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Category Archives: Entrepreneurs

Luke Holden, the founder and current president of Luke’s Lobster, has fisherman’s blood running through his veins. When he was 13 years old, he started learning about the lobster business and by the time he was in high school, he owned his own fishing boat – and, thus, the seeds of his business were sown.

But he did not immediately plunge into the business of offering among the best lobster, crab and shrimp rolls in the United States. After getting his Bachelor of Science (BS) Accounting and Finance degree from the Georgetown University’s The McDonough School of Business, he worked as an investment banker at Cohen & Steers Capital Advisors. But the job stress and insecurity eventually encouraged him to establish his own business, Luke’s Lobster; he founded the restaurant chain in October 2009.

Today, Luke’s Lobster is rapidly expanding with 11 present locations. Holden has also launched his own seafood company, Cape Seafood LLC, the restaurants’ main supplier of fresh seafood including lobster, crabs and shrimp. He is the co-founder and managing partner of Cape Seafood LLC, which was founded in December 2012.

Luke’s Lobster is chain of fast casual seafood restaurants offering deliciously filling lobster, crab and shrimp rolls as well as chilled empress crab claws, clam chowder, and coleslaw without the mayo. Customers can order just half a roll of each sandwich, which can be complemented by 2 crab claws, chips, and pickle as well as soda for $23. While the items are pricier than many of the seafood rolls offered in street stalls and fastfood joints, the price is well worth the taste, texture and flavors.

Holden has been recognized for his success. His honors include being cited as one of the Future Leaders by QSR Magazine; Forbes 30 Under 30 by Forbes; and Inc. 30 Under 30 by Inc. Magazine.

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In 2008, Marcin Kleczynski founded Malwarebytes on his firm conviction that everybody has the basic right to a life without malware. His conviction was borne out of his personal experience when in 2004 his computer was infected by nasty malware when he was searching the Internet for video games. The malware infection happened even when his computer had a popular antivirus installed, an experience that most ordinary computer users have complained about in various venues.

But Kleczynski was confident that he can remove the malware since his after-school work was related to computer technology. He was unable to remove the malware even with his extensive experience for three straight days and even with the information provided by his colleagues on online forums. He then came up with the conclusions that there were plenty of malware and antivirus apps cannot handle the resulting infections.

Kleczynski then set out to build a better place by becoming the best malware fighter he can be. His first step was to teach himself to code, which he used to eventually design and develop a small yet effective anti-malware tool. This was the predecessor of the Malwarebytes Anti-Malware, which became highly popular among the members of the security community.

But Kleczynski not only found an enthusiastic community of malware experts but a great source of talents for his expansion plans. The malware experts had the knowledge and skills required to trade malware intelligence, dissect malicious code, and assist ordinary individuals dealing with malware infections. He hired these experts for his growing Malwarebytes team, which now numbers over 200 in several locations worldwide including California, Florida, Estonia, and Ireland.

His anti-malware programs have been downloaded more than 200 million times as well as removed more than 5 million malware pieces. His Malwarebytes product line has also expanded into customized business products protecting over 50,000 businesses. His company’s revenues have also increased 100% year over year.

Kleczynski was recognized as the 2014 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. He has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Paul Doersch, the founder and CEO of Kespry, knows the crucial importance of bringing together various disciplines toward the creation of a highly effective, efficient and reliable end-to-end platform in drone technology. He leads a strong team of professionals in related fields including electrical and mechanical engineering, aeronautics, and software development at Kespry.

His vision: To build a better integrated system in drone technology that will incorporate every phase from mission planning and aerial data capture to image delivery and cloud-based analytics.

Established in 2013, Kespry has received financial backing from the likes of Lightspeed Venture Partners and Chmod Ventures. The funds are used in the development of advanced drone technology as well as in go-to-market activities. The drone technology will be designed to allow businesses to collect, analyze and evaluate aerial images in a fast, easy and effective manner.

Doersch envisions its Kespry drones to be ubiquitous in a wide range of industries including agriculture, construction, and mining, among other markets.

Daniel Saks was down on his luck in 2009 – he was unable to get a job at Wall Street despite his degree in accounting and finance from Harvard University and his family’s 100-year old furniture business closed due to the recession. But things soon changed for the better when he decided to establish a start-up dealing in cloud software with Nicolas Desmarais.

And so AppDirect was born. Saks and Desmarais discussed different business ideas before realizing that cloud computing technology, also known as software-as-a-service, can completely change the way businesses operate.

The duo agreed to start a business with Saks spending five months finalizing their business plan and Desmarais tapping into his large network of technology clients from his consulting days. AppDirect was established in 2009 and quickly achieved success.

AppDirect is the cloud computing software for companies, not for end consumers. It is the backend software that powers the digital marketplaces of companies from across a wide range of industries. It builds app stores for the clients that use it with focus on business apps only.

Among its clients are Samsung and Rackspace, which are provided with AppDirect’s technology to rebrand their marketplaces. For example, Samsung’s KNOX marketplace uses AppDirect’s technology to optimize and sell its platform to its target customers, as is the case for Rackspace Marketplace.

The idea behind AppDirect may be simple but companies are enjoying significant benefits from its use, as evidenced by the impressive growth enjoyed by the company. Businesses prefer to outsource the creation of their app stores to AppDirect, which results in benefits like the opportunity to give complete transparency over the applications used by their users.

Today, over 20 million people are using AppDirect’s service including employees from major companies like ADP, Deutsche Telekom, and Comcast. AppDirect has also enjoyed impressive growth in its revenues with the company now valued at approximately US$600 million.

Indeed, Saks and Desmarais’ success story starts with being down in the dumps to up in the clouds of cloud computing software.

Eric Khrom has taken the route many successful entrepreneurs before him have taken – drop out of college and start his own business. He established Khrom Capital in 2008 and has since led it to its $40 million portfolio hedge fund.

He is a value investor well-known among his competitors and peers to achieve good returns while also keeping a significant portion of the portfolio in cash and its equivalent. He is also backed by a considerable university endowment.

Khrom takes pride in his firm’s foresight in focusing on superior returns on their investments. He can maintain his portfolio with little to no additions for months at a time yet still make good returns. He will likely take concentrated positions when he finds exceptional investments, thus, making the new investments count where it matters most – the bottom line.

His firm focuses on underwriting investments while its funds are in a long-term lock-up for effective strategic positioning.

Fred Ehrsam, the founder of Coinbase, wants to make Bitcoin easy to use and, thus, become more mainstream than it is now. With his company, he is building a PayPal for Bitcoin such that crypto-currency becomes more accessible for the everyday merchant and consumer.

Judging from his success in funding – he has raised over $30 million in venture capital funding from the likes of Andreessen Horowitz – he is well on his way to achieving his goal. With his charismatic personality and effective leadership, Coinbase is one of the top-funded Bitcoin startups in the world today.

Ehrsam was a Goldman Sachs trader on Wall Street when he left his job and co-founded Coinbase. The company operates an online payment system designed to make bitcoin easy to use; bitcoin is still an unregulated digital currency that continues to gain popularity for its beneficial features. Coinbase, which started in the Y Combinator, now processes payments in bitcon for several companies including Reddit and OkCupid.

Ehrsam wants his target market to think of Coinbase as a smarter second-generation company handling Bitcoin payments and processes. He emphasizes, for example, that Coinbase provides its investors, customers and stakeholders with audited financial statements, thus, contributing to greater accountability and transparency.

He also wants to emphasize that the popular representation of Bitcoin transactions as anonymous is inaccurate. According to Ehrsam, Bitcoin is one of the most transparent networks in the world although many people still have misconceptions about it, such as that Bitcoin protects their users from government oversight. Many will disagree with his assertions but his success in the industry speaks for itself and the world may have yet to see Bitcoin becoming a mainstream currency.

He is working toward making Bitcoin not only easy to use but as pervasive as online banking itself. He is banking on the observation that while most people do not understand the workings of the Internet, they know how to use web browsers – and that’s a good first step.

Alison Johnston Rue, the co-founder and former CEO of InstaEDU, believes that the future of education lies in the effective combination of outstanding teachers and technologies in providing students with the best possible education. She established InstaEDU, an online tutoring service that provides young students in expert tutorial in STEM subjects.

InstaEDU grew by leaps and bounds – as much as 50% per month in 2013 alone – and raised over $1.5 million in investor funding. It was considered as the largest online marketplace for tutorial services before it was acquired by Chegg Inc. in June 2014.

Rue was retained by Chegg Inc as its Business Leader, Tutoring and then as Director of Marketing for Learning Services since January 2015 until the present. She leads Chegg’s marketing team particularly for its learning-focused services, such as Chegg Tutors and Chegg Study.

She is definitely an entrepreneur. Rue is a co-founder of Cardinal Scholars, an in-home tutoring firm, which set the foundation for her succeeding – and successful – business.

Together with Adam Pritzker and Jake Schwartz, Brad Hargreaves and Matthew Brimer co-founded General Assembly as a results-effective, cost-efficient, and learner-responsive method of filling in an education gap.

The education gap: Technology, business and design are usually overlooked in colleges and universities because of outdated curriculum. Since technology and design in the 21st century are moving so quickly, these educational institutions face challenges in updating their curricula in a timely, reliable and relevant manner.

The solution: General Assembly offers 40 to 50 workshops and classes as well as full-time immersive programs for students who want to acquire useful knowledge and skills in technology and design. These programs include coursework in digital marketing, web design and development, data science, and user experience design, among others, which are considered as the most in-demand skills in the digital age.

The reward: Students who complete the programs can tap into General Assembly’s professional network, thus, expanding their job opportunities.

General Assembly has a relatively modest campus – 20,000 square feet of loft space in one of the United States’ hottest scenes for start-ups, Manhattan’s Flatiron District. The New York City Economic Development Corporation granted General Assembly with a $200,000 grant to build it.

The campus soon evolved into a closely-knit community of students who want to learn and industry experts including entrepreneurs who want to teach them. The first teachers included Chris Hughes, a Facebook co-founder; Chris Maguire, an Etsy co-founder; and Casey Pugh, a respected actor.

While these high-profile teachers were the first reasons for students flocking into General Assembly’s classes, the world-class quality of the classes were soon the main draws. The co-founders then set their sights higher on more advanced training, such as 10- to 16-week long training programs for front-end web development and coding, among others.

General Assembly also charges a monthly fee for the use of its co-working space. With the tuition charges and the co-working space fees, the company sees its operations and influence expanding in the near future.

Sasha Fisher has an undeniable spark that inspires people to be active agents of positive change, too. As co-founder and Executive Director of Spark MicroGrants, she has ensured that people can be the agents of change in their communities and, thus, continuing the cycle of development.

Spark MicroGrants provides people in Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda with 6 months of community facilitation and training as well as a seed grant in designing and managing their own development projects. The company usually establishes strong partnerships with rural poor communities in impact projects including schools, health centers, and farms.

Its novel approach of proactive and catalytic community-led development from organizing people to granting the seed money has resulted in improved quality of life for over 100 communities in these three countries. Its projects have reached over 75,000 people.

Fisher has a Bachelors of Art, Human Security, Studio Art from the University of Vermont. She has been honored as a Draper Richards Kaplan Fellow, a Cordes Fellow, a Global Good Fund Fellow, and a BHSI Fellow for her work at Spark MicroGrants, among other awards.

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz discovered that there is, indeed, treasure in trash. In 2007, she co-founded Rags2Riches, the first fashion and design house and social enterprise company that empowers community artisans in the Philippines’ infamous dumpsite, Manila’s Payatas area. Her company has trained 900 community artisans, expanded its reach from 1 to 21 communities across the country, and recycled 800 tons of scrap materials into fashionable personal and home accessories.

Rags2Riches currently employs over 300 people including in-house artisans, professionals, and marketers from a single volunteer during its first year. Its 100% annual growth from 2007 to 2012 is an impressive feat but its approach toward empowering community artisans is even more impressive.

With its 4P goals, namely, empowering People, making sustainable Profits benefiting both the company and the community, protecting the Planet by repurposing waste, and making a Positive impact on society, Rags2Riches has improved the quality of life for its community artisans. In their previous business model, the community artisans made rugs from scrap materials but only earned just US$0.02 per rug because the middlemen took most of the profits.

With the Rags2Riches’ business model, they receive 40% of each item’s retail price, a 2,000% increase from their previous earnings. Many of the artisans have also founded a cooperative with shares in Rags2Riches, thus, reinforcing their sense of ownership.

Fernandez-Ruiz and her team taps into her extensive network of family and friends to transform the rugs into high-end items including fashion handbags, wine bottle holders, and eyeglass cases. These items are designed for the top-end market by many of the Philippines’ respected designers including Rajo Laurel and Amina Aranaz-Alunan.

Rags2Riches is not just about earning higher profits for the community artisans. The company also provides them with comprehensive trainings in health insurance, finance and nutrition as well as business practices.

Fernandez-Ruiz has said that the beauty of the high-end personal and home accessories has deeper meaning when its origins are known – a sense of humanity is woven into the fabric itself.