President and co-CEO
Tom Sosnoff, founder and co-CEO, and Kristi Ross, president and co-CEO, have blended comedy and investing into online video shows called tastytrade.
With the mission of making finance more fun and easy to understand, tastytrade began in a Chicago brownstone incorporating Sosnoff’s 25 years of finance and trading knowledge with Second City comedians.
One year later the show had its own studios and is now producing eight hours of live programming distributed through Roku, iTunes, AppleTV and YouTube. More than 1 million hours of tastytrade programming is watched each month.
The programming has a mission of teaching the end consumer about self-directed investing and financial literacy. It does so through live, on-air trading rather than delivering select successful investments later that are un-actionable. This helps viewers see the ebb and flow of investing in real time while traders maneuver the market.
In addition to the 30 tastytrade show segments, the company has also created a free app called dough, that converts complex opinion trading concepts into a simple display, highly visual, mobile trading platform.
The company’s philosophy centers on exceptional customer service, answering emails on nights and weekends, and making executives accessible. Sosnoff, a recognized online brokerage innovator and sought-after financial speaker, openly shares his knowledge of investing and entrepreneurship.
In addition to his online shows, he also speaks to high school and college students about his experience.
Ross started her career as a CPA, specializing in financial services. She is in charge of strategy and business operations for tastytrade, and is the founder of EveryHandCounts, which has a mission to introduce community service to elementary age children.
This year, Sosnoff and Ross hope to penetrate colleges to address financial literacy, and to expand across the globe by further leveraging its online technology capabilities and unique programming.
Founder and CEO
Matthew Matros, founder and CEO of Protein Bar, says he was an overweight child who was made fun of as a kid. His father, the owner of a local dry cleaner, passed away at 48 from a heart attack when Matros was only 11 years old. The impact of his father’s death would help him become the person he is today.
Matros, who was working as a sports agent, was heavy and not taking care of himself. He was worried the same fate that befell his father was in store for him. So Matros quit his job and improved his diet and health.
He realized there wasn’t a place serving the kinds of foods he wanted to eat. So he took out a Small Business Administration loan and poured his life savings into the first Protein Bar location, which focused on protein shakes. The business couldn’t make enough money on shakes alone, so he added a line of healthy wraps, salads and bowls.
Long lines attracted lots of interest in the health food concept, and Matros began getting investment and franchise inquiries. Not long after, a group of private investors helped fund Protein Bar’s growth. That proliferated the brand and expanded its locations to 10, with three restaurants opening in Washington, D.C.
Protein Bar is now a chain of fast-casual restaurants serving foods high in protein and fiber and low in saturated fat and sugar.
Seeing his company’s growth potential, Matros began searching for a top consumer-focused private equity firm and landed one that invested heavily in the company. The investment helped the company establish four more locations, and Matros expects to have up to 21 this year.
Having changed his own life, Matros is hoping Protein Bar can do the same for others, which is exemplified in its motto: To change the way people eat on the go.
Co-owner and co-founder
Tracy Roemer and Bonnie Micheli’s shared passion for teaching and fitness training led them to co-found and co-own Shred415. They had tracked exercise trends for years and assembled a plan to open a studio where they could teach high-intensity cardiovascular training.
Differentiation was key to Roemer and Micheli’s fitness venture. The area had a variety of Pilates and yoga classes, but nothing like the strength and cardiovascular program they had in mind. A Shred415 class involves four, 15-minute segments broken into 30-second intervals that have clients working between cardiovascular and strength training.
They opened the first studio in Chicago’s Lincoln Park and have generated a following since. That single studio grew to three, and four more locations are scheduled to open this year.
At the onset, there was more to maintaining the business than teaching fitness classes. Both Roemer and Micheli worked the front desk and cleaned to make sure the studio was in top shape for clients. The experience helped them understand what was necessary to run the business and that hiring the right people was essential. Now, they have a knack for hiring the best talent, and offer them frequent professional development opportunities.
Giving back to their community, Roemer and Micheli contribute to both their respective children’s schools and various local events throughout the year.
Their biggest fundraising efforts have been with Bright Pink, which focuses on the early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women while providing support for high-risk individuals. In 2013, they were guest instructors at Bright Pink’s Fab-Fest, a health and fitness expo, raising more than $12,000.
After three years, the two still put their heart into Shred415 and have never forgotten what it took to make the first studio a success.
The social media space is crowded, filling with competition almost daily. To stick out, Sprout Social’s CEO Justyn Howard maintains a relentless focus on quality and innovation for his company, which provides social media engagement, publishing and analytic tools for brands.
The inspiration to launch Sprout came when Howard recognized social media’s importance in connecting customers, but also how cumbersome the process was and the lack of tools built for professional use. Sprout was built to make the complex process of social media engagement simple and effective.
Howard and the Sprout team created a platform that encourages brands to not just push messages into the world, but to engage on a daily, hourly and minute-by-minute basis. Sprout debuted numerous collaboration and analytics enhancements in the past year that enable customers to better work together, measure success and determine ROI of social efforts.
Howard believes these features will better serve small, mid-market and enterprise organizations as they expand social’s role in the overall organization without stifling autonomy or building in bulky layers of bureaucracy.
Sprout has consistently supported and been involved in the burgeoning technology and startup community in Chicago. Howard donates his time to help local entrepreneurs as they embark on their new journey and hosts small business events throughout the year. This year, Howard is also spearheading a new philanthropic and service initiative at Sprout — a consortium of employees from around the company is determining the best community service projects that align with employee curiosities and capabilities.
Sprout is experiencing unprecedented growth. Since January 2013, the company has doubled in size and Howard has established a culture of fun and excitement that helps the company maintain a 98 percent retention rate. Howard hopes to maintain this energetic environment to build on the company’s creativity, pride and hard work.