8 Companies to Watch

By Andrew Shaughnessy
From homespun soda to digital storytelling platforms, artificial intelligence to financial wellness, Chattanooga’s culture of entrepreneurship continues to produce companies, products, and technologies that inspire. In this issue, we’ve highlighted 8 companies that are disrupting their industries and carving out their niches. 

30 Chest Compressions, 2 Rescue Breathes, 1 Product Sweeping the Market

CPR Wrap

In a medical crisis, seconds count. CPR Wrap inventor and CEO Felicia Jackson knows this firsthand. Despite being a CPR-certified physical therapist assistant at Memorial Hospital, when her son suddenly stopped breathing in the backseat of her car, she froze. Fortunately, her husband sprang into lifesaving action, but that horrific event was forever stamped on Jackson’s mind and heart. And so the mission behind CPR Wrap was born.

“The retention for CPR is only three to four months after you learn it,” says Jackson. “Even when they have proper training, in that moment, people often still feel afraid or helpless.”

That’s where CPR Wrap comes in. Jackson’s patented product is a CPR aid consisting of a mouthpiece and plastic sheets that can be laid over a victim’s mouth and chest. The material protects the caregiver from fluids, and printed on the plastic are simple, easy-to-follow directions that walk the user through CPR.

Jackson started CPR Wrap (originally called Life Wrap) in October 2015, while going through the LAUNCH CHA entrepreneurship program. After a year of building skills and confidence, plus joining the CO.LAB 12-week accelerator program and presenting in front of Shark Tank producers, Jackson was “ready to rock and roll.” In 2016, Jackson got her first investor and produced the company’s first batch of inventory, and by 2017, CPR Wrap had started to grow.

“Last year, an anonymous group offered me $1.2 million for 80% of my company,” says Jackson. “I turned it down. I’m thinking: ‘We’ve got some growing to do.’”

As Jackson and her team began to market their product, they heard nothing but praise.

“I had industry leaders telling me, ‘Wow, why didn’t I think of that,’” says Jackson. “So I knew I was onto something.”

The company is already selling their product locally, serving the Hamilton County School system, a private school, Parkridge Medical Center, and fulfilling individual orders through CPR instructors. But the vision is much bigger.

“Our strategy is going after the medical device companies, first aid kit companies, and defibrillator distributors,” Jackson explains.

Medical device distributors including WorldPoint, American Heart Association, and American Red Cross, along with retail chains like CVS and Walmart, have all expressed interest.

In the coming months, CPR Wraps for animals, which are patent pending now, will hit the market.

(First) Photo by Chris Wolfe

Giving Drivers a Voice, Giving Companies Insights


Co-founded by CEO Max Farrell and CTO Andrew Kirpalani in Des Moines, Iowa, in 2015, tech startup WorkHound came to Chattanooga in 2016 after being accepted in Lamp Post Group’s Dynamo accelerator program.

With a focus in the trucking industry, the company harnesses technology to provide a continuous feedback loop between frontline workers and management.

“There’s a 95% driver turnover rate in trucking,” explains Farrell. “So if you have a 1000-truck company, you’re having to hire 950 people per year to keep your trucks full, which means you’re spending about $8 million in recruiting, retraining, and lost productivity.”

WorkHound found that drivers often leave companies because they don’t feel like they have a voice. Some companies have attempted to address these issues with exit interviews or annual surveys, but often, measures such as these are too little, too late.

“In trucking, a guy can be unhappy on Tuesday, fed up on Wednesday, and quit by the end of the week,” says Farrell. “You have to be proactive instead of reactive.”

To meet this need, WorkHound created a platform where drivers can share anonymous feedback anywhere, anytime, as often as they want, without fear of retaliation. Management gets continuous insights through a dashboard that shows urgent issues as well as trends across the company. Leaders can address the feedback by communicating to the entire company through the platform about large-scale issues, or by reaching out to individual employees to address specific, critical problems.

Some customers have seen a 16% drop in driver turnover since starting with WorkHound, and companies are typically able to retain six to eight of every 10 drivers who use the platform to bring up urgent issues. Many have also used WorkHound’s insights to make popular company-wide changes, like adding pet policies so that drivers can ride with their animals on long haul trips.

“In 2017, our revenue grew by about 500%,” says Farrell. They also expanded from four to seven employees, and have completely revamped their product, allowing them to serve their customers better than ever.

In 2018, WorkHound hopes to add a number of product features and grow their sales and customer success teams. Farrell says that other industries have expressed interest in their platform and model as well. Ultimately, he hopes to extend WorkHound’s platform to frontline workers in industries like nursing, warehousing, and manufacturing.

(Second) Photo by Flow Media/Courtesy of WorkHound

Crowdsourcing History Through Digital Storytelling

Pass It Down

For Chris Cummings, it all started when his mom was diagnosed with early-onset dementia. Stirred by that experience to create a digital platform where others could preserve memories of their loved ones, Cummings founded Pass It Down in 2015. At first, the technology was focused on helping people preserve memories for future generations, but in the last year, that vision has expanded to allow people to collaboratively collect and tell the stories of their communities.

In February 2017, Pass It Down partnered with the Chattanooga Public Library to launch the Chattanooga Memory Project, which takes Pass It Down’s initial storytelling platform and expands it to tell the story of an entire city.

“The question we asked was: How do we use technology to take the history that’s already here and make it engaging in a way that brings the community on board?” says Cummings.

His answer: crowdsource history.

Using Pass It Down’s digital platform, anyone in the community can contribute. At the click of a button, you can add a text, photo, audio, or video memory. Those memories will then be tagged by category and location, allowing users on the Chattanooga Memory Project website to search by topic, area, or decade.

“Imagine being able to pull up a neighborhood and access 500 memories,” says Cummings.

To build momentum, Pass It Down has created starter content focused on music in Chattanooga, from stories about Bessie Smith to details of a local mental health institute that would send kids to record local folk music.

While Chattanooga is the pilot project, Cummings is already in talks with four other cities that want their own platform to create and preserve their histories. The project will also serve as a way to take the cities’ historical archives and make them available to the public digitally.

“We want to provide the ability to take all that archived information and make it user friendly,” Cummings explains. “We want to rethink how museums, historical centers, and cities can create an experience that actually allows the public to interact, engage, and learn.”

(First) Photo by David Humber

Using Artificial Intelligence to Innovate


Since its start in San Francisco in mid-2016, tech startup Pylon, which also holds offices in Chattanooga, has been at the vanguard of AI-based, conversation-driven technology. In 2017, the company released two conversational assistant apps for Amazon Alexa and Google Home called The Bartender and Tasted. These assistants let people use their smart speakers like Alexa to get recipes and how-to instructions to make drinks or dinner. For instance, if you have an Alexa, you could say, “Alexa, ask The Bartender for a martini,” and you would receive several martini recommendations with instructions.

According to co-founder Mike Tatum, Pylon launched Tasted to learn how users interact through conversation. With the findings that the company identified, it was able to rebuild the platform to launch The Bartender.

“We just relaunched our technology platform for The Bartender and now we’re getting incredibly good feedback,” he says.

Pylon is currently in the process of developing commercial relationships with retail, manufacturing, media, and automotive companies, in each case looking to apply their technology to enable these industries to conversationally engage their customers through their products and services.

“The Bartender and Tasted are real products, but they’re also samples to learn the marketplace,” says Tatum. “Now what we want to do is take what we’ve learned and apply it to different problem sets.”

One potential application is in what Tatum calls “the maker space.” To understand, imagine having a product shipped to your home that required assembly. Pylon’s AI app could talk you through how to assemble the product step by step.

Thus far, Pylon has built a demo and is in the process of partnering with manufacturers and retailers.

“This is a brand-new market,” says Tatum. “When we started the company, there were around three to five million devices out there that you could consider to be smart speakers or conversationally enabled. Now there are over 40 million. Some of the projections are saying there will be more than 150 million a year from now.”

According to Tatum, those numbers mirror the adoption rates for mobile phones and the web in their early days. Theoretically, as more and more devices are able to carry on a conversation and perform basic tasks, consumers will increasingly expect this “intelligence” from any and all devices. That will unlock more and more opportunities for Pylon to partner with industries to enable them to take advantage of this emerging technology.

(First) Photo by Varina Shaughnessy

Transforming How Ships Manage Risk

International Maritime Security Associates (IMSA)

Started in South Florida in 2013 by CEO Corey Ranslem and COO Frank Fenner, IMSA began as a maritime regulatory compliance company. Shortly after launching, they realized that the real market potential lay in providing real-time risk data to ships at sea. This year, they’re releasing their platform and ramping up sales.

There are many factors that can affect the shipping industry, including port delays, civil unrest, catastrophic weather, and disease outbreaks. “Whenever a vessel has to divert or move in response to one of these risk factors, it puts a larger expense on the total supply chain,” Ranslem explains. “We realized that the industry is so far behind in getting intelligence on what’s going on out there. That was how the platform was born.”

IMSA’s Automated Risk Management Solution (ARMS) software provides real-time, geographic-specific risk and threat information to ships around the world. Its bandwidth is exceedingly low (a key detail at sea), it has an intuitive, tablet-based user interface, and it could save the shipping industry billions of dollars every year.

“When you take into consideration all the types of delays, the cost overrun is in the billions,” says Fenner.

How does it work? With ARMS on a tablet, a traveling ship captain can set a geographic radius around their vessel from 50 to 300 nautical miles. Whenever a risk enters that bubble, the system will beep, alerting the user and providing a pop-up information box explaining the threat, as well as the standard threat response protocol. In the future, IMSA plans to set up a global intelligence center in Chattanooga, where customers can call in and request risk assessments for their planned route as well.

In 2017, the company’s focus was honing the product, market testing an alpha version of the ARMS platform, and identifying vessels for beta testing. The company also completed its initial round of fundraising, gathering both investors and its first potential clients.

This year, IMSA plans to raise additional capital, polish the final product through beta testing, and start presales.

“We have a stair stepped launch approach,” explains Ranslem. “We’ll launch into the large yacht market first, then into cargo lines, and then into cruise lines. Once it’s rolling, we’re expecting to hire approximately 70 to 100 people in Chattanooga, hopefully over the course of 2018 and 2019.”

Photos by Emily Long

Natural Soda Goes National

Pure Sodaworks

Back in 2011, Pure Sodaworks founders Matt and Tiffany Rogers and Shawn Clouse just had a food cart and a dream. They launched the company that year at a local farmers market, differentiating themselves from most soda companies by offering all-natural sodas made with pure cane sugar and real ingredients.

“We didn’t make a lot of money, but got a huge local following,” says Matt. “People were literally voting with their dollars and letting us know which flavors they wanted. It’s the best kind of market testing.”

They were onto something. In 2012, they launched a Kickstarter campaign, raising more than $23,000 to buy a bottling machine. By the end of the year, they were bottling, and by early 2013, they had picked up their first distributor. Before long, the business had exploded, with multiple distributors in Tennessee, the Midwest, and New England.

“In 2016, we had been on this steady trajectory for the last three years, growing about 60% every year,” Matt says. “It was really great. But then several things happened all at once.”

In rapid succession, Pure Sodaworks’ glass supplier moved out of Chattanooga. Then their bottling machine started having quality issues. Stretched thin, they realized that their business was unsustainable. They either needed to scale back and focus on only Chattanooga or work on a completely different strategy.

Their decision? Reinvent themselves. In 2017, the company rebranded and changed its soda lineup, and then joined the CO.LAB accelerator program to establish its new direction. In the midst of it all, Matt set up a meeting with Cracker Barrel’s beverage buyer. One day he presented his product, and three days before Thanksgiving, they got an email with Cracker Barrel’s first order for their entire 648 store national chain.

“After we scraped ourselves off the floor, we got to work,” Matt laughs.

Now, the whole team’s energy is devoted to scaling up. “In terms of outlook, we’re getting things in place to talk to Whole Foods and possibly Publix and Kroger. We’re looking at additional retailers as well as our old distribution network – they’re standing by ready to pick up where they left off.”

Photos by Tiffany Rogers

Technology for Wellness, From Fitness to Finances

Spire Labs

Founded as LifeKraze in 2011, this Chattanooga tech startup was relaunched in 2014 as Spire Labs. With the goal of creating platforms and products that help groups and individuals become their best selves, the company has several unique assets under its umbrella.

The first of these is Spire, the company’s original health and wellness social network platform. Intended to “disrupt employee wellness,” Spire switches the focus from ‘you versus your data’ to ‘you connected to others.’ Users can share their healthy accomplishments and give points to their coworkers for theirs, ultimately promoting health through social connectivity.

The second application, launched in 2017, is Rove, a step-tracking app that provides competitions within families, businesses, or even cities. In September, Spire Labs partnered with the city of Chattanooga for a city-wide Rove step competition.

The third, launching in 2018, is a product “at the intersection of the banking and financial wellness space.”

“This is going to disrupt consumer banking and our relationship to money,” says Spire Labs President and CEO Jay Kelley.

With their background in health-related apps, this may seem out of the company’s area of expertise, but Kelley insists that financial wellness is just as much a part of an individual’s wellbeing as physical wellness is, and thus it fits in Spire Labs’ wheelhouse.

“Stress related to finance is through the roof,” Kelley explains. “The vast majority of Americans today are living paycheck to paycheck, and there are massive levels of student loan debt. Employers and wellness companies understand the impact of financial stress on mental and physical health, and in turn, its impact on productivity. We believe this is a huge opportunity to get at one of those root causes.”

This year, the company plans to increase their client base and hire personnel for their financial wellness product, which will be unveiled and launched in the coming months.

Kelley says that, with all these moves, Spire Labs’ mission remains: to help people become their best selves, whether in physical health, community relationships, or finances – constantly asking the question: Where can we leverage technology to help people?

Harnessing Data and Disrupting a $700 Billion Industry


From weather to fuel prices, truck movements to fluctuations in supply and demand, there are countless factors that impact the freight market day to day. Unfortunately, real-time market information is hard to come by. That’s where FreightWaves emerges.

Founded last July, the trucking-targeted startup grew from 11 employees in August 2017 to 32 in January 2018. As a low-cost logistics hub, Chattanooga was a logical choice for a headquarters, and over the course of its first year of existence, the venture capitalist-funded company grew like wildfire.

Harnessing the possibilities of big data and machine learning technology, FreightWaves gathers data from 500,000 trucks across the country, maps it out, creates indices, and analyzes it to better understand the freight market’s supply and demand.

“The vast majority of freight transactions are made in 72 hours,” explains FreightWaves CEO Craig Fuller. “Trucking companies have to make decisions about what trucks to move, when to move them, and to what markets. What we do is give them an advantage – intelligence to understand what’s happening.”

Much of the analyzed data is turned into articles and published on FreightWaves, the company’s news website. With 400,000 reads per month (and rising), FreightWaves is now the second most trafficked trucking news site in the world.

Soon, the same information will also be available in real-time on FreightWaves’ data and analytics dashboard, Sonar, allowing trucking companies to call shots quicker and with better information. The dashboard, described by Fuller as “a Bloomberg terminal for freight,” is targeted for release to 70 pilot companies in April of 2018. A public launch will follow in May and will provide massive real-time market intelligence capabilities for a subscription fee.

But even then, FreightWaves’ plans go far beyond business intelligence and media.

“We have a much bigger outcome in mind,” says Fuller. “Our goal is to create a viable liquid futures market for trucking freight. Via our TransRisk Freight Futures Network, in partnership with DAT and Nodal Exchange, we’re hoping to do about $10 billion in volume in 2018.”

The entire trucking market is valued at around $700 billion with the theoretical size of the futures trucking market at upwards of $2.8 trillion.

“Our team has grown by 300% in the last four months,” says Fuller. “Things are exploding.” In other words, this is only the beginning.