bridging the cultural divide to not only bring these one-of-a-kind products to everyone, but to help give the Guatemalan mothers behind it build a sustainable and ethical income. Integrating authentic and vintage Mayan textiles, each collection is unique and designed by Ms. Hynek herself. Embodying the free-spirited, everyday woman in each of her designs, she brings a modern voice to traditional practice.
Chris Conard | Playworks Utah
Chris Conard is passionate about play. And he won’t stop until every child in Utah, Oregon, Washington, and Idaho can experience safe and healthy play in elementary schools every day. Because when schools focus more on academic achievement than building strong social skills, everyone suffers. So Mr. Conard revolutionized the way schools encourage social development by developing environments at recess that promote safety, engagement, empowerment, and inclusivity. And by making sure every kid has their breakthrough experiences by revamping the chaotic nature of recess, he’s helping to develop the next generation of problem solvers and risk takers.
Founding Playworks in 2011, Mr. Conard started with just five school partners, impacting 2,500 children. Now, eight years later, there are more than 62,000 children in 107 Utah schools alone experiencing safe and healthy play. And bringing in the Pacific Northwest region under his leadership, Mr. Conard has expanded that to 151 schools.
Lorna L. Koci | Bountiful Community Food Pantry
Lorna L. Koci is passionate about being creative and innovative in an industry that isn’t always known for its disruptiveness. After a successful 30-year career in the private sector, she made the decision to jump into the nonprofit sector head first. Working with the Utah Food Bank and then the American Red Cross, she eventually joined the Bountiful Community Food Pantry, where she found a love for helping others.
Ms. Koci defines impact by the number of individuals whose lives improve as a result of the services she is able to provide. Using the skills in business and leadership she cultivated throughout her 30-year career, she has designed countless new programs and services, including a dental assistance program, a vision assistance program, and a family services program to fight childhood hunger. Committed to her community through the Bountiful Community Food Pantry, Ms. Koci is determined to work herself out of a job by providing solutions to social problems.
Dave Hennessey | TURN Community Services
Dave Hennessey has been in the disability field since 1973 and it’s his belief that all people, no matter their cognitive or expressive capabilities, make sense of their world and have their own unique experience of lifestyle quality and satisfaction. Focusing on TURN Community Services’ client-centered services, Mr. Hennessey works to build stronger cultures of excellence to provide skills, training, and support for people with disabilities. Serving 840 people across the state of Utah, he plans to increase that number to 1,000 within the next five years.
Through the development of their daytime Arts and Learning Centers, TURN Community Services has created a place that empowers those with disabilities to grow and deepen their sense of identity through art, adventure, and learning activities. Helping people who have previously lived devalued and marginalized lives to proudly self-identify as artists and creators. By increasing the daily successes and self-confidence of these individuals, not only is Mr. Hennessey helping to provide support, he’s also supplying them with valuable skills to help them toward self-sufficiency.
Eric Rea & Dennis Steele | Podium Corporation Inc.
Podium started with five people huddled in a one-bedroom apartment. But with Eric Rea and Dennis Steele at the helm, it’s grown to almost 450 employees in less than five years. And at the heart of this success lies Mr. Rea’s and Mr. Steele’s biggest strength: their ability to reject mediocrity. By holding themselves, and their company, to standards most would deem daunting or unattainable, they ignore the conditioning that has told them to temper expectations. And it’s produced one of the fastest growing SaaS companies in the world.
Today, over 30,000 local businesses have used Podium to connect with one out of every seven cell phone owners in the US―which has created nearly 40 million unique conversations. By making it convenient for businesses to connect with leads, customers, and even their own teams, they’re helping to modernize the way small businesses do business. And they’re positioning themselves to be one of the most influential tech companies to ever come out of Utah.
Levi King | Nav Technologies Inc.
Levi King knows the challenges of accessing business capital. A cofounder of Lendio, as well as several other small businesses, he set out 100 percent committed to helping small business owners find the financing they needed. But that wasn’t enough, there were still gaps he felt that needed to be filled. So he left the relative comfort of his successfully growing company to found Nav, which is now one of Lendio’s largest competitors.
Founded in 2012, Mr. King has created a modern way for business owners to manage their business credit and get streamlined access to financing. As a professional navigator of the complexities of business financing, the app provides tools to view and monitor credit reports, as well as build credit and match with lending options. By using that data of small businesses to sort offers, Nav is providing clarity and helping business owners access capital faster and with infinitely more confidence. And under Mr. King’s leadership, it will only continue to grow.
Brandon & Jared Rodman | Weave Communications LLC
Brothers Brandon and Jared Rodman founded Weave from their attic in 2008. Originally called Recall Solutions, the plan for the company was to get patients back into dentists’ chairs. They didn’t realize at the time that they were building a phone system. And what started as a phone system has now evolved into an entire communications platform for several industries. And it can be found in over 7,000 offices across the US today.
Weave’s mantra is “people, not employees,” and you can see it in everything the company does. From the tremendous benefits they give their employees, like their fully-paid parental leave and free diapers for a year to new parents, to how they give back in the community, such as when they gave 11,000 pounds of food to the Utah Food Bank, Weave is proud to be a company that values people. And they work hard to make sure they’re moving in the right direction.