For Jacob Sheridan, business classes started at the dinner table. A self-described son of an entrepreneurial family, Sheridan has been starting companies and dreaming of business for most of his life. After growing up on the east side of Cleveland, Sheridan went to Florida to study international business at Rollins College. He couldn’t stay away from home for too long, however, and returned after graduating in 2010. Four years later, he co-founded Cleveland’s TPA Stream, a healthcare software company focused on automating and streamlining time-consuming medical processes. Since its creation, TPA Stream has taken off, reaching 75 clients across the country. In 2018, the company became the first tenant of the Global Center for Health Innovation, operated by Ohio Third Frontier partner BioEnterprise. We talked to the entrepreneur-turned-CEO about the startups of his youth, his love of Cleveland and what the future holds for TPA Stream.
What was your childhood like?
We were a business-minded kind of family. We always joke that dinner table conversations were always about business or different things that either my parents or my brothers and I were working on. I’m the oldest of four boys, and we are all in the business world in various markets, working for different companies today.
Did you always see yourself as an aspiring entrepreneur?
Yeah, I did. I started various companies over the years. Some of them didn’t turn into companies, others did. But I’ve always been very, very entrepreneurial. I like to solve problems — break things, fix things. I have always had that entrepreneurial mindset, even as a kid. I haven’t thought about this story in a while, but it’s a good one: when I was in high school, I started selling products on eBay. I would buy things from Office Max or Home Depot that were free after rebate and bundle them together to sell on eBay as a package. That was the first business I started. I’ve been very entrepreneurial since then.
That eBay business that I started when I was in high school turned into my brother selling products on eBay and then Amazon. One of the first products he sold was Mr. Beams wireless lights, which Amazon acquired a couple of years ago through Ring. It’s actually a really big Cleveland and JumpStart success story.
What was your first job?
So my first job before college was working for Fidelity Voice and Data in Beachwood. It was called Fidelity Access Networks, and then they sold to Fusion, making them another Cleveland success story. I was responsible for retention and working with current customers, getting them to sign new contracts. I found a lot of success with that; I enjoyed it a ton. I was making a lot of money and realized that sales was something that I was really good at and I should do more of and potentially focus on in my career.
What are some important local partnerships that have allowed TPA Stream to grow?
I really want to highlight North Coast Angel Fund, BioEnterprise and Kerry McCormack, Ward 3 councilman. North Coast Angel Fund was the angel investment group that led our latest investment round. They are a fantastic group of hard-working folks that are really smart and understand what it takes for startups to move from point A to point B, and we could not have aligned with a better partner from an investment standpoint at an early stage.
BioEnterprise has been incredible. They are helping us from a business standpoint and they’ve helped us move into the Global Center. We currently have three different temporary spaces and we’re going to be taking a permanent space at the end of this year. It’s unbelievable to see how they are revitalizing this building.
Kerry is someone I met years ago. My wife was really good friends with him before I met him, and he’s a huge advocate for Cleveland and commerce. He heard that we were starting up TPA Stream and offered his support immediately. He introduced me to folks at the City of Cleveland who helped us get into the Global Center and made it a little bit more attractive for us with different programs that we were able to take advantage of.
Has it been rewarding to grow TPA Stream from your hometown?
One hundred percent. Cleveland has such a special place in my heart and I love it for so many different reasons. I have been living downtown for eight years now and absolutely love it. There’s so much going on. It’s so vibrant. There are more and more people moving in every single day. There are so many new restaurants and stores and you have all the amenities of a big city plus you have this beautiful lake — everything that you would want in a big city. But then you don’t have the traffic, the cost, the negatives that you typically associate with big cities. It’s the best of both worlds. I could not be happier in Cleveland. I’m a huge fan, and we just need more companies to join us!
As you’ve gone from entrepreneur to CEO, what have you learned?
One of the things that I’ve learned is the value of our team and culture. As much as I’m the CEO, I’m nothing without our team. We have such a driven group of folks. We have such great culture that we’ve created, and it’s because everyone works really hard and we’re really focused on taking care of our customers. I’m humbled as the CEO of the company. At the end of the day, it’s the team that’s helped us be successful. We really value everyone that’s part of our growth.
What impact do you hope to make with TPA Stream?
First of all, we want to see more success stories in Cleveland and in Ohio. We find success from driving business value for our clients. But ultimately, if we can be a success story in Cleveland and help attract companies like ours, that’s what we’re all about. We want more folks to come to Cleveland and more startups to grow in this region, which is so amazing and valuable, and succeed with us.
Then there’s the industry piece: when you look at healthcare today, we see a lot of investment from the venture capital world on consumer products and clinical solutions. But we believe there’s more opportunity on the non-clinical side to reduce cost and take dollars that are spent on paperwork and turn that into providing better care. Ultimately, that’s what we are so excited to do. There are just so many wasted resources in healthcare and it’s really sad.
What advice would you give an aspiring young entrepreneur like you once were?
I have one big bit of advice: if you want to be an entrepreneur, don’t try to start a business. Try to solve a problem and then find people who are willing to pay you to solve that problem. Then start a business.