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Local man heads rising company

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Tobias Dengel

Mobile app business led by Warren County native listed among fastest growing private companies

By Sally Voth svoth@nvdaily.com

Shepherding his company through 800-percent growth in three years, Warren County native Tobias Dengel was rewarded by it being listed among the fastest growing private companies by a magazine catering to businesses and entrepreneurs.

He is CEO of WillowTree Apps [www.willowtreeapps.com], which is based in Charlottesville, and develops applications for mobile devices, including cell phones and tablet computers.

"Companies would come to us and need an app designed and built," Dengel said.

WillowTree was named No. 479 in the Inc. 5000 for 2012, according to Inc.com. The site lists WillowTree's first-year revenue as $234,274, versus $2.1 million in 2011.

"It's not just one industry; it's any company in the U.S.," Dengel said in a recent phone interview. "We were pretty excited to make it. It got us a lot of press, people contacting us for apps. We were one of only two app development companies in the country that made the list. So, it really helps our positioning in the marketplace."

WillowTree started with just three employees in 2008. Dengel joined in 2010, and by the end of last year, 26 people worked for the company. Now, it's up to about 40, he said.

Before going off to college and joining companies such as AOL and Web.com, Dengel grew up on Browntown Road, and attended Wakefield Country Day School in Huntly. After living in Florida, he returned to Virginia in 2005, moving to Charlottesville. The 42-year-old makes frequent trips back to the Front Royal area.

The app development industry is expanding at a "massive clip," Dengel said.

"They're [predicting] that by the end of 2013, there will be more Internet usage in the United States from mobile phones than there will be from desktop and laptop computers," he said.

Tablets are included in that prediction.

"If I look at people walking down the street in big cities, they're glued to their phones," Dengel noted.

While watching TV, many people have their phones in their hands, tweeting, Facebooking, checking email, he said. Dengel sees the impact mobile devices have on people's lives as a double-edged sword.

"It can be really addictive and really distracting," he said.

Among the companies for which WillowTree has designed apps are BabyCenter, Johnson & Johnson and the University of Virginia. Dengel said BabyCenter.com has been around about a dozen years. The site is for expectant mothers.

"Something like seven out of 10 pregnant women in the United States use the website," Dengel said.

He said his firm developed a mobile app for the site over the past 18 months, and it's available in 16 languages.

An app for U.Va. allows the user to point the mobile device at a building and then get its history and function, Dengel said. The app also offers sports information, including play-by-play and scores.

"You can look up your classes and get in contact with your professor," Dengel said.

According to his company's website, when Apple launched the iPad2, WillowTree's BabyCenter app was featured in the presentation, its Spotasaurus app was featured in TV and print ads for Apple, and several apps, including Pocket Cancer Guide, My Baby Today and University of Virginia were nominated for Webby Awards.

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