10 Movers + Shakers in Columbus By Book+Street
If you’re as clued into the world of startups and entrepreneurs as we are, you know there’s a lot happening in the Columbus market right now. We love connecting with entrepreneurs and founders through our podcast series, but we thought: Why not write about some movers and shakers we’ve noticed in Columbus? Some we’ve met, some we haven’t… yet. So check it out, here are 10 Movers and Shakers in the Columbus Startup Scene right now.
Don’t see yourself on this list but know you’ve got big plans in 2020? Reach out! Who knows, this could become a two- or three- part-series. info@614startups
John Delia, HousingJoint Ventures (Affordable Housing)
John Delia comes from a family of real estate investors, but he’s set on creating his own success, his own way. He moved from New York to Columbus and joined his father’s real estate business in 2009, quickly getting his real estate license (at only 18!) and buying his first property at age 20. He learned from a young age the importance of investing in real estate and created Housing Joint Venture. Housing JV is a business built to share what he’s learned and teaches it’s customers to create real cash flow through real estate. He stopped by the Podcast way back in 2018 to share his journey and talk about Housing JV.
Housing JV uses a business model and platform to share this approach at a larger scale, helping more investors profit while creating positive impact in the communities they serve. Americans today (in our Columbus community and beyond) face a crisis in housing affordability. Increasing rental costs place affordable housing out of reach for millions. Nearly 1 in 2 renters households spend over 30% of their income on rent, while 1 in 4 spend more than 50% of their income on rent. Housing Joint Venture is a marketplace for bringing together impact investors and low-cost housing developers. Accredited investors can pool money online to buy shares of pre-vetted investment properties like residential homes and apartment buildings and share in the income from their properties. “A lot of people think that if you want to do good in the world, you need to sacrifice profits. I’ve seen that the opposite is true – the stronger the profits, the more good we can accomplish,” Delia says. We agree.
Imran Nuri, The 52 Million Project (Social Entrepreneurship)
Learning the value of philanthropy from an early age set in motion the trajectory of Imran Nuri, the founder of The 52 Million Project, a startup focused on empowering and engaging people to get involved in philanthropy on the micro scale. Their mission is to teach people that anybody can be a philanthropist, even if it means donating just one dollar a week. His vision, and the vision of The 52 Million Project, is to engage one million people in their movement, collectively donating $52 million annually to critical areas of need around the globe including fighting poverty, improving animal welfare and ensuring a strong future for the planet.
He was compelled to start the project after leading BuckeyeThon in 2018-2019, and seeing “there is a lot of power in a few dollars.” Under his leadership, BuckeyeThon raised over $1.7MM from 30,000 donors and 5,000 student participants. He went on to found the 52 Million Project and will graduate from Ohio State’s Fisher College of Business in May with his degree in Marketing. He credits BuckeyeThon and his parents for instilling his love of philanthropy and the value of giving back. Get involved and commit your $1 per week, here.
Chris Asman, Studium (Student Engagement App)
Created to enhance the student experience, improve student success and increase retention, Chris Asman launched Studium during his junior year at Ohio State. Chris long had dreams of being an entrepreneur, inspired by how hard he saw his father work when he was growing up. Since its launch in 2018, Studium has grown to a team of fourteen, serving universities around the country. Studium seeks to shake up the EdTech space by creating additional opportunities for student engagement (through peer-to-peer connection for classes and study groups), retention, and diversity and inclusion (source). They’re valuable to colleges and universities of all sizes because they provide additional data on student habits, needs and behaviors, allowing universities to meet those needs.
614Startups had the pleasure of interviewing Asman way back in 2018. Since then, Asman has built out a team, pitched to hundreds of universities and grown the platform from it’s initial peer network to offer valuable insight into community trends and integration within University software for advising services.
Angela Rucci, Tego (Personal Safety App)
Angela Rucci built Tego (which, fun fact, comes from a Harry Potter spell, “Protego”) after she was attacked while grocery shopping. She wanted to create an app that allows its users to feel safe when they’re walking from point A to B, and give them the option of who to notify when they get there. Tego works like some ride-sharing apps, by allowing users to put in the destinations, select contacts (called sidekicks) they want to be able to view their location and send automatic push notifications when they arrive safely. In her words, the “app provides safety with just two taps.” She and her team even built a function that allows you to share your battery life, and record video and sound if you’re feeling unsafe, which can be invaluable to police should something happen.
Rucci launched Tego in March of last year, after winning OSUs 2018 Hackathon, beating 750 other participants. She and her co-founder Mark Thorn (COO) lead a team including a CTO, marketing and engineering teams. She’s even been on the 614 Startups podcast! We can’t wait to see where Tego and Rucci go in 2020!
Brooke Yoakam, GiftPocket (Finance/Shopping App)
At just 17 years old, Brooke Yoakam may well be the youngest entrepreneur on this list. She is the founder of GiftPocket, a digital app that allows users to store their gift cards, solving the age-old dilemma of getting to the mall and realizing you forgot your gift cards. By creating a digital “pocket,” users can see all of their cards in one place and use them, exchange them, or buy them, right from their phone. Not only that, but GiftPocket can send push notifications through the app, reminding shoppers of their gift card and offering them additional promotions.
Brooke came up with the idea at just 12 years old, after attending The Young Entrepreneurs Academy, where she was challenged to solve a problem and present it to the panel, SharkTank style (her idea won). Since then, she has been building the company with the support of her family, and Rev1 Ventures, as well as Book+Street®. She plans to attend college where she’ll study Business and Technology. She has generated some amazing local, including the 614Startups Podcast, and national press, given a TedX Talk, and so much more. For such a young founder, this star is BRIGHT.
Will Zell, Nikola Labs (IOT/Manufacturing)
Nikola Labs was dreamed up at a picnic table behind Ohio State’s ElectroScience Lab. Grown in partnership with the university’s Technology Commercialization Office and Ikove Ventures, Nikola Labs is a sensor-based condition monitoring manufacturer, with applications in the industrial, scientific and medical spaces. Founder Will Zell sees this as the early stages of what the technology can do, and the company has scaled significantly to over 30 employees having doubled in size in 2019. When we spoke back in 2018, he was still in the (very) early stages and we were beyond impressed then. Imagine almost two years later how much more he’s learned and accomplished?
Nikola Labs recently closed a $4 million round of funding, following their initial round in 2017, making them among the largest VC-backed startups in Columbus. If their current trajectory tells us anything, this is just the beginning for Zell and the team. They are currently building out new tech beyond their initial product Vero to new condition monitoring software, and their potential revenue for 2020 is massive, $100 million according to a recent BizJournals article.
Matthew Benson, eFuse (Gaming)
In an industry experiencing record growth, newcomer eFuse was designed to be a digital hub for all things gaming. Built by gamers, including CEO Matthew Benson, for gamers, eFuse offers a networking, news, and learning platform designed for gamers to get themselves noticed by companies and influencers in the gaming space, but be advised, this isn’t for the casual gamer. The platform launched in December 2019 with partnerships like Braxton Miller and chocoTaco, among others, and is designed to open up new opportunities for advanced gamers to join teams, be recruited by professional teams and more.
Benson became interested in entrepreneurship during his time at Ohio University (he graduated in 2019), studying the major and accepting an internship, and later Entrepreneur-in-Residence role at the Ohio Innovation Fund, gathering experience in working with venture-backed startups and entrepreneurs. Since founding eFuse in 2018, he went through a seed fund heading into his December 2019 launch, raising $1.4 million, according to Columbus Business First. If the gaming industry continues at the pace it’s been going, this startup is definitely one to watch.
Madison Mikhail Bush, POINT (Social Good)
Recently described as “the Uber of Volunteering,” don’t call POINT a disruptor. Founder Madison Mikhail Bush firmly believes that POINT is a community partner, not a disrupting service designed to oust an older, more established service. POINT is an app for finding and joining volunteer opportunities in the Columbus market (with plans to open and operate in 12 markets in 2020, according to a recent Forbes article).
The company slogan and hashtag #domoregood, really speaks to the heart of its founder. Frustrated she could get food delivered at midnight but not easily find a volunteering opportunity, she created POINT and specifically stayed in the Columbus market, despite some VCs advising her not to. She’s committed to Columbus, and the Midwest at large, identifying and working with nonprofits to create a “job board” of opportunities, sorted by causes and available dates. Invite friends (no one likes to go it alone!), share opportunities and follow your favorite charities, so you never miss an opportunity. We think this is genius and taps into so many people’s desire to do good, right now.
Mike Nemeth, Emblem Athletic (Athletic Gear)
Serial entrepreneur Mike Nemeth is a jack of all trades kind of guy. He’s a published author, a West Point grad, a coach and most recently, the Founder and CEO of Emblem Athletic, a custom sportswear company that makes gear for the US Olympics, West Point and Pelotonia, among others. As a coach, he felt the pain of creating and ordering uniforms for his runners, and Emblem Athletic was born out of that need. Created to make designing uniforms simple, coaches fill out a quick 2-minute style quiz and Emblem’s team of graphic designers create uniforms based on the colors, logos, and mascots of each team.
We interviewed Nemeth just this month on the podcast, and discussed his journey from West Point graduate to author, coach and now Founder. He absolutely loves pranking Navy during the famous Army Navy game week, and even spoofed Navy fans with this now-infamous prank.
Bob Wiggins, RedBud (Agriculture Tech)
RedBud, a software provider created out of research at Ohio State University, is designed for controlled environmental agriculture. It was built by growers, for growers, to improve operational efficiencies like equipment maintenance and pest management in their greenhouses. CEO Bob Wiggins, former SVP of Rev1 Ventures, helped grow the company, founded by Joan Leonard, who was managing the Ohio State greenhouses using spreadsheets, and realized there was a better way. After building the initial product, Wiggins came on board as CEO. Rev1, Wiggins and Ohio State are majority shareholders.
The company has several clients in the university and agricultural space around the country and in Mexico, but sees huge potential in the cannabis industry, already working with several Canadian companies in cannabis, according to a Columbus CEO article. From where we’re sitting, controlled environment agriculture could become even bigger as climates change and the marijuana industry becomes legal in more states (and even federally).