Sun Devil 100 event honors a full complement of top firms led by alumni
David Freedman’s entrepreneurial journey spanned a wide range of experiences at Arizona State University. He went from selling T-shirts at Sun Devil Stadium as a student in the early 2000s to winning the 2020 Sun Devil 100 award for having the fastest-growing business created, owned or led by an ASU alumnus.
Freestar, which was named as the top Sun Devil 100 company on Sept. 17, is an advertising technology firm co-founded by Freedman, who earned a bachelor’s degree in real estate in 2005, and Chris Stark, who earned a master’s degree in real estate development in 2011. They started Freestar in 2015 and now have 62 employees.
“I’m from Philadelphia and people who know me know I have a lot of Philadelphia pride, but now I call Phoenix home and that all started with ASU,” Freedman said during the Zoom celebration.
“W. P. Carey is what drew me to Arizona State and the Palm Walk definitely did not hurt either, coming from the East Coast.”
Freedman started selling T-shirts to tailgaters in Lot 59 and later walked along Mill Avenue selling ads for local calendars before meeting Stark.
“None of this is possible without ASU and the incredible community that’s been built here,” Freedman said.
This was the fifth Sun Devil 100 event, and the first year that a full 100 companies were eligible to be honored by the ASU Alumni Association. All nominated firms have to have been in business at least three years, have annual revenues of at least $250,000 and be founded or led by an ASU alumnus.
The 100 businesses are owned by 127 former Sun Devils who have earned 155 degrees from ASU, across every college.
The Sun Devil 100 Class of 2020 had revenues of $6.1 billion and employ more than 10,200 people in 10 states. The firms include the well-known Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup, Dircks Moving and Logistics, and the San Diego Civic Youth Ballet, whose president and CEO is Molly Terbovich-Ridenhour, who earned a master’s degree in dance in 2002. Others in the top 100 include a behavioral health agency, a fitness business, a talent-booking agency, a pizza restaurant, two wineries, a Virginia-based architecture and design firm, and Tommy John, a New York-based clothing brand founded by Erin Fujimoto and Tom Patterson, two alums who cashed in their 401k accounts to reimagine men’s underwear.
Rounding out the top 10 of the class of 2020 were:
2. Design Pickle, a graphics-design subscription service founded by Russ Perry, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in interdisciplinary studies in 2005.
3. SeaBay Building Group, a construction firm co-founded by R. Vincent Switzer, who earned a bachelor’s degree in supply chain management in 2004 and an MBA in 2007. The company’s chief operating officer is J. Armando Martinez, who earned a bachelor’s degree in construction management in 2005.
4. Tallwave, a marketing and public relations company founded by Jeffrey Pruitt, who earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting in 1994.
5. MDSL, a technology company that has four former Sun Devils in leadership: Charles Layne, CEO, bachelor’s degree in marketing, 1998; Aaron Zeper, vice president, bachelor’s degree in finance, 1995; Rob Stratton, marketing director, bachelor’s degree in marketing, 2006, and Tom Feeley, vice president for global sales, bachelor’s degree in marketing, 1992.
6. Print.Save.Repeat, a toner cartridge business founded by Errol Berry, who earned a bachelor’s degree in supply-chain management in 2002.
7. Envida, a marketing and public-relations firm owned by 2006 graduates Alana Millstein, who earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism, and Candie Guay, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing.
8. Pinnacle Growth Advisers, a human-resources and labor-relations firm founded by Brent Orsuga, who also is the president and who earned a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies in 2000.
9. Willmeng Construction, whose president and CEO is James Murphy, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in construction, in 1998 and 2009.
10. Press Coffee, co-owned by Jason Kyle, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing in 1994.
The event highlighted seven alumni whose businesses have been honored all five years: Errol Berry, of Print.Save.Repeat; Kathleen Duffy Ybarra, of the Duffy Group; Jennifer Kaplan, of Evolve Public Relations and Marketing; Joel McFadden of Fan Interactive Marketing; Matt Michalowski of PXL; Cliff Schertz of Tiempo; and Lisa VanBockern of Skin Script.
VanBockern, who earned bachelor’s degrees in accountancy and computer information systems, said the Sun Devil 100 has strengthened her bond with ASU.
“When I graduated in 1998, I took my two diplomas and put them in $3 wood frames,” she said.
She joined the ASU Alumni Association, but was not active. She founded Skin Script, an online retailer of skin-care products, in 2007.
“One day I got the Sun Devil 100 email. I loved ASU and I had such a great experience, I thought, ‘I’ll nominate myself,’” she said.
VanBocken had endowed a scholarship, but after being honored for the first time, in 2015, when she was one of only three women, she increased the amount of the endowment and became involved in Women in Philanthropy, part of the ASU Foundation.
“I’m glad this program was developed because it brings me back to ASU and the warm feelings I had of when I was going to college,” she said.
“My diplomas have been reframed in much more expensive frames in my office, along with my Sun Devil 100 awards.”
The entrepreneurs also received congratulations from Jake Plummer, the quarterback who led the Sun Devils to an undefeated regular season and the 1996 championship of what was then the Pac-10. He said that’s he’s now an entrepreneur himself, launching ReadyList Pro, an interactive football playbook training platform.
“I’m warning you – I’m a competitor, so watch out. I’ll be vying for that No. 1 spot someday,” said Plummer, who was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame last year.
Top image by Tim Trumble