Pepperdine Most Fundable Companies
Pepperdine Graziadio identifies and connects promising early-stage companies with
resources they need through our Most Fundable Companies survey. Participants are provided
with a comprehensive assessment of their fundability and how they will be viewed by
potential investors. Based upon survey results, top companies receive national recognition
and exclusive brand exposure to potential strategic partners, investors, customers,
and new hires.
Our Process and Methodology
Based upon every survey submission, all participating companies are provided with objective and customized feedback to improve their readiness for funding. Approximately 100 companies are then selected for the semi-finals, completing a more in-depth fundability assessment to further refine and verify their score.
During the final stages, high potential companies are invited for an interview with
our selection team and the winners are announced. Throughout the process, we learn
about a diverse range of impressive companies, beyond just this list of the top fifteen,
who may be an excellent match with a potential investor.
2018 Most Fundable Companies
Congratulations to the 2018 Pepperdine Most Fundable Companies. Every participating company experiences a transformative process as they gain valuable insight and identify how they can better appeal to future investors. The selected companies were chosen based on the viability of their business model, size of addressable market, management team expertise, board of advisors, and competitive advantage in their market.
1. Soteria Battery Innovation Group
Industry: Electronic Devices
Location: Greenville, SC
Founders: Brian Morin and Carl Hu
About: The Soteria Battery Innovation Group believes that lithium batteries are made with
the wrong combination of materials – and they have a better solution. Their goal is
to enable portable electric power without the risk of fire by shifting the existing
dangerous and heavy lithium battery materials to safer and lighter Soteria architecture.
Set up as a consortium, Soteria is a for-profit cooperative of materials and equipment suppliers, testing labs, and licensees of the Soteria battery technology. In addition to developing safer battery materials, the consortium is working to create a set of aggressive test standards to be adopted in the electronic, electric vehicle, energy storage, and lithium ion battery industries
The consortium’s goal is to achieve a 25% market share by 2028, which will result in a $10 billion market for Soteria materials. Founder and CEO, Dr. Brian Morin - an inventor on over 200 patents and applications - says his goal is for the Soteria technology to be available to every battery manufacturer. His vision is for the Soteria name to be so ubiquitous that if consumers see a product or device with a Soteria battery they know it’s safe, as it is virtually impossible to self-ignite.
With twenty consortium members including Mercedes Benz, DuPont and NASA, the Soteria Battery Innovation Group is proud to announce that it was recently named a semifinalist in the US China Innovation Alliance and will be competing this fall for an opportunity to showcase their business to potential Chinese investors and partners to accelerate their growth and expand their market potential.
2. Tango Networks
Location: Frisco, TX
Founders: Douglas Bartek and Andrew Silver
About: Business quality communications have traditionally relied on tried-and-true desktop
landline business phones. But now almost every working adult carries a smartphone,
either their own or one provided by their company. The next step in the evolution
of business communications is to make these mobile devices the main communications
tool for employees.
Employees should be able to execute business features and functions on their mobile devices – forwarding, conferencing, in-office dialing, and recording – as if they were using a landline business phone.
Delivering those enterprise mobile communications capabilities is the mission of Tango Networks, founded in 2005 by seasoned CEO and entrepreneur Douglas Bartek and his co-founder and CTO, Andrew Silver.
With 60 issued patents on this enterprise communications technology, Tango Networks is in the vanguard of what industry analysts are calling the “Second Wave” of mobility, making mobile communications truly enterprise class.
Solutions include: Mobile Unified Communications; mobile communications recording; integration of mobiles into CRM solutions such as Salesforce; text messaging from business numbers; enforced mobile phone usage restrictions on drivers.
The first phase of the company’s business model entailed selling through mobile network operators. But now demand from enterprise end-customers for advanced mobile communications has led the company to launch a new go-to-market approach selling into the enterprise channel.
Tango Network’s current customers include international hotel chains, government entities and financial firms. Bartek is also in final stages of acquiring a company in the United Kingdom that will further cement the company’s leadership in the emerging wave of enterprise mobility solution providers.
3. Beyond Brands Group, LLC
Industry: Consumer Retail
Location: Memphis, TN
Founders: William Love, Beau Green, and Richard Gudzan
Designed to bring Southern Living to life, the Southern Living retail stores and e-commerce
site run by Beyond Brands Group, LLC allows customers to explore and savor the timeless
traditions and rich heritage of the southern way-of-life.
Currently with five locations in the Southeast, the Southern Living Stores offer whimsical southern-themed novelty items, as well as curated collections in Home Decor, Fashion, Jewelry, Skin Care, Food, Cookbooks, Gardening, and Travel - while continually hosting entertaining in-store events such as "uniquely-southern" food-tastings, celebrity book signings, and insightful workshops.
The journey to becoming a Southern Living retailer happened rather fast. Founders William Love, Beau Green, and Richard Gudzan met with executives from Southern Living in early August 2016. Amid energetic planning, cohesive efforts, and much fanfare, the first-ever Southern Living Store was successfully launched on November 11, 2016 in Myrtle Beach, SC. Other locations (primarily tourist destinations) soon followed.
BBG's retail strategy is to stay away from indoor malls and instead locate in upscale lifestyle centers where people live, work, and play. While continuing to target prime tourist destinations, BBG is focusing expansion in metropolitan areas that generate year-round traffic. Their goal is to have 75 Southern Living retail stores in 15 states by 2027.
Founder William Love believes “there's no such thing as being too Southern,” and also recognizes the tremendous opportunity for marketing the Southern Living brand through e-commerce. In addition to growing online sales, the founders have fun ideas about how to expand the in-person experiential shopping experience by opening Southern Living Kitchens that feature time-tested, award-winning Southern Living recipes. Soon you may be able to eat and shop "all-things-southern" in one location.
4. System Surveyor
Industry: B2B Software as a Service (SaaS)
Location: Austin, TX
Founders: Christopher Hugman and Maureen Carlson
With the exponential growth of IoT, System Surveyor founders Christopher Hugman and Maureen Carlson knew that the way systems were conceived, designed, installed, and maintained would not scale. The old method using paper floor plans and cell phone photos to gather site information for a building or campus is cumbersome, frustrating, and inefficient. To solve the problem, System Surveyor revolutionizes the process with a digital, visual map of the Internet of Things on a laptop or mobile tablet allowing the professionals who design systems to work collaboratively with customers to understand their needs.
Flocking to the cloud-based tool are professionals who design state-of the art electronic security systems, building automation, audio-visual systems and other IoT systems. System Surveyor’s thousands of users include system integrators, corporations, educational and government entities, healthcare providers and more. It enables them to easily create, collaborate and share system designs saving time and money for everyone – and ultimately delivering seamless systems.
“With the IoT market growing at 20% per year, it’s a win-win situation for system integrators as well as their customers. Integrators get on the same page with their customers to sell and install systems faster; and corporate technical managers have a graphical tool which is easily accessed and updated as things change,” said Chris Hugman, CEO. The solution is available for a monthly software as a service (SaaS) subscription enabling users to import or capture a floor plan, drag-and-drop IoT system elements, annotate and label photos, and capture functional requirements. Users report saving 50% of the time to design systems and a 20x-40x return on investment. In May, 2018, System Surveyor was awarded one of the Austin, Texas A-List’s Hottest Startups by the Austin Chamber of Commerce and South by Southwest.
5. AllPUR Nutrition, Inc.
Location: Statesville, NC
Founders: Mary Ann Clark, RN and George Clark
As an elementary school nurse, Mary Ann Clark saw firsthand how her students were drinking sugary, carbonated beverages which often lead to an increased risk of childhood obesity. After hearing the concerns of his wife, George Clark, a biochemist, began experimenting in their kitchen with what may seem like an unlikely base for beverage formulations – cow’s milk.
Combining their scientific, medical and nutritional expertise, the Clarks focused on “bringing milk into the 21st century” with the creation of ALLPUR Nutrition to develop healthier beverage alternatives by removing the lactose in milk and the chemical additives found in sodas. They have created three beverage brands to date: e-MOO® - a Sparkling Milk Beverage, ReVite™ - a Milk-Based Energy & Protein Beverage, and IMPRO™ - a Milk-Based Soft Drink Alternative. ALLPUR beverages are formulated to meet federal and state school nutritional standards.
ALLPUR is currently focused on converting school and retail consumers to their patented beverage brands with healthier “proof of concept beverages.” Their goal is to someday take the company to an initial public offering (IPO).
They have recently invested $350,000 to build processing equipment that utilizes their patented technology and will be installed at Origin Food Group, who will serve as the co-packer for their innovative and market disruptive beverage brands.
The ALLPUR team has a few recent hires including Richard O’Neill, a former private school executive as CEO, Robert O’Connell, a former brand manager at M&M’s who will serve as Retail Marketing Manager, and Tom Lieb, an accomplished food industry sales specialist as Sales Manager.
In the meantime, they hope to encourage children of all ages to make healthier beverage consumption choices.
6. Dynamic Extrusion
Industry: Animal Feed
Location: Austin, TX
Founders: Bill McMeans
With 40 million beef cattle in the US who each eat 20-30lbs of food a day there is a tremendous market for high quality and nutritional feed supplements. Having had to rely on food that used fillers and binders to make the grains stay together, many cattle ranchers were concerned that their livestock were not receiving enough nutrition. Enter Dynamic Extrusion, which has reinvented the wet grain dehydrating process through equipment that produces pure distilled grains. This nutritionally-superior supplement provides livestock and game with food that has more fat (known as energy in the livestock business) and more protein, yet can be customized to animal-specific needs.
Dynamic Extrusion designs, manufactures, and installs equipment that has a smaller footprint and lower capital outlay than conventional grain drying systems. Their proprietary equipment has lower operating and maintenance costs and at the same time provides manufacturers with the flexibility to produce supplements with their desired moisture level.
With 45 million tons of distiller’s grain in the US, Dynamic Extrusion is focusing on areas that have bulk cattle markets. So far, they have sold their equipment to manufacturers in Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and South Dakota who are producing supplements to augment current feeding practices.
When not immersed in growing Dynamic Extrusion, founder Bill McMeans spends his free time – and money – giving back to the community. He is involved with several dog rescue groups including the SPCA, is president of the Texas Military Forces Historical Foundation, and volunteers with the Boys and Girls Club in Austin, Texas.
Location: Ahmeek, MI
Founders: Erik Kiilunen and Kenneth Keranen
About: Rebar is all around us - the foundations of our homes, the sidewalks we walk on,
and the streets we drive on daily. Short for reinforcing bar, rebar is typically made
of a steel bar or wire mesh that’s used as a tension device to strengthen and hold
concrete. But it’s heavy, difficult to transport, and rusts.
As a longtime entrepreneur, Erik Kiilunen and his business partner, Kenneth Keranen, saw an opportunity five years ago when working on a production process in another business venture, an environmentally friendly company called EcoStud. While developing this process they saw a better way to manufacture FRP rebar and make it more sustainable. It also had big money-making potential: rebar is a $200 billion market, according to Kiilunen.
With that in mind, they invented GatorBar®, a Neuvokas brand rebar product, which is a lightweight, rust-free, lower-cost replacement for steel rebar. According to founder Kiilunen, GatorBar® can save customers 40-50% in labor costs, is easier to deliver (on one truck instead of seven), is 7X lighter than its steel counterpart, and because it doesn’t rust, you won’t see structure failure from corrosion cracking.
Neuvokas' biggest growth to date has been in concrete on the ground reinforced for crack control, but they plan to get more professional engineers on board as the market matures and use it in structures as well. Kiilunen believes he can make it a $30 billion company in the next 10-15 years if they get the right partners on board.
8. VFT Solutions, Inc.
Industry: Cybersecurity—Broadcast Media
Location: Ellenville, NY
Founders: Wayne Lonstein and Julie Lonstein
About: Worldwide online users made 300 billion visits to internet piracy sites in 2017,
according to a recent report by anti-piracy consulting firm Muso. And new streaming
services such as Instagram TV, Facebook Live, YouTube Live, and Periscope are making
it even easier for viewers to catch an illegal stream.
With over 30 years’ experience in litigation helping creators and broadcasters protect their content against piracy, founder Wayne Lonstein saw the problem getting worse due to the evolution of technology in the late 1990s. It was then that Lonstein decided it was time to go back to graduate school to learn how he could help address the growing threat himself. This led to the birth of VFT Solutions in 2012.
With VFT’s patented VLA® technology, they can immediately identify and document illegal social media streams and viewers automatically, and even communicate with the streamer and viewers in real-time. This message insertion technology provides the viewers a message with a price and access-friendly option to watch the event legally. This method has proven effective in both driving illegal stream viewers to legal consumption methods, as well as simultaneously disrupting their perception of online anonymity. He counts satellite providers and Pay-Per-View (PPV) companies, such as the UFC, as clients.
Lonstein is seeing “massive buy-in” from leading content providers and the broadcasting industry is "starting to catch-up.” Until then, he writes for the Forbes Technology Council and warns pirates that with VFT on the market, their anonymity isn’t safe on the internet any longer.
Industry: Blockchain Technology
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Founders: Amy Wan and Daniel Rice
According to Sagewise founders Amy Wan and Daniel Rice, in 2017 there was an estimated $1 billion lost in smart contract disputes. They set out to improve transactional confidence in the blockchain industry, and from that Sagewise was born. Billed as the safety net for smart contracts, Sagewise builds technology that uses blockchains and cryptocurrency to resolve disputes. Their system is a smart contract software development kit – like an arbitration clause in a traditional contract - that allows contracts to be stopped when a dispute arises as well as utilize a dispute vendor marketplace.
Wan says smart contracts are “only as good as their code,” so when they contain a coding error or security vulnerability that goes unnoticed by its creator or an auditor therein lies the problem. Sagewise provides smart contract users with a third layer of protection; when something goes wrong contracting parties can trigger “Dispute Resolution Mode,” which freezes the smart contract until the dispute is resolved. Disputes are then resolved by the marketplace vendor defined in the smart contract. Vendors can provide unique approaches to dispute resolution using their own fee structures.
Wan and Rice say their company gives smart contract developers and security auditors the ability to sleep better at night knowing that Sagewise is providing a safety net for the undiscovered and unexpected. The investment community agrees, as on August 3, 2018 Sagewise closed a round of seed funding for $1.25 million. In addition to launching new paid products, Sagewise gives back to the community and recently published an index of smart contract and blockchain legislation by state [https://www.sagewise.io/smart-contracts-state-legislation/] as a free resource.
10. EV Safe Charge
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Founders: Caradoc Ehrenhalt
Upon purchasing an electric vehicle in 2015, Caradoc Ehrenhalt realized there was
little information about how to select or install a vehicle charging station. Wearing
both his entrepreneur and consumer hats, he set out to see if other EV car owners
had a similar experience. From that, EV Safe Charge was born and now the company installs,
maintains and enables electric vehicle chargers and software across the US.
EV charging is a fast-growing industry; according to a recent report from Wood Mackenzie Ltd. there will be as many as 40 million charging points globally by 2030 as electric vehicles are forecasted to make up about 11 percent of new car sales. EV Safe Charge is helping consumers, businesses, and car companies navigate this explosive growth.
EV Safe Charge customers range from owners of homes, apartment complexes, office buildings,
and commercial locations to automotive groups, school districts, and hotels. One of
their new products is a mobile solution, EV Charge Mobile, which can bring most vehicles
to 80% charge capacity within 20-30 minutes. The company also provides consulting
services and is currently working with a company to install ADA compliant EV chargers.
EV Safe Charge has received several accolades; Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes authored a resolution commending them for providing the first EV chargers for school buses in California, and they were named a Top 10 Startup for 2017 by the Los Angeles Auto Show & AutoMobility LA. EV Safe Charge is certified by the Green Business Bureau and for each EV charger installed, they fund a tree to be planted through the Arbor Day Foundation.
Location: Santa Monica, CA
Founders: Ayinde Alakoye and Jason Medeiros
With over 274 million daily listeners in the US alone, nēdl intends to shake things up for radio. Backed by the National Association of Broadcasters, nēdl (as in, the haystack) allows radio listeners to search live audio as easily as they search the web (by keyword) and also start their own live broadcasts to add their speech to the real-time search results. nēdl is the world's first search engine for live audio.
Radio listeners, who previously searched from station-to-station, can now easily access content on nēdl for free. nēdl is available as a skill on Amazon Alexa ("Open Needle Now") and it is featured in the Apple App Store.
Users can also create their own content or news broadcast instantly, while every word they say is indexed for real-time search. Any live broadcast can be heard immediately in over 39 million Alexa-enabled homes and cars (Toyota, Lexus, BMW, Mini, Volkswagen and Ford). Both the nēdl skill and app is free and content creators have up to nine minutes of airtime each day. After that, they can subscribe for $19.95 per month for unlimited time as an on-air jock.
Streaming radio stations pay anywhere from $49.95 to $1,399.95 per month to make their stations searchable. Capitalizing on the $44.1 billion radio global ad market, nēdl is using an innovative AI technology approach to cater to on-demand listening. Founders Ayinde Alakoye (the creator of the original iheartradio app) and Jason Medeiros are proving that radio may yet have quite a bit of life left in it.
12. Big Ass® Brands
Location: Fairfield, CA
Founders: Ray Horwath and Anita Horwath
About: Several years ago when Ray Horwath was visiting Europe, he was struck by cultural
habits that put beer and wine alongside the enjoyment of a great meal. With that in
mind, Horwath returned to the US and set to work on a new approach to introduce unique
beer styles that were easy to drink and matched to food.
Today, Horwath’s Big Ass® Brands produces a rotating selection of beers grounded in the wheat-style, but with multiple variations including hefeweizens, stouts, and a dunkleweiss. The company has also established a positive reputation for highly drinkable cabernets, zinfandels, and chardonnay-style wines.
Primarily through word-of-mouth, the company enjoys a large regional following and works with a strong network of restaurants, taprooms, and retail outlets. The company is in discussions with large wine and beer retail chains to offer their beers and wines. In recent years, the company has fielded requests from Colorado to the East Coast for large retail orders.
Big Ass Brands has been successful working with local brewers and vintners but is looking at future growth. “We recognize that we need a location that allows us to scale from a dozen barrels to 100 or more. We also seek a location that appeals to people who like to enjoy a taproom experience.”
In the meantime, Horwath, who founded the company with his wife, Anita Horwath, says the company maintains a steady flow of novel Big Ass beer and wine concepts.
13. POPS! Diabetes Care
Industry: Medical Devices
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Founders: Lonny Stormo, Dan Davis, and Curt Christensen
POPS! Diabetes Care founder Lonny Stormo knows the constant challenge for people with diabetes is tracking their blood sugar and understanding how to control it. He also knows the major burden diabetes patients face because they are largely left to manage the condition on their own.
These “friction points” are personal for Stormo because he has diabetes. That’s one
of the main reasons he linked up with business partners Dan Davis and Curt Christensen
in 2015 to create POPS! Diabetes Care.
From the beginning, the partners were determined to use digital glucose monitoring technology, smartphone capabilities, and a consumer-friendly approach to bridge the care gap for people with diabetes.
With POPS! Diabetes Care, when a new user signs up for diabetes care, they can monitor their blood sugar anywhere anytime. The app helps the person meet their goals, and connectivity brings in simple caregiver support.
POPS! Diabetes Care is working through FDA review to bring their innovative approach to market. Working directly with sponsored health plans at the start, POPS! Diabetes Care can help people with diabetes affordably manage their condition. At the same time, health plans can reduce their costs for covered lives that are up to four times those for people without diabetes.
“With the rise of consumerism in healthcare, we knew addressing the friction points was possible,” said Stormo. “We now have a great solution, validation from clinical trials, and interest from health plans in sharing POPS! Diabetes Care with their people.”
Industry: Lighting Design
Location: Altadena, CA
Founders: Jim Sanfilippo
About: Not many people can say that one of their first clients was the US House of Representatives,
and that their product is still being used today in the room where the President’s
State of the Union address is delivered every year. But Jim Sanfilippo can.
After spending two decades in Hollywood as a lighting professional, working on blockbuster movies such as “Armageddon” and “Minority Report,” Sanfilippo became increasingly frustrated with the use of HMI lights, which are used to replace daylight on television and film sets. They contain high levels of mercury, get very hot, and don’t last long, according to founder Sanfilippo. So, he set out to create an alternative with his company, Nila.
Nila designs and manufactures LED lights that are used “where the camera is the most important audience member.” He sells his environmentally-friendly, cradle-to-cradle designed lighting systems to TV, film, and sports facilities. Nila’s fixtures are designed to last over 20 years. Since Nila’s first products shipped in 2008, the estimated energy savings has been more than 22 gigawatt hours.
To date, his biggest adopters have been electronic news gatherers (cable and local TV news affiliates), high-speed photographers, freelance video owner-operators, and creatives, including rental houses that rent equipment to TV and film studios. Nila is currently one of seven companies that have bid to re-light the famous Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, California, and with the longevity of his fixtures, there’s a good chance his lights may grace the world’s most iconic sporting venue soon.
Location: Birmingham, AL
Founders: Patrick Taylor, Scott Pierce, Keith Deason, and Jeff Baldwin
The upswing in cyberattacks, hacking, and the marketing of personal data makes it obvious that organizations and individuals must take the handling of personal data seriously. At the heart of data security is personal identity verification - proving you are who you say you are.
In recent years, significant leaps in technology have closed the gap between high tech criminals and their targets. Now biometric screening is opening a new avenue of security.
UnicusID uses smartphones to biometrically authenticate users to make a transaction or access their identities. The company founders believe all manner of organizations, from large government agencies on down to smaller companies, and individuals can benefit from emerging technology that can distinguish biological traits for nearly instantaneous personal verification.
“We believe our technology can help organizations conduct biometric screening at the point of transaction, creating efficiencies and improving workflow,” said Patrick Taylor, founder of UnicusID “We are on our way in terms of connecting and building a foundation with multiple large government agencies and companies.”
Taylor, along with co-founders Scott Pierce, Keith Deason, and Scott Bladwin, report UnicusID is already securing leads and contracts and expects to achieve their 2020 projections as early as the end of 2019 as increasingly larger companies and government agencies adopt biometric screening technology.
2018 Highly Promising Companies
We also learned about some great companies that did not quite make our top 15, who we'd like to highlight as Highly Promising.
Location: Knoxville, TN
Founders: Gary Sayler, Dan Close, and Steven Ripp
About: Making drug development less expensive, less complex, more accurate, more reliable, and more data intensive.
Gold Coast Water
Industry: Water Desalinization
Location: Laguna Niguel, CA
Founders: Brian Meano
About: Addressing the global need for an economical and sustainable source of fresh water via an advanced new technology for seawater desalinization.
Industry: Agriculture Technology
Location: Phoenix, AZ
Founders: Sean Lyle, Gerald Williams, Andrew Lloyd, and John Wellman
About: PowerGrow designs, finances, builds, operates, and maintains renewable-powered, high-tech controlled growing facilities for produce growers.
Prisma Systems Corp.
Industry: Software Services
Location: Burnham, IL
Founders: Chris Richards, Isaac Dallas, and Jacob Dallas
About: Improving product content generation for e-commerce with XSPACE.
Location: Fort Valley, GA
Founders: Greg E. Allen
About: A music streaming company that empowers the music creators.
Disclaimers: The Pepperdine Most Fundable Companies List does not represent an offer to sell securities. It does not constitute investment advice, nor is it an endorsement of any particular product or service. Pepperdine University and The Venture Alliance (TVA) are not broker-dealers and do not perform services provided by a broker-dealer, including but not limited to any financial or investment advising.