Arizona in general and Metro Phoenix specifically consistently rank high for entrepreneurship. It should be no surprise, then, that innovation emanates from here as businesses in our community pioneer products and services that grow their business and challenge their industry.
In Business Magazine has gathered examples from diverse industries across our economy.
“It’s important for renewable energy to make a lasting impression and significant contribution to conventional energy markets,” says John A. Conklin, president and CEO of SolarWindow Technologies, explaining that, unlike many other conventional PV technologies, the idea of SolarWindow™ products has always been built around the window first. “Our product development has been focused around taking a window specification, and then understanding and applying what the window industry does — right from how they make the glass, how they cut the glass, how they coat the glass — and then build a window. All of those processes have been an element of how SolarWindow has been fabricated and designed.”
Originally founded in 1998 as a technology incubator under the name Octillion, SolarWindow Technologies, Inc. engages in developing transparent electricity-generating see-through coatings for window, glass and plastic products. “Our initial products under development are related to new and replacement flat glass products targeting commercial buildings, tall towers and skyscrapers, and other large-surface areas on other types of buildings, such as warehouses.”
The global demand for fabricated flat glass is forecasted to grow 4.3 percent per year to $86 billion in 2021, according to Conklin, and the market for architectural glass is expected to rise through 2021 by greater use of value-added products in both new structures and refurbishment activities. SolarWindow is targeting the estimated 5.6 million U.S. commercial buildings, which consume almost $150 billion in electricity annually.
Says Conklin, “We believe our electricity-generating coatings uniquely address a growing market opportunity for technologies able to generate sustainable electricity.” Information from the U.S. Department of Energy shows commercial buildings are using more than one-third of all electricity produced in the U.S. Rising energy costs, increasing electricity consumption and the need for a cleaner alternative to today’s non-renewable energy sources all contribute to the growing demand for clean, renewable alternative energy sources.
“SolarWindow transparent electricity-generating coatings could offer tall towers and skyscrapers a way of generating renewable energy where energy demand is extremely high, and the cost of real estate and other factors render surface mount solar and other renewables impractical. Building developers and owners and architects are searching for innovative ways to reduce energy use while offsetting energy demand. SolarWindow could provide a solution for a renewable energy source to offset building energy demand, and a quick return on investment.”
Originally conducting research and development on nano-silicon solar cells, the company determined that organic photovoltaic (OPV) solar cells had many advantages over conventional silicon-based solar and could allow it to bring its vision of electricity-generating windows to life. “Since beginning to work withNational Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2011,we have made major advancements to our technology, taking it from a proof of concept to fully functioning prototypes. Unlike typical product development, we are creating new products from scratch and, essentially, writing the chapter on large area commercialization of OPV devices and panels, because that chapter really didn’t exist for our SolarWindow device architecture prior to our development. We are proud to have some of the most capable and respected scientific minds and engineering experts on our team.”
The company entered into a Process Integration and Production Agreement with Triview Glass Industries, LLC. in August 2017. “Our Agreement and relationship with Triview has been a major step forward in establishing full scale manufacturing lines and the eventual commercialization of SolarWindow products,” Conklin says. SolarWindow has been a publicly traded company since 2005 and continuously provided updates on progress to its shareholders and the public through press announcements, SEC filings, and the company website. “We have strived to build close relationships with partners to help advance the technology from our initial proof of concept research in the lab to working prototypes. We have recruited and are proud to be working with a number of top scientists and experienced professionals and experts in the solar industry and hope to grow as we continue to advance our technologies.”
The company announced in early June that it has initiated plans to introduce its planned electricity-generating glass products to potential customers, architects, designers, engineers, developers, contractors, glaziers and commercial building owners.
Noting that the company’s founder, majority stockholder and chairman of the board, Harmel Rayat, is a well-established entrepreneur with a vast portfolio of commercial real estate in the U.S. and Canada, with an office in Scottsdale, Conklin says Phoenix was selected because the city is “fastgrowing; has a strong technology sector; and the office space, commercial business relationships and connections, and the opportunities for growth the company is provided by the chairman of the board.”
Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel
International hotelier Marriott is not just celebrating Phoenix with its Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel, but, says the hotel’s general manager Tracy Stoltz, “The Renaissance Phoenix Downtown is setting the trend through innovation while remaining hyper-local.”
It’s a dual-sided effort. One side is creating an authentic sense of place for guests. “Not just the cultural storyline behind it but also discovery of Arizona to share without the need to leave the property,” Stoltz explains.
An example she shares is Melinda’s Alley, the hotel’s speakeasy serving custom-curated cocktails. “Bartenders have personal freedom; they can tell a story through their craft. But, ultimately, it’s the storyline behind Melinda’s that makes it so special.” Helping tell that story is a towering mural in the alley alongside the hotel, where the speakeasy’s entrance is found. The mural, painted by local artists Hugo Medina and Darrin Armijo-Wardle, embodies Malinda — a well-known lady of the evening and public figure who lived in an apartment in the alley, who died in 1910 — and the original Hotel Adams, paying homage to the original hotel where the Renaissance sits today. There is a red light in that mural, and, says Stoltz, Melinda’s is only open when the red light is on.
The mural, the red light, and … “We have phantom ghost letters: ‘PHX’ on the outside of the building. The only time you see them is at night, when you’re standing in front of the hotel and you take a picture with the flash on.”
Melinda’s red light “open” sign is unobtrusive and the “PHX” ghost letters are hidden. That’s a purposeful design. Says Stoltz, “Our discovery is all word-of-mouth by people who frequent our hotel. You find out through friends, co-workers, seeing other people doing it: seeing a crowd outside under the red light, if you’re looking for Melinda’s, or seeing people in front of the hotel taking a picture.”
Another difference Stoltz cites is the site visits. “We don’t greet our group clients with a handshake; we greet them with a flash mob. They need to feel the energy and the excitement, not only about the hotel but the energy of the team, because that’s what we’re going to deliver on when the group chooses the Renaissance.”
Stoltz says one of her favorite amenities at the hotel is its art gallery, 26 Blocks, created, curated and produced by Joey Robert Parks. “The Renaissance is very much a promoter of local talent,” she says, explaining the exhibition tells the story of the City of Phoenix through 26 individual pieces of artwork and small sculpture. “It includes our hotel as one of the blocks, and memorializes one of our bartenders, Rhonda Benston- Showman, who’s been bartending here for over 44 years and really runs the bar at Dust Cutter.”
Dust Cutter is a restaurant and bar in the hotel whose name and décor are part of the intricacies that really tie into Arizona, harking back to Arizona’s early cowboy heritage when a cowboy coming into a saloon at the end of a long day on the range would cut the dust in his throat with a few shots of whiskey. And its design embodies the second side of Renaissance Phoenix Downtown’s local focus, with garage door-style windows that open all the way. “The idea is to not just offer Dust Cutter to guests at the hotel but open it to the streets of Phoenix so that we can invite locals in — to go back to that hyper-local connection for the hotel.”
Notes Stoltz, “Other hotels are following our example. Not so much what we do but how we integrate these ideas. We have people who come in all the time to photograph the property and take those best practices back to their own.
“But these ideas didn’t come through a designer; they came through the team. For instance, Melinda’s came from ‘The Next Big Idea,’ a challenge that we pose with our leaders in the building. We provide them with a space, and they curate and create their own idea of what that space could be. They challenge each other, present it, and the winning team is the idea that we implement. So those ideas are not coming from outside people we hire but from people who actually operate this company.”
RESTAURANT / BEVERAGE
Phoenix is the takeoff point for what may be a revolution in the beverage industry: Teaspressa, a leading beverage company and producer of the only coffee and tea hybrid beverage available in the U.S.
Teaspressa is concentrated tea that contains as much caffeine as an espresso shot, but provides consumers the health benefits of traditional tea blends. Allison DeVane, founder and owner, started as a coffee lover but experienced frequent headaches and side effects from drinking coffee, which inspired her to create a solution. With more than 10 years of experience in the tea and coffee industry, DeVane launched Teaspressa in January 2015 and created its unique tea blends specially designed for her proprietary brewing process to provide consumers a new tea profile that rivals both traditional loose-leaf tea blends and coffee. With the mission to craft a beverage that embodies the rituals and characteristics of coffee that everyone loves, but with all-natural, quality, healthy tea, DeVane invented a patented Tea Concentrate Technology.
“Combining my love for coffee and tea also inspired me to create Teaspressa’s signature beverage style: latte art,” DeVane says. “With Teaspressa’s concentrated tea, I developed a thicker consistency than traditional tea, which allows the tea to be made into one of my favorite coffee preparations: lattes.”
Scientifically backed, Teaspressa’s signature tea blends’ caffeine levels and patented Tea Concentration Technology brewing methods have been tested and verified by a third-party lab, GAAS Analytical. Teaspressa’s products are made from all-natural, artisan loose-leaf tea blends, authentically sourced from China, South Africa, India and Japan. Teaspressa’s signature tea blends underwent multiple phases of testing and are specialty curated for the brewing method that is similar to coffee brewing. Teaspressa’s signature teas are blended locally in Phoenix and feature signature ingredients that are not commonly used in traditional tea blends, elevating traditional tea blends with unique taste profiles. In fact, with a consistency the same as coffee but more diverse flavors, its premium tea blends are used to make its signature tea lattes, tea macchiatos and tea cappuccinos.
As an extension of Teaspressa’s signature tea blends, Teaspressa also produces naturally infused, low-calorie beverage flavoring cubes that can be used in tea, coffee, liquor and champagne. Unlike other beverage sweeteners and syrups used to craft traditional coffee drinks, Teaspressa’s handcrafted Luxe Flavor Collection is a modern approach to flavor enhancement products. With less than 10 calories in each cube, Teaspressa’s Luxe Flavor Collection is designed to complement and bring out the flavor profiles and aromas of each signature tea blend, while also complimenting alcohol, too, for a versatile healthy lifestyle. Teaspressa’s Luxe Flavor Collections are used to make Teaspressa’s signature drink recipes served at its cafes and can be used at home for gourmet, DIY barista-inspired drinks as well. “The inspiration behind the LUXE sugar cubes was that I loved using traditional brown sugar cubes in my coffee and I also loved rose flavoring. I used to add both a sugar cube and rose flavoring, but didn’t like how sweet it was, so I thought to myself, ‘Why not make it into one?!’” Ultimately, DeVane and Teaspressa customers started experimenting the original sugar cubes with other beverages and that’s what inspired Teaspressa’s Spirits and Bubbly LUXE line.
“I started Teaspressa on a laundry cart from a garage sale and a tablecloth,” DeVane relates. “I used to cart around downtown and call stores I wanted the brand to be associated with, and offered free Teaspressa samples at those stores to their team members and customers. I slowly grew my business from there!” And a year later, she secured a spot to present on “Shark Tank.” “‘Shark Tank’ was an incredible experience. It really jump-started Teaspressa’s national brand awareness, especially for B2B customers.
“I did not secure an investment on Shark Tank, but it is okay! From the traction of the show itself, I was able to achieve new levels and open a Teaspressa store on my own. I also learned valuable business lessons along the way, further fueling my passion for my company and its products. It also opened up the door to other business and entrepreneurship opportunities, such as my involvement in the Tory Burch Fellow Program.”
The Tory Burch Fellow program was launched to empower female entrepreneurs and provide them access to capital, business mentorship and networking, and entrepreneurial education. The program’s first year was 2016, the same year DeVane’s “Shark Tank” episode was aired. Says DeVane, “I am honored to be one of only 10 women in the U.S. selected to be a part of such an empowering mission. One of my favorite opportunities I was able to enjoy through the program was the chance to be a part of the 10,000 Small Business Goldman Sachs program at Babson College. As their current campaign shares, the foundation has continued to encourage me to embrace my ambition, to ask for help and to be bold.”
She recalls, “After airing on ‘Shark Tank,’ it was a whirlwind for Teaspressa. Teaspressa received a lot of new customers and fans after ‘Shark Tank.’ Teaspressa has organically grown thanks to the power of social media and my ‘Shark Tank’ opportunity; I am blessed for all of the support and continued business opportunities as a result.”
And she adds, “As a locally owned and operated Phoenix business, I am passionate about the local Phoenix community.” Actively involved in the Valley community, Teaspressa welcomes ongoing partnerships with local businesses to host pop-up shops, fitness classes and interactive workshops that are open to the public at its Phoenix cafés, in Downtown Phoenix and Arcadia.
“Phoenix is where we test our new recipes, store concepts, new products, and share the love with our fellow Phoenicians. Furthermore, Teaspressa plans to expand its communiTEA throughout the U.S., with more than five signature café locations expected to open locally and nationally in 2019,” DeVane says, also mentioning interest she’s received internationally. “And all thanks to Teaspressa’s Phoenix-based roots.”
Press Coffee Roasters
In the specialty coffee sector, another Phoenix-based company is pioneering a different path. Press, a coffee roaster since 2008 that, in coowner Alex Mason’s words, “is passionate about sourcing the best coffee beans from around the world, then roasting them to perfection here in Phoenix,” was the first coffee roaster to put cold brew on tap in Arizona. Noting an “incredible growth” of cold brew coffee in the market, Mason says, “To better meet our customers’ wants, we expanded our production of cold brew and started canning it.” The new cans were just released in this past May. “In Arizona, hot and cold brew is a huge part of our business. We are excited and proud to say that Press was the first local roastery to put cold brew coffee on tap and can it.”
Having built awareness and grown the business in large part through local communities’ and grassroots support, Mason says, “Now, we are bringing parts of the business that are typically behind the scenes to the forefront of our customer experience.
“For two years, we have offered our Coffee 101 classes — a 60-minute coffee tasting where our customers learn all about coffee. With the opening of our newest retail location, The Roastery, in Phoenix on 32nd Street at Shea Boulevard, we are going to expand that program and provide additional educational opportunities to our knowledge-hungry customer base. At The Roastery, we have brought the roasting process out into the public space. We roast daily to show the customers what care and precision goes into the process. With this, we are going to offer a new collection of classes set to roll out this fall that will show a roast start to finish, teaching the techniques and science that goes into our roasting process. We also plan to teach new techniques for making coffee at home and even how to pour latte art!
“Our goal with these opportunities is to be an amazing resource for everything coffee to our local community — from a great product in our beans and cold brew to the skillset on how to replicate what we do at our retail locations.”
Merkin Vineyards Old Town Scottsdale
Merkin Vineyards has a vine-to-glass, farm-to-table approach to its products. Everything served and poured is sourced from Arizona, often by head winemaker Maynard Keenan and his team in the Verde Valley. The first tasting room in Jerome was built in 2009. The new wine bar in Old Town Scottsdale was opened in earlier this year.
“A well-made regional wine speaks more loudly of a place than any other beverage or produce and, therefore, serves as both export and local draw,” says Keenan. He oversees 110 acres of vines in northern and southern Arizona for Caduceus Cellars, Merkin Vineyards and his new Puscifer-branded canned bubbly wine, all of which are for sale at the new Scottsdale location. Keenan — who is also a Grammy award-winning vocalist for bands Tool, A Perfect Circle and Puscifer — says the new wine bar is meant to educate guests about the robust AZ wine industry. “In order to truly understand Arizona wines, we feel it is essential to visit these magical regions and experience them firsthand,” Keenan said. “However, not every visitor to the Greater Phoenix area has the extra time to visit these semi-remote areas. The Merkin Vineyards location in Old Town Scottsdale is meant to be an introduction to that magic.”
Executive Chef Dirk Flanigan curated a vegetable-driven tapas menu that will be largely influenced by what’s growing at the Merkin Vineyards Greenhouses, Gardens and Orchards by Keenan’s father, Mike, and Randee Larremore.
Whether on-tap, in a can or from the bottle, the high-elevation wines served at Merkin are produced by Keenan, his wife, Jennifer, and winemaker Tim White. The wine bar also serves beers by Arizona craft breweries Helton and 1912 on tap and will feature a different Arizona Vignerons Alliance member’s wine monthly in its storefront. “The truth is in the glass. Marketing helps but nothing can replace authenticity. Boots on the ground, wine in the glass. One sip at a time. There are no short cuts, and it can’t be done alone. This must be a regional effort.” In fact, he says, “Alliances are imperative. Once a focused unified voice is raised, a compelling story is conveyed and consistent product is delivered, all regional boats will rise.”
Pacific Dental Services’ Foundation Dentists for Special Needs
In the healthcare realm, Phoenix is the site of a groundbreaking clinic opened this past March by the Pacific Dental Services’ Foundation Dentists for Special Needs. The clinic offers patients with special needs sensory integrated operatories and state-of-the-art technology, as well as specially trained dentists equipped with behavioral and environmental techniques to ensure successful patient visits.
The PDS Foundation Dentists for Special needs is unique in that it addresses the needs of an underserved group of patients, those who require special assistance in a dental setting. As individuals with special needs mature, they “age out” of the pediatric dental offices due to the nature of the treatment they may need on their adult teeth. PDS Foundation Executive Director Kyle Guerin explains that most general practice dental offices are not trained or equipped to see patients with special needs for several reasons, with time and training being the most prevalent. Yet in Arizona, 4.8 percent of the population have cognitive disabilities, and nationwide, more than 52 million people have special needs. “Unfortunately, less than 10 percent of dentists treat patients with disabilities because of their lack of training and the patients’ negative reactions to common dental procedures. For this reason, access to specialized care such as dentistry is among the main healthcare concerns for people with special needs.”
Patients of all ages are welcome at the PDS Foundation Dentists for Special Needs, says Guerin. “We’re able to treat them in a sensory integrated environment allowing for the best possible oral health care in a setting designed to be relaxing and soothing.”
The organization began as an advocacy program to help gain access to care for people with special requirements. After hosting several training sessions for clinicians and attending many advocacy meetings, the PDS Foundation’s leadership decided to plant roots for the program in Arizona. “Phoenix has a large number of individuals with special needs and limited resources for care,” Guerin explains. “Also, Arizona tends to be friendly to volunteer dentists, who may come in to train at our facility.”
Inspiration came from the special needs clinic at the Arizona School of Dentistry and Oral Health at A.T. Still University. And a pivotal force in launching the PDS Foundation Dentists for Special Needs was Jacob Dent, D.D.S., a dedicated advocate in the special needs community whose general dental practice in Sugarland, Texas, is supported by Pacific Dental Services®. In fact, Dr. Dent traveled here from Texas for the clinic’s first several weeks. Benjamin Wachter, D.M.D., is now the office’s full-time dentist. Dr. Wachter has been practicing dentistry in the special needs population for over six years and has extensive training in adaptive techniques to help with the comprehensive care of the clinic’s patients.
One goal of the clinic is to integrate patients into a typical dental environment — working through desensitization. Another goal is more far-reaching. Says Guerin, “Because of the small number of qualified dental professionals who are prepared to see patients with special needs, our goal is to help increase the number of dentists by utilizing our clinic to complete residency programs and train current clinicians with tools and resources to efficiently serve the special-needs community. By doing this, we extend our reach into this special population and increase access to care.”
“Here at Fulton Homes, we use different perspectives to make our company stand out,” says Dennis Webb, vice president of operations. “We are retailers, which means our customers are the main focus. Our technological advances have been progressing, especially with our design center. This is a place where potential buyers price out their home using their smartphone to scan extra personalizations, similar to the concept at Apple. This service is the first of its kind in the country, making us unique from other homebuilders.
“We used our retail background and principles to develop this concept over time, but it came naturally, as we all had a common goal in mind for Fulton Homes. Ira Fulton’s son-in-law and president of Fulton Homes, Norm Nicholls, had a big vision for Fulton Homes from day one and has carried it through for more than 40 years.”
Modeling the business after an unconventional industry for homebuilders — fashion retail — is what recently caught the eye of The BUILDER 100, a national publication that highlights and analyzes the best homebuilding firms in the United States. BUILDER reports that Fulton’s “retail mindset” is unique because no other homebuilder follows this model. Says CEO Doug Fulton, “It’s price, selection, location, service, quality and quick replenishment of inventory — which is now spec houses.” And he adds, “Our model follows the likes of Nordstrom, John Deere, Gore, J.C. Penny, Revlon. All revolutionary in best practices.”
Fulton Homes also operates the largest home design center in Arizona, topping out at more than 13,000 square feet. In the center’s more than 13,000 square feet, homebuyers — and, on the first and third Thursday of each month, the general public — can view options and see the latest trends in interior design. Buyers can also use Fulton Homes’ mobile website to price options live on their smartphone as they browse them in person, using QR codes. “We are rolling out new tools for our buyers all the time, including the ability to price options for the floorplan of your choice and see exactly what your monthly payment will be,” says Webb. “Nobody else in the country is doing this.
“We’ve always tried to be as technologically advanced as we can to succeed in this tough market,” he continues. “Our digital advances have kept us one step in the front of the competition. Fulton Homes also has new upgrades in our homes, such as better energy efficiency and proper indoor air quality, which makes our homes more desirable in the Phoenix Metro area.”
Veyo is the first and only true technology focused transportation company in the Non-Emergency Medical Transportation broker industry, according to Stan Sipes, executive vice president of business development. A subsidiary of Total Transit, Inc., Veyo was formed by merging Total Transit’s NEMT division with 2PointB, a technology company, to create a technology-driven transportation company with a mission to change the status quo of NEMT.
“While the formation of Veyo as a new entity occurred in 2015, we inherited Total Transit’s 20-year history and experience operating as both an NEMT broker and provider,” says Sipes. “Total Transit’s history in the transportation industry stretches back even further, having been founded in Arizona in 1984. Total Transit grew to operate the largest taxi company in the southwestern U.S. in addition to managing public transit and Dial-a-Ride services.”
The new model for Medicaid transportation Veyo launched in 2015 adapted the innovations found in transportation network companies (TNCs) for the complex needs of the healthcare industry and, most critically, NEMT beneficiaries. Central to Veyo’s strategy was creating its own vertically integrated ridesharing network — purpose built for the healthcare industry and the unique needs of the Medicaid population. While NEMT has been in existence for more than 50 years, there had been few innovations in the space. Veyo was the first to introduce advanced technology, an innovative rideshare fleet and a flexible supply model — all aimed at improving the transportation experience for Medicaid and Medicare members.
Recognizing the potential to bring these new innovations from the consumer rideshare industry into the healthcare transportation industry, specifically NEMT, Veyo began building a custom technology solution that would revolutionize the operational aspects of the NEMT business. That new technology solution was paired with a healthcare-specific rideshare fleet to create the first rideshare model built specifically for NEMT. But, says Sipes, “One of the biggest challenges to growing our business was the fact that we were known only to the few customers in the southwest who were absorbed into the Veyo organization from Total Transit.
“In order to expose the Veyo solution to the Medicaid industry, we invested in a multi-faceted, industry-wide communication blitz that encompassed leveraging existing relationships to set up face-to-face meetings with decision makers and leaders in the Medicaid industry; participation in healthcare conferences across the country; development and implementation of messaging through digital media, website, articles, and targeted campaigns; and partnerships with key local consultants and lobbyists in target states.
“We have brought this model to three of our largest customers across the country and continue to launch our new model as we work with new customers.”
Sipes points out that, because Veyo’s model offers detailed tracking along every step of the NEMT process, payers have transparency into every step of the process. And he notes that Veyo has seen results that were previously unheard of in the NEMT industry, citing the following figures: Since the model was introduced just over three years ago, Veyo IDPs have conducted more than 6.5 million trips in the Arizona market and brought a more reliable, faster, higher quality and lower-cost service to Arizona’s Medicaid members. Veyo’s rideshare fleet has increased the Arizona NEMT capacity by more than 3,000 vehicles, while the capacity of traditional NEMT fleets has continued to decline; completed more than 6.5 million trips in the Arizona market, with nearly 3,000 Veyo IDPs completing between 7,000 and 8,000 trips each day; achieved an on-time rate of 95 percent and a grievance rate of just 0.02 percent — 10 times lower than the average grievance rate from a traditional provider fleet; and achieved an average time from trip dispatch to member pickup of just 14 minutes.
“We are now the third-largest NEMT broker in the country, and, over the last four years, we have watched our competitors in the industry implement major changes in their investments in technology and operational efficiencies in response to our growth, which motivates us to continue to lead the industry’s movement into the future,” Sipes says.
“Total Transit, Inc. was based in Phoenix, so Arizona was a natural fit for our first market because we had a strong customer base here in the state. In addition,” Sipes continues, “we have always had, and continue to enjoy, a great relationship with AHCCCS, Arizona’s Medicaid agency. We communicated with them as we journeyed through the process of vision, design, development and implementation of our Veyo Model for NEMT. Their support and willingness to speak positively about Veyo has been a key to our ability to establish relationships across the country. Another important factor was that AHCCCS has proven to be one of the most advanced state CMS agencies in the country regarding innovation, which has proved to be the ideal environment in which to launch and prove the Veyo Model.”
Jerry Mills was a pioneer in his industry when he launched B2B CFO in 1987 to provide management advisory services to owners of privately held companies, with a focus on increasing cash and company value. The Phoenix-based firm is now the largest of its kind in the United States. And now, Mills has notched another first to his credit with the recent patent approval for B2B Exit.
B2B Exit was created for business owners who are buying or selling a company. In essence, it helps them keep control of the sales or acquisition process by analyzing, adjusting and tracking differences between a company’s current value and its target sale value. Says Mills, “We’re relentless about the importance of protecting our firm’s intellectual property. This patent application process took perseverance, but our efforts have paid off.”
Mills notes that what makes the product unique is that it is written and designed for business owners by a true business owner who understands firsthand the frustrations of running a business. Users of the software can access and view in real time information on any device, from all over the world, at any time. “It is the first product that provides a dashboard view of the sale of the business. It simplifies an extremely complicated process. The software tracks progress across multiples team members involved in the sale of the business and provides a quick ‘at a glance’ view that allows owners to see if anyone if falling behind schedule,” Mills says. “It is instantaneous information.”
His inspiration, he says, was working for three decades with business owners and seeing their frustration when they start the process of selling their business. “Seeing how frustrated business owners were getting by this process and feeling their stress inspired me to create this software. I wanted to calm the storm and give them tools that would make it easier.” Noting that the exit strategy industry is incredibly fragmented, Mills says, “The Exit Strategy software raised the bar in the exit world. In fact it is the first and only to receive a patent.”
Among the efforts to build awareness of this product is sponsoring the Inc. 500/5000 conference. B2B CFO is also planning to work with the AM&AA and local business conferences as well as national business organizations like TAB or Vistage.
“In today’s world, where attention spans have decreased and digital noise has exploded, it’s challenging for brands to capture and retain audience attention,” says BrightGuest founder and CEO Ryan Quinn. He notes nonprofits are even more affected than for-profits by this, explaining that, with a mission to change the world, nonprofits rely on supporter engagement and fundraising to sustain operations and maximize their impact. “Email is their primary outreach channel, but open rates are less than 20 percent and click-through rates are less than 3 percent. They’re losing tens of thousands of dollars per month on missed engagement. Nonprofits are looking for new ways to modernize outreach and forge personal connections.”
BrightGuest — one of the 10 awardees of the Spring 2019 Arizona Innovation Challenge presented by Arizona Commerce Authority — helps nonprofits grow engagement and giving. Explaining the company is personalized microsites plus text messaging for nonprofits, Quinn says, “Our marketing tech makes it easy for nonprofits to create personalized microsites with content that adapts to each individual without writing code or paying developers. These microsites are delivered through a more frictionless channel: text messaging. By transforming how nonprofits capture attention and compel action, our customers are seeing 30- to 80-percent tap-through rates. That quickly translates to a huge increase in awareness, fundraising, volunteerism and more.”
True to his belief that it’s important to get out of the office and get involved in the community, especially in the beginning, Quinn got more involved in the Phoenix startup scene shortly after starting his company. “Giving back to the community is a big part of our company culture. In doing that, I got involved with local nonprofit PHX Startup Week in 2016 and started organizing the mentoring component of the event. From there, we connected with more and more nonprofits locally and nationally. I saw firsthand the challenges nonprofits face getting their supporters’ attention with traditional channels.
“More than any other market, nonprofits are profoundly impacted by low email engagement. When supporting a nonprofit is one of the most personal things that we do, it’s critical for nonprofits to provide personalized engagement to be able to create those lifelong relationships with their supporters. Our solution makes a big difference in how nonprofits capture and retain supporter attention to build those relationships and maximize their impact.”
Growing the business took “nonstop hustle,” says Quinn. BrightGuest built case studies and testimonials that allowed the company to tell a story that resonates with prospective customers, working with early customers that were seeing measurable results using the technology. “One of our early customers, American Diabetes Association, was able to raise 38 percent per person using BrightGuest. They saw a 500-percent increase in their text message tap-through rate compared to their email click-through rate.” He notes that even the smallest increase can have a huge impact in donations, volunteerism and awareness.
“Phoenix has a thriving tech ecosystem with booming talent and tons of resources for early-stage companies,” says Quinn, crediting StartupAZ Collective as a resource that has been tremendously helpful. “This is a group of hand-selected founders who meet up monthly to hold each other accountable and provide peer-to-peer mentorship. The Collective also provides resources for founders to grow their networks and learn from entrepreneurs and business leaders.
“Big tech companies from outside Arizona have been moving operations into town. Phoenix has its own unique startup culture that is evolving as more startups scale and attract attention from larger VC investment firms. If you can solve a real problem in a market that will pay for that solution, there’s never been a better time to grow a company in Phoenix.”