Launching and growing a business often requires extreme commitment, self-sacrifice, a continuous muster of motivation, and endless initiative. “I would leave the house at 6 a.m. and get home around 1 a.m. or 2 a.m.,” says Michael Tieu, CEO and founder of National Circuit Assembly, of his company’s early days. “When I wasn’t working, I was networking.”
For entrepreneurs such as Tieu, the hustle is worth it because in times of sink or swim, like those presented during the pandemic, it takes a determined and resilient self-starter to rise above the waters.
The 47 innovators you’ll read about in the following pages have fought for funding, struggled to scale, and turned on a dime, but for each of them, the sacrifice has been worth it.
For a 14th straight year, D CEO is proud to profile all Southwest region finalists in EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year program.
Judges this year were Teresa Mackintosh, CEO of Trintech; Alex Danza, founder and CEO of Vonlane; Raj Malik, founder and CEO of Bioworld Merchandising; Dr. Chandra Pemmasani, founder and CEO of UWorld; Vanessa Ogle, founder and chairman of Enseo; Sarah Shadonix, founder and CEO of Scout & Cellar; Scott Everett, founder and CEO of S2 Capital; and Blake Walker, CEO of Arcis Golf.
All regional finalists will be honored on Aug. 4 at a virtual event, where winners will be revealed. Those winners will then compete for national recognition in November.
Founder and CEO, Accelerate Real Asset Management
After working in the energy industry for several years, Brennan Potts saw a dislocation in the oil and gas market. “Small, fractional ownership interests were overlooked, and there was an opportunity to aggregate them into a large, cash-flowing, diversified portfolio of scale,” says Potts, founder and CEO of Accelerate Real Asset Management. His solution? Build a tech-and data-driven process to identify, acquire, and manage assets for the world’s leading institutional investors. Now, the company is getting into the renewable energy space. “We’re expanding that same successful blueprint across real asset classes in forward-thinking investments that power the new economy,” Potts says.
Das Nobel, Co-Founder and CEO
Nipa Nobel, Co-Founder and CMO
Originally from Bangladesh, the husband-and-wife team of Das and Nipa Nobel founded MTX Group in 2015. The tech consulting firm helps public and private clients solve business problems with strategy, innovation, and outcome metrics. Today, MTX Group has more than 950 employees, and its revenue has grown by 1,900 percent over the past three years. The company also has become a front-of-jersey sponsor of FC Dallas—a big moment for the Nobels, as they’re big soccer fans. The couple is focused on expanding into more global markets and have an especially lofty goal: making their AI offering, mavQ, the No. 1 AI platform in the world by 2025.
Part of the fintech and digital payment solutions boom, Onbe helps businesses create custom-branded payment options. Led by Juli Spottiswood, the company now issues more than $7 billion in corporate-funded payments annually in nine currencies.
With fewer than 3 percent of eligible rooftops in the United States opting for solar, Arkansas-based Shine Solar sees ample growth opportunity. “Rooftop solar is still a nascent industry,” says CEO Nick Gorden. The company has grown 50–70 percent a year since its 2016 launch.
Irving-based payment processing company Signapay thrived during the pandemic, as businesses sprinted toward touchless options. It serves retail, restaurant, nonprofit, professional services, and other clients, and Founder and CEO John R. Martillo predicts continued demand.
Spinal implant and instrument company Astura Medical involves surgeons in the development process. Its leaders, Thomas Purcell and Joel Gambrell, say they’re also looking at ways to create greater efficiencies through things like preoperative planning software.
Led by Dennis Cail
Dennis Cail drew upon his personal experiences to launch Zirtue in 2018 as a relationship-based lending app focused on driving financial inclusion and freedom. “Looking back, I saw how clearly and deliberately predatory lenders targeted those with few options and no access to traditional banking services,” says Cail, co-founder and CEO. To date, he and his team have processed more than $10 million in loans. Zirtue experienced 400 percent growth in its past fiscal year, and Cail hopes payment through Zirtue will soon become an option for every bill and store transaction.
Contract manufacturer Concote Corp. helps companies such as Tesla and Boeing make more efficient products. “If it makes sense, we will invest in the equipment, tooling, and raw materials necessary to solve the problem,” says President and CEO Shelby Ricketts.
Founder and CEO Daniel Chu launched Tricolor Holdings after noticing Hispanic immigrants were uniquely credit challenged. The company leverages AI tech to offer auto loans that build credit for LatinX consumers. “With every challenge comes a new opportunity,” Chu says.
Convenience store chain Yesway targets rural and suburban towns with populations of 5,000 to 50,000. “We are able to build stronger competitive positioning and brand loyalty than what may be typical in larger, urban acquisitions,” says Tom Trkla, chairman and CEO.
Unifying front-end consumer experience and back-end logistics technology allows Kibo to help retailers increase revenue. “We offered something different, combining the best of both with modern technology and flexibility,” says CEO David Post.
Paul Martel, Co-founder and CEO
Collin Jones, President
Livestreaming company Resi Media saw a 500 percent increase in demand when COVID hit. “What a month,” says Paul Martel, co-founder and CEO. Resi uses resilient streaming protocol to ensure glitch-free streaming by sending an exact copy of the stream to its destination. When issues occur, Resi retransmits only the problematic portions to the destination, rather than resending its entirety. Resi Media’s hundreds of clients include Chick-Fil-A and Spartan Race. Collin Jones, president, says he’s most excited about new products coming down the line. “It brings so much joy to make customers’ lives easier and more effective,” he says.
Catalyst Health Network
Christopher Crow, CEO and co-founder of Primary care physician health group Catalyst Health Network, says he founded the company to fix the broken healthcare system and repair the status quo. “Resistance to prioritizing long-term good over short-term ease remains the most frustrating issue in healthcare and the biggest opportunity for transformation,” he says. Catalyst’s 275 employees serve more than 1,000 primary care providers and more than 1.5 million patients, and Crow’s partner, Lance Spivey, believes an even more profound impact is brewing post-pandemic. “The trade winds are lining up for the market to change more rapidly, and that presents great opportunity for significant impact,” Spivey says.
Founder and CEO, Sign Gypsies
Stacey Hess launched Sign Gypsies when she saw a company creating yard greetings—signs and decorations on lawns—and knew she could do better. Today, the brand has grown to 825 franchise locations and has more than 200 million customers. “In 2020, we shipped out 13,394 orders, and our owners installed more than 420,000 yard greetings,” Hess says. The company also purchased a 22,000 square-foot corporate headquarters building in Celina, experienced 250 percent growth, and partnered with Licensed Collegiate Products to expand its offerings last year. “Building a business takes passion and perseverance,” Hess says. “There’s no glory without grit!”
Aakash Kumar, Co-founder and CEO
Patrick Brandt, Co-founder and President
Aakash Kumar left Google to create the “Amazon of labor” alongside Patrick Brandt. The result? Workforce solutions company Shiftsmart. The app creates a labor marketplace where companies and employees can find (or post) jobs. In 2020, Shiftsmart grew its worker base to 400,000, and revenue rocketed up 400 percent. It also helped the Small Business Association staff thousands of agents in one week during the Payment Protection Program rollout. “As we scale across verticals, countries, and employers, workers are empowered to earn more, find more flexible work, and build a long-term performance history—which could help them unlock higher-paying and more flexible wages,” says Kumar, who serves as CEO.
Digital marketing agency PMG Worldwide helps clients such as Gap and Sephora adapt to tech accelerations. “2020 advanced digital and e-commerce 20 years,” says CEO George Popstefanov. PMG is on pace to top 500 workers and grow more than 60 percent this year.
2021 is shaping up to be a great year for digital service provider Qentelli: It is on track to double both revenue and employees, says Sanjay Jupudi, co-founder and president. He and co-founder and chief digital officer Prasanna Singaraju also are eyeing acquisitions.
Mance Harmon and Leemon Baird founded Hedera Hashgraph to fill the void for a distributed ledger technology concept that provides both speed and security. It has quickly become the most-used ledger on the planet, with more than 1.3 billion transactions processed.
AVAD Energy Partners
Focused on acquiring and developing oil and gas companies, the biggest challenge for AVAD Energy Partners has been wild swings in energy prices. “To survive low prices, we make sure we don’t get over our skis too much,” says John N. Davis, president and CEO.
Theresa Motter, CEO
Theresa Motter immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in the 1960s, and some 20 years later, her parents created food and beverage company Van’s Oriental, which became Van’s Kitchen. Before becoming CEO in 2014, Motter says she held nearly every non-production role at the company, which produces several kinds of egg rolls. “The reason we are still in business is because I never made the egg rolls!” she jokes. Van’s revenue has grown 50 percent during the past three years. Motter hopes to instill her mother’s drive in her employees, whom she calls “roll models.” “I love being able to provide opportunities for our roll models to grow and build better lives,” she says.
Co-founder and CEO, Neighborhood Goods
Matt Alexander believes brick-and-mortar is essential for retail brands. “Physical retail, despite the headlines, has a crucial role to play in modern brands,” says Alexander, co-founder and CEO of Neighborhood Goods. The company helps digital retailers get into the physical realm by selecting brands to temporarily occupy spaces inside its department stores. It keeps things fresh by constantly switching up the offerings. “In spite of the pandemic, we ended up growing over 100 percent year over year, and we’re looking ahead with optimism,” Alexander says. Neighborhood Goods has three locations: Legacy West in Plano, South Congress in Austin, and Chelsea Market in New York.
Melbourne O’Banion, Co-Founder and CEO
Jonathan Abelmann, Co-Founder and President
Melbourne O’Banion and Jonathan Abelmann founded Dallas-based Bestow to make life insurance affordable, convenient, and accessible to underserved families. “Transforming a 300-year-old, tech-laggard, heavily regulated industry is always rife with challenges,” O’Banion says. “Even on our most challenging days, remembering the social impact we have makes it all worth it.” The digital insurance company got a $70 million boost of funding in late 2020, bringing its total backing to $145 million. “We were told ‘no’ dozens of times before we met investors who believed in us and our vision,” Abelmann says.
Taysha Gene Therapies
Led by RA Session II
Biotech company Taysha Gene Therapies develops and commercializes gene therapies to treat diseases in the central nervous system. The company raised $307 million, despite the pandemic and not being in a biotech hub such as San Francisco, Boston, or San Diego. “Because of the innovation of our technology and pipeline and our experienced management team and board of directors, we were able to attract smart money and raise funds in a record-breaking five months,” says RA Session II, the company’s president, founder, and CEO. Roughly a year later, Taysha Gene Therapies has grown to more than 130 employees and added a North Carolina manufacturing facility.
Joe D’Cruz, Managing Director
Tricia D’Cruz, Managing Director
Catalyze Dallas, led by co-founders and managing directors Joe and Tricia D’Cruz, helps emerging R&D businesses scale by commercializing valuable intellectual property and adding new revenue streams. “COVID-19 accelerated opportunities for us to acquire new technologies from aerospace and defense companies, and each one we tackle will bring another 10 to 50 local employees,” Tricia says. Catalyze Dallas worked with Lockheed Martin and a wide collection of large aerospace and defense companies to launch two affiliates, Metro Aerospace and Alpine Advanced Materials. It also recently moved into a new home base in the Cedars.
Jason Harvison, CEO of Elevate Credit, hopes to help the 130 million Americans with credit scores below 700 who struggle to attain traditional loans through its suite of digital lending brands. “I see in the future new white-label brands and products,” he says.
“I founded o9 solutions with the vision to help navigate complexity,” says CEO Chakri Gottemukkala. The company harnesses internal and external data to help businesses make planning decisions around their supply chains. A revenue management tool also is in the works.
Titus Oil & Gas’
During Titus Oil & Gas’ first year in business, CEO Marshall Hickey watched competitors purchase large, risky plots of land; he took a different approach in the Delaware Basin. “Plenty of capital can be invested, and scale can be achieved, within a small geographic footprint,” Hickey says.
National Circuit Assembly
Electronic manufacturing services company National Circuit Assembly brings efficiency and production stateside, allowing for shorter lead times. Founder Mike Tieu embraces risk. “Nobody builds great companies by playing it safe,” he says.