The nominees for the Young Entrepreneur of the Year category at this year’s GeekWire Awards prove that you can accomplish a lot by the time you’re 30 if you catch the startup bug.
As part of our annual GeekWire Awards event, we recognize rising stars under the age of 30 who are building startups in the Pacific Northwest.
We’re soliciting votes for six promising young entrepreneurs to choose a winner, with input from more than 30 judges in the tech community. On May 2 we will announce the winners live on stage at the GeekWire Awards — presented by Wave Business — in front of more than 800 geeks at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. Community voting ends April 19.
The 2019 nominees are Slope co-founder Brian Bosché; Rad Power Bikes co-founders Mike Radenbaugh and Ty Collins; Loftium co-founder Yifan Zhang; Buttermilk founder Mitra Raman; and Possible Finance co-founder Tony Huang.
Last year, the Young Entrepreneur of the Year award went to Phil Kimmey, co-founder of the peer-to-peer petsitting startup Rover.
This year, we wanted to learn more about our nominees so we went straight to the source. GeekWire contacted their close family members to get the inside scoop on what makes them tick as entrepreneurs. Learn more about each nominee below, cast your vote, grab a ticket, and we’ll see you at the GeekWire Awards!
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Brian Bosché, Slope
Brian Bosché co-founded Slope five years ago as a creative agency in Detroit. He and his co-founder Dan Bloom quickly became frustrated by inefficiencies in creative marketing collaboration. That gave them the idea for Slope, a software service that helps companies manage the creative project production process.
Brian moved Slope to Seattle to join the Microsoft Ventures Accelerator in 2016 after a frantic application process, according to his wife, Marissa Bosché.
“Moments before the deadline, they submitted their application to take part in the program,” she said. “They were accepted and everything starting happening fast — Brian had to move to Seattle from Detroit with two weeks notice. It takes someone who’s willing to risk it all to pack up their life on a notice and move across the country, with the hope and dream of making their vision a reality.”
It paid off. Three years later, Seattle-based Smartsheet acquired Slope to grow the public company’s work collaboration software suite.
Ty Collins and Mike Radenbaugh, Rad Power Bikes
Mike Radenbaugh and Ty Collins are childhood friends turned startup co-founders. Together they launched Rad Power Bikes, a direct-to-consumer electric bicycle company that just raised cash from e-commerce heavy-hitters Darrell Cavens and Mark Vadon.
Mike started building e-bikes when he was in high school, taking over his parents’ woodshop.
“I think If we let him, he would have stayed home from high school every day putting e-bikes together and filling orders,” said his father, John Radenbaugh.
“Big boxes of parts started showing up every day until our garage was overrun and it looked like a mad scientist’s lab for the remainder of his high school years,” added his mother, Patty Radenbaugh.
In college, Ty teamed up with Mike, focusing on marketing and events for their fledgling e-bike business. His father, Bruce Collins, said that his son has always had the kind of unshakable optimism that entrepreneurs need to get through startup life.
“When he was a small boy, he developed the idea that all possibilities are 50/50 in likelihood of happening, something would either happen or it wouldn’t,” Bruce said. “So, even in the face of long odds, Ty is able to make things happen because he feels it’s just as likely to happen as not.”
Tony Huang, Possible Finance
After launching his first startup exactly one year ago, Tony Huang has helped micro-lending startup Possible Finance originate 24,000 small loans and grown revenue by 50 percent month-over-month. Possible Finance offers a service similar to payday loans but the company allows borrowers to pay back the funds in smaller installments over time. The company raised a $30 million credit facility earlier this month.
Tony has always had a streak of entrepreneurial creativity, according to his father, JK Huang. As a child, Tony came up with a unique solution to a pesky problem for kids of his generation. He didn’t have any Pokémon cards to show his friends because they were the “least priority in our spending budget,” JK said.
“He put on a big smile claiming he had the most popular Pokémon cards,” JK said. “He then took out his collection. They were the most popular ones, but they were printouts on a regular piece of paper from our home printer trimmed to the standard size!”
Mitra Raman, Buttermilk
After three years at Amazon, Mitra Raman caught the entrepreneur bug. Inspiration struck when her mother bagged up all of the ingredients needed to cook rasam, one of her favorite dishes growing up. All she had to do was add hot water.
“An idea was born,” Raman told GeekWire last year. She quit her gig at Amazon and struck out on her own, launching The Buttermilk Co., a meal delivery kit startup that charges $6 for meals such as the vegetable wheat porridge dish Khichdi and the lentil dish daal.
Mitra’s husband, Amar Rao, said her entrepreneurial plunge was in-character. “She is always working hard and never settles or gets complacent,” he said.
“Whenever she finds herself getting comfortable, she starts looking for the next and biggest challenge and, for the most part, succeeds in all her undertakings,” he added.
Yifan Zhang, Loftium
In 2017, Yifan Zhang unveiled her idea to shake up home-buying by leveraging Airbnb. Loftium promised to help house hunters with their down payments if they agreed to Airbnb a portion of their home and share the profits with the startup. The novel approach to real estate isn’t the only thing to catch people off guard.
“I surprise a lot of people,” Zhang told GeekWire last year. “Most people expect me to be a 40-year-old male — my name is androgynous. Expectations and reality. There is always that gap, and you’re compensating for that and it’s tiring after a while.”
Startup life can be fatiguing, even when entrepreneurs aren’t battling stereotypes. But Zhang is keeping her head down and growing her company. In 2018, Loftium expanded to the broader Seattle metropolitan region and the startup is hiring for a variety of engineering and operational roles.
Zhang and her relatives could not be reached to comment.