Monthly Archives: March 2019

03.27.2019

Featured Founder: Alex Miningham of Proof Network Ventures

Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Alex Miningham, CEO of Proof Network Ventures, a technology and data-driven solutions provider for the beverage alcohol industry.

 

What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?

Since graduating business school in 2008, I’ve been head down building technology startups across a wide variety of sectors. I started my first company inDegree with my MIS professor in graduate school which ended up pivoting into a data enrichment company in the higher education space. Universities across the US were providing us with their raw alumni data, and our job was to run that data through our proprietary enrichment tool to generate more highly targeted lists that identified and prioritized the individuals that were most willing and able to donate back to the school. We were eventually acquired by HEPdata in 2013 as a bolt-on acquisition that helped them expand their reach within higher education.

Shortly after the acquisition as I was figuring out what to do next, I was approached to invest in a local brick and mortar airport parking business. After a summer of diligence, I decided to join and ultimately ended up taking a more hands-on role than originally planned. As I learned the nuances of the business, I saw an opportunity to bring it online which would allow us to scale faster and also eliminate most of the costly overhead such as physical land leases and passenger shuttle operations. With that vision in mind, I ultimately made the decision to raise some private equity to develop Discount Park and Ride, a reservation technology venture that brokered parking reservations via the web similar to what Travelocity and Orbitz does for hotels, flights and rental cars. We built it from the ground up and eventually scaled to 80 different parking partners across 23 different cities before being acquired by LocoMobi in 2016.

The acquisition by LocoMobi was an asset purchase for the technology which left our incredibly talented team looking for the next venture. Fortunately, we had built a really strong internal marketing department which gave us the confidence to start a digital agency called Foundry 119 which has since rebranded to Cast and Create. My role within the agency was primarily focused on cultivating new ideas and bringing those ideas to life through technology and data. Ultimately, I ended up spinning out 150Elm, a data science company that utilized AI and machine learning to build trends and insights off raw direct-to-consumer purchase data for wineries. We ended up striking a strategic data partnership with a mobile ecommerce software company that connected to beer, wine and liquor store point-of-sale systems to strengthen the data science work we were doing for our winery partners. Long story short, we ended up acquiring this company and subsequently rebranding the operation to Proof Network Ventures. Today, Proof Network Ventures is a SaaS based technology and data services company operating in the complex world of beverage alcohol.

 

What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

The US beverage alcohol industry is plagued by age-old regulation enacted after the end of prohibition back in 1933. These laws prevent brands from selling their products directly to a retailer and force them to sell only to distributors. Unfortunately, this has created 3 fragmented tiers of data whereby a brand has zero visibility into who their end-consumers actually are that are buying their products at the retail store.

The primary focus of Proof Network Ventures is to build retail-focused SaaS solutions that collect purchase data from online and in-store point-of-sale systems so that we can package it up with 3rd party demographic and psychographic data to build valuable consumer insights for beverage alcohol brands. These insights ultimately provide brands with valuable ammunition that allow them to build more efficient and effective advertising strategies.

The fact that we’re filling a huge void in the industry and also because we get to work with some fantastic multi-national brand partners such as Pernod Ricard, MillerCoors and Moet Hennessy, gets me excited to get into work every morning.

 

Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?

I made one of the biggest mistakes a founder can make and decided to enter an industry without significant domain expertise. I quickly realized I was in over my head, regardless of the industry need for the services we were providing. Luckily, through our acquisition of Tipsi early on, we absorbed their founder as our President who’s one of the smartest people I’ve met in the space. Through osmosis, I feel like I’ve received a decade of industry knowledge over the course of the past 2 years.

 

Where do you see your company headed next?

Our vision for Proof Network Ventures is to become the authoritative leader for all data, insights and trends in the beverage alcohol industry. In order to accomplish that, we need to rapidly scale our SaaS products across more retail stores so that we increase the quantity of data in our ecosystem. Our path to scale relies heavily on M&A, which is evidenced by our recent acquisition of Drync, one of the largest competitors to our primary SaaS product, Tipsi. Over the course of the next 2 years, we’ll be actively looking for similar opportunistic acquisitions that help us achieve our long-term vision.

 

Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.

Don’t be afraid to go all-in! Startups are hard work and require full mental dedication, particularly because you need to wear a lot of hats early on.

 

Learn more about Proof Network Ventures on Facebook and LinkedIn.

03.21.2019

Featured Founder: Theo Harvey of SynsorMed

Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Theo Harvey, Founder & CEO of SynsorMed, a fully reimbursable remote patient monitoring (RPM) and chronic care management (CCM) solution for healthcare care organizations.

 

What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?

Before starting SynsorMed, I worked in sales at a large technology company selling products to hospital clients. What inspired SynsorMed was a realization I had after noticing a  family member, who has Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), had issues getting assistance from a clinician at home. I thought there had to be a better way. My co-founder's mother suffered from the same chronic disease as well, COPD, and the disease admitted her to the hospital because it was difficult for her to breathe. After being seen by medical professionals she was sent home with a list of aftercare suggestions. When she was at home, she struggled with taking care of herself and understanding what to do to be healthy. As a result, she was back in the hospital within a 30-day period.

It was stressful for my co-founder and his mother because the clinicians and the hospital couldn't help with aftercare outside of the facility. Hospitals lose revenue once a patient comes back within a 30-day period after being discharged. This is costly and mostly effects those with chronic disease patients, who are often seen and sent back home quickly. Our goal with SynsorMed is to save hospitals money from preventable, return visits from patients with chronic health conditions and in turn keep the patients healthy and prevent them from returning with worsened conditions.

 

What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

Patients who come back to the hospital after discharge for the same condition is costly for healthcare systems. Our platform not only saves hospitals with the cost of preventable, return visits but helps to encourage healthier choices by the patient over time. I'm excited to see the positive change we have on the lives of patients. We're at the forefront of innovative change in healthcare. Healthcare is a trillion dollar industry and it's so behind when it comes to technology. There's a lot we take for granted in other industries when it comes to the use of technology and we're excited to be on the front of the emerging tech in telehealth to help patients take care of themselves. Four years ago there weren't many technology solutions available or paid for by insurers. Insurers are starting to take notice of the technological advancements in healthcare and we're excited that some are interested in our platform.

 

Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge is determining how our solution will be paid for by healthcare systems and insurers. We worked with our customers to design our platform to meet insurance reimbursement guidelines whenever they use SynsorMed. The second challenge is the adoption curve of using a technology like this in the industry. It's new to the facilities, insurers and the patients. The patients and users are older so we've designed a platform that they can use and are comfortable with. Making sure the healthcare providers and patients are comfortable is really important to us.

 

Where do you see your company headed next?

We believe we will be used by every patient diagnosed with a chronic disease. To get there we hope to partner with more health insurers. 70% of patients are coming back because of non-medical needs. We're focusing on underserved communities to provide non-medical needs, like transportation, food, and assistance to help them get better and stay healthy.  We're also looking into partnerships with non-profit organizations to help provide the non-medical needs for patient aftercare.

 

Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.

Focus on the key things that will get you traction in the marketplace. Everything else, outsource.

 

Learn more about SynsorMed on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

03.13.2019

A Closer Look at Connectivity

In this post, we continue to dive deeper into the results from our 2018 Community Survey. We analyzed Meetup data to better understand how event attendees tie different tech communities together within a region.

03.12.2019

Featured Founder: Erik Maltais of IMMERTEC

Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Erik Maltais, CEO of IMMERTEC, a real-time 3D virtual reality communications platform that allows professionals to seamlessly train, consult, and observe anytime, anywhere.

 

What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?

My first splash into the deep-end of adulthood was a 5-year tenure in the Marines, where I served as a machine-gunner in Iraq, Diplomatic security at US Embassies, and POTUS security during W Bush international travels. After the Marines, I matriculated at USF to study Accounting and Economics. I then went on to launch a private label e-commerce business, which I grew from 5K to 7-figure sales in less than 3-years.

My Co-founder, Jon Clagg, is a visionary full-stack developer with over a decade of experience in automation and telecommunications. In 2012 he received one of the early access developer kits from the Oculus Kickstarter campaign. He started as an enthusiast, but his ambition quickly grew far beyond.

Even at this early stage of the industry, Jon had two profound intuitions about the future of VR, which formed the “why” necessary to quit his high paying job as a developer and commit fully to building his vision over the next 5- years. One, VR was going to be much more than video games and cheap experiences. And two, similar to the TV, internet and cell phone industries, this industry would be led by companies that focus on creating real-world business value first.

When presented with the opportunity to work hand-in-hand with Jon and to create the business foundation to support his vision, I immediately accepted. After leveraging the many reports from Goldman’s, Citi and countless other SEC compliant industry reports, we identified training as the best and most obvious way to create this business value. Diving deep into what it took to create 3D training content in VR, it was immediately evident to us that the existing methods were too slow, laborious and subsequently lacked scalability.

We knew creating a scalable training business in VR would require technology to create 3D content and connect people at the speed of business. This was the bases of the solution we built. Our tech allows companies to disrupt the way they train by leveraging technology, instead of large development or production teams, to provide their customers and employees with access to observe, collaborate and learn from real-world, real-time training opportunities in VR without the burdens of in-person training.

 

What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

We are a software startup solving the serious global issue of limited access to safe and affordable surgery. A problem which is only getting worse as more and more doctors suffer from physician’s burnout.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), five billion people are without access to safe and affordable surgery. This problem is responsible for nineteen times more deaths than AIDS and tuberculosis combined. To reach WHO ambitious goals in tackling this issue, we have to double the number of trained physicians by 2030. This is only possible by disrupting the way physicians train and increasing access to real-life, real-time surgical training experiences without the burdens of traditional in-person training. This is exactly the problem our software solves, and the “why” that compels our team to action.

 

Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?

Communication and connection. These are my challenges. This is always the challenge in my opinion. Life is about people. The better I learn to communicate and connect with other humans the more value I create.

This challenge makes up two-thirds of the books I read and is the foundation of our company culture.

One of those books, which I Highly recommend: “The NEW one-minute Manager”

 

Where do you see your company headed next?

While our development team focuses on further developing our technology and maintaining the bleeding edge of what is possible for remote training, we build a culture and sales strategy that can keep pace. Our company goals are just as ambitious as the initial vision of our CTO. We seek to scale access to real-world, real-time training in healthcare and eventually much more.

 

Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.

Always be in motion. Momentum is the force to leverage. Believe you know enough to get started. Learn what you need to know ONLY when you need to know it.

Do ask yourself: Am I taking the right action? You will know this is the case by defining your desired outcomes in advance. Then through awareness and intuition, you will know if your “motion” or actions gets you closer to those desired outcomes.

 

Learn more about IMMERTEC on FacebookTwitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

03.06.2019

Featured Founder: Rosa Shores of BlockSpaces

Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Rosa Shores, Co-founder of BlockSpaces, a blockchain incubator that provides specialized education, development and support services to a collaborative learning community of individuals and startups.

 

What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?

My background is primarily in retail and marketing, and I have done two tours of duty at HSN over the years in different divisions. Most recently, I was working in the eCommerce division when I first heard of this new thing in tech called “bitcoin.” It seemed absolutely crazy to me at first, but dots started to quickly connect, and I had seen “entertainment retail” transition from television shopping to eCommerce and, now, in real time, watching mCommerce dominate digital commerce. I started thinking of how cryptocurrency could maximize payment processing and how HSN might utilize digital tokens in their online arcade as rewards for brand loyalty.

As I begin to better understand blockchain, which is really some uniquely combined previously existing technologies that make up the bitcoin protocol, other use cases sparked my imagination. As corporate social responsibility becomes more of a brand necessity, I saw how blockchain might be used in retail supply chain to empower consumers, reduce exploitation of workers, protect local environments and enforce ethical business practices by providing a transparent record of provenance. It was and still is very exciting to me. I actually approached leadership at HSN about these ideas, but it was 2014 and everyone just looked at me like I had two heads. There were very few people to talk to at that time about this emerging tech.

In 2014, my partner, Gabe Higgins, and I started holding meetups locally to discuss and learn together about this emerging technology. We were also both very involved with politics, and a local Congressional candidate approached us with an idea for a Congressional transparency project utilizing blockchain. That idea morphed into a project called ClearVoter, which is a civic engagement platform that incentivizes political participation around issues instead of political parties. We had the vision that as blockchain-based digital ID management and blockchain-based voting systems matured both could be deployed on our platform.

We worked our jobs during the day and worked nights and weekends on ClearVoter from 2014 while continuing to hold the meetups. In fact, we found the absolute best place to learn about blockchain was the meetups and being with like-minded entrepreneurs who wanted to learn together. We were attracting people from all walks of life, who all had interesting ideas and potential use cases for this technology, but there was no school to learn about it and online resources were difficult to prove trustworthy. Blockchain developers were nearly impossible to find, and these professionals are still in incredibly high demand. Investors didn’t understand blockchain. Attorneys didn’t understand blockchain. CPA’s definitely didn’t understand blockchain. So, the traditional support network that startups usually have just didn’t exist. Feeling this pain ourselves and within our community inspired us to find our own dedicated space in August 2017 to leverage the network we had built over the years to foster ideas and developers through hands-on peer learning and give blockchain startups a home locally. BlockSpaces evolved as the community and technology evolved, and the business grew organically.

 

What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?

Because it is so nascent, critical components of the blockchain ecosystem are severely underdeveloped, and blockchain founders face industry-specific challenges when trying to grow and scale their businesses. This industry as a whole is emerging very rapidly and is forecasted to have a 80.2% CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) through 2024 reaching $61B by 2024 and $3.1T by 2030. The blockchain job market is forecast to grow 16x in the next seven years. That’s staggering growth for a technology that has only existed a decade. Individuals located outside of major tech hub cities cannot find adequate resources to keep up with the rapidly changing technology landscape or the complex regulatory environment, and startups have difficulty finding a skilled workforce and supportive network.

At the same time, technology is causing profound changes in workplace environments and education. Meanwhile, changing demographics are driving today’s workers away from high cost of living cities and towards urbanization of secondary cities where they can incorporate innovative, entrepreneurial, progressive work/learning styles. We cater to these trends by offering a unique, membership-based path to learn about this technology and possibly grow a business or work in this emerging industry no matter what your interest or level of understanding. Right now, we have BlockSpaces members who simply came to one of our meetups with no real knowledge of blockchain who have changed their entire career path and are now teaching newcomers or developing projects in our Idea Lab. One of our member’s startups just closed a seed round, and half his staff are BlockSpaces members. We are fostering a workforce right along with these companies so they don’t have to leave the area to find talent. I honestly can’t think of anything that excites me more than seeing our members succeed. To make a blockchain analogy, their success is our Proof Of Work.

 

Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?

I could be like everyone else and say funding, and that would be true. Finding an investor partner who shares your vision is crucial. But honestly, the biggest challenge we faced was the industry hype cycle of late 2017 and early 2018. It brought out a tremendous amount of people who were only interested in what seemed to be fast profit. The projects and people we saw flood our space last year were, for the most part, unsustainable. Blockchain is not a marketing term. You can’t slap it on just any currently existing problem and make it better. This is a brand new technology that has the potential to change the way we do business in new and unexpected ways. That kind of innovation takes time and requires long-term visionaries and a supportive network of people who understand that potentially changing the world is not a quick turnaround and will likely come in fits and starts. These startups need a space to thoughtfully build real technical use-cases combined with strong business development methodologies. Integrity is important to our community, and like everything else, we will overcome this challenge together.

 

Where do you see your company headed next?

We have some exciting strategic partnerships developing that, we believe, will make 2019 a truly amazing year for our company and this region and provide us with scalable infrastructure. We are also really looking forward to fully launching our Idea Lab, when we move to our new location in the spring. This initiative is really the heart and soul of our unique business model.

 

Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.

If you exist as a business today, you are, by default, a technology company. Logical reasoning that strictly applies old rules and paradigms will likely not serve you as well as you may think it will in this fast moving, ever changing new world of innovation. Employ “elastic thinking,” and realize that opportunities are often missed by not recognizing change has occurred and the previously unthinkable is now doable. New rules often seem absurd and are rejected by those who embrace commonly accepted conventions. Respectfully, ignore those people.

 

Learn more about BlockSpaces on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn