#1 Jonathan Conneely COACH JC
I grew up with very little and always wanted to be more and achieve more in life. From a very young age, I felt a burning desire to help other people WIN in life. I had a crazy sense of compassion for people and hated to see people suffer. When my goal and dream to play basketball in college was no longer a reality and I was in the fight of my life to be a father, I decided to start my first business.
It was ignited out of a sense of urgency to have to make money to fight to be a father. I then discovered that God had blessed me with a crazy talent and gift combined with a heart to help others WIN. As I was being used to help others create breakthroughs and WINS in life, it became contagious and turned into a movement.
People of all walks of life started to contact me because they heard my story and other victories from the athletes I was coaching. I started as the youngest strength coach at the D1 level in the nation helping athletes perform at a higher level in training them physically…then, I discovered that their performance was dependent on something greater than their physical talent.
I created a game plan to train the MINDSET. We started to WIN more and athletes were winning on the field and in life. This is when I started to study any thing I could get my hands on about mindset, psychology and the connecting between the physical and mental. This is when the COACH JC brand was born.
#2 LENNY AND ANDI HUIRAS Vital Signs Engraving and Apparel
Our Aha moment was while starting our first business, we spent every dime we had, literally! We still couldn’t engrave a rock, because we were missing one final product. Andi asked one night what we were going to do with all that equipment and we realized we were pretty much lost. She went to the cabinet to grab a glass, to pour herself some water and she said, “What about engraving this?”
I looked at her and asked, “What do you mean?” She pointed out that everywhere you go there’s glassware with branding on it. I thought she might be onto something so we broke out all of the equipment right there and then and made a stencil to blast a glass. It worked!!
We posted photos of our first glasses on Facebook. The next morning we had requests for engraved glassware from friends. “I have a wedding or a Birthday next week can you engrave one for me?” We still have those first glasses and we use them regularly to remember that’s where this all started.
#3 SOPHIA HYDER Papilia
I remember my ‘Aha!’ moment like it was yesterday. I thought I needed some pitching practice, so I decided to pitch the concept for Papilia at Triangle Startup Weekend for Women at HQ Raleigh in October 2014. Papilia ended up winning overall crowd favorite and second place. I thought it was pretty cool, and thought nothing of it other than the weekend being a fun learning experience.
Over the next three months, I had people coming up to me and asking me when this service would be available. I told them it was just an idea I had pitched for fun. It wasn’t until a few months later in February 2015, where I had that light bulb moment. If so many people are asking me when Papilia will be available, why am I not turning this idea into reality?
#4 MANON DEFELICE Inkwell
Like many businesses, mine started when I noticed a problem and came up with Inkwell as a way to solve it. The problem was that everywhere I looked, I saw highly accomplished women leaving the workforce after having children; the result was a brain drain—a loss of top talent from the workplace.
Inkwell offers a solution: a way to connect people seeking flexible, rewarding work (think of all the rock-star moms that you know) with companies that need exceptional yet affordable talent. Both the women and the companies win.
#5 GRAYSON DAVEY Alaska Paracord Designs
The reason I came up with the idea for the business was when my friend, Dave, got into a boating accident on the Skwetna River with his 11 year old daughter. They were stranded on an island for 3 days without food, shelter, or anything to start a fire.
When they were finally rescued, they were hypothermic and covered in bug bites. On the way back to Anchorage and the local hospital, Dave said they would have been OK if only they could have started a fire.
He was afraid that he would succumb to hypothermia and leave his daughter alone. It was a scary event and shaped the way I thought about developing what you need to have on you at all times. A bracelet would stay on you and wouldn’t have been lost in the river like the rest of the survival gear.
#6 JULIE FREDRICKSON Stowaway Cosmetics
I grew up in a family that was very entrepreneurial. My father likes to joke that he didn’t have a job when I was born as he was pitching his latest venture.
Which means when I graduated from university, I got myself odd jobs to pay the bills and began my first company basically right off the bat (and got lucky enough to sell it to Sugar Inc who publishes PopSugar and owns Shopstyle 18 months later).
Since then, I’ve had a lot of mixed agency, brand (I spent a few years in house at Ann Taylor which I loved) and startup experience. Stowaway is actually my third startup!
Stowaway Cosmetics is right-sized cosmetics. It is designed to be finished so that women can carry prestige caliber makeup they love that is designed to be carried wherever their day takes them.
It is half the size of your typical cosmetic (and retails for the half the price as well), so it fits into pockets, clutches, purses, diaperbags, gym bags and of course your suitcase!
#7 JUSTIN WILLIAMS House Flipping HQ
Since a young age, I have always been trying to figure out how to make a buck.
I was so fascinated that you could buy something for a certain price and sell it for more. My cousin and I would get my aunt to take us to Costco and loan us money to buy candy in bulk which we would sell to neighbor kids to make a profit.
I got into raising animals because I recognized they could “multiply.” I figured if I could buy 2 lovebirds for $30 each and they then 4 babies, I could sell the babies, double my money and still have my original investment. Then I realized I could increase the value of the lovebird by hand feeding it from a young age and sell it for twice as much. How amazing was that! Not only was it fun it was like creating FREE money from nothing!
In high school, my mom would buy candy bars in bulk and we would sell them to people at school for twice the amount. We didn’t have a lot of money so this is what allowed us to do things like play sports and go out to eat on occasion.
You can only imagine the joy I felt when started learning more about real estate. I was amazed to find out that you could buy a house for $80,000, put $20,000 of repairs and upgrades into it and sell it for $150,000. Same idea I had as a kid but MUCH bigger #’s! Oh Happy DAY!!! :)
#8 NICKY JACKSON RangeMe
About 3 and a half years ago, my infant daughter had terrible eczema. I tried creams, ointments, basically anything and everything a mother could buy – nothing worked.
I actually ended up working with a local dermatologist to develop a cream that worked specifically for my daughter’s type of skin and ailment. And it worked miracles! My first thought was I needed to get this into the hands of mothers dealing with the same helpless situation.
I realized quickly that even despite my connections in CPG, I had worked for major players like Kellogg and Pepsico, that there were no doors open to me and my product, no channels for distribution and the pain of getting a product to market was real.
That’s when the idea of RangeMe came to me as an answer to the antiquated ways products were being discovered.
#9 TABITHA PHILEN Inspired Bloggers Network
Growing up in my home, being an “entrepreneur” was equal to “bum.” I would hear my father say, “Your cousin… he wants to be an entrepreneur. I guess he will be living with his parents forever.” So being an entrepreneur was not something I planned. My goal was to write.
When I began blogging and meeting other bloggers, I realized that this was an entrepreneur’s lifestyle. I could make money blogging and teach others to do the same. And… my father was doubtful.
“Come tell me when you make your first $1,000,” he said, and I did. “Well, come tell me when you can make $1,000 a month.” A month later, I called him with the news, “Dad, I didn’t make $1,000 this month. I made $4,000.” He was stumped, and I was certifiably a PROFITABLE entrepreneur.
#10 SAUL COSTA Codevolve
It was the summer of 2014 and I’d just graduated from Norwich University with a degree in Computer Science. While heading home from my dream job as a Silicon Valley software developer, I received a call from a former professor, who had a simple question: could I automate the grading computer programming projects?
He touched on a problem I’d grown very interested in while tutoring other students in Computer Science at Norwich. While working with these students, I’d noticed that they didn’t struggle with the course content or instruction: it was the tools they were using to learn to code (which were designed for professional developers) that proved to be the bottleneck to their progress.
So although Codevolve started with the simple initial goal of automatically grading program code, it quickly grew into a solution to this larger problem. We’ve designed every part of our product ― an online coding environment ― to make computer programming approachable for students so that they stay on track for success in this field.
#11 VICTOR BROWN Xcellent Life
As I was growing in my professional career, my dad’s health was starting to decline mostly due to type II diabetes. I became more involved in helping my dad by learning about type II diabetes. As I learned more about that condition, inherently, I was also learning about other preventable illnesses as well.
I became very alarmed at how much suffering as a society we endure due to these illnesses considering the approach to healthcare, which was completely backwards to my training in the energy space. In the energy space, we manage what we call critical assets in a proactive way, but in healthcare, where we have the most critical assets, we’re always reactive.
Given that understanding, coupled with the emotions of watching my dad deal with declining health, I decided to act and founded Xcellent Life as a healthcare technology company dedicated to protecting wellness in a proactive way.
My aha moment as an entrepreneur, was when I realized I’d never been poorer in my life, but never in my life felt more empowered. I knew at that point, I found my purpose.
#12 PARKER KREX Brick Loot
I had asked for a subscription box for my birthday and when I got it all, it was a pair of socks, air freshener, comic book and key chain. I was disappointed and as a huge LEGO fan, I thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to get a box filled with custom LEGO kits and minifigures each month?”
I shared my idea with my mom who then helped me write a business plan. We then put together a “SHARK TANK” type presentation for my dad to invest.
#13 MONTY HAMILTON Rural Sourcing Inc.
Yes. I vividly recall meeting with my managing partner to tell him I would be leaving Accenture and going out with a few other colleagues to do my own thing. We had a great conversation and then at the end he said “Monty, if it doesn’t work out for some reason, you can always come back.”
Once I heard that it struck me that I really didn’t need to worry about failure. I had more to offer at that point than I did when they first hired me. And I’d probably have even more to offer a future employer by having this entrepreneurial experience. Good news is, it all worked out.
#14 JASON REDMAN SOF Spoken
Due to my injuries and the positive overcome mindset I had built around myself, I was being asked to do speaking events for the US Navy and organizations that support us.
As I got more comfortable speaking, I looked back on my career; the achievements, the successes, the mistakes and failures and the incredible people I worked with and realized I had a lot of information to share that translated easily into the civilian world, because they were not military principles, they were human principles.
Thus, the idea to launch a speaking company built around these things was formed. A friend of mine gave me the idea to call it SOF Spoken, a play on words highlighting special operations need to speak softly but carry a big stick.
#15 CAM HOUSER 3 Day Startup
3 Day Startup was initially a student project. It was just some grad students who had experience in the startup game and were frustrated with how slow it was happening inside the university. So our approach was to take matters into our own hands and see what we could do with all this talent and potential sitting around to channel it towards startups.
Our first program was pretty messy. But one of the companies that came out of it raised a lot of money pretty quickly and a huge percentage of the students that participated not only gave us amazing feedback, but volunteered to help us run subsequent programs. It became clear to us that we were really doing something special.
I’m a guy who likes to get eight hours of sleep, I’ve always been that way. After the first 3 Day Startup program, it was Sunday night, my eyes were bloodshot, and I was dead tired. But I couldn’t sleep. I just had so much energy when I shouldn’t have had any.
For me, it was a really powerful experience that I was just shaking with energy on a Sunday night and barely slept any that entire evening because I had never experienced that much excitement and potential and collaboration before.
#16 JENNIFER BERSON Jeneration PR
I started Jeneration PR about 12 years ago because I wanted a career where I was in control of my time and could choose the clients I wanted to work with, and where I could provide a service to businesses I believed in, and was producing positive results that helped entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
The retainer business has been more successful than I ever imagined, and I feel incredibly lucky to be working with global brands that are the best in their industries.
I founded Jeneration Academy as a way to support entrepreneurs at all stages of business to learn the absolute best strategies to grow their brands. I have a very active & engaged Facebook community called Jeneration Insiders, and am preparing to launch my first signature course Press Success in September.
I want to teach everything I’ve learned how to do to grow businesses over the last 12 years, and help more entrepreneurs than just our retainer clients. Teaching has completely reinvigorated my passion for what I get to do in my business!
#17 BITTU KUMAR Enterslice
Technology can change lives and solve mass appeal problems. I started Enterslice to bring innovation in traditional businesses. Disrupt Industries the way Uber did and brought transparency in traditional business processes.
Hard work paid off. We are now in two countries, have subsidiaries in Technology & Lifestyle, Zero to Hundred Plus employees and Red Herring Top 100 Finalist This Year (Award due this September).
Startups are changing the way people were doing businesses, kicking mammoths and sharks out in record time, it intrigued me to start something. I followed my passion and that’s how Enterslice was born.
#18 SHADRACH VAUGHN Lite
Fortunately, my mother and father were both serial entrepreneurs. In my father’s lifetime he owned a pest control company and with my mother a real estate investment company. Growing up, I had the luxury of watching them work hard for something they are passionate about and be their own boss.
Early on, I knew I had the entrepreneurial mindset, just needed that extra push to get started. The entrepreneurial bug first bit me when I started working with my Co-Founder & friend Eddy Gramajo at a Big 4 Public Accounting Firm and we began to really take a major interest in financial literacy.
We would do lots of research and try to help friends and family as much as possible. Then, we realized what if there was a way to get this information to the world much easier. That’s when the idea of Lite App first sparked, a one-stop shop for financial literacy! Ultimately, we wanted to build a product that will help people help themselves!
#19 PETER NELSON UnDelay
My father was a serial entrepreneur and he convinced me to drop out of school in my final year of architecture college to start my own business.
He came to visit me for a week and even though we had no idea about what type of business to start, his unbridled confidence in my ability to succeed convinced me to try. He spent the week “training” me the basics of time management, budgeting, prospecting and self-education that included Zig Ziglar and Dale Carnegie books.
The final lesson that he delivered as I drove him to the airport was “you’re cut off”. Now, it may seem harsh but it was actually delivered with love and my best interests in mind.
It turned out to be the single most effective event that changed my priorities and work habits that led to my early success.
#20 ZACHERY NIELSON Shelby Company
As a child, I would start up my own little ‘businesses’ and develop my own ‘products’. They would range from a computer company to a baseball card store.
So for me, it was clear that I wanted to start my own business someday, eventually during my sophomore year in high school I started Pyra Labs, a design agency. The following year, I finished High School early, in order to focus and grow my company. I revamped the brand and rebranded as Shelby Company where I am active CEO today.
#21 HENRIK FISKER Innovator, Creator & Automotive Designer
My father was an entrepreneur. It was part of my upbringing sometimes to not have any pocket money at the end of the month. But my father always had exciting stories to tell from his business experiences that were engaging and exciting. These stories inspired me to become an entrepreneur and start a business to bring my ideas to market.
#22 ERICA SWALLOW Southern Swallow
I knew I was on to something with my digital consultancy Southern Swallow two years after founding it. I started the company in 2009, after graduating college and taking on my first client: The New York Times. To be honest, I started it out of necessity. The Times wasn’t in a position to hire a full-time social media marketing manager, so I settled as a consultant. What seemed like a trade-off was actually a blessing in disguise.
In 2010, I put Southern Swallow digital work to the side to take on an editorial role at tech publication Mashable. After an amazing experience with the company, managing and growing its supported content program, I decided to go full-time on Southern Swallow. Immediately out of the gate, I had a lineup of clients, waiting to work with me. That’s how I knew I was onto something.
#23 ALBERTO ALTAMIRANO Cityflag
I spent a lot of time organizing communities in Austin, Texas, mainly the east side or the city’s historically African-American and Latino neighborhoods. It didn’t take long for me to notice members of these communities complained about their local government and didn’t know who to talk to. And while they brought up plenty of social problems, most of the time they complained about infrastructure issues.
Residents said that they would vote for the candidate I was campaigning for, but who would fix the potholes, the graffiti, the missing stop signs, the power outages and so on? Research shows little issues like these really matter to the health and well-being of a neighborhood.
I insisted they could call 311 to report these type of incidents and their reply was instant. Some residents said they didn’t have time while others were undocumented and feared the government – so they never complained – even if there was vandalism all over their neighborhood. When I combined this knowledge with modern social media and mobile-tech, Cityflag was born to help connect average folks with their government.
#24 SANDRA LEWIS Worldwide101
Back in 2009, my husband and I moved our family from the US to the UK and so with it, came a change in my career. After working a very intense and consuming job for 22+ years in NYC, I wanted to find a way to continue to have a rewarding career without the stress of a commute, office politics and an all-around exhausting experience!
At the time, freelance was on the rise so I decided to give it a try. I started helping a few entrepreneurs on a virtual and contractual basis with HR consultancy and project management and soon my clients started referring their friends for my services.
I soon started noticing how hard it was for successful business owners and entrepreneurs to find and train skilled and reliable talent who would work on a flexible basis without breaking the bank. I set myself to provide a durable solution and that’s how Worldwide101 was born!
#25 MARK L. ROCKEFELLER StreetShares Inc.
My Co-Founder, Mickey Konson, and I shared a deep commitment to helping small businesses, especially those owned by military veterans. We spotted an opportunity to bring technology to bear to solve a need that small businesses had: fairly-priced funding to grow.
We met and dreamed up StreetShares over breakfast at a restaurant outside of Washington DC. We wanted to fund a generation of small business owners and allow everyday Americans to support these businesses financially. Do good. Do well. That was the inspiration.
#26 BRANDON ADAMS Ambitious Adventures
My co-host Greg Rollett came up with the idea to create a travel/entrepreneurship show. He filmed the pilot and showed it to me. This project was everything I believed in and what I already did for my podcast show.
I traveled to 27 states in 2015 interviewing entrepreneurs all across the country. This TV show is what I already do, but with cameras on. With my crowdfunding background and experience, I was a perfect match to partner with Greg to create this show. That’s exactly what we set out to do.
#27 JOSH TURNER LinkedUniversity
I’ve always had an interest in entrepreneurship. My dad ran his own construction business and for years, I thought I’d take it over after college. But then the economy went south and my dad’s business went under. I got into finance and worked for another construction company that eventually closed as well. Construction is a tough business!
At that point, I decided I was done working for other people. I’d learned so much about what not to do, and I felt so strongly that it was my turn. At first, I was working as a freelance CFO for businesses in St. Louis.
I got involved on LinkedIn and built up a group for prospects in my area, which positioned me quickly as an authority and helped me get the business off the ground. People started hiring me for CFO services…and then they started asking me if I could help them with LinkedIn, after seeing how well it was working for me. That’s how LinkedSelling was born.
After successfully running campaigns for other businesses for a while, I realized the next step would be to create an online course teaching people how to do the same thing for their own business.
#28 DANE CHRISTIANSON Moving Parts LLC
Starting a business was a bit of an afterthought. I did have in mind that I wanted to start a business at some point in my life, but I didn’t know where to start.
The opportunity came after I prototyped my X-Cube, which I was only building for fun at the time. When I showed a video of the prototype online, it went viral. I figured it would make for a good first venture.
#29 STEFANIE BOTELHO Fitzroy Toys
While most kids had a lemonade stand, I made and sold finger puppets to my classmates. Later on, I started shopping more frequently for toys for friends and family and loved discovering something new and unique to give to the little ones and big kid-at-hearts in my life.
That interest grew into a toy recommendation engine I built and ran while I was at Harvard Business School. As I started spending more time with the brands I was recommending, I saw there were several inefficiencies that still exist in wholesale. As a result, I decided to start Fitzroy Toys, an online marketplace that connects toymakers to retailers.
We provide toymakers with broader distribution at a lower cost and give retailers a 24/7 platform to easily discover unique products. We want to ensure retailers have the best products to enable their customers to learn, develop, and grow.
Because we’re focused on B2B distribution, we’re looking to redefine tech standards for a large, antiquated industry that is currently going through a reinvention with the entrance of a lot of fast growing, new players.
We see makers, designers, mompreneurs, and inventors getting their toy ideas off the ground with crowdfunding and we are here to help them with their next step of getting their products onto online and offline shelves.
#30 ERICKA LOZANO-BUHL Mixto Communications
When my daughter Rory was born, I took six months of maternity leave from my digital strategy director position. After a lifetime of being a Type A overachieving workaholic, I found my priorities shifting. Being home for dinner and spending weekends together as a family became really important.
Despite the many benefits of working for someone else (like health insurance and paid time off), I realized there was no way for me to live the life I wanted unless I became my own boss. I started Mixto Communications as a side hustle when I returned to work; a well-timed buyout from my former company early last year allowed me to focus on growing my business.
#31 JENA RODRIGUEZ Brand with Jena
In 2007, I joined forces with my husband, Alex, in his web and graphic design company. We quadrupled the business over the next 5 years and in 2012, I realized that I wanted to create a different business using my strongest skillsets – brand strategy, branding design, profit enhancement methods and business coaching.
At the same time, my husband was feeling disenchanted with web work and wanted to return to his musician roots full time. So January 1st, 2013, Brand With Jena was born when I took over the business and re-branded.
It was a tough transition, yet turned out to be the best thing for both my husband and I. We’re now living our brand and I’ve created a multi-6-figure business and a location-freedom lifestyle.
#32 JOHN BROWN Business Enterprise Institute (BEI)
I’m from a family of business owners. I saw my parents, Harold and Helen Brown, work 12-hour days, six days a week. These slackers rested on the seventh day—working only 8 hours at the store.
When they retired they sold the business to their key employee for a promissory note. Within a year the note was mostly unpaid and the store was shuttered. My parents received a total of three monthly payments on a ten-year note—their total return for 25 years of unending toil. Thank God I didn’t accept my Dad’s offer to take over the business! Instead, I went to law school.
As an attorney, I saw the same pattern of owners working to the point of burnout. Few took advantage of the value they had built in their businesses to benefit from their lives’ work. They didn’t prepare themselves or their businesses for the best possible exits. I wanted to help these owners so they didn’t end up like my parents.
#33 MARCIA NELSON Deals and Divas
I started Deals & Divas as a networking platform to support my business development efforts inside an accounting firm. We were looking to build out our women’s initiative and I came up with a catchy name.
Initially, I had no plans to turn it into a business, but it started to grow and gain traction, and we started to get some press around what we were doing. After four years of running it in-house, I launched Deals & Divas, LLC as my own company.
#34 JESS EKSTROM Headbands of Hope
During the summer of 2011 when I was in college, I interned at a wish-granting organization for kids with life-threatening illnesses. I saw so many girls migrating towards headbands instead of wigs after hair-loss. Headbands gave them the opportunity to regain their confidence without hiding what they’re going through with a wig.
I started searching for organizations that provided headbands to girls undergoing chemotherapy but couldn’t find any. Therefore, I founded HeadbandsOfHope.com in April 2012 during my junior year of college. For every headband sold, one is given to a child with cancer.
#35 NETTIE NITZBERG West5 Consulting
I had just left a big corporate job and moved to a new city where the job market was awful. I had a master’s degree in human resources with a focus on instructional design. Combine that with a background in professional services and learning and development, and I suddenly realized that I could fulfil a market (and personal) need as a solo practitioner.
I loved the work I did and thought… I can combine my skills to offer both strategic consulting and tactical skills in instructional design to organizations that want to develop curricula but have no idea where to start. I just needed to find my first customer and begin to build and market my services. That was 22 years ago.
#36 ERIN CHASE $5 Dinners
I started $5 Dinners in the summer of 2008, when gas prices started to skyrocket and I needed to cut our grocery spending. Groceries were the only line item left in our personal budget that I had complete control over and could reduce drastically.
I didn’t start out with a business mindset, but quickly learned that the site and concept was a differentiator from what others were doing.
#37 FELIX ABREFA MENSAH Young Achievers Caucus (YAC)
I have always desired to be a positive change maker by helping solve problems that bedevils my community. This desire pushed me into volunteering and joining youth groups such as Curious Minds and YES Ghana to make my input to help solve problems facing children and youths in Ghana.
This passion was heightened when I met Miss Rosaline Akonnor (Founder and President of YAC) at a national youth volunteer camp in 2011. She shared her passion and vision which she had for young girls and children living in deprived communities of Ghana, which was to help bring an end to teenage pregnancy and to support children living in deprived communities to enhance their development holistically.
I fell in love with the vision and under my leadership and the support of other enthusiastic young people who also shared in the vision started the organization which is now known as ‘Young Achievers Caucus (YAC)’.
#38 DIAMOND GREER Let’s Vibe
Our ‘Aha’ moment came in waves, like most things do as an entrepreneur. The first ‘Aha’ moment occurred when we were able to bring 40 women together to simply test our idea and gained a space and drink sponsor in just under 2 weeks (yes, we knocked it out in 2 weeks).
Our second ‘Aha’ moment occurred when we went from our original 40 to 218 women, 4 partnerships, and 1 client in just 7 months by word-of-mouth. We had a demand for designing experiences that were human-centered and inclusive.
Our community demanded more opportunities for meaningful connectivity and development, while individuals and organizations began coming to us to help them to provide their target markets with similar experiences. After our 12 months, we knew we’d be able to move from purely social to social entrepreneurship based upon what our target audience need as well as our future target market.
#39 JENNIFER CHASE Frugi Home Organizer, LLC
I got bit by the Entrepreneur bug very early! Operating my first lemonade stand when I was 8 yrs old, I figured out I could do this forever!
Frugi Home Organizer, LLC is a Home & Business Professional Organizing company started in Colorado. Partnering with other entrepreneurs looking to start & operate an easy business system & earn extra income. We serve Home Owners & Sellers, and work closely with Real Estate Agents/Brokers throughout Colorado.
#40 KELLY MEERBOTT Leadership Coach
February 2010, when I paid my business taxes for the first time. I knew if I owed the IRS a tax payment I made money. It was at that moment that my mind shifted from coaching as a hobby to coaching as a business.
Over the past 8 years, I have a folder full of emails from people who were clients or prospects whose lives were changed by one conversation we had together.
#41 ADAM SEGAL Cove
The idea for Cove came from a personal need. I had worked from home as well as a traditional office setting, but found myself gravitating to more non-traditional work settings like coffee shops.
As I look around, I saw that others enjoyed and appreciated a similar environment. So my co-founder and I set out to create a productive space that combined people and productivity.
#42 ANDY KARUZA Fensens
My partner Henry came to me with an idea to do a Bluetooth enabled parking sensor. After thinking about it over the weekend, the concept evolved a bit more based on what we were seeing in the real world.
Henry had the real worry about backing over his kid. I noticed that practically everybody struggled when trying to parallel park on a busy street. That’s what made us look further into why people didn’t have this great technology that’s a big selling point for many new vehicles today.
We found the two key barriers to this technology were that it was too expensive or much too difficult to install and typically requiring an expensive professional to help.
#43 ANDREJ KOSTRESEVIC Nomads
I’ve had a thirst for “doing my own thing” for as long as I can remember—my first entrepreneurial endeavor was in elementary school. Nomads came out of 2 needs I ran across when I was organizing a community group called the Miami Android Developers.
I met many developers looking for projects, and even more startups looking for developers. At that time, my passion was to “put a ding in the universe”, specifically through mobile, which was then a brand new frontier in human-computer interaction that quickly became too much to resist. I quit my job, and jumped in head-first.
#44 LOU PARIS Konkeros
I guess I always had the “trep bug”. I filed for my first patent when I was 13 years old (I invented a shoe strap for skateboarding). While the patent submission didn’t lead to the creation of a business, I learned about the effort required to act upon an idea.
Intuitively, I discovered most people have business ideas, but only a few act upon them. I also realized, as long as I continue acting upon my ideas and learning from my mistakes, at some point I will have a successful business.
#45 JOSHUA DAVIDSON Chop Dawg
Back in August of 2009, I realized already that the world was moving mobile and becoming completely software driven. Unfortunately, the service industry wasn’t catching up to this. Either you dealt with an American development firm that would charge you a second mortgage to create your app, and it would end up being an incredibly expensive toy, or, you outsourced overseas and more often than not, dealt with a horror movie plot.
The solutions stunk. I realized then and there, there had to be a better way and created ChopDawg.com to solve that problem. A one-stop shop, where you can not only bring your app idea to life in a much more affordable pricing model, but as well, a one-stop solution to help you with your marketing strategies, maturing your product idea, train you on how to become an entrepreneur, assist in raising funds, and much more.
#46 THOMAS L. MCLAUGHLIN CapFigure Sports
When I was a young boy I had a reading disability, so while your average five year old was reading Dr. Seuss, there I was memorizing the back of baseball cards. Sports has always been the driving passion in my life, I never lost sight of that obsession.
After a few years of training as an investment banker, it became clear to me that my experiences and skills in the financial sector were totally applicable to the sports industry. Still to this day, I apologize to my friends because I would send these multiple page rants about salary cap implications whenever a team would overpay a free-agent athlete.
That was where it all really came to light though. Through the encouragement and support of those very friends, I began believing in my abilities and took that initial step toward what is now known as CapFigure Sports.
#47 PATRICIA IYER Legal Nurse Consultant
In 1987 when I was investigating ideas about how I could use my nursing expertise to become self-employed, I attended a one day program about career alternatives for nurses. The speaker’s description of nursing expert witnesses captured my attention. Once I learned how to find attorneys who handled medical malpractice cases, I approached some offering to review their cases and got a steady stream of requests.
Two years after I started reviewing cases as a medical surgical nursing expert witness, I received a request to review an emergency department case. “I can’t review that case myself, but I have a well-qualified ER nurse colleague I can recommend,” I told the attorney. He hired her. I suddenly realized I could be billing for the services of nursing expert witnesses who covered specialties within nursing. That insight led to the creation of my independent legal nurse consulting business.
#48 LUCAS YOUNG HERB
HERB was originally an idea we had called The Stoner’s Cookbook. It was a parody of a famous New Zealand cookbook, a staple in many homes, called The Edmonds Cookbook. Marijuana was (and still is) illegal in New Zealand, but like most countries, this doesn’t stop people from smoking it. It occurred to us that intoxicated users often got “the munchies” and would eat outrageous culinary concoctions – cereal + ice cream, for example.
As we were focused on web development, and trying to kick off new online business ideas, we wondered if a recipe website for this sort of “stoner meal” might be a popular idea. The thing about starting new businesses is that sometimes the idea you least expect to be a winner is the one that takes off, and The Stoner’s Cookbook was certainly that sort of project – it started as a bit of fun on the side.
We built the site in 2006 and it allowed the public to submit recipes (with or without the inclusion of a cannabis element). It languished a little over the intervening 3 years and in 2009, I was surprised to discover it had become the number one cannabis recipe resource on the net!
From that point forward we took it seriously, and it’s grown in fits and starts to the entity we know as HERB today.
#49 STEVE CUNNINGHAM Readitfor.me
Readitfor.me came about by accident. I was a lawyer for exactly one week (I believe that’s a world record), and joined my family business.
Shortly after I started up a marketing agency, I began taking meetings with potential clients who wanted to hear about how they could use social media to grow their brand. This was back when there were no real case studies on how to do it, so tons of them used our free consultations with no intention of ever working with us.
As soon as I realized what was happening, I decided that we needed to create our own social media case study if we were ever going close any real clients.
I noticed that on the shelves of the people I was meeting – VPs of marketing and business owners – were business books that I was familiar with. To create some rapport in those meetings, I would ask them what they thought about “this idea from that book.” They would stare blankly at me and finally admit that they hadn’t read “that” book, or any of the other books on their shelf.
I decided that this was the opportunity we were looking for. We would create 12-minute animated video summaries of those books, see if we could get it to spread virally among the people we were trying to do business with, and use that as our case study.
It worked, so much so that venture capitalists called us to ask what our business model was (we didn’t have one), and people started emailing asking us how they could pay for the service (they couldn’t).
So, completely by accident, we had created a business that was originally intended to be a content marketing strategy.
#50 KRISTA WHITLEY Social Media Unicorn
I was working as the Chief Social Media Strategist at an ad agency and I realized we spent a massive amount of time doing everything except for actually DOING anything. I spent hours logging hours, meetings upon meetings, all with a small percentage of my day spent DOING what I loved.
I finally decided enough was enough and created Social Media Unicorn from my couch as one lady with a laptop to spend my days getting social done for clients who valued action and results.
Historically in literature, unicorns appear to people who are in need of help and guidance and all too often my clients come to me because they are in need of social media help and guidance. They’re sick and tired of Twitter and a hug. They want Twitter and bottom line growth.
#51 JOSH HINDS Motivational Speaker & Author
I first became interested in entrepreneurship around 15 or so when I went to work in our family business. My father created a job for me where I would call prospective clients and qualify them. I would turn them over to our sales people because no one’s going to take 15 year old seriously. I’m not so sure why he taught me at that age. He said, it was something I was going to succeed at, and I did!
From there my interest in entrepreneurship, professional and personal development grew. I’m still very much a student of human potential and personal development. That early exposure to small business and entrepreneurship was a blessing.
#52 ANDY BERAN Envoy America
As my parents aged, we struggled to find reliable and safe transportation options. We didn’t feel comfortable with them driving, yet they certainly weren’t ready to move to a Senior Living Community.
They needed help getting around – and the typical solutions – like Taxi’s, or public transportation just didn’t work. They needed someone to do the driving, but also to help with shopping, carry heavy bags, wait for them at the doctor’s office, and more. My sister helped a lot, but I was living 3,000 miles away.
We designed Envoy America to be the solution that my parents, and millions of other Seniors and their families, were looking for.
#53 NIRMAL PARIKH BEEP
The idea for BEEP struck me while attending the Inc. GrowCo conference in Nashville about 18 months ago. We’d just started working with Beacons and (at the time) were focused on building TravelTag, a mobile app that would let you track your checked bags.
But, during my conversations with attendees at the event, a few exhibitors and the folks from Inc., I realized there was a huge opportunity to transform events and conferences through the same proximity-based marketing tech. I talked to a few event planners and organizers once I was back in Boston and that’s when I realized we were on to something really big!
#54 KIM KAUPE ZinePak
Brittany, my co-founder, and I were motivated by the belief that we could add value to a space in the music industry that needed innovation and fresh ideas.
Our initial idea, packaging physical music product with merchandise and content to sell at retail, is what we honed in on and perfected in the first two years of our business. Since then, we have expanded into many different products, arenas, and categories that all have one common link – superfans!
#55 TATIANA J WHYTELORD IBE
When I started IBE, it was very clear to me that I would not go back to the corporate world because I had accomplished what I set out to do in that environment. Time had come to try something new and most importantly to take my destiny into my own hands.
So in a way IBE was never an idea, it was always going to be a business and this is how I treated it from the outset. Because there was a real need for this in the marketplace, quickly after setting up we had our first clients and the rest is history! Obviously, there was trial and error and many adjustments along the road but never was there a moment where I thought perhaps I had best do something else.
#56 SARA MAUSKOPF Winnie
I started Winnie in January 2016 with my co-founder Anne Halsall. I had recently given birth to my daughter and I realized there was so much information I needed to know about where I could take her and what I could do with her. Did my favorite restaurant have a changing table in the bathroom? Was there anywhere indoors I could take her to play nearby?
Winnie provides this information and more. It helps parents find great places to go with their children. It gives them local information from other parents about schools, doctors, playgrounds, and so much more.
#57 KYLE SAMANI Intellectual and Capitalist
I started Pristine mostly out of desire to start something for the sake of starting something. Google had just announced Glass, and it was by far the shiniest of new toys at the time. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
I also knew quite a bit about the intricacies of hospital operations. Naturally, I saw an opportunity to bring Glass to hospitals. So I started with a solution, and started running as fast as I could without actually having a problem. Luckily, I found one, which was a combination of luck and hustle.
For my new business, it’s been the exact opposite process. I had some questions about the legal system that I was unable to answer. So I kept digging deeper and deeper until I discovered what I think is the root cause of my initial problem. And now that’s keeping me occupied full time.
#58 ROMEO MAN MAN Digital
When I was in Uni ( back in 2004), I got very involved in AIESEC, which is one of the biggest youth-run organizations in the world. I learned a lot about entrepreneurship but especially about marketing. At the same time, I was helping my dad run his restaurant which I’ve been doing since I was a kid.
So, marketing, sales and entrepreneurship was in the family blood, but still I didn’t start right away as I was afraid to believe. I joined big corporations like DHL, Electrolux and Premier Farnell ( known in the US as Newark.com), where I learned a bunch of things about marketing automation, sales and development.
Having all these, I was still afraid to start my own business (here in Europe we’re not the risk takers Americans are), so I joined an ex-US army officer, Samuel Cook who was building a digital publishing company here in Krakow. I joined him and learned a lot about how to run a digital marketing company.
Having all these experiences and know-how, I started MAN Digital to help companies tell their stories and generate leads in the process.
#59 AMY BETHEA Lifelong.Media
It came from a desire that I had along with one of my team members to start a fun, animation-based project for our special needs children called, The Polka Dot Project. One conversation and one email led to many, many more … and we came up with the idea for Lifelong Media – an edutainment company & social enterprise designed to impart lifelong learning of core values – soft skills – for learners of all ages to be equipped for success in their personal lives and careers.
#60 DEREK DEVORE Duvora
This happened when we “soft launched” the product to a small group of people in the beginning. We received such heartwarming feedback and a lot of “Thank you” emails and phone calls. It was a moment of clarity – like, “Wow, this is something people really need.”
I truly believe that any entrepreneur has the ability to disrupt any industry if they’re willing to really look deep into the pain points of individuals and solve their problems. The reason most get stuck is that their thinking has been conditioned by their environment into thinking like the masses; i.e., “This is the way it’s always been and there’s no need to fix what isn’t broken, etc.”
I believe the key is to understand what the consumer wants and deliver it to them, before they even knew they needed it.
#61 ADAM HOWELL Alpha Male Blueprint
When I first started working online back in 2012, I was able to achieve success in the affiliate marketing industry almost overnight. Our small team was able to generate over 7-figures in revenue within our first year and for a brief moment, I felt as though I might have this online business thing figured out.
The issue was that even though the money was rolling in, it lacked the fulfillment I was looking for in life. Selling people products and services that people didn’t necessarily need didn’t bring any kind of long term satisfaction.
It was at this point that I had to take a long hard look and determine what it was that made me happy and the answer was helping other people and personal growth. It was at this point that I decided to launch Alpha Male Blueprint.
#62 MICHELE MEHL Excy
Like many busy parents, my work schedule, household responsibilities, and desire to be the best possible wife, mom, sister, daughter, and friend sidelined most of my exercise goals. I was paying for a gym membership I wasn’t using (like 4 out of 6 Americans do), yet refused to cancel it because I felt that was admitting failure.
I would get on the wagon to get fit, yet fall off quickly to watch the dust pile up on the treadmill, weights, and bicycle trainer in my basement. I was at my highest weight, didn’t feel healthy, and knew I was on the wrong genetic pathway — with my dad having had two heart attacks and my mom having high blood pressure.
So, I recruited Mike and tapped my life savings to create a convenient way to exercise more frequently to help people fight preventable disease and live a healthier lifestyle.
#63 CARLOS VAZ CONTI Organization
The first spark was at an early age working on a farm with my father. At first, I never thought of starting a business but with time I realized that it would be the best way to provide for my family and those I care about.
The idea for CONTI organization was very simple, CONTI is my mother’s maiden name. I wanted to find a way to carry on my mother’s name. She is someone who is humble, never complained and always did her best to provide together with my father.
#64 ANNA RUTH VANLANDINGHAM Pinterest Pro Solutions
I was retiring from teaching economics and wanted to begin a second career. A friend introduced me to Pinterest when you still needed an invitation to have an account. After I joined, I got all these invites, repins, etc. and thought, “This would be a great marketing tool.” Shortly after that, businesses began to use Pinterest for marketing.
I loved the way the social networking site was structured and I felt that if I could get in on the ground floor, instead of working in a saturated market, such as Facebook or Twitter, I could continue to be an educator and leverage my years of marketing experience at the same time. Also, as an economics teacher, I love to watch things grow.
#65 BRETT AND JENNIFER CRAMER The Spice Lab
We were selling our tech business in 2009 and Brett became interested in artisan sea salts and began ordering 5 and 10 bags of various salts. Realizing the huge amount of salt that had been delivered to our door, he decided to make holiday gifts for family and friends.
He crafted a wooden base from scrap lumber to hold test tubes of the salts. When people saw what he had created they asked to buy them for gifts for others so he put them up on Amazon, just before Thanksgiving. That following Monday, he discovered we had sold out—and The Spice Lab was born!
#66 JACOB CRAMER Love for the Elderly
Many people don’t know this about me, but I actually had another journey into the world of entrepreneurship before “Love for the Elderly” took off. I started a business called “Poetic Possibilities,” which was essentially a site for poetry-aficionados like me to meet, enter contests, and become inspired.
However, I realized this wasn’t something I was truly passionate about. I wanted to do something not to make money, but to give back—so I founded Love for the Elderly in December of 2013 with the goal of bringing some love to lonely seniors. My true ‘aha moment’ came when I was featured on The Huffington Post; I realized I might be onto something big.
#67 STEVE O’DELL Tenzo Tea, ACCESS & Ad Valorum
I got started with entrepreneurship in the summer of 2014 while taking a summer class at UCLA called, “Entrepreneurial Communication” with Dr. Stephen Peterson, PhD. On the first day of class we listened to a speech by Simon Sinek, called “Selling with the Why”, this really sucked me into the class and beyond. When it finished, I was already calling myself an entrepreneur.
I wouldn’t necessarily qualify this as an ‘aha’ moment because it was more gradual, I didn’t sleep with entrepreneurship on the first date. But, I did explore and learn. I found that a lot of the skills I developed as an athlete translated perfectly to entrepreneurship. Hard work, leadership, strategy, and even things as random as contingency plans all applied to startups as well as athletics.
#68 MARIA YUAN IssueVoter
In college, I had first-hand experience with our State reps as part of a small group of students who lobbied the Texas Legislature to introduce and pass a bill creating the first student seat on the University of Texas System’s Board of Regents. I also served as an intern for a Rep, where I saw first-hand that Representatives really do track every constituent contact, yet such a small percentage of us actually reach out.
After graduating from UT-Austin (Hook’em!) where I majored in Finance, I worked at JPMorgan in Investment Banking. After a few years at JPMorgan, I took a leave of absence to manage one of the most targeted races in Iowa: an open seat in a swing district that many hoped would turn the “25D-25R” even-split in the State Senate. And that’s where I first envisioned the idea for IssueVoter.
I distinctly remember sitting in the office on my laptop and thinking, “There’s so much focus on elections, but there should be an easy way to track what our reps are doing throughout the year when the work that impacts our lives gets done.” And thinking, “Someday, technology will get there. Someone will create this and I’ll be able to use it!” I didn’t expect that someone to be me.
#69 LAUREN KATZBERG AND JULIA CARMONA STYLISTED
Getting Stylisted off the ground was rather unique because we had the challenges of a dual-sided market (arguably one of the hardest business models to tackle), but we had the advantage of a business that could function with a very lean MVP.
We didn’t need to build anything (tangible or otherwise) before we could start operating. Once we had a handful of stylists on board, our peers were our first clients and a Facebook page (for messaging and fielding requests) let us start booking appointments.
We would send out a PDF’d PowerPoint deck with stylist profiles and ask our friends to pick who they liked. Friends started telling other friends and stylsits began approaching us to join the network. Once we saw demand from both sides, we knew we had something.
#70 RICHARD COLLINS Istation
My family has been interested in education, specifically kids who didn’t get every break in the world, for generations. In trying to make a difference, I’ve found that some issues are simply radioactive. For example, vouchers are radioactive on both sides, but everyone is in favor of the effective use of technology in school — that’s a universally positive issue.
In my personal experience, I’ve found that every child has a unique ability — it could be as a student, could be as an athlete — but in order to be successful in life, every child needs to learn how to read. It’s the idea of merging technology with the fundamental need to read that ultimately led to the formation of Istation.
#71 RAKIA REYNOLDS Skai Blue Media
I started out in TV production and when I got laid off, I saw it as an opportunity to do something I really loved. I’m a natural storyteller and my mind has always worked in visuals. So, I set my eyes on the world of public relations.
I’m a firm believer in staying in your lane and doing the things you do best. I knew that traditional PR wasn’t going to work for me. I spent a year at a PR firm and I was miserable. I didn’t fit the mold, so I chose to break it instead. I wanted to capitalize on the fact that I was great at multimedia and visual communications and using things like experiential marketing and social media.
In traditional PR, no one was using those techniques as the main part of their approach but I knew I could use those mediums to tell compelling stories for brands. So, I built Skai Blue Media around that. Now, I look around and see that other PR firms are catching on to the idea of the non-traditional.
#72 LESA HAMMOND ProfHire
Prior to starting ProfHire, I’d worked in higher education for 20 years and as the chief human resources officer at three universities. During that time, it became clear there’s a significant need that colleges and universities have to quickly find qualified part-time faculty and appropriately onboard them. There is also a desire to increase the diversity of faculty on campuses and most part-time faculty are found through colleague referral.
At the same time, when I told someone my job, they would ask how they could get a job teaching part-time. I realized that there was clearly a need to match these employers and employees in a way that had not been done before.
ProfHire is a web-based platform to connect colleges and universities with vetted scholars and industry professionals for faculty positions. We specialize in part-time faculty but also recruit for full-time.
#73 ELAD SHOUSHAN Ready4
The catalyst for creating Ready4 GMAT was my weak performance on the GMAT the first 4 times I took the test. Even though I spent money on expensive guides and courses, my GMAT score didn’t improve. It became clear to me that there was a major gap in the test prep industry for a solution that provides students with an adaptive, convenient, and entirely mobile study experience.
In 2012, I applied to MIT Sloan, quit my job at General Electric, and spent six months coding a test prep app that would eventually become Ready4 GMAT. The first GMAT app went live in the Apple App Store during my first day at Sloan, and has since evolved into Ready4, a leading mobile education company with cutting-edge learning technology packaged in mobile apps for the GMAT, GRE, SAT, ACT, PSAT, and MCAT.
#74 CILER AY TEK Smart Moderation
To me, when we realized that there were no current companies that moderated abusive comments and unwanted spam Ads with artificial intelligence. That was the ‘Aha!’ moment. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of advantages to being the first in any niche. Because of my marketing career, I was aware of the importance of social media management and I remember that we used to make a great effort to reduce negative impacts of inappropriate comments.
There were tools that we utilized to moderate comments but they took a lot of time to use and always required an immense human effort. Also, imagine the psychological impacts of being a comment moderator; most moderators have a really hard time dealing with abusive and traumatic language.
As a person who knows all side effects of human comment moderation, dealing with the ugly parts through A.I. gets me really excited.
#75 LARRY NICHOLSON BluPrint Consultants, LLC
I originally got the idea for BluPrint Consultants back in early 2013. I had always volunteered my time to help entrepreneurs while serving on the board for several non-profit organizations. That was when I really saw a need that entrepreneurs needed real guidance from a professional who had real life business experience and who also had experienced the trials and tribulations of entrepreneurship.
What I set out to accomplish that was different than competitors and nonprofit organizations was to really help and serve growing entrepreneurs on a much more personal level. I saw the challenges that entrepreneurs were facing in Florida and wanted to make a difference by bringing an innovative perspective to the businesses of my clients.
#76 ERIC ALLEN Admit.me
We built an admissions consulting business, Admit Advantage, helping our clients with the application process for highly competitive high schools, colleges and grad schools around the world.
As we built the business, we realized that many more people needed our services than could afford it, so we had to think of a way to scale our offering for free. My co-founder, Kofi, actually came up with the concept of Admit.me and I like to think I made it better. LOL!
#77 DAN WATKINS GloFX
I started GloFX because I was tired of working for other people. Sometimes, you just realize that all of your hard work is paying off for someone else. GloFX was originally a side project.
I am a big fan of the 80/20 rule, and I realized I had an actual business when I spent about 20% of my time on GloFX, but it was generating about 80% of my personal income. That says a lot when you’re working a 40 hour a week job and 80% of your income is coming from somewhere else.
#78 MATT CERTO Findsome & Winmore
I originally started the company in 1995 as a website development firm called WebSolvers. At that time, there wasn’t much to digital marketing but I saw the need for small businesses and non-profit organizations to create websites as the Web became more and more integral.
At the age of 19, I knew enough about marketing and technology to know that the internet was going to be big! We changed the name years later to reflect the breadth of services and practices that we wanted to embody well beyond website creation.
#79 ALEJANDRO RIOJA Young Slacker
I always wanted to be an entrepreneur because I just can’t stand not pursuing my dreams. For me, there’s nothing more rewarding than working on something of my own.
Even before I started Flux or Young Slacker, I had a few projects (freelancing, another startup and coding projects) that I felt very strongly about and that I couldn’t see myself not pursuing.
The more I worked on my independent projects, the more I realized that I didn’t want to work for someone and that the corporate 9-5 ladder wasn’t quite for me. Since I was young, I wanted to create my own path. So I did.
#80 CHRIS HURN Fountainhead Commercial Capital
I’ve been in the small business lending industry for almost two decades and previously founded another company that grew to be one of the largest SBA 504 lenders in the country. I sold that company but still had a personal passion to help small business owners. I will always believe that one of the greatest wealth creation tools for entrepreneurs is to own their commercial real estate instead of leasing. It’s an investment that always returns and can have a meteoric impact on long term net worth.
That’s why I couldn’t stay out of the game. As an entrepreneur, I knew the challenges and couldn’t sit by and not use the SBA 504 program to ignite small business owners to greater success. I aggressively gathered a world class team and launched only six months after making the decision to jump back into the industry. I’d done it successfully before, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have the same concerns about a new business and everything that goes with it: staffing, funding, scaling, etc.
I knew before starting my first company that I had a viable business concept. It’s often called disruption when you do things differently. I just call it common sense, and the best way to serve my clients. After multiple executive positions in finance and real estate, it was easy to see the cracks that small business owners were falling through.
Bringing Your 'Aha' Moment to Life
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How about accounting software, business planning software, incorporation services, and access to affordable legal advice? Use the link below to check out the best resources for starting a business we review to help bring your 'aha' idea to life. Cheers!