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Companies to keep an eye on

Greater Madison boasts some impressive fast-growing companies, all of which deserve our attention as they work to become the ‘next big thing.’

(page 1 of 3)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

When it comes to fastest-growing companies nationally, what Wisconsin lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality.

The 2019 Inc. 5000 — Inc.’s annual guide to the 5,000 fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S., and how they reached their lofty heights — includes 50 companies from the Badger State. That’s an increase from the 43 companies Wisconsin boasted on the 2018 list.

Many of those companies are from the Greater Madison area — 14 in 2019, up from 11 in 2018. Last year, Madison-based logistics and transportation company SwanLeap was the overall No. 1 fastest-growing company on the Inc. 5000 list with an incredible three-year growth of 75,661 percent and $99 million in annual revenue. This year, SwanLeap was still the top Madison-area and Wisconsin company with an overall ranking of No. 35 on 6,383 percent three-year growth and $162.6 million in annual revenue.

For this first-time look at local “companies to watch,” IB picked three of these leading companies from the Inc. list, along with two additional early-stage companies on the rise that are ready to make waves in their industries, to profile their rapid growth and learn why we should expect big things from them in the future.

Keen eyes

EyeKor was founded in Madison in 2012 by Drs. Christopher J. Murphy, Yijun Huang, and Ronald Danis. The company is an imaging contract research organization (CRO) that provides management and analysis services for ophthalmic clinical and preclinical studies through its EXCELSIOR platform, which allows unprecedented ability to track study progress and share data among sites, reading centers, CROs, and sponsors.

“… we saw the market trending toward an influx of clinical-trial projects in the Asia-Pacific region.” — Dr. Yijun Huang, president & CTO, EyeKor

According to Dr. Huang, president and CTO, the company’s three founders saw an opportunity to provide a cloud-based software coupled with superior field service to serve the ophthalmic clinical trial marketplace. The founders believe the company provides added value to complex clinical trial projects with a product developed with the help of strong scientific expertise. “The team has deep and extensive knowledge and experience in evaluating images and has extensive experience with retinal diseases and disorders,” notes Dr. Murphy, who serves as CEO.

Since 2014, EyeKor has participated or is currently involved in 94 clinical trials in ophthalmology, more than 36 of which are large phase-III projects. It now has more than 10,000-plus users and has certified over 1,300-plus clinical sites in 47 countries, while hosting more than 20 million images. “Having this large repository of clinical sites places EyeKor in a unique position to advise study sponsors on potential site availability that are already fully qualified and certified within the EyeKor Excelsior platform in the study of appropriate imaging requirements,” explains Dr. Danis, chief scientific officer, “thus making site initiation faster and more efficient for the study sponsor.”

In its first year, Huang notes, EyeKor had no revenue, and the company didn’t hire its first employee outside of the three founders until 2014, when it posted its first meaningful revenue of $400,000. Now, the company has 40 full-time equivalent employees and many additional contractors, and last year it posted revenue of $5.6 million.

On April 17, EyeKor opened a new office in China to enhance the company’s capability to support clinical trial sponsors and sites in China and the Asia-Pacific region. “The decision to open a China office came about because we saw the market trending toward an influx of clinical-trial projects in the Asia-Pacific region,” says Huang. “We anticipated there will be significant amount of studies originating from the Asian countries, as well as the requirement of having local support in the covered time zone.”

The China office will mirror the corporate structure of the U.S. headquarters, with similar functional groups. EyeKor management anticipates their resources and the responsibilities of the China office will mostly cover the projects in China and APAC regions, and the resources and responsibilities of the U.S. office will cover other global projects.

Over the next five years, Dr. Murphy expects the company to continue to grow organically by approximately 25 percent a year. Thus far, notes Danis, EyeKor has achieved growth through “word-of-mouth” marketing, not through large expenditure of sales and marketing activities. How long that continues is anyone’s guess.

“We suspect each young startup has its own gradient for success,” adds Huang. “However, we think focusing on what we do best and striving for success every day is what’s needed to achieve our goals.”

Rewarding endeavor

Founded in 2013 by Wes Schroll, Fetch Rewards started as a simple idea. “It was after my sophomore year of college, when I moved out of the dorms and began shopping for myself, that I realized how difficult it was to save money on groceries,” notes Schroll. “The only way to save was by being in the right store at the right time with the right coupon. I knew that there had to be an easier way.”

“It is so easy to get swept up and lost in making big changes or lost in how to just grow.” — Wes Schroll, CEO, Fetch Rewards

The company’s philosophy is indeed simple: Consumers should be able to save anywhere they like to shop, and they should save on the brands they’re already buying. With Fetch Rewards, shoppers can just scan their receipts and Fetch does the rest of the work for them.

But making his idea a reality wasn’t as easy. Schroll talked to anyone and everyone he could with knowledge about the grocery industry, but he kept hearing the same thing: The space was too large to tackle, too slow to innovate, and far too complex for a 19-year-old college student to navigate.

Needing funding to get his idea off the ground but running into roadblocks from the more traditional financing avenues, Schroll discovered a business plan competition at his college with a deadline just 10 days away. Burning the candle at both ends, he made the deadline and won the $25,000 grand prize.

With that momentum, Schroll entered his idea in business plan competitions all over the country. In total, he won over $180,000 in cash, office space, and other prizes, and although his winnings came with no strings attached, Schroll doubled down on his idea — and his belief in himself, despite what others said — and he dropped out of school in 2013 to build Fetch Rewards full time.

Fetch has since grown to over 110 employees, brought in over $45 million in funding, and changed the way companies reward shoppers for their loyalty. Fetch Rewards has formed strategic partnerships with some of the largest consumer packaged goods companies in the world, representing over $100 billion combined in annual U.S. sales. In five years, Schroll expects one-fifth of households will be using the Fetch Rewards app to save on their purchases.

“Fetch Rewards has an innovative business model, supported by an innovative technology,” says Schroll. “Prior to Fetch Rewards, there was not a program available that rewarded shoppers for buying items regardless of where or when they were purchased. For example, every single time you buy Doritos, or hundreds of other brands, from any store, you get rewarded. It’s a game-changer for shoppers because it makes it so easy. No more scouring coupons or clipping offers. The underlying technology also processes your receipt in real time, showing how much you earned within seconds.”

Schroll says other young startups can learn from Fetch’s early success by focusing on doing the small things right and letting the big things take care of themselves. “It is so easy to get swept up and lost in making big changes or lost in how to just grow. Instead, focus on the small things that impact your business day after day. If you do those right, the rest becomes clear and the systems won’t fall over while working on the big changes and plans.”


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