Homegrown technology startup Apptegy, with the aid of Gov. Asa Hutchinson and several top state officials, announced Thursday (July 20) the hiring of its 50th employee and new plans to hire another 20 workers in high-paying positions by the end of 2017.
In the fast-growing tech firm’s offices on the 8th floor the Simmons First National Bank building in downtown Little Rock, Apptegy founder Jeston George described how his company has seen explosive growth since the company began operations over two years ago.
“In the last 26 months, it has been a very fun, hectic and crazy ride that we are really excited about,” said George, who started his company in a spare bedroom at his Little Rock home.
The Little Rock tech company executive then described how he founded Apptegy after struggling to keep up with events at his nephew’s school. He said he met with Arkansas school superintendents and learned there was a widespread need for a simple platform for schools to manage engagement on the many devices and social networks that community members look to for information.
In the summer of 2015, Apptegy launched Thrillshare, its proprietary digital framework for schools, and began building the team in Little Rock. In May, the company announced a $5.7 million investment from Kansas City-based venture capital firm Five Elms Capital, one of the largest out-of-state investments in an Arkansas technology company in the past decade.
As part of the investment, shares purchased by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority (ADFA) were bought back, providing a significant financial and economic development return to the state. ADFA, through its Arkansas Venture Capital Investment Trust, made an initial $300,000 investment in Apptegy in early 2016.
Apptegy also qualified to receive the Arkansas Economic Development Commission’s equity investment tax credit (EITC) on two occasions over the past year. Apptegy qualified for the credit in 2016 on an initial $800,000 in seed investment to the startup, and again earlier this year when the fast-growing tech firm received another $5 million investment. According to AEDC, the EITC program can provide investors up to a 33.3% tax credit on startup funds provided to an Arkansas company, which then can be used to offset 50% of the investor’s annual income tax liability.
“Apptegy’s story is different than other technology companies in the area because we are an Arkansas story through and through,” said George. “We raised all our early funds from Arkansas investors, and received support from Arkansas school superintendents who took a chance on working with a startup because they saw the importance of supporting an Arkansas company.”
After George’s emotional speech, Gov. Hutchinson said Apptegy was “living proof” an Arkansas startup could take risks and become successful.
“This is truly an Arkansas story (started) by an Arkansas idea, creator, founder and Arkansas funding,” the governor said. “That is really an important message because people say you can’t raise capital in Arkansas, but this is living proof right here that the startup community is blossoming in this state and it will continue to grow.”
Hutchinson recognized Apptegy’s work in the education field as the company’s employees were still working in the background during the press event. He asked several of the company employees who were computer coders to raise their hands, a nod to a statewide computer science and programming initiate that has become a major part of Hutchinson’s economic development and education agendas.
“We are producing the talent in Arkansas to make sure we can support companies just like Apptegy,” the governor said, who was accompanied to the celebration by AEDC Director Mike President, Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration Director Larry Walther, and other economic development and ADFA officials.
Earlier during the press conference, Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, said he was excited about the growth of Apptegy after he met George in his capacity as the former director of Arkansas Innovation Hub nearly four years. He said Apptegy is following in the footsteps of iconic Arkansas entrepreneurs who founded Wal-Mart Stores, Tyson Foods, J.B. Hunt, Murphy Oil, Acxiom, Alltel and Stephens Inc.
“It is really incredible to see the growth of this company and to be able to come into these offices that feel like Silicon Valley and to know that they are keeping all these young talented people in this state and attracting more and building a really successful business,” said Sabin, who recently announced plans to run for Little Rock mayor in 2018.
After the press event, George said the new positions Apptegy hopes to fill over the next six to 12 months will have salaries exceeding $55,000 annually. He said the salaries could rise if the company hires more upper-level executives, saying he hopes the startup’s organization structure remains “flat” as the company builds its revenue stream.
George said Apptegy is in a position to be “capital positive” within a few months, meaning that the startup could move forward and operate with cash flow from ongoing sales.
“Our focus is not on that, our goal is to grow extremely fast,” he said. “So, if we get to the point to where we are cash-flow positive, then we should be hiring even more people. Startups operate differently than typical small businesses. Everything now is focused on growth, growth, growth.”