IU Entrepreneurs to Watch

Billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, BS’81, once said: “Ideas are easy. Everybody has business ideas, but 99.99 percent of those humans don’t do sh*t about it.” The IU entrepreneurs we feature here—some of whom have appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank, which features Cuban as one of the “sharks”—have done sh*t. They are what Cuban might call “the executors,” and they have made significant contributions in industries such as pet food, pain relief, food and beverage, and even commercial pollination.


Because Animals

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Because Animals, co-founded by Josh Errett, MBA’15, is on a mission “to create nutritious pet food without ever harming any animals or the environment” in the process. It’s a tall order made possible by using cultured meat—the product of growing animal cells outside the body. “We didn’t want to make cats and dogs vegan, what we want to do is to give them meat that was sustainably made,” Errett says. The company aims to launch its revolutionary pet food in 2021.


Big T NYC

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The idea for Big T NYC, the world’s first couture tea brand, came to Theresa Krier, MBA’09, while working backstage at New York Fashion Week. She then set out to create “a delicious, calorie-free, wellness-enhancing beverage that would help people stay hydrated and focused in any situation.”


CoolRevolution PJs

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For Mindy Ford, BA’90, and Laura Musall, BA’88, their hot flashes sparked the idea for CoolRevolution—a breathable and sweat-absorbent pajama line for menopausal women.


Deemples

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Having trouble finding a golf buddy? David Wong, BS’05, was too—until he created Deemples in 2016. The app, available in Asia and Australia, helps golfers meet up for a session at the driving range or a round of 18 at a nearby course.


Edison Motors

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There are more than 20 million motorcycles on the road in Thailand, but only 0.01 percent run on electricity. Vikram Ahuja, MB’14, PhD’15, started Edison Motors, coined the “Tesla of Thailand,” to change that statistic.


Elevated Citizen

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Kaleb Ryan, BGS’06, quit his job in 2013 to start Elevated Citizen—a luxury menswear line. Since then, Ryan has fashioned suits for more than 30 Major League Baseball players, as well as Hoosier men’s basketball head coach Archie Miller and Hoosier football head coach Tom Allen. The company plans to launch its first women’s line in 2021.


Flying Squirrel Outfitters

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After quitting his job in Seattle, Brian Carraway, BS’07, decided to plant roots in Chiang Mai, Thailand. What started as a small venture making handmade travel hammocks for tourists, blossomed into Flying Squirrel Outfitters—a sustainable business that provides seamstresses in small Thai villages with fair wages and flexible hours.


HedgeHog Health

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Parker Lynch, BA’06, a special-education teacher and someone who struggles with ADHD, started HedgeHog Health with a specific consumer in mind—his students. A Kickstarter campaign, which has raised more than $70,000, brought the company’s first product to life. The Hoglet, a fidget computer mouse that vibrates, lights up, and even emits a lavender scent, is designed to help kids with learning challenges stay focused.


Hoosier Films 

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Who are the rising Indiana filmmakers of today? Meredith McGriff, MA’14, PhD’16, and her husband, Thomas DeCarlo—co-creators of the streaming service Hoosier Films—are inviting viewers to find out. For $12 a year, subscribers can access hours of content while directly supporting the filmmakers, who earn 50 percent of the company’s net profit.


Jia-Yo Snax

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With the philosophy that snacks can be healthy, fun, and tasty, Louise Yuan, BS’01, started Jia-Yo Snax. The company currently offers three products: Sunshine Crackers, Quinola, and CocoMatcha Biscuits.


JohnTom’s BBQ

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Rodney Robinson, BS’98, Lathay Pegues, BA’00, and Terrell Cooper, BA’05, started JohnTom’s BBQ back in 2006 after years of trying to recreate a secret family recipe. Bottled in Indianapolis, the company now sells three flavors—original, Hoosier Heat, and Sneaky Hot.


Pigasus Pictures 

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In 2014, the idea for Pigasus Pictures—an Indiana-based film production company—was born. Zachary Spicer, BA’06, and John Robert Armstrong, BA’02, MFA’07, premiered their first feature film, The Good Catholic, in 2017. The movie was shot entirely in Bloomington, Ind., with a crew made up of mostly IU alumni. “What started as just a strategy for one film, really became a mission for a company. Our vision is to engage communities, to create jobs, to retain talent, and to inspire the next generation of filmmakers right here in Indiana,” Spicer says.


Mentor Collective

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Based in Boston, Mentor Collective assists universities in running large-scale mentoring programs. The company was founded in 2014 by Jackson Boyar, BA’12, who believes forging long-lasting relationships is the key to higher graduation rates—and success beyond the diploma.


Naptown Fitness

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Open for nearly a decade, Naptown Fitness was started by two IUPUI alumni—Jared Byczko, BS’07, and Peter Brasovan, BS’08. The duo has since built the business from Indianapolis’ first CrossFit gym into a one-stop-shop for fitness at any age.


The Bee Corp

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Backed by the IU Philanthropic Venture Fund, The Bee Corp develops technologies used in commercial pollination. Ellie Symes, BS’16, MPA’18, and Wyatt Wells, BS’16, are currently marketing Verifli—a digital service that uses infrared cameras to determine the health of a hive. “Verifli [which launched in 2017] improves on manual inspection by being a faster way to grade. It is also objective since it relies on a model versus a human-eye inspection,” Symes says, adding, “because the hives don’t have to be opened, inspections can be done earlier in pollination, allowing beekeepers and growers more time to correct weak hives.”


The Mad Optimist

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In college, Mohammed A. Mahdi, BA’17, Mohammed M. Mahdi, BA’06, and Anthony Duncan, ’11, all devout Muslims and vegans, discovered that traditional soap often contains animal fat. The Mad Optimist—a vegan, halal, cruelty-free, non-GMO, and gluten-free body-care line—was created to fill a void in the market. The three alums presented their “pay-what-you-can-afford” business model to the judges of Shark Tank in May 2020. After some negotiating, Mark Cuban, BS’81, agreed to a $60,000 investment in exchange for 20 percent of the company.


Two Chicks District Co.

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Mina (Starsiak) Hawk, BGS’07, co-star of HGTV’s Good Bones, opened Two Chicks District Co. in Indianapolis in June of 2020. The store, filled with chic home furnishings and odd-end gifts, was designed to be a “neighborhood hangout,” a place to meet friends for a drink or use as a co-working space.


Uncle Bud’s

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Determined to ease his chronic arthritis pain, Garrett Greller, BA’18, started Uncle Bud’s while studying at IU. “I used my fraternity brothers to vote on a logo and spread the word organically,” says Greller, who started Uncle Bud’s with just a couple thousand dollars. “I don’t think there’s a better time [to start a business] than in college. You have more resources than you’ll ever have.” Today, his hemp and CBD products—endorsed by celebrities including Toni Braxton, Magic Johnson, and Jane Fonda—are sold in eight countries.


Do you know of an IU entrepreneur not listed above? Email us at iueditor@iu.edu. 
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Written By
Samantha Stutsman
Samantha Stutsman, BAJ'14, is a Bloomington, Ind., native and a content specialist at the IU Alumni Association.