Monthly Archives: April 2019

04.29.2019

Featured Founder: Steve Johnston of Ideal Agent

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 Steve Johnston, Founder & CEO of Ideal Agent, a real estate technology platform selling homes for as little as 2% commission via a referral network of top real estate agents.

 

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

I grew up in residential real estate, my mother co-owned and operated Century 21 offices in South Florida. Back then, it was a world without the cell phones, Internet or the present-day websites used to search, sell or buy real estate. Selling real estate was more challenging, so the average real estate commission was 6%.

Fast-forward to a world where homes for sale can be seen across the globe and potential buyers can take a virtual tour without leaving their couch. Even with the technological and marketing advances being utilized throughout the real estate industry today, the standard sales commission remains at 6%.

In the early 2000's, I founded one of the largest and fastest growing residential real estate brokerages in the country. A technology-driven platform that offered all real estate services(brokerage, mortgage, and title insurance) under one roof at a lower commission. The company was incredibly successful, but the same market that helped fuel our growth also brought us to our knees during the Great Recession. Learning from that experience and a passion for innovating residential real estate to deliver a better home selling experience at a fair commission, Ideal Agent was created.

 

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

Top real estate agents in the United States are fetching 6% and more in commissions. Technology has enabled agents to be more productive and efficient with no pass-through in savings to the seller. The industry is plagued by inexperienced agents closing an average of 5 transactions per year creating less than a mediocre home selling experience at a high cost.

Ideal Agent has created a nationwide platform of top local agents who have agreed to deliver 5-star level service and marketing for as little as a 2% commission when the home is sold. The end result is a better home selling experience at a fair commission.

My work, while challenging, is extremely rewarding. I get to do what I love every day, real estate and helping people. We have an awesome founding team that is creating a great culture of balancing hard work and having fun at the same time.

 

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

Running a start-up presents new challenges on a daily basis, I think many entrepreneurs have this idea of starting a company and then you’re an instant success. Things always take much more time and money than you anticipate and life will throw you a few curve balls along the way. It’s amazing what hard work, a positive attitude and traction can overcome.

 

Where do you see your company headed next?

We’ve spent the last couple years building our foundation and fine-tuning our service, now we’re well positioned for rapid growth and scaling. We are closing on our first investment round this quarter and will use those funds to build out our technology platform, grow our network of agents and further build our brand. Our services are currently available in 49 states and every major market in the country.

 

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

Follow your dreams and passion, you only get one shot at this life. Pivot when necessary, never give up. Execution is critical. And, pay it forward when you can as you never know when you may need a hand in life.

 

Learn more about Ideal Agent on LinkedIn and Facebook.

04.25.2019

Featured Founder: Shuchi Vyas of GuestBox

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 Shuchi Vyas, Founder & CEO of GuestBox seamless, curated, branded boxes of high-end and eco-conscious products for the hospitality industry.

 

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

I've spent over a decade in journalism and nonprofit development. Both included a fair amount of travel. While with Habitat for Humanity International as a Major Gifts Officer, my work kept me away from my Manhattan apartment. I had collected my own art and even painted the bright red walls myself on a freezing winter day. Hosting on Airbnb had just started to take off in the city and my friends were doing it, so I thought: 'Why not share my space and give someone the great pleasure of staying right next door to Central Park'. I found myself struggling to wow my guests each time I hosted. So I felt there has to be a better way. Seeing the plethora of direct-to-consumer subscription boxes out there, I thought, why not take the convenience of this model and turn it into a service that helps hosts standardize a high-quality guest experience.

 

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

We see the hospitality industry going through a huge transformation, yet the guest welcome experience is still very fragmented. There is nothing that is serving as a go-to solution for the busy hotel manager who is juggling multiple priorities to be able to deliver a high-quality, standardized, and memorable experience in an easy and cost-effective manner. Hospitality companies are struggling to differentiate themselves and further their brand name. Also, today’s traveler is a more evolved and conscious consumer. If you’re handing them a bunch of sugary candy, they’re either going to decline or shrug their shoulders. No one thinks: 'wow, what an amazing gesture and I'm going to remember this forever'. So whatever money is being spent to deliver that experience isn’t really doing much for the hotel.

This challenge always reminds me of my own as an Airbnb host, but of course at a much larger scale. So if I found myself running around last minute to Trader Joes and other places in order to welcome one or two guests for one check-in every now and then when I traveled, imagine what a 300-room hotel goes through and then think about what the entire industry goes through. I would say that solving this problem is what gets me out of bed in the morning, but what really lights up my day are the brands that we feature in the boxes - so much thought and passion goes into creating products that are natural and amazing alternatives to the mainstream stuff that's mass produced. So if in my day, I get to speak with an entrepreneur or a team that's created a product because nothing like it existed or because they was tired of the 'same old', the prospect of including their brand in our boxes to eventually delight a tired traveler or one that seeks a novel experience, I feel like we are making a difference to everyone involved in that entire chain of events.

 

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

I think the biggest challenge for me was just getting started. I had the idea at least three years before I actually started working on it. On one hand I've had the fortune of working in different countries - as a business reporter for The Economic Times in Bombay to traveling the world working with different nonprofits. But then I also come from a very traditional career trajectory where you feel almost guilty for being away from 'work' and taking a year off to travel the world and engage with humanity just because your gut said to do that. And then you come right back to NYC and reality hits you about paying rent and not wanting to show such large gaps on your resume. Now it's almost funny that my mind once worked in such a linear fashion. I had the opportunity to be in Florida for a little bit and build my company. So I again listened to my gut and it was probably the best decision I made. If it weren't for the community that welcomed and encouraged me to do this, GuestBox would not be around.

 

Where do you see your company headed next?

We are expanding our team. And we are increasing our presence in the hospitality space. We just signed on a customer in New York that's coming on as a very strategic partner. They are providing GuestBox upon every check-in - for them every guest is a VIP! With their help we will be able to get to more customers quickly and in a meaningful way in which value is very clearly demonstrated. Beyond that, we are always going back to the drawing board to see what further value we could be delivering to existing and new customers.

 

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

First, find your community. Without it, you're going to struggle a lot to get started and to 'fail fast'. And do not hesitate to ask for help at every stage. If you're the kind of person that doesn't like to or isn't used to asking for help, do what you need to do to get over this. You're not going to have all the skills or time required to do everything and you're going to learn so much from others around you. Also be open to change, because it will happen, sometimes a lot. If you have the luxury of time before you start, go do something really challenging and outside your comfort zone. The resilience that you're able to demonstrate there could get you through the lowest lows that startup life will present.

 

Learn more about GuestBox on TwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram

04.24.2019

Embarc Collective’s First Phase of Launch is Live
(for over a month)

This gif says it well.

My team has been heads down and focused—and in the thick of that focus, we've been slow to offer an update on the launch of Embarc Collective. In March, we began to roll out the first phase of our organization's launch with support to 25 early-stage technology startups that are either based in Tampa Bay or are soon to be based in Tampa Bay. We refer to our March launch as Phase 1 Launch.

 

Seek Opportunity

The launch came after the team sought input from every technology-focused entrepreneur we could find in the region (500+ in-person interviews and 300+ survey responses) and worked to understand what gaps exist in our market to help Tampa Bay's startup talent build bold, scalable, thriving companies.

We're lucky to have great partners in our community. Our partners, such as Tampa Bay Wave, have built robust mentor networks to support its accelerator programs. Synapse has helped to include more people in the Florida innovation conversation through the Synapse Summit and other statewide events and programs. BlockSpaces has cultivated a blockchain community that is gaining global recognition. What we learned was that we didn't need to recreate what already exists.

An Aside on Partnerships
It is not our intention to recreate the wheel, so our team has been aggressive about developing strong partnerships and collaborations with 30+ existing support organizations in Tampa Bay as well as others nationally to ensure that we can call upon each other's resources as we work towards a common goal of building a strong startup community.

We needed to build on the foundation of this region's support with a customized layer specifically focused on startup founder and team needs.

Both from working with startups in Tampa Bay and my experience working with thousands of startups in Chicago, it's clear that each startup has different aspirations and goals for the business, different strengths to give their business a competitive advantage, and different challenges to address in order to make their business a success. Acknowledging all of those differences, we have built a non-profit model that puts the specific needs of each startup at the center of what Embarc Collective delivers.

Execute Swiftly

Applications opened in November and in short order, we had screened and accepted 25 early-stage technology startups to be a part of Embarc Collective. Since March, we've started to assign each accepted company an Executive Advisor. These advisors are on the Embarc Collective staff and have been selected due to their extensive startup operating experience. Each advisor is assigned a subset of the Embarc Collective portfolio and works with their assigned companies on a weekly basis.

In addition to advisors, each company has access to the rest of the Embarc Collective function specialists on-staff, which can be leveraged as an extended member of their startup team whenever they are needed. Our team looks similar to that of any startup—we have team members in engineering/product, analytics, talent, marketing/communications, business development and customer success roles. When startups need it, our specialists can come in and give the knowledge, tools and feedback needed to reach an upcoming milestone.

How Does This Differ From an Accelerator or Incubator?
We see our offering as complementary to that of traditional accelerators and incubators. In fact, we encourage startups to apply for other programs while maintaining their membership to Embarc Collective. Where we differ is that we do not operate in a cohort model, so each company's experience through Embarc Collective will be specifically customized based on their strengths and needs. There is no start or end date; we jump in as an extended part of your team and start our support at wherever your company is in your startup growth journey.

Share the News

We have a very customized approach to supporting technology startups, an approach that is catching the eye of communities outside of our region, which should only help amplify the message that Tampa Bay is a great place to build a company.

Measurement is the cornerstone of our organization, and we're proud of the traction we've made in our first 30 days:

  • 25 companies supported by Embarc Collective - Meet the Members
  • 81 startup team members from these 25 companies
  • 100 hours of coaching from 5 coaches
  • 6 hours average one-on-one support time to member startups
  • 5 interactive, function-specific sessions for the member community in April
    • 92 attendees for those events
  • 9 members of the Embarc Collective team - Meet the Team

What's Next

Much of what's been shared publicly about Embarc Collective revolves around our 32,000 square foot facility being built in downtown Tampa—what we're referring to as Phase 2 of our launch. The state-of-the-art facility will be ready at the end of the year and will include public event spaces for conversations about technology, entrepreneurship and innovation as well as spaces that are dedicated to the technology startup members of Embarc Collective to build, collaborate and learn.

An Aside About the Space:
The teams from KWJ Architects and KreherBarna have made sure that when you experience the space, it will deliver a memorable, wow factor that will serve as a representation of the Tampa Bay Startup community, both locally and beyond. This space will showcase the resident startups at work while balancing the excitement and energy of the collaboration and learning spaces.

Startup progress happens fast, so use Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and our newsletter, The Weekly Collective, to stay up to date.

And in the meantime, please reach out with your startup questions - we are here to help.

04.23.2019

Lessons from Past Rise of the Rest Tours

We are excited to welcome Steve Case's Rise of the Rest Tour to Tampa Bay on May 1st. This is an opportunity to shine the spotlight on our region and showcase the startups and entrepreneurs who grind towards success each day.

In preparation for May 1st, past hosts of the Rise of the Rest Tours offered advice on how Tampa Bay can maximize this opportunity. Their experience and lessons learned will help us all leverage the momentum beyond the tour stop and use that energy to spur even more startup traction.

 

Tip #1 - Demonstrate our Regional Connectivity (Kansas City)

Andy Stoll, Senior Program Officer at The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation

Rise of the Rest will meet startups and other stakeholders from both sides of the bay and should see how the broader region is collectively building a startup-friendly Tampa Bay.

 

Tip #2 - Invite More to the Party (Cincinnati & Madison)

Eric Weissmann, Vice President of Communications, Community & Economic Inclusion at Cintrifuse

Scott Resnick, COO of Hardin Design & Development

Given there is already 600+ RSVPs to attend the evening's fireside chat and pitch night, there is lots of excitement for the event, including an after-party hosted by Synapse.  What's even more energizing is knowing that new faces will get involved with the startup community because of the awareness the #ROTR8 tour will bring to Tampa Bay.

 

Tip #3 - Maximize Rise Of The Rest Network's Expertise (Madison)

Scott Resnick, COO of Hardin Design & Development

This guidance will help eight finalists pitching for $100K better illustrate their story not only on May 1st but opportunities beyond.

 

Tip #4 - Make the Most of Your Visiting Audience (Madison/Milwaukee)

Gener8tor, A Concierge Startup Accelerator

The Rise of the Rest delegation is made up of startup stakeholders known nationally, providing an opportunity to create more awareness and engagement between local startups and their team of high profile leaders from around the country. We are excited for the Rise of the Rest investment team to meet a multitude of high growth startups based out Tampa Bay during the visit.

 

Tip #5 - Include the Media's Megaphone (Nashville)

Kelley (Boothe) Griggs, Founder of Mealist

As an early stage company, being profiled in local media can go a long way to provide credibility when attracting talent and capital. Compared to other parts of the country, our region is lucky to have engaged members of the media focused on the regional startup landscape.

Let us follow your stories and observations from the Rise of the Rest Tour on May 1st. Share using #ROTR8 and #ROTR8TB.

04.18.2019

Rise of the Rest Homecoming: Interview with Genna Mckeel of Google for Startups

Photo by Mark Szelistowski

Genna McKeel, a Tampa Bay native, is Head of Global Partnerships for Google for Startups. Before joining the Google for Startups team, she was on Google’s central policy team where she led the team’s economic impact strategy and efforts to tackle forced data localization globally. Before Google, Genna received her MBA from London Business School where she focused on entrepreneurship. While in London, Genna was on the board of the Impact Consulting Club supporting entrepreneurs in emerging markets, the project manager for the "Silicon Valley comes to the UK Hackathon", and worked with Atomico on policy recommendations to support the entrepreneurial ecosystem in London. Prior to business school, she spent five years in various positions at the U.S. Department of State, including an advisor on Darfur policy and a member of Secretary Rice’s advance team.

In this exclusive interview, Genna highlights the importance of organizations like Rise of the Rest and the upcoming tour taking place in Florida and Puerto Rico. She explains why Google for Startups and Rise of the Rest are partners, what she’s looking forward to at the Tampa Bay tour stop, and more on how Google for Startups supports global startup communities.

 

Why does Google choose to partner with the Rise of the Rest team?

Google’s startup roots remain at the core of the company.  We passionately believe startups are shaping the future, and that Google has the resources and connections to help them grow. That’s why Google for Startups’ mission is to level the playing field for startup founders and communities to succeed, connecting them with the best of Google.

We do this by partnering with best in class organizations, groups like accelerators or coworking spaces, which are kickstarting ecosystems and supporting diverse founders.  Revolution’s Rise of the Rest tour is an obvious fit with our values of kickstarting emerging ecosystems like Tampa Bay or Memphis or Louisville that are outside of Silicon Valley and NYC where most of the capital and resources are readily available for founders. Revolution’s commitment to and investment in tech entrepreneurs in emerging, or "rising" ecosystems around the U.S. has long inspired us. Through our partnership with Rise of the Rest, we can bring the best of Google to support founders outside of Silicon Valley.

 

Why are you excited about ROTR taking place in FL and PR?

Working with partners across the US from American Underground in Durham, NC to Galvanize in Denver, CO, I see amazing startup founders like Helen Adeosun -- founder of Care Academy (also a Rise of the Rest Seed Fund portfolio company), which provides online training for senior care professionals and family caregivers --who bring their passion, creativity and hustle to work every day.  All of these founders that come from diverse backgrounds are extremely resourceful, creating new technologies or bringing innovation to traditional industries across the country.  We know that tech startups are big drivers of strong local economies, and we're excited about the momentum of startup ecosystems in places like Tampa Bay and Orlando to create great jobs and new opportunities in these cities.

 

What are you looking forward to seeing in the Tampa Bay market?

It has been inspiring to see the Tampa Bay startup ecosystem grow.  Last year I was a mentor at an awesome Techstars Startup Weekend event organized by Allison Barkley, their chapter director in Tampa Bay, and her fantastic team. It was amazing to see the passion that all the participants brought that weekend to building a company from scratch, especially given that they were all strangers to one another on Day 1..  And seeing the community come together to support these entrepreneurs, like Bisk offering mentors and space for the event, is what creates a thriving ecosystem. Giving back is a key principle to growing a thriving startup ecosystem and Tampa Bay absolutely shines in this regard,

I am excited to come back again to learn more about the community and hear from startups like Presence that is helping universities improve graduation rates, student success, and workforce readiness.

 

What advice would you share with founders in this region?

I am not a founder so asking a startup CEO would probably more useful! But from talking to many founders from our network, a piece of advice for any founder is make sure to take the time to hire the right people.

 

Can you talk about some of the success that Google has had in supporting startups?

Google for Startups partners closely with leading startup organizations across the United States. We track metrics and stories of our partners’ economic impact and in 2018, founders in the Google for Startups network in the US raised over $630M and created more than 6,300 jobs.

Startups that have participated in our network include Civic Eagle founded in Minneapolis by Damola Ogundipe and Yemi Adewunmi, which helps government and policy organizations learn, engage, and activate the people they serve through a suite of inexpensive software tools. In January, they were featured in Forbes as one of 22 innovative tech startups to watch at CES, where they pitched as part of Richard Branson’s Extreme Tech Challenge. Another startup that won our annual demo day last year is Shearshare, the first B2B mobile platform that lets stylists rent workspace by the day in cities all over the world founded by Tye and Courtney Caldwell. Tye and Courtney pitched at our 2018 Google Demo Day and won the Judge’s Favorite award, along with a $250K investment from Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund (Managing Partner, JD Vance, was a judge). They’re now operating in 500+ cities worldwide.

These are just a few examples of the startups we are able to help grow their business with the best of Google by partnering with leading organizations in communities not only around the US but also the world.

04.18.2019

Featured Founder: Lauren Wright of The Natural Nipple

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 Lauren Wright, Founder & CEO of The Natural Nipple, seamless, stress-free breast and bottle feeding with the only bottle that mimics a real mom’s shape, feel, and flow.

 

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

Growing up with limited access to health care, I became passionate and driven to optimize wellness in the global underserved community by integrating preventative primary health care and research. To do this, I was simultaneously pursuing my nurse practitioner degree in order to stay in touch with the patient needs and working on my PhD in hopes of generating research and protocols that shaped healthcare.  Getting into the real clinical world was a crude shock. I was in my clinical rounds and already frustrated about the limited impact I was making in primary care when typically you are reimbursed to spend 15 minutes with a patient and couldn't possibly holistically get to the root of their problem in that time frame.

While studying the gut microbiome of preterm infants, I discovered that babies that weren't getting mother's milk were suffering fatal complications. I became fascinated by breastmilk as the most preventive, dynamic, biological substance that has enabled us to evolve as mammals by providing the very first 'life vaccine'. This fueled my desire to create a solution that promotes prolonged breastfeeding and that's how The Natural Nipple was born.

 

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

After receiving a grant from The National Science Foundation to conduct over 300 interviews, identifying both mom and hospital's pain points-the data was compelling enough to wake me up in the middle of the night with ideas and work on the solution over 40 hours a week while balancing school and a forensic nurse practitioner job part-time.

Despite being within the 73 billion dollar global baby industry, the baby product and medical industry apparently fails to offers baby, mom, or caregiver everything they need in one. 92% percent of parents who introduce baby to a bottle with the intention of returning to the breast are unable to continue breastfeeding for the recommended 2 years. In the U.S. the average mother is entitled to just 3 weeks maternity leave leaving only 2.5 options for feeding baby: Breast, bottle, or both. The problem: Combining Breastfeeding with bottle feeding on an artificial nipple is rarely easy and being apart from baby causes mom’s milk flow to slow- giving baby less with each feeding making the desire to return to a fast flowing artificial nipple strong for baby. By majority, women resort to commercially available bottle nipples.

100% of expecting and breastfeeding mothers reported looking for a bottle nipple that is closest to their natural nipple in shape and in flow rate. Additionally, 100% of mothers reported wanting to continue breastfeeding, but 87% gave up early because of latching difficulties caused by ‘nipple confusion’. Conceptually, this was defined as the shape and flow rate of existing commercial products not matching a mother’s natural nipple. For the hospital supply market, a crucial pain point described as variable free flow drip rate was identified which costs hospitals approximately $3000 per preterm infant per day.  The Natural Nipple was designed to solve these problems, providing seamless, stress-free breast and bottle feeding with the only bottle nipple that mimics moms shape feel and flow.

This was done using 3d scanning technology to generate 4 nipple types reflective of the population so that a mom can pick her unique shape. Additionally, we conducted lactation studies so utilizing out subscription model e-commerce platform, a mom can order a kit for hands-on fit, and receive her nipple with updated flow rate every 2 months to support her breastfeeding journey.

 

Where do you see your company headed next?

Our patent covers creating any product from breast shape and flow rate and can be used for licensing an array of breastfeeding products, so that will be a direction we pursue so moms have better fitting nursing bras, pump flanges, and nipple shields that reduce pain in moms. Babies would also benefit from more breast-like pacifiers and sippy cups!

In terms of our product development, we are working Integrating technology into the bottle allowing the consumer to select the best fitting breastfeeding products for them. Additionally, by Using NanoTechnology sensors and a flow rate controller, we can provide for safer feedings and close monitoring of the baby by mother or caregiver.

 

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

Oh man. This is vulnerable and embarrassing but I'm going to just share it in hopes of encouraging other entrepreneurs out there. In November last year, I was juggling way too much- the dissertation proposal, the startup, a failing relationship, and looking for part-time work as the research study I was on had just concluded. Suddenly everything was falling apart because of spreading myself too thin- I had to make a decision that the one thing I wanted to succeed at was bringing this innovation to market. I ended up eliminating what wasn't bringing me closer to that goal and couch surfing for 3 months until I found a clinical job that provided the flexibility to continue pursuing this mission.

 

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

My personal journey has been really unconventional and filled with so many pivots, and everyone's blueprint to the life they have always dreamed of is going to look different. Keeping that in mind frees me from the tendency to take other people's opinions to heart or compare myself to another's construct of success- which is so easy to do when humans are wired for connectivity. People think it's crazy that I barely make enough to live off of at the moment and compromise my lifestyle for a complete risk when a cushy 100k clinical salary is an option. I never thought after being 10 years in and a semester away from 'Dr. Wright' I would consider putting graduating on hold to be a dedicated founder. But when I get real with myself about what elicits the sensation of joy in my life and act for the action itself- not the outcome, I know I'm where I need to be. My advice: never, ever forget that you have something to bring into this world that absolutely no one else can. No one has your exact experiences that shape your perception and genetic expression to be able to take your ideas and transform them into matter. Fail hard and keep going, no matter what mistakes you have made- you are uniquely neuroplastic: dynamic and deserving of being here; resilient and worthy of living the life you always wanted!

 

Learn more about The Natural Nipple on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

04.16.2019

The Spotlight is on Tampa Bay–It’s Time to Shine

On January 25, AOL co-founder Steve Case announced nationally on MSNBC that he saw the growth and momentum amongst new ventures in Tampa Bay and that he was going to visit to showcase the tremendous amount of progress here as part of his Rise of the Rest Tour. Now on his eighth tour, Rise of the Rest has become a key indicator that a community is on the rise, and now the spotlight will shine on our region.

Revolution & Rise of the Rest

Following his “you’ve got mail” days, Case has launched Revolution, a venture fund that invests in exciting, high-growth companies transforming traditional industries outside of Silicon Valley, New York and Boston. Revolution has discovered and supported companies that are becoming household names being built all around the country, including ClearSweetgreen and Framebridge.

Each year, the Revolution team selects a region to engage with and learn about, which they call “The Rise of the Rest Tour.” As they get to know companies during the tour, they can make seed stage investments in the region (the earliest stage of institutional investment in a startup).** Additionally, the Rise of the Rest team has a national megaphone about the state of entrepreneurship in the United States and can use that power to highlight the success stories emerging from a region. The regions that came before us benefited from the spotlight on their community. Now it’s our turn.

The Spotlight on Tampa Bay

The Rise of the Rest tour is coming to Florida and Puerto Rico on April 29 – May 3. They will stop in St. Petersburg and Tampa on May 1.

Over the course of a 12-hour day, the Rise of the Rest team will dive into our entrepreneurial community and meet founders & their teams, investors, corporate supporters, academic partners, entrepreneurial support organizations and government officials who all work tirelessly building Tampa Bay into a great place to build a business.

Let’s zero in on the word “building.” I’ve been struck by how apt that is a word to define our region. At our core, we are a region that is building. Whether it is literal buildings going up on both sides of the bay, or the building of strong new startup ventures, or building of a strong community to support those startups, we are a region that is building. Roberto Torres, founder of Blind Tiger Cafe, recently said: “What’s cool about [our region] is that it’s not done. It’s not New York, Chicago or Los Angeles; it’s not any of those places that have tremendous infrastructure. Ten years ago, it wasn’t cool to be in Tampa, but now it’s about taking it to the next level.” ¹

This is so true. We are building our region and taking it to the next level. Now we have a chance to share that message with everyone outside of Tampa Bay with the help of Rise of the Rest. 

Shining on May 1st

When the Rise of the Rest team arrives in Tampa Bay on May 1st, it will be a whirlwind. How do we ensure that we maximize our moment in the spotlight?

To shine, Tampa Bay needs your support – your awareness, your voice and your participation.

  • Read more about the power of the Rise of the Rest tour.
  • Tell your network about the tour – tell them something is happening in Tampa Bay.
  • Tune in to our Facebook Livestream, which will feature the evening celebration, including a fireside chat with Steve Case, Jeff Vinik2 and the Rise of the Rest Pitch Competition where 8 finalists will pitch for a $100k investment.

¹ Tampa Downtown Mar – April 2019 – TampaMagazines.com

2 Jeff Vinik is amongst the investors in the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund 

About the author: Lakshmi Shenoy is a recent transplant to the Tampa Bay region and is the CEO of Embarc Collective, which will launch in spring 2019. Before moving to Tampa Bay, Lakshmi was the Vice President of Strategy & Business Development at 1871 in Chicago. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of Chicago and an MBA from the Harvard Business School. @lshenoy

Originally published on Tampa Bay Inno.

04.09.2019

Featured Founder: Anthony Begando of ProCredEx

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 Anthony Begando, Founder & CEO of ProCredEx, a digital marketplace for exchanging verified professional credentials.

 

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

I have been a serial entrepreneur for almost 30 years.  I have largely focused on building B2B technology companies, tech-enabled healthcare services firms, and consulting operations focused on corporate/operational development.

While in my last year of college in 1991, I was recruited into an IV Pharmacy Outsourcing start-up called Central Admixture Pharmacy Services (CAPS) to be a "technology guy" and project manager.  The venture was conceived by Jim Sweeney who had recently purchased McGaw (third-largest IV solution manufacturer behind Baxter and Abbott Labs) and was looking for innovative ways to expand the company's flat revenue growth.  McGaw and DLJ invested $20MM to build out CAPS and bring to market a transformational model to create a just-in-time IV admixture outsourcing business targeting the nation's largest healthcare systems.  What began as an interesting business concept drawn out on a conference room whiteboard rapidly became a 24/7 high-speed operational deployment initiative.  We opened our first facility at City of Hope in Los Angeles and, within a few months, began the process of opening production facilities in 13 markets across the US.  We went from $0 to $23MM in annual run rate revenue in about 18 months.  Initially, my role was to work with our sales team in onboarding new clients and either integrating their in-house pharmacy systems with our production systems or setting up and training clients on our PC-based order entry system.  I developed a national professional services team to scale with the rapid growth of the firm and ensure that all new clients were onboard successfully.  After two years of that work, I was appointed Director of IT and took over our poorly performing in-house development team.  While, operationally, we were doing exceptionally well, the tech running the back-end of the business was awful.  Having recently graduated, I applied many of the software engineering principles I had learned while in school to completely re-engineer our software development processes and systems-- transitioning our team into a highly productive, service-focused organization.  We took McGaw/CAPS public in 1994 at $18/share and sold the firm shortly thereafter at $36/share.  CAPS was closing in on $40MM in sales in our third year and contributed heavily to McGaw's valuation.  This was an indelible experience which has greatly influenced my career to this day.

In April 2002, I founded Tenon Consulting Solutions, Inc. (Tenon) as a firm focused on operational formation/reengineering and development.  By July of that year, we were profitable and growing rapidly-- having closed about $2MM in initial project work.  One of our early clients was the US Army Reserve who had hired us to develop a global center for centralizing the administrative management for over 11,500 medical officers.  In performing this work, we had to address the significant problems associated with "credentialing" these individuals for their intended duty assignments.  "Credentialing" involves verifying virtually every aspect of an individual's professional background, education/training, employment, licenses, certifications, insurance coverages, malpractice claims, adverse events, and so on.   Historically, every Army Reserve medical/dental unit had done this work for their soldiers locally and struggled mightily to perform it well.  As such, Army Reserve clinicians would be mobilized or deployed and inevitably run into significant problems upon arriving at their duty stations as their credentials were not complete or compliant-- requiring that work to be done prior to their being allowed to practice and deliver care.  In many cases, practitioners would wait for weeks for this work to be finished prior to their assignment "clock" began-- causing significant resentment and creating a material effect on long-term retention.

We developed a highly efficient, automated operation within the Army Reserve Headquarters at Ft. McPherson (Atlanta) and took mobilization readiness for their advanced practice practitioners from less than 8% to about 94% in a little over three years.  In 2006, we were awarded a contract by the Army National Guard (ARNG)  to develop a similar operation for their clinical officers in serving all 54 states and territories.  Rather than have that operation located with the ARNG Headquarters in Arlington, VA, we were asked to build a wholly outsourced operation in Atlanta.  Building on our experiences (and lessons learned) from the prior work we had performed for the Army Reserve, we capitalized and developed from the ground up an operation that was exceptionally successful as evidenced by reducing costs by 35% and improving readiness to 99.4% force-wide.  Following our national deployment we were awarded the Surgeon General's Excalibur Award as having the most effective program for improving clinical readiness within reserve component forces.  In 2013, we were #15 in Atlanta's "Best Companies" to work for competition.

In all of our work, however, we were unable to reduce average cycle times for individual credentialing episodes down below 18 days.  Even with excellent workflow and CRM capabilities, we simply could not control response times for verification requests from organizations that would provide that information slowly.  A few years ago, we began to research different methods and approaches to address this problem.  The fact that every organization that either delivers or pays for healthcare services was independently and redundantly redoing this work brought to light that no single party controlled access to this data-- rather it was everywhere.  If we could establish a means to systematize, monetize, analyze, and distribute this data in a secure and reliable fashion, we could create a disruptive utility that would significantly reduce the time, costs, and effort historically associated with this process.  Further, by giving individuals a simple, secure means to control and distribute their information across the 15-30 organizations physicians and advanced practice providers must concurrently maintain this data with, we could gain their buy-in and acceptance.  We began building the technology that would help us realize this vision.

In late 2017, I was introduced to the founders of Hashed Health in Nashville by the Chief Medical Officer at Intel Corp.  Hashed Health had been working on several initiatives related to provider identity where the use of distributed ledger technology could provide an indisputable layer of "trust" between counterparties looking to exchange that information.  In short, after a few months of collaboration, we agreed to form a joint venture to combine our efforts and develop what is now known as the Professional Credentials Exchange (ProCredEx).  We launched the company a year ago and have worked very hard to establish a consortium of major healthcare organizations, insurers, technology firms, and implementation partners to bring this solution to market.

 

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

We are creating a simple, reliable, and secure means to share and distribute verified professional credentials and really redefine the way we think about professional identity generally.  The "credentialing problem" is so pervasive across the US healthcare industry alone that, if we are successful, we will create a solution that benefits nearly everyone involved in the delivery or reimbursement of care.  Beyond that, our solution will have similar applicability to virtually any regulated industry where credentials verification and sustainment are a condition of employment or engagement.  This includes industries like aviation, financial services, public safety, energy, construction, accountancy, and so forth.  Further our solution is applicable to these industries globally-- as evidenced by the significant international interest we have had in our work.

 

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

Scale is critical to the development of this business model.  Simply said, you cannot have a marketplace without the requisite supply needed to fulfill demand.  I equate it to opening a new grocery store:  When folks come in, they expect fully stocked shelves.  If you cannot meet their inventory expectations, they'll leave and probably never come back.  That said, upon founding the business, I have spent over 60% of my time building a consortium of "Design Partners" that are supporting our development efforts and will bring tremendous data supply to the market.  Further, in building an industrial-level solution such as ProCredEx, you must build a partner network that can both drive channel sales and provide significant implementation support.  In both cases, we have been very successful and are continuing to grow our Design Partner base each month.

 

Where do you see your company headed next?

We have done a detailed technical analysis with a number of blockchain and distributed ledger protocols to determine those which will give us the levels of performance we need within the exchange.  Frankly speaking, many of the early blockchain and cryptocurrency-oriented technologies struggle to perform efficiently at even marginal scale.  We need to know that we can operate at tens of thousands of transactions per second and only a handful of technologies have been proven to operate at that level.  We are very close to choosing our go to market partner(s) in this regard and, following integration into our platform, plan on implementing regional pilots within our partner network.  We are also actively involved in closing a $3MM seed round intended on funding that work and preparing the firm for our commercial launch.

 

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

Don't believe your own hype.  If you've got a great idea, prove to yourself (and others) that you can develop a business model that creates a capital efficient, profitable operation using realistic resources, sales, and operating expense assumptions.  I have personally done this by building out very detailed, variable driven business model simulations in spreadsheets that help me truly visualize the business, marginal performance, and growth model.  It may take you weeks to design, build, and refine this but it's critical to having a realistic and achievable business plan.  Take this model and review it with several CFO-types in the industry you are targeting and have them beat it up.  Review all of your major assumptions/variables and ask them flat-out "would you (or your customers/partners) buy this?"  If you don't get a definitive "yes!", go back to the drawing board.

Learn more about ProCredEx on TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

04.04.2019

Featured Founder: Adam Wisniewski of EX3 Labs

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 Adam Wisniewski, Founder & CEO of EX3 Labs, an experience design and product innovation firm that helps companies launch new ideas, digital products, and services.

 

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

Previous to starting EX3 Labs, I was working for a Tampa-based IT consulting firm as a user-experience designer. Emerging technology has fascinated me for a long time and I began working on side projects related to conversational interfaces and AI in 2014. The timing felt right to start my own business and explore ways to help large companies develop emerging tech strategies and proofs-of-concept.

 

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

Large organizations spend millions of dollars building new digital solutions every year. Some of the projects have high-risk and high-failure rates. We help organizations take on less risk with digital products through a lightweight, rapid prototyping model (RPM) that can help them go from idea to proof-of-concept in 1-3 weeks. We have an internal saying at EX3 Labs, “If a picture is worth a thousand words than a prototype is worth a thousand meetings.” I get excited about helping the company build something tangible that can provide business value in days-to-weeks as opposed to months-to-years.

 

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

Many companies don’t understand what emerging technologies are, how to apply them to their business challenges, and how to implement them. EX3 Labs helps organizations understand which emerging technologies are beyond the “hype-cycle” and more importantly, which can be scaled to meet their organization’s individual needs.

 

Where do you see your company headed next?

Emerging technology such as mixed reality, artificial intelligence, and IoT combined with new technology infrastructure offer a unique opportunity for organizations to reimagine the way they work and deliver value to their customers. We look forward to helping companies deliver impactful experiences and build new digital solutions to support that effort.

 

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

“Don’t fight in the north or south. Fight every battle, everywhere all the time in your mind. Everyone is your friend, everyone is your enemy. Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.” - Petyr Baelish, Game of Thrones

 

Learn more about Ex3 Labs on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.