In spite of it all, it’s been a great year for Ohio innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs.
We saw businesses using the power of the pivot to fight back against COVID-19 and Ohio startups helping educators do great work remotely. We showcased amazing company culture amid the pandemic and revisited some companies and entrepreneurs you’ve known for years.
But with dozens of features published throughout the years, which were your favorites?
We opened up the archives to see which of our 2020 tales were most popular among our readers:
In a year that will be remembered for all the time we spent apart, Cleveland startup Time2Talk made its mark as a company that brings human interaction to a field that often lacks it. Argentina-born founder Marina Jackman created an app that connects people learning Spanish in the U.S. and Canada with native speakers in Latin America on demand.
“There’s no subscription, no pre-scheduling, no pre-paying; it’s just a simple, straightforward solution for people who want to practice their real-life speaking skills,” she said. “That’s the purpose of learning a language: connecting and speaking with people.”
So if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to brush up on the Spanish you’ve forgotten since high school, look no further than Cleveland for your 2021 Español glow-up.
From parents to students to educators, adapting to distance learning has been one of the greatest challenges of 2020 for much of the country. So when special education teachers needed to navigate the same challenges, Vizzle was a much-needed savior. The Cleveland startup’s platform specializes in maximizing the potential of special education students, leading to a sales explosion.
“We were averaging about seven to 10 free trials a week before March 13,” said CEO Bob Gephart. “From March 13 to May 9 alone, we had more than 3,500 trial signups. We were getting 150 a day as opposed to one or two. School districts are really looking for resources they can use while kids are at home.”
Like many successful Ohio startups this year, Vizzle’s tech isn’t just useful amid the pandemic. Schools who took advantage of the platform this year will see it paying dividends for many years to come.
Healthy Roster, headquartered in Columbus suburb Dublin, is a sports medicine startup that connects athletes with doctors and trainers. So how did they end up helping the PGA Tour get back to play? As the pandemic created a variety of challenges for companies, Healthy Roster developed SAFER Workplace, an extension of their platform that tracks symptoms, testing and more.
“The employer sends out a daily text to employees with a one-question survey about symptoms,” said Nathan Heerdt co-founder and CEO. “If they’re not feeling any symptoms, ill or taking care of someone who is ill, they’re done, and they get a receipt saying they’ve taken this survey. If they are having symptoms, an alert goes out to the point person at the company and that person can follow company protocols to help the employee with the next steps.”
The pivot was so successful that the PGA Tour used SAFER Workplace to return to the links. Now, the platform is being used by more than 100 organizations to get back to work.
For Dayton startup Tempagenix, 2020 was a case of providing the right product at the perfect time. The company created a wearable, disposable thermometer strip back in 2016, and the strips became a necessity this year in retail, home and health care use.
“We’ve just had an insane amount of growth,” said co-founder April Pollock. “We’ve had to expand our product lines and come up with new product offerings like a bulk thermometer roll and custom designs for hospitals with their logo. It’s not only our signature product, but what we’ve carried to help meet the demand. As soon as Gov. DeWine said, ‘Everybody needs to take their temperature,’ we just exploded.”
Between March and April alone, Tempagenix grew from about a $300,000 company to a $3 million dollar success story and has distributed more than 7 million thermometer strips.
Our sit-down with PopCom founder Dawn Dickson-Akpoghene (who also debuted her newly hyphenated name for this article) was one of the most popular editions of our Movers & Shakers interview series of the year. She talked about her multiple successful startups, the news of PopCom’s Wyzerr buyout and even her plans to retire early.
“I want to retire by 45,” she said. “To me, retirement means not being CEO of anything, which means I need to really grow PopCom to be a company that is either going to have liquidity either through IPO or an acquisition or merger. That’s what we’re working on, to build a very strong company that another company sees value in.”
She’s not slowing down any time soon, though, raising funds and merging PopCom and Wyzerr.
Call centers are boring, right? Not if you ask Fortuity. Founders Fred Brothers and Katie Robinson are working to change the reputation of dimly lit row cubicles and an unenthusiastic staff selling low-level products by focusing on quality, keeping employees happy and working in a higher quality space, seeing themselves as a service for their workers and customers alike.
“Even though we’re a for-profit company, we think of Fortuity as a social enterprise,” said Brothers. “We’re based in Franklinton, only five blocks from the Statehouse. In central Ohio, many good jobs that have career advancement opportunities are located outside of the outerbelt in the suburbs. But we have a lot of folks that live in our urban core and are reliant on public transportation that this would be a great job opportunity for.”
They opened a brand new $12 million office in Franklinton just days before the pandemic began and still managed a great year, transitioning seamlessly to a work-from-home model. Be sure to keep an eye on this startup.
In a year when outdoor activities and social distancing changed the way we spend our leisure time, FishMySpot was the perfect tool. The Cleveland startup functions like AirBnB for fishing spots. It helps anglers avoid private property, earns a little cash for pond owners and keeps people outside.
“FishMySpot is a unique concept,” said Smith. “When we conducted research during the beginning stages of building the company, we found there aren’t many companies that provide private fishing experiences. Those that do tend to target a specific niche type of fishing with a tour guide at a public lake or river. FishMySpot is different; we provide a shared experience with private fishing. We have small, private lakes for families and large lakes for fishing enthusiasts.”
FishMySpot is always adding new ponds and features, so be sure to check back with them when the winter thaws in 2021.
Our most read Movers & Shakers sitdown of the year featured Adam Rakestraw, co-founder of Cleveland’s MediView XR. In addition to chatting about his medical imaging company with revolutionary tech that gives surgeons X-ray vision, he talked about going to law school, changing industries and home projects. Plus, he’s a huge champion of the Cleveland and Ohio entrepreneurial scene.
“Ohio has honestly been phenomenal for us. From day one, the minute we started the company, we had a bunch of interest from different organizations like JumpStart and NextTech. They gave us insight and guidance and direction on what path to take. There’s a lot that goes into making a company that you don’t know initially. And not only did they give us guidance, they also provided funding that helped us move along our path and build the company. Being in Ohio allowed us to use technology from a world-class healthcare organization like the Cleveland Clinic and build that technology within the state.”
Keep an eye on MediView XR as they continue to grow in northeast Ohio.
In a year defined by mid-pandemic pivots, Nanofiber Solutions showcased one of the best. Based in Columbus suburb Hilliard, Nanofiber uses the regenerative power of nanofiber technology to create manufacturing tech that saves lives and supports research efforts. Amid the pandemic, they shifted their entire manufacturing process to create disposable air filters.
“Originally, we put two of our six engineers on it, but as things slowly got more and more intense, we decided that this is what we needed to be focusing on and switching to,” said CEO Ross Kayuha. “We knew we would have the capacity moving forward, so we put five of our six engineers on the case and started to reach out with different groups that we knew had needs for this technology.”
There were plenty of other stories about Ohio companies innovating in the fight against COVID-19 this year, but Nanofiber Solutions’ pivot captured our audience more than any other.
TechOhio’s 2020 smash hit came out of nowhere, and it’s a testament to creating great work. In a pre-pandemic world, we wrote about Edge Cycling Technologies, a company founded in the Dayton garage of Shane Page, a physical therapist who thinks we’ve been sitting on bike seats that have been built all wrong from the beginning. That led him to create the Physiosaddle, anatomically designed to be faster and more comfortable. Oh, and then the seat helped set a Guinness World Record in India.
“There are a lot of different seats out there that are doing their best to maximize comfort, but I think they’re missing the point in finding the actual cause of the pain,” said Page. “Our anatomy is curved, and your typical seat is flat, pressing against some very sensitive structures in the body. Our seat is the only truly anatomical seat that takes the rider’s anatomy into consideration. You sit in the seat versus sitting on the seat, which takes away the compression and allows for a pain-free and comfortable ride.”
Our readers absolutely loved this idea, and made it one of the most visited pages in the site’s history. We can’t wait to see what Page does next.