HEADQUARTERS: Chicago FOUNDERS: Nick Currier, Kasey Gandham, Mike Shannon (CEO), Jessica Tenuta EMPLOYEES: 75
Four friends at Illinois State started Packback as a dorm-room business. They pitched their idea, to rent digital textbooks, on Shark Tank in 2014; Mark Cuban invested $250,000. But that venture flopped and almost went bankrupt. In 2016 they changed course and introduced an artificialintelligence tool that helps students ask more thoughtful questions and post sharper comments in online discussions. When colleges shut down in March, the team laid off more than a dozen people and later landed an $890,000 PPP loan. Business picked up this summer as schools looked for ways to improve their online courses. Students can buy Packback’s tool for $25 a pop. For the fall semester, 250,000 students signed up, more than double the number this time last year; Packback should bring in nearly twice its 2019 revenue of $4 million.