Charlotte Entrepreneur Growth Report
The Charlotte Entrepreneur Growth Report is the region’s first systematic evaluation of its diverse and rapidly growing innovation-driven entrepreneurship community. The initial 2015 edition was funded by the Charlotte Regional Fund for Entrepreneurship a public-private, entrepreneurial initiative spearheaded by the City of Charlotte and administered by Foundation For The Carolinas. The report has been researched and created through the collaborative efforts of Ventureprise, Inc., the Business Innovation & Growth Council, and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.
This website provides access to data elements examined as part of the CEGR. The CEGR Summary Report and CEGR Comprehensive Report are available for download below.
For inquiries or comments, please contact Ventureprise at firstname.lastname@example.org.
2015 Featured Companies
Metro Charlotte includes many innovation-driven entrepreneurs building successful businesses. The Charlotte Entrepreneur Growth Report includes brief snapshots of these ventures. Each company is distinctive and accomplished in its own way. Their stories inspire emerging entrepreneurs and those who work to support the region’s entrepreneurs. Click a company name below to read their story.
AccruePartners Achieves Seven Inc. 5000 Rankings
AccruePartners joined a rarified group of consistent, high-growth companies when it was named to the Inc. 5000 fastest growing private companies list in 2015. The ranking included 65 Charlotte metro companies, but AccruePartners stands alone this year with seven appearances since the Inc. 5000 began in 2007.
The foundation for this extraordinary record of growth was established beginning in 2002 by founders Patty Comer and Amy Pack. Their initial concept was to build an industry-leading staffing and executive search firm that would provide a high-touch experience and strong delivery on candidate quality. Charlotte proved to be an excellent headquarters with its diversity of corporations, exceptional talent, and a business community receptive to entrepreneurs.
The company’s growth record has been remarkable although not without challenges. The deep recession was an eye-opener to these two entrepreneurs but Charlotte’s industry sector diversification cushioned the impact.
AccruePartners expanded its reach in 2013 as it built a National Recruiting Center to serve a growing number of clients seeking nationwide placements. This enables the company to grow with its clients while reducing the risk of entering new markets. AccruePartners now offers its services in 33 states. As a WBENC-certified organization with a strong management team and over 50 best-in-class recruiters, the company works to surpass the expectations of its clients and candidates on a daily basis.
The AccruePartners approach has delivered outstanding organic growth while achieving industry recognition such as Inavero’s Best of Staffing award for client and talent satisfaction.
- Woman-owned business reports 170% 3-year revenue growth for 2014.
- AccruePartners is the only 2015 Charlotte Inc. 5000 company to have achieved Inc. 5000 ranking seven times.
- AccruePartners illustrates Charlotte’s growing strength in fast-growing human resources companies.
Industry—Human Resources | Founded—2002
AvidXchange Astounding Growth from Voice of Customer
Entrepreneurial success rarely follows a straight line. AvidXchange, which attracted substantial investment in 2015, demonstrates that the most brilliant entrepreneurs listen and respond to customers.
Co-founders Mike Praeger and David Miller met for coffee in 2000 to share business war stories. Their conversation soon led to formation of a team to pursue the “big opportunity” providing marketplace services to the real estate industry.
By mid-2002, the founders realized that the big opportunity was not being realized for lack of customer interest. An Atlanta prospect responded to a sales call by politely informing the team that he had no interest in AvidXchange’s product. What he said next, however, led to today’s success story. He loved their invoice presentment module and would buy it if sold independently.
The voice of the customer resonates loudly at AvidXchange. On the drive home to Charlotte, it was agreed that an independent module was the way to go. AvidInvoice, an accounts payable automation solution, was launched to enthusiastic customer response. The momentum grew making AvidXchange a leading provider of midmarket invoice management solutions.
The company’s products created customer operational efficiencies which, combined with excellent support, led to a 98% customer retention rate. This loyal base produced a predictable revenue model that grew exponentially. From 2009 through 2015, AvidXchange acquired three companies (EnergySolve, Piracle, and StrongRoom) to broaden capabilities, better serve customers, and accelerate company growth. Collectively, the acquisitions enable a comprehensive automated bill payment solution including the ability to facilitate electronic payments for clients and vendors.
Today, AvidXchange has more than 5,000 clients and over 200,000 vendors in its payment network. Employment exceeds 420 people including over 200 added within the last year.
The company closed a $225 million financing led by Bain Capital Ventures in 2015. Rapid growth will not slow anytime soon as AvidXchange puts the funding to work hiring staff to support client growth, making strategic acquisitions, and developing new products.
- Consistent, high growth has resulted in five consecutive years on the Inc. 5000 list.
- Customer-oriented FinTech business strategy pivot enabled marketplace success.
- High growth, large market, and strong financial performance led to large national investor.
Industry—Software | Founded—2000
InfoSense from Faculty Research to International Markets
When electrical engineering professor Dr. Ivan Howitt considered a career move, UNC Charlotte’s respect for industry-oriented research and the faculty’s inter-disciplinary teamwork impressed him. His academic research accomplishments had most often come from addressing a well-defined problem from industry. Charlotte Water brought him a tough problem, sewer pipe blockages and breakages, and the result is InfoSense.
InfoSense uses acoustic technology to assess the condition of sewer pipes enabling preventive maintenance that eliminates environmental problems while saving money for utilities. This novel solution was invented as the Charlotte Water problem experts interacted with a university researcher who had the domain knowledge for a potential novel solution.
Technical development was accelerated in 2009 when the company was awarded an initial National Science Foundation Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. The SBIR grant requirements led the company to involvement with the Ben Craig Center business incubator (now Ventureprise).
As InfoSense progressed, it gained recognition and funding from NC IDEA, the Charlotte Venture Challenge, and the Chamber PowerUp competition. In addition to funding, these programs led InfoSense to build a management team (George Selembo and Alex Churchill) that has proven financial, business development, and entrepreneurial growth expertise.
Today, the company is cash flow positive and sells its products throughout the U.S. and through formal distribution arrangements in 11 countries. The company has been self-financed and the principals have made substantial sweat equity commitments. Rapid revenue growth qualifies InfoSense for Charlotte Business Journal 2015 Fast 50 recognition.
The InfoSense story illustrates the power of leveraging the inventive talent of university researchers, particularly when they collaborate with industrial partners. The core technology was developed over five years and the engagement of a local organization, Charlotte Water, as the initial customer proved invaluable. The flexibility of UNC Charlotte and the community’s engagement through multiple programs facilitated the company’s development. Most importantly, InfoSense demonstrates the power of the team—successful technology business ventures require complimentary skills and connections.
- Company success built upon the interaction of UNC Charlotte, a large-scale local customer, and multiple entrepreneur ecosystem programs.
- An inventive, technical founder finds business success when he attracts a management team with complimentary business and entrepreneurial expertise.
- Business mentors were invaluable in developing the initial value proposition.
Industry—Environmental Services | Founded—2007
Passport Booms by Simplifying Transportation Payments
Cousins Bob and Charlie Youakim could see an entrepreneurial opportunity in an everyday activity that most people only perceived as annoying. Their shared vision to transform parking through software led to founding Passport Parking in 2010 in Charlotte.
With solid business and financing knowledge, they began by proving their initial business model on privately managed parking facilities in 2012. This was followed by launching a SaaS mobile parking payment application in the small municipal markets of Asheville, NC and Ocala, FL.
In 2013, Passport pioneered private label mobile applications with the launch of ParkOmaha. This landmark strategy helped Passport win contracts in Chicago and Toronto, the two largest mobile payment installations in North America. Remarkable wins for a very young company continued as Passport secured municipal contracts with Boston, Detroit, Louisville, Cincinnati, and Salt Lake City. Customer satisfaction is evident in the company’s 100% client retention rate.
More recently, Passport has broadened its market potential by providing mobile ticketing for public transportation and, most recently, launching GoTucson, the first multimodal mobile payment application in the world.
Passport’s market traction made it possible in 2013 to raise $6 million in Series A funding, led by Grotech Ventures and Relevance Capital. The funding, in turn, has enabled expansion of the team and has accelerated growth. The founders have built a visionary management team (including Khristian Gutierrez and Brad Powers) that leads a group of over 60 diversely talented employees in Charlotte and three continents.
Passport is now the largest and highest-rated provider of mobile payment software for the parking and transit industries with installations in 1,000 locations. By partnering with cities to reduce the complexity of urban mobility and increase the use of public transit, Passport expects to achieve rapid, long-term growth.
- Although only five years old, Passport operates internationally and is the largest provider of mobile payment software for parking and transit.
- Rapid growth and substantial market size attracted a $6 million series A venture capital round.
- Tremendous opportunity is realized by applying new technologies to old industries.
Industry—Software | Founded—2010
Peak 10 Delivers Investor Results with 15 Years of Growth
Peak 10 is arguably the most successful technology company started in Charlotte since 2000. Its dramatic growth and substantial financial valuation are the direct result of addressing a large-scale, rapidly growing opportunity with a management team that demonstrates powerful execution capabilities.
David Jones, entrepreneur and visionary, and a small group of hand-picked leaders started Peak 10 in 2002 to address the emerging opportunities from cloud computing. The management team is known for deep industry knowledge and a reputation for business integrity. Together, they have built a culture focused on exceptional customer engagement, customer support and continuous improvement of its services. Today, Peak 10 is a leading national provider of hybrid IT infrastructure, cloud solutions and managed services to SMEs.
Exponential growth over an extended period is remarkable. To accomplish that growth while surviving the “dot com bubble,” September 11, and the Great Recession is extraordinary.
Peak 10’s double-digit annual revenue growth has been matched by industry-leading balance sheet and income statement results. Performance was rewarded with a 12.5 EBITDA multiple yielding a $410 million sale to private equity firm, Welsh Carson, in 2010. Continued excellent performance led to a second exit two and a half years later resulting in a $700 million sale to another PE firm, GI Partners.
From its start in Charlotte, Peak 10 has grown to nearly 400 employees and data center facilities in Atlanta, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Ft. Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Louisville, Nashville, Raleigh, Richmond and Tampa. The company’s markets are characterized by large and growing populations, a strong and growing base of SME customers, high GDP growth and limited IT infrastructure provider competition. With an addressable market for its cloud and data center infrastructure services of over 100,000 SME customers, Peak 10 has substantial growth ahead. With more than half of new sales since 2008 from existing customers, the company enjoys the benefits of a well-diversified, highly satisfied, and stable customer base.
- Peak 10 demonstrates that strong financial results attract large-scale private equity investment.
- Peak 10 performance results from high growth industry focus combined with strong execution capability.
- Peak 10’s outstanding results have led Charlotte’s high-growth entrepreneur sector throughout its 15 year history.
IT Services | Founded—2000
SQL Sentry Attracts San Francisco Equity Investment
SQL Sentry, LLC demonstrates the success that is possible when entrepreneurs combine technical depth and customer responsiveness.
Company founders Greg Gonzalez and Ken Teeter started InterCerve in 1997 and developed it into a leading Microsoft hosting services provider. By 2004, they responded to customer needs by establishing SQL Sentry as a business unit. Within two years, the original hosting business was sold (to Charlotte-based Peak 10) and the SQL Sentry team was all-in building a company that would ultimately attract international attention.
The company delivers software solutions for monitoring and optimizing data performance in world-class Microsoft SQL Server and Windows environments. SQL Sentry’s first product, Event Manager, offered database administrators an innovative visual interface and robust notification system for quickly resolving schedule-related performance problems.
The product line added Performance Advisor, Fragmentation Manager, and Plan Explorer to provide greater visibility into performance bottlenecks and proprietary deep-dive capabilities for efficient resolution. The result is that database administrators are more effective in managing increasingly complex environments.
Strong acceptance in North America and international markets propelled SQL Sentry to annual revenue growth of 35% over the last five years. Rapid, sustained growth combined with 40% EBITDA margins caught investor attention in early 2015.
During an accelerated 5-week process led by a Charlotte-area financial advisor, SQL Sentry management met with more than 30 potential investors and, remarkably, received 15 investment offers. San Francisco-based investor, Mainsail Partners, was impressed by the management team, proven ability to consistently create exceptional software, and the market potential associated with serving data professionals seeking to manage increasingly complex database environments. Mainsail Partners, which focuses on bootstrapped companies that demonstrate high growth and profitability, added SQL Sentry to its portfolio in 2015 with a $25 million investment.
SQL Sentry employed 50 high quality people at the time of investment and expects to triple the workforce over the next three years. The company’s established university intern program is likely to expand to support the hiring of technical talent.
- 35% revenue growth and sustained high margins attracts national investors.
- Business strategy pivot enables competitive advantage.
- UNC Charlotte academic computing excellence provides high potential interns.
Industry—Software | Founded—2004
T1V Success Driven by Serial Entrepreneur
New restaurant concepts and electrical engineering are not fields that usually intersect, but Dr. Mike Feldman is not your typical engineer. He is a mixture of technologist, futurist, and foodie…all wrapped together in a serial entrepreneur.
As an electrical engineering professor at UNC Charlotte, he co-founded Digital Optics Corporation in 1991. The company, originally located in Charlotte’s first business incubator, the Ben Craig Center, explored various technologies until achieving dramatic growth with its cell phone camera components. Digital Optics was acquired by Tessera in 2006 for $60 million.
By 2008, Mike Feldman was ready to start his second venture, T1Visions, now known simply as T1V. The company started a restaurant concept (T1 Tapas) to test his theory that large-format interactive surfaces can bring people together for shared experiences in public settings. The original concept led to the business that T1V is today.
Perhaps one of T1V’s most successful customers to-date, the Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar, started in Charlotte. T1V worked with Cowfish to create a one-of-a-kind digital dining experience that would attract patrons of all ages leading to multi-city expansion.
Retail is one of T1V’s fastest growing markets. The company works with brands such as Neiman Marcus and Lowe’s to create omnichannel shopping environments at the crossroads of physical and digital, powered by T1V’s signature software application, OneShop™.
A growth driver is T1V’s collaboration application, ThinkHub™, in use at enterprises such as SAP and Reebok, where interactive environments engage and empower teams to collaborate. T1V interactive technology can be found in education applications such as collaboration tables and interactive donor walls at UNC Charlotte and UNC Chapel Hill.
T1V’s multi-market approach to interactive solutions yielded rapid revenue growth recognized by ranking #456 and #861 on the Inc. 5000 in 2014 and 2015. The company has raised $6.7 million since inception with the most recent round a $3.8 million Series B in April 2014 led by Fidelis Capital.
- Serial entrepreneur brings technical insight to everyday human interaction.
- Customer-focused product testing drives growth by identifying new market segments.
- Proven market acceptance leads to nationally-recognized revenue growth and venture capital investment.
Industry—Business Products & Services | Founded—2008