Jan 23, 2013-- Adam Roark works on transfering 8mm movies to DVD Tuesday at Southtree.
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Jan 23, 2013-- Adam Boeselager, co-founder of Southtree.

Fastest growing Chattanooga firms

- Legacy Box (Southtree) — Formed in 2009, the company takes tapes, photos and films and digitizes them. The company grew 1,076 percent in the past three years to 2015 revenues of $9.7 million.

- Reliance Partners — Formed in 2009, the insurance broker focuses on property and casualty coverage for the logistics industry. The company grew 542 percent in the past three years to 2015 revenues of $2.2 million.

- Conversant Group — Formed in 2009, the IT services and consulting firm focuses on storage, security and messaging. The company grew 154 percent to 2015 revenues of $4.7 million.

Three Chattanooga companies founded in 2009 when the Great Recession hit the economy managed exponential growth through the downturn and its aftermath to emerge among a new list of America's fastest growing businesses.

The Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing businesses, which the financial magazine said "are the superheroes of the U.S. economy," includes a Chattanooga firm that converts old photos and film to digital images and discs, an insurance broker that is using a pool of young telephone sales people to serve trucking companies in 38 states from a downtown office, and a computer consulting and technology company headquartered on Mountain Creek Road. All three businesses have quickly grown into multi-million-dollar operations using new approaches to their industry.

The Inc. 5000 list includes 80 businesses in Tennessee that have more than doubled in size to become multi-million-dollar businesses in the past five years.

Chattanooga, which is working to recruit and grow startup businesses with the state's biggest business incubator on the North Shore and its year-old Innovation District downtown, still trailed other major cities in the number of companies on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing businesses.

Nashville, one of the fastest growing metro areas in the nation, had 47 of the state's 80 businesses on the Inc. 5000 list.

In Chattanooga, the fastest growing of the companies on the Inc. 5000 list this year is Southtree, and its sister brand Legacybox, which has grown nearly 1100 percent over the past three years. The Chattanooga company made the top 20 fastest growing companies in the consumer product and service space joining other brands like Dollar Shave Club.

Founded in 2009 in their garage, fellow Lee University students, Adam Boeselager and Nick Macco created Southtree and Legacybox to help families preserve and relive old home movies and pictures by digitizing them. The business was an outgrowth of what Boeselager had started at age 17 when he was still in high school in 2001.

The company, which is incorporated as AMB Media but did business under the Southtree name for most of its existence, grew to $9.7 million in revenues last year and should grow another 30 to 40 percent in 2016, Macco said.

Southtree and Legacy Box now employ about 100 full-time workers — and many more during busy holiday periods. The workers take most any format of mementos (tapes, photos or film) and bar codes and digitizes them for storage and digital retrieval while preserving the original copies.

To date, the company has not taken any external funding, but grown by reinvesting profit.

"Recognition like this (in the Inc. 5000 list) shows that even in today's world of incubators and venture-funded growth, you can still bootstrap a high growth company," Boeselager said.

The company expanded recently to two locations in Chattanooga; a 38,000 square foot production facility on Holtzclaw Avenue, and a new headquarters in Warehouse Row.

Another local company on the list, Reliance Partners, is employing a strategy similar to one of Chattanooga's most successful startups in the past generation.

Reliance Partners is an insurance broker selling primarily property and casualty insurance to trucking companies and others in the logistics business. Its management and approach to selling is similar to Access America, the logistics scheduling and freight handling business that grew into a $600 million-a-year operation before it was sold to Coyote Logistics and then to UPS.

Reliance Partners, which grew 542 percent in the past three years to $2.2 million in brokerage commission fees, got some of its initial funding from the founders of Access America and it uses many of the same type of young workers and open office environment to generate sales from across the country.

"In the past year, we've gone from 11 to 37 employees and we've tried to really ramp up our operations in our new office (on the third floor of One Central Plaza)," said Chad Eichelberger, the former president of Access America who is now president and chief operating officer for Reliance Partners. "We're using the same kind of dynamic, high-energy sales we were able to use for the trucking industry at Access America to our operations here but instead of brokering freight we're brokering insurance for truck drivers."

The company expects to sell about $45 million of insurance this year to trucking businesses in 38 states.

"Our people are super empowered to take care of the customers so we have a lot of people here who show up for work every day knowing that if they work hard and put in the effort they can be successful," Eichelberger said.

The former Access America manager said he sees "even bigger opportunities for growth" for Reliance Partners than what even Access America enjoyed.

The other Chattanooga firm on the Inc. 5000 list is the Conversant Group, which provides IT services and customized consulting focused on storage, security and messaging. The company, which was founded in 2009 by John Anthony Smith, who now bills himself as "chief listening officer," grew to $4.7 million in sales last year.

Smith has 17 years' experience in information technology and is a graduate of both Covenant College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Smith said he views his customers, staff and partners "as extended family and, as such, believes Conversant has an ongoing incentive to see its customers, staff and partners succeed."

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfree or at 423-757-6340.