Founder Profile

Viola Davis

Shoulder Up

For boosting the odds for more women.

Viola Davis, known for her brilliant acting and advocacy for equal rights for women of color, is also a successful entrepreneur. Along with her husband, Julius Tennon, Davis co-founded JuVee Productions, which currently has two television projects and three films in development with Amazon Studios. Her newest company, ShoulderUp, launched with co-founder Phyllis Newhouse in 2019, aims to mentor, connect, and support other women who want to bring about positive change in their lives and businesses. The company's investment arm, ShoulderUp Ventures, specifically backs women-led media, tech, and sports entertainment companies. "It is vital right now that we take this opportunity to understand what we are going to do with the baton that we have--literally we have the power to change history," Davis says.--Teneshia Carr

Company Information
Location
Atlanta, Georgia
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Jennifer Martin

Pipsnacks

For feeding America's snack addiction with bettter-for-you products.

Jennifer Martin, the co-founder of Pipsnacks, grew up with an autoimmune disease and many food sensitivities. As much as she enjoyed popcorn, she couldn't eat it until she was a college student, when a farmer showed up at the health food store she was working in with the small kernels that changed her life "I tried them and could 100 percent eat them. It didn't hurt my stomach, and it was the most delicious popcorn I've ever had in my life," she says. Martin popped the kernels for her brother and co-founder Jeff, and together with her best friend and Jeff's wife, Teresa Tsou, they knew they had something special, so they launched Pipsnacks in 2012. Today the company makes a line of snack food made from heirloom corn and, when possible, upcycled ingredients, such as repurposed excess ground heirloom corn flour. With Pipsnacks, Martin says she discovered her calling. "I couldn't see myself in corporate America. I couldn't see myself teaching or being a doctor. My brain just doesn't work that way. And so, for me, this was the only path and I think we found something that all three of us felt really passionate about," she says. That passion has paid off. In 2020 Pipsnacks’ revenue grew from $2.3 million to $6.1 million and the company expanded its offerings to five product lines, all with fewer than four ingredients that are whole grain, gluten-free, and non-GMO. When Covid shut down in-store sampling, Pipsnacks partnered with Ibotta, a cashback app, to allow consumers to send a free product to their friends. Last year also made the founders focus on e-commerce offerings—with highly successful results. Pipsnacks’ direct-to-consumer sales went up 520 percent. In 2020, Pipsnacks also committed to mission-driven initiatives, including Pipcorn Grants, which offers support and mentoring to Black and minority-founded brands. --Teneshia Carr

Company Information
Location
Brooklyn, New York
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Teresa Tsou

Pipsnacks

For feeding America's snack addiction with bettter-for-you products.

Teresa Tsou, co-founded Pipsnacks with her husband, Jeff Martin, and her best friend and sister-in-law, Jennifer Martin. And she says the company, which reimagines snacks using heirloom corn and upcycled ingredients, owes much of its success to the fact that it is a family business. "What has been so tremendous is we're family, we're best friends, we know one another, we know one another's skills,” Tsou says.

Figuring out how to work together well has paid off. In 2020 Pipsnacks’ revenue grew from $2.3 million to $6.1 million and the company expanded its offerings to five product lines, all with fewer than four ingredients that are whole grain, gluten-free, and non-GMO. When Covid shut down in-store sampling, Pipsnacks partnered with Ibotta, a cashback app, to allow consumers to send a free product to their friends. Last year also made the founders focus on e-commerce offerings—with highly successful results. Pipsnacks’ direct-to-consumer sales went up 520 percent. In 2020, Pipsnacks also committed to mission-driven initiatives, including Pipcorn Grants, which offers support and mentoring to Black and minority-founded brands.

“[The pandemic] was a shock to the system, affecting not only how we get in front of our customers, but also supply chains,” Tsou says. “We positioned our products as a cleaner and nostalgic snack, which helped spike our sales."--Teneshia Carr

Company Information
Location
Brooklyn, New York
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Michelle Longmire

Medable

For keeping clinical drug trials on track when Covid threatened to derail them.

Michelle Longmire was a practicing physician, seeing patients and conducting research into a rare condition called systemic sclerosis, when she hit on the idea for Medable. The difficulty she experienced finding study subjects for her research led her to recognize that bringing the process online could speed up drug development and save lives. “I realized this could be solved through technology, and I was working at Stanford, where so many people around me were founding companies,” she says. “I thought there was an important company to be built and started to pursue it, not having any clue how hard that would actually be. I just believed that this should exist.”

Longmire, a former collegiate soccer player who credits the sport with giving her a bias toward just getting things done and not worrying about hierarchy or other contraints, co-founded Medable in 2015 as a software platform for remote clinical trials. But it wasn’t until 2020 and the onset of Covid-19 that the company took off. At the pandemic’s onset, thousands of in-person clinical trials were under way worldwide, and people’s lives depended on them continuing remotely—which made Medable suddenly indispensable. The race to develop vaccines and therapies for Covid-19 only heightened the urgent need for Longmire’s technology. Clients now include AstraZeneca and other pharma giants, and the company has raised more than $300 million in venture capital this year alone to continue its growth.

“Developing a therapy is about a 12-year process that can cost as much as $2.6 billion,” says Longmire, who points out that Medable’s value to the drug-development process extends far beyond the needs of a pandemic, because it can slash the time and money needed to get drugs to market. “If we fast-forward a decade and say that because of this company's existence, there are 50 percent more therapies to effectively treat disease, because we were able to take the timeline down and free up resources and take more shots on goal, that means there are fewer people suffering in the world. That’s the value we are creating.”--Tom Foster

Company Information
Location
Palo Alto, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021

Vlada Bortnik

Marco Polo

For giving people a better way to connect.

Video chat app Marco Polo launched back in 2016, but the year of Covid is when it really exploded. Once Zoom fatigue set in, people wanted ways to connect with one another that were both less draining and less of a commitment than a fixed slot on your calendar. Marco Polo lets you send short videos, called Polos, to people without the need for recipients to watch in real time. The free app has been downloaded more than 10 million times, with 900,000 alone in March of 2020, according to app market research firm Sensor Tower.

While co-founder and CEO Vlada Bortnik cheered the surge in activity, it dramatically increased the load on the startup’s servers. Bortnik decided to launch Marco Polo’s business model, which had been in the works for years, in 2020. Unlike most social media platforms, the company has committed to not selling users’ data to make money. Marco Polo opted to ask users to pay for extra features: Its $5 a month Plus plan offers, among other perks, the ability to send voice-only Polos and watch video at faster speeds. The move inspired some backlash from users, because previously free features are now only accessible with a paid plan. While Bortnik admits the company could have communicated the changes better, she’s heartened by the overall response.

“We’ve received an overwhelming number of emails saying how much of a lifeline we’ve been for people, and they use those words—‘a lifeline’—during this difficult time,” she says. “We can’t be a lifeline for people if we’re not going to be around, but we weren’t going to do that in a way that’s bad for users’ digital well-being.”--Lindsay Blakely

Company Information
Location
San Francisco, California
Inc. Honors
Inc. Female Founders
2021