THE AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY OFFERS THE UPSTART COMPANY more than its share of obstacles. Somehow, inventorying products from a limited stable of global producers and then trying to sell them for tens of thousands of dollars a pop leaves newcomers a bit disabled at the negotiating table. Matt Buchanan and Jesse Biter set out in 2012 to change this by launching Dealers United, a way for independent dealers to access broader inventory by pooling resources. Under CEO Pete Peterson, the Sarasota business became one of the most successful online auto portals. And the digital disruption of a small space once run by large-lot dealerships earned the company the Ringling College Innovation by Design Award at the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County’s annual meeting. “This award gives our entire team more momentum and confidence to move faster, think bigger and continue innovating,” Peterson says. It also shows the evolution of online sales in the world of social media. Biter found his first success in the industry developing software to let consumers view customized images of cars online. He teamed up with Buchanan, of Buchanan Automotive Group, which enjoyed success regionally with traditional dealerships. The two wanted something empowering for the small dealer that could still be dynamic enough to change gears with the market. Six years on, Dealers United now drives part of the sector. “It has taken a while to build a great team at DU but we’re there,” says Biter. “Everyone works well together, we have a great culture and we’re making great strides forward.” The company won the Innovation honor for its Dealers United Facebook Inventory + VIN Lead Ads, in-house technology that propelled the company to “Top Tier Facebook Partner” status and a Top 10 Facebook Automotive Agency. Dealers United now boasts the greatest number of automotive success stories published by Facebook Business. “We saw our customers’ needs and created a solution for them that once was only available to extremely large companies,” Peterson says.