From dog walking to beer delivery, these are the next generation of this city’s entrepreneurs and innovators. These forward-thinkers are reinventing business and redefining success—and taking Charlotte into the future.
Meggie and Sebastian Williams
The Waggle Company
The first time they worked together, Meggie and Sebastian Williams were serving as senior class president and vice president at UNC Chapel Hill. Back then they were just friends. Fast forward a few years and the now-married pair are the inventive founders of The Waggle Company.
The owners of two goldendoodles, Meggie and Sebastion, both 29, struggled to find the right kind of service to care for their dogs. So they created their own. “We thought if we were having trouble, other people might be as well,” says Meggie. The Waggle Company combines the latest technology with a team of people to offer dog parents customizable visits including cuddling, walks, and feeding. “Our sitters scan in and out—they scan in a bar code that stays at a client’s home—the client gets an email alert that we’re here, and at the end of the visit, the sitter scans out and the client gets a report,” says Meggie.
Clients get pictures, a detailed summary of the visit, and even a full GPS-tracked map showing where the sitter and Fido walked. “It’s immediate updates and people get peace of mind,” says Meggie. “You get the whole story, including photos they love and can share.”
You also get flexibility. Williams says they understand that often their clients have last minute schedule changes and they’re willing to work with them. “You’re not only trusting us with your pet, who is your child, but also trusting us to go into your home, and that’s a big responsibility.”
“I noticed it wasn’t a demand problem, it was a supply problem,” Jennifer Daniels, 38, says of the inspiration for Colorstock, a stock photo marketplace featuring people of color, which she started out of her Charlotte home in August 2015.
A public relations professional for 15 years and the person responsible for most of the branding of the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library system, Daniels noticed there weren’t any authentic images of people of color that could be used in visual imagery for things like ad campaigns and brochures. “Working in PR, I noticed we weren’t as inclusive in representing clients and customers because there weren’t images of people of color, and when you could find them they looked staged.”
So Daniels spent a summer learning to write code, bought a camera, and started Colorstock.
She admits it wasn’t easy. “The first attempt I talked myself out of it, said ‘you can’t do that,’” she says. Now, just a year and a half later, she has customers around the world. Daniels says simple Google searches help most people find Colorstock and she is genuinely enjoying being an entrepreneur. “That’s the fun part about this process, it’s been a discovery process this entire time.”
Betsy Hauser Idilbi
Tech Talent South
Technology can be overwhelming for a lot of people and Betsy Hauser Idilbi gets that. That’s why a few years ago the now 35-year-old sold her first Charlotte company and took off for the Windy City to get trained for her next big venture. “I went to Chicago, abandoned my husband for three months, crashed on a friends couch, and learned to code—and the program was electric,” she says.
Idilbi teamed up with another program attendee and together they created Tech Talent South. It is just as it sounds, a company that gets people trained in technology—mostly people in the South. “We were the only two Southerners in the program, so it didn’t take us long to buddy up and realize the South could really use something like this,” says Idilbi.
Six months after returning to Charlotte they launched Tech Talent South—first in Atlanta, then Asheville, and, of course, Charlotte. “Our bread and butter is a full stack web development program that teaches you the front and back end of building out a web development application,” says Idilbi.
Tech Talent South now has 11 campuses in five states and they’ll soon be adding more. They’re also leveraging all the talent cities like Charlotte have to offer.
“Our sweet spot is Charlotte,” says Idilbi. “It’s a great example of a city with great talent.”
A Cultivated Mindset
Patrick Hill says his mom deserves the credit for convincing him to start his business, A Cultivated Mindset (ACM). “I was doing so many websites on the side, my mom said it was no longer a hobby,” the 33-year-old says, laughing.
Hill came to the Queen City to get his masters at UNC Charlotte in 2006 and stayed put. In college he owned a T-shirt company, and one of their most popular shirts featured the saying, “A Cultivated Mindset.”
Now a web and mobile applications company that also helps build brands, ACM started with a focus on building websites, but has since morphed into a company that builds apps from scratch. Once again, his family was the inspiration.
“The first app I built was for my grandmother,” Hill says. “She has Alzheimer’s, and they said the best way to fight it was to exercise the brain. So the app is a memory color game.”
ACM has since built more than 50 apps for customers across the country, everything from an L.A.-based fashion app to one that helps bartenders track the number of drinks they’ve poured.
But Hill says the best part of being a successful entrepreneur is the time it gives him—to give back. ”I had to work hard for the first couple of years to build a client base and now I can go teach fourth- and fifth-graders how to start their own businesses.”
David Jessup, Jr.
David Jessup, Jr. moved from South Florida to Charlotte five years ago to help with the technology portion of Project LIFT, the program meant to help under-performing schools in west Charlotte. Jessup, 30, was tasked with making sure every student in the program had a laptop of his or her own. He says he first saw the importance of technology while teaching in impoverished schools in South Florida. “I realized there was a gap between the haves and have nots and the gap was being exacerbated by a student’s ability to access technology,” he says.
That’s where he got the idea to found Digi-Bridge, a non-profit headquartered in Charlotte working to bridge the digital divide. Jessup and the staff at Digi-Bridge work as consultants, provide school course work, and act as advocates to make sure schools are using the best policies and most appropriate technology. Jessup says while seven in 10 teachers are giving technology-based homework, an estimated 70,000 CMS students go home to a disconnected household each night. Digi-Bridge is trying to change that. “It’s transformational,” he says. “Being able to have a student work on their homework and have mom and dad be able to email a principal for the first time—it’s transformational.”
The work is so important that Digi-Bridge was recognized for their advocacy at the White House last year, and they’re looking to grow beyond Charlotte. “We’re perfecting our craft in Charlotte with plans for expansion,” says Jessup.
“It’s kind of like Shark Tank,” says Pitch Breakfast’s Executive Director Juan Garzon. On the second Wednesday of each month, four companies get five minutes each to pitch to a room full of people ready to offer feedback.
“It’s a safe environment,” says Garzon. “Everyone comes out and roots for you. For companies that haven’t pitched anywhere yet, they get practice, but not in front of investors where money is on the line.” In the two-and-a-half years since he took the reins, Pitch Breakfast has seen some real successes. One company that pitched even landed on the television show The Doctors. There’s now at least a four-month wait for companies who want to pitch.
“It’s really fun, primarily because they’re all different types of industries and we get to see the different ways people come up with their ideas,” says Garzon. “Everyone has their origin story, and to see companies learn from others is pretty cool.” He’ll soon get to hear even more stories. Pitch Breakfast is expanding to help budding businesses in Charleston and Asheville.
There’s a reason laundry is called a chore. So a new service—started by middle school best friends—is doing the work for you.
It started as a classroom project at Wake Forest University, and this past year, 2ULaundry officially launched here in Charlotte. “I quit my job, broke my lease, packed my Jeep, drove to Charlotte, and we got to work,” co-owner Dan Daquisto, 24, says of joining his friend who already lived here in the Queen City.
2ULaundry will pick up your laundry, dry-cleaning, alterations, even shoes that need shining, have the work done, and deliver it back to you the next day. “We thought it was awesome to outsource your laundry so you get your time back,” says Daquisto. They do an average of 30,000 pounds of laundry a month for customers in their own wash-and-fold facility, with prices starting at $20 for a small bag.
When they started 2ULaundry they thought Uptown professionals would be their key demographic. Turns out SouthPark moms are their biggest fans. “Four months in, a mom called me crying, saying ‘you will literally do my laundry for me?’” says Daquisto. And the company is about to do even more laundry, with plans to launch in several other markets later this year.
They call it the beergorithm. It’s an actual algorithm (based on a questionnaire) that the owners of Brewpublik (www.brewpublik.beer) use to help figure out what beers you might like.
Similar to the Pandora music service, Brewpublik launched in Charlotte in 2014 to guide beer lovers in discovering new beer—and have the hops delivered to their doorsteps (prices start at $15 per six-pack). “It’s a custom tailored craft beer delivery service. We work with hundreds of brewers and thousands of craft beers to help match customers with beers you’ve never tried,” says Brewpublik owner Charlie Mulligan, 27. Mulligan is a native Charlottean who now splits his time between here and San Francisco as he works to grow the business.
“What we believe and what we’ve heard is that people are interested in beer and are interested in trying new things, but when you buy a six-pack and end up not liking it, it’s a bummer,” he says. “We realized there had to be a better way to help people discover new things.”
And with almost 2,500 customers already in the Queen City, more in San Francisco, and plans to launch in 10 additional cities this year, they’re clearly onto something.