The 2018 ACG Awards Honor Central Texas’s Leaders in Corporate Growth

The Association for Corporate Growth has just one mission: to drive middle-market growth. And this year’s ACG Central Texas Chapter awards luncheon, held at the Austin Country Club, honored twelve companies that embody that mission.

The finalists for this year’s awards represent a broad range of industries, philosophies, and missions, but they all have one thing in common: these are companies that are growing, and growing fast.

And they’re in good company here in one of America’s fastest-growing cities. In his opening remarks, Austin Business Journal editor Colin Pope assured attendees that, though we might start to see a slight leveling off, Austin will continue to add staggering numbers of people, jobs, and homes over the next two years. By the end of 2019, the Austin-area population is expected to be about 2.24 million, with 2.9 percent job growth and 3 percent home growth. To sum it up, Pope said, “Employers will keep adding beaucoup jobs here, and our property tax bills are going to go higher.”

Of course, with rapid growth come growing pains, and keynote speaker Brett Hurt, cofounder and former CEO of Bazaarvoice and founder and CEO of data.world, spoke with Pope about how the companies at today’s awards luncheon can stay true to their core values as they scale. During his time at the helm, Hurt grew Bazaarvoice from a bootstrapped startup, through a successful IPO and two acquisitions, into the retail-marketing heavyweight we know today. The Austin entrepreneur had three primary pieces of advice for CEOs leading their own companies through rapid growth.

Colin Pope (L) and Brett Hurt (R) discuss the keys for rapidly scaling companies 
to stay true to their values.

First, he said that Chief Executive Officers should also act as Chief Culture Officers. This may mean making tough calls like replacing people in key roles, but it also means modeling the ideal company culture. Hurt talked about small things like making sure the company promoted wellness by providing healthy snacks rather than junk food, as well as larger initiatives like starting an optional company book club to read about and discuss various facets of corporate culture. As a starting point, he recommended Seth Godin’s Tribes. Ultimately, he said, behind every great company is a CEO who owns and embraces corporate culture.

Second, Hurt encouraged leaders to approach growth from an open, always-learning mind-set, embracing every opportunity to improve themselves, whether through books, podcasts, mentorships, or other professional development opportunities. “There are two types of people,” he said. “There are the people that become successful and adopt a closed mind-set. They assume that whatever they did that got them to that point was right and discount the fact that luck played a big role—and, of course, lots of learning along the way. And then there are people that always have an open mind-set, and they’re lifelong learners.”

Finally, Hurt reminded leaders that maintaining perspective is critical to successful growth. He described this last piece of advice as contrarian, as it goes against traditional American perceptions about work-life balance, but he recommended that executives allow themselves to step away from the office—to remove their noses from the grindstone and take vacations. This time away allows leaders to maintain big-picture perspective and objectivity about their companies’ progress and trajectories. However, Hurt himself admitted that he never unplugs completely, working one or two hours every day during his vacations. “The brain’s always on when you’re an entrepreneur,” he said. “It never stops. It’s a full-channel experience.”

And the Winner Is…

Representatives of the twelve finalists for this year’s 
ACG Central Texas Growth Awards.

Following Hurt’s insights, Pope introduced Monika Ostrowski, the president of Entrepreneurs’ Organization, who presented the EO Rockstar Entrepreneur of the Year award to Proximity Learning President and CEO Evan Erdberg.

Then it was time for the main event: the ACG Central Texas Growth Awards. The twelve finalists were divided into four categories based on revenue, and representatives from each company were in attendance to accept their awards.

Revenues Under $10 Million

Eli Andrade, Evan Erdberg, and Mark Worrell (L to R) of Proximity Learning.

Proximity Learning, whose mission is to give students the best education no matter where they live or what financial situation they are brought up in, took home the award for the under $10 million category. Proximity Learning aims to solve the problem of dwindling numbers of teachers as baby boomers begin to retire and fewer new educators step into their roles. By live streaming certified, quality teachers into classrooms across the country, Proximity is working to ensure all kids get the K-12 education they deserve.

The other finalists in the under $10 million category were Praxent, a software development company that partners with disruptors in a variety of industries to streamline operations and transform customer experiences, and Woom Bikes, who’s on a mission to inspire children to love cycling by providing high-quality, lightweight bikes designed specifically for kids.

Revenues between $10 and $25 Million

Mason Arnold (L) and Chris Romano (R) of Cece's Veggie Noodle Co.

The winner in the next category was Cece’s Veggie Noodle Co., which produces organic, responsibly sourced, spiralized and riced veggies as a gluten-free, paleo-friendly (and just plain healthier) substitute to grains. Cece’s, whose motto is “simple but twisted,” prides itself on ensuring your daily dose of veggies is just a twirl away. COO Chris Romano reflected on the idea behind Cece’s as “one funny little noodle that grew into quite a sensation.”

The other finalists in this category were Epiphany Dermatology and EVO Entertainment Group. In just three years, Epiphany has grown from a single location in Waco to more than thirty locations in six states across the country. EVO opened in Kyle, Texas, in 2014 as a hybrid cinema, bowling alley, and video arcade, and its rapid growth has earned it the nickname, “the EVOlution of entertainment.”

Revenues between $25 and $100 Million

Crystalee Modica, Robb Misso, and Jeff Markulec of Dynamic Manufacturing Solutions.

The winner in ACG’s third-largest revenue category was Dynamic Manufacturing Solutions, whose mission is to re-shore manufacturing jobs. This full-service manufacturing and engineering organization supports the biomedical, pharmaceutical, semiconductor, food and beverage, and microelectronics industries. While many manufacturing firms are operations driven, DMS is customer service driven, with a vision to create “The great experience” for customers, suppliers, employees, and the community.

The other finalists in this category were Aspen Beverage Group, a coffee and tea provider that was founded by Chad McNair twenty-five years ago and sold to Finlay’s in 2017, and Boxx, which provides high-performance workstations and rendering systems for visual effects and animations professionals, with clients ranging from Disney to NASA.

Revenues Greater than $100 Million

Kelly Hannifin (R) and Evan Huston of Saatva Mattress.

Saatva Mattress was the final winner at the awards luncheon. Saatva’s environmentally friendly mattresses are made in America and delivered from their 135 fulfillment centers to sleepy customers in all fifty states. In 2015, Forbes ranked Saatva as one of America’s most promising companies, and now it’s one of the largest online-only mattress companies in America.

The other finalists in this category were HHS, a housekeeping support service founded in 1975 and now serving more than 450 partners in three different industries, and Silicon Labs, a fabless semiconductor company whose mission is to transform industries, grow businesses, and improve lives.

With more than 200 members and honorees in attendance, the largest ACG Central Texas Growth Awards event to date represented a cross section of the impressive talent that makes Central Texas a haven for corporate growth. But perhaps Saatva CEO Ron Rudzin’s philosophy says it best: “Simmer down. Be humble. If you’re truly talented, people will know. You don’t have to keep telling them.” So with that, we’ll say enough said.

ACG Central Texas would like to thank its sponsors, PMB Helin Donovan, Insperity, Dykema Cox Smith, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Capital One Commercial Banking, Accomplice, the Austin Business Journal, Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Texas Military Officers Association, and YPO Austin.

Sarah Weber is an Austin-based editor and content marketing consultant specializing in blogs and white papers. She has a BA from Northwestern University, a Masters of Book Publishing from Emerson College, and more than five years of experience writing and editing for tech startups, publishing houses, and independent authors. http://www.sarahmweber.com

The 2018 Growth Awards finalists

All nominated companies were invited to our Pre-Awards Social on May 10,2018 at Austin Country Club. Click here to see photos.