Monthly Archives: September 2019


Top Takeaways from Embarc Collective’s First-Ever Founder Summit

Read the learnings and lessons shared from an all-star lineup of experienced startup operators and investors.

As many know, building a startup is difficult and often lonely. To support Embarc Collective member companies with the ups and downs of the startup journey and to reinforce the strength of the startup community, Embarc Collective hosted its first-ever Founder Summit for current Embarc Collective member companies. We curated a half-day of learning and reflection about how to build bold, scalable, thriving companies. The day was inspiring, and we were lucky to learn from renowned startup founders and investors from around the country.

The Lineup

Here's a quick look at the lineup of speakers from the Founder Summit.

Frank Gruber
Co-CEO of Established, which he launched after founding and successfully exiting previous media company, TechCo.

Monique Villa
Nashville-based investor at Mucker Capital and founder of BuildInSE.

Scott Lopano
Associate at Tech Square Ventures and Fund Manager for Engage Ventures in Atlanta.

Christy Brown
Atlanta-based serial entrepreneur and Managing Partner at Loeb.ATL.

Elias Torres
CTO and co-founder of Boston-based Drift.

Jeff Vinik
Board Chairman of Embarc Collective, Partner at SPP and Owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Takeaways

Our all-star speakers had a lot to share with Embarc Collective members. These were a few key lessons from the event:



During his fireside chat, Frank Gruber discussed the importance of building Tech.Co, formerly known as TechCocktail, a media company that covered tech startup news, events and resources to connect and build startup communities. He noted that it is important to create a community of like-minded people to help build ventures and solve problems collectively. He attributes his success to the connectivity of startup communities and in turn, helped build a few as well. As a startup founder, you can often work through your toughest challenges with the support of members in your startup community.



Once you determine what your ultimate dream is for your startup or your professional growth, start to reverse engineer how to get there. During his fireside chat, Frank prompted founders to imagine what their ultimate dream is. If you see your startup making a successful exit or you envision your company going public, think about the steps it takes to get there by working backward. You know to exit successfully, you need to pitch to buyers. To pitch to buyers, you need to create a reproducible system or product that has value and can generate revenue. How can you improve your current business to refine a reproducible system that will be attractive to buyers? And that's where you start. Approaching your goals with reverse-engineered thinking is key to making your dreams happen.



During the investor panel, each panelist strongly expressed how important it is to keep communications with investors human. While it may be easy to send communications to investors in mass, you are working against your interest by keeping the conversation sterile. Tailor your cold outreach via email or Twitter by understanding their stage, sector, geographic focus, and existing portfolio. Investors are in it for the long haul and want to get a sense of who the people are behind the companies they are investing in. Connect with them authentically to build memorable, lasting relationships.



Scott Lopano recommends founders do their research on any investor they plan to engage with. It's important for founders to get a sense of where prospective investors are spending their time and money. If they haven't invested in a city before or don't make trips to that city frequently, the likelihood they'll be a value-add investment is low. They most likely won't be able to give you the time and support you need as an early-stage company. Spending 15 minutes digging through an investor’s or fund’s portfolio to better understand what type of companies and where they are making investments can save you time and wasted money on travel. Check investor’s social media accounts, especially Twitter and Medium, to see what they are sharing and writing about. Their online activity can also tell you more about their investment style.



Christy Brown says founders in our region shouldn't need to leave their region to find capital. However, for founders to stay, local investors need to change the message in the Southeast. Investors have the ability to bring capital to the ecosystem. There are funds and investment groups who don't know about the founders or opportunities in the Southeast. When companies go west, investors here lose out on the opportunity and in turn, companies here don't get capital from local investors. Christy says the Southeast has the natural ability to scale and grow with the capital we need. She encourages investors to do a better job championing this message. Scott Lopano reminds founders to consider local capital as well. There are plenty of opportunities that can bring investors to the city. Those who are willing to fly out are also those that are willing to write checks in those communities. At the end of the day, it does take diligence on your end, and theirs, to find a good fit.



Monique Villa says Mucker Capital invests in early-stage companies that closely resemble a replicable sales model. If you have no revenue, but you have done real groundwork to define your ideal customer profiles, create a clear picture of what the competition looks like and you have some form of creative hack to out-compete the competition, this is attractive to investors — regardless of what you have under the hood or not. If you have a thoughtful plan on how to go to market, it makes sense to bring in money. Having some version of the product that's functioning with a list of customers you know you can deliver to is also important to investors in the consideration process.



When managing a team that's scaling fast, Elias Torres advises founders to define culture and principles up front while keeping a solid structure in place. At Drift, he explains they keep the customer at the center of everything they do and work in small teams. Elias and his co-founder borrowed a few structures they created while at Hubspot to help form their early dev teams. However, Elias says Drift is growing and learning every day. Whatever they did wrong the day before, they actively work on improving it the next day.



Elias recommends that all founders need to learn how to tell a story. He describes that storytelling is fundamental to how we communicate and retain messages. When pitching for investment locally, you need to develop a story that's ambitious and courageous with a big goal. Not only does the story have to be compelling, but you need to show a clear path on how to get there. Once founders find their story, he tells them to focus in on the story and tell it a thousand times.



Jeff Vinik shared with founders that to make Tampa Bay progress 20 years in 10, the stories of interesting companies here need to continue to grow. It's important these stories not only ring in our community but beyond our market to attract promising talent to Tampa Bay. We have to lift together in order to accomplish our goal.


To build better, we have to leverage each other. This was the ultimate theme shared with speakers at Embarc Collective's first-ever Founder Summit. As the entrepreneurial community grows in Tampa Bay, members of the community need to continue to celebrate the success of thriving companies, lend a helping hand to others (even if you don't receive anything in return), and provide a support system that encourages more founders to build impactful companies in this region for us to truly make 20 years of progress in 10.

Interested in joining Embarc Collective? Nominate your startup today!


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Growth Story: Austen Legler of Immertec

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Austen Legler, Director of Marketing for Immertec, a real-time 3D VR communications platform that allows professionals to seamlessly train, consult, and observe any time, anywhere.


Where are you from?

Bradenton, Florida. I definitely consider myself a Tampa Bay native. I grew up only 1-hour away.


Tell us more about your role at Immertec. What does a day in the life look like?

It’s different every day, which I love. But my main focus since I came into the role has been on building strong marketing foundations that are going to set us up for sustainable success. This means really honing in and building out every detail of our branding, making sure our messaging is concise and tells a compelling story about who we are and what we do, and working with my awesome marketing team to come up with creative content strategies that resonate with our audience and compel them to action.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

I come from a long line of lawyers in my family, so I was also expected to go to law school. But I knew early on this wasn’t for me, I wanted to carve my own path so I figured if I wasn’t going to become an attorney, I would pursue something in business. I just wasn’t sure what avenue of business to pursue. There are so many options; finance, human resources, management, entrepreneurship, and marketing. But then in my junior year of college, I took my first marketing class, and immediately knew this was something that could lead to a fulfilling career and allow me to flex my creative muscles.

After college, I got to work on building my skills and gaining experience. I worked for a large museum, handling all of their digital and social media content, I worked for a non-profit, and I spent five years at a small marketing agency.

Through these experiences, my skills slowly grew. But I knew there were bigger and better opportunities out there, and I wanted to push myself further out of my comfort zone. So I started making the hour drive up to Tampa just about every week to attend events, and learn more about the local startup ecosystem. I eventually made some connections, which led to more connections and so on. Before I knew it, I was sitting in front of our CEO being offered the Director of Marketing job!

I did of course face many challenges. I got rejected from a lot of other jobs before landing my current one, which was discouraging. It made me question myself at times, and whether or not the path I was pursuing was the right one. But I made the decision to keep going, and now I know that all those rejections were just leading me to something bigger and better.


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

I’m super grateful to have found an amazing community here, with amazing peers. Working in the Tampa startup ecosystem is different than anything I’ve experienced before. Everyone I’ve interacted with seems to have a genuine desire to support and collaborate with one another. I’ve already grown so much as a professional and a human being since beginning my journey with Immertec. I can’t imagine doing what I do anywhere else.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

Be patient with yourself, embrace failure and be willing to make mistakes. At the same time, cultivate an insatiable hunger for learning. This is the formula for positive growth.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

It’s been amazing to see the incredible growth of Tampa in the last several years. And I think we’re just scratching the surface of what’s possible for the startup ecosystem. With organizations like Embarc Collective and Tampa Bay Wave acting as amazing advocates for the startup community, the future is bright! I hope to continue to get the opportunity to learn from amazing entrepreneurs and help build potentially world-changing companies here in the Tampa region.


Learn more about Immertec on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn



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Growth Story: Christina Valenziano of Peerfit

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Christina Valenziano, Senior Marketing Strategist for Peerfit, a digital platform for employers, insurance carriers, and brokers to offer wellness solutions to their clients and employees.


Where are you from?

I'm from Tampa and moved back after living in New York for a year.


Tell us more about your role at Peerfit. What does a day in the life look like?

My day-to-day at Peerfit has changed quite a bit over the last (almost) five years. I went from focusing on social media to overall content strategy to, eventually, general marketing strategy. Currently, I work everyday with my team members to ensure we are moving the needle and growing toward not only our marketing goals but our goals as a company. In addition to the collaboration and management of our team success, I have my hand in a lot of copywriting, product marketing, engagement strategy and mobile marketing.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

As odd as this sounds, I began my career in marketing as a recipe developer, blogger, and food photographer. I dove in because of my love of cooking and came out a self-taught marketer. After three years, I called it quits on blogging and focused on my role as a marketer and decided to put all my energy toward the growth of Peerfit. Working for a tiny startup, and even now as a growth company, challenges have been persistent, but our grit has been the key to overcoming them. I’d say one of the biggest obstacles has been catering to three different audiences within one product. We’re a small but mighty marketing team, however, and this has never stopped us from pushing toward success.


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

The different communities I’ve been able to immerse myself in in Tampa have greatly shaped my journey. Whether that be the fitness community, local young professionals, or even local Peerfit team members (we’re completely remote!), I've always felt a sense of pride and support in this city for startup growth and career evolution. There are so many groups, events, and initiatives in Tampa that support the startup environment and from the beginning to now, I’m grateful to have been here for most of this journey.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

You’re going to get frustrated, you’re going to be stressed, and you’re going to feel discouraged. It’s inescapable. You’ve got to keep your eyes and heart on the mission of your organization to stay afloat and move forward.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

I see a huge difference in Tampa Bay from five years ago when I moved back from college to now. Even after living in New York City for a year, I’ve come back and see growth in plain sight. Tampa is making a name for itself and I can tell it’s not stopping anytime soon. The startup movement and trend for innovation is getting stronger, and I think companies like Peerfit and professionals like me and my local colleagues joining, forming, and presenting ourselves in the community will help bring Tampa’s potential to fruition.


Learn more about Peerfit on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn, and Instagram.



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Roll Call: Women Founders and Investors in Florida

A statewide directory for women leading and investing in technology startups to narrow the gender investing gap in Florida.


We all know the woeful stats: in 2018, women raised less than 3% of venture capital funding, made up just 26% of the angel investor population, and comprised only 11% of decision-making roles at US-based venture capital firms.

In our effort to narrow the gender gap in Florida investing, we created an open-source list to recognize women founders and investors statewide. With this list, we can collectively better distribute opportunities for Florida's tech community—enabling founders to develop a community of peers, investors to diversify their deal flow, conferences to identify new voices, and networking dinners and events to offer balanced representation.

View the list of Florida Women Founders + Investors

For the purpose of this research, our dataset includes women co-founders of technology or tech-enabled startups and/or women currently working in an investment-focused role across institutional or corporate funds or established angel investor networks. To maintain the quality of data, we have excluded family offices and super angels. The data was aggregated from Angelist, Crunchbase, The Southeast Capital Landscape, and self-reported by startup support organizations, accelerators, founders, and investors from throughout Florida.

Why does this matter? We chose to collate a list of women investors and founders because of the data-driven links between these two groups.


More women in investment positions leads to more women founders receiving investment.

  • ....which leads to more successful outcomes for all. Companies with gender-diverse executive teams are 21% more likely to outperform on profitability and 27% more likely to have superior value creation. (Source: McKinsey)


25.5% of Florida firms include at least one woman in an investment position. Nearly 18% hold a senior investment position (Partner, GP, MD), compared to the national average of 11%.

  • In a business driven by pattern recognition of "intuition" and "gut instinct", underrepresented founders tend to lose out. As Doug Speight put it, "pattern recognition is bias turned practice." With more women in investment decision-making positions, we can help break the cycle of bias in the pitch process that can aggravate the funding disparity.


Women are expected to hold half of private wealth in the US by 2020... and Florida ranks fourth for the number of accredited investor households.

  • By educating more women to invest their assets via angel networks or as Limited Partners in venture funds, Florida has an opportunity to take a substantial lead in the US as a destination for women-led companies to receive investment.


We see an incredible opportunity to grow the pipeline of investments for women-led companies—and tap into the economic benefits of diverse leadership in the process—by doubling down on diversity in Florida's investment decision-maker pool.

What's next? We hope that this list enables women founders and investors throughout the state of Florida to cultivate a sense of community, such as sourcing and referring diverse investment opportunities, meeting prospective co-investors, and connecting when on business trips across the state.

Have an addition? To include any founder or investor that we did not already surface, please submit this form.


Seeking more? Find a slew of resources and expertise curated for this community below:


  • Amnita Ventures—South Florida-based organization for women that facilitates exploration into angel investing through education, support, partnerships and a network of investors.
  • Tampa Bay Wave x Starter Studio Grant—$300,000 grant through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Seed Fund Support to address early-stage capital funding gaps in central Florida.
  • Startup Sisters USA—Connects women of wild ambition through business events and startup education nationally.
  • SoGal Foundation—The largest global platform for education and empowerment of diverse entrepreneurs and investors.
  • Working Women Foundation—Grants for women entrepreneurs who can demonstrate proof of concept and a plan for how the funds will be used.


  • Femstreet—Weekly newsletter on women in tech, entrepreneurship and diversity in venture capital by Sarah Noeckel.
  • Elpha—A platform where women in tech talk candidly online.
  • Allraise—Nonprofit organization behind diversity and inclusion efforts to boost the amount of funding women founders receive.
  • Ms. Tech—An online collective of women in business.
  • Women in VC Directory—The world’s largest global directory for women in venture capital to find each other, connect, and collaborate.
  • Negotiating the Terms (NTT)—Blog that elevates stories from a growing community of young women in venture capital.
  • 50+ Firms Focused on Women-Led Startups—Comprehensive list created by Eva Reder of the Manos Accelerator.
  • 2019 ACA Funding Report—Annual report on angel group investment and the startups they support.


Advice from Women Founders and Investors

Special thanks to Anna Warnke, our Summer Intern at Embarc Collective, who worked diligently to compile the data for this project.

And thank you to our friends in collaboration who helped make this list comprehensive: Antonio Montoya at Domi Station, Fumiko Shinkawa at Groundswell Startups, Raul Moas at The Knight Foundation, Christina Graham at Catapult Lakeland, Tigre Wenrich and Wifredo “Wifi” Fernández at The Lab Miami, and Christine Caven at PS27 Ventures.


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Growth Story: Chad Semans of Ideal Agent

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Chad Semans, Co-Founder & VP of Sales for Ideal Agent, a real estate technology platform selling homes for as little as 2% commission via a referral network of top real estate agents.


Where are you from?

I'd describe myself as nativish (am I allowed to create a new word?). Born in Wilmington, DE. At the age of 2 moved to Tampa where I’ve enjoyed living since.


Tell us more about your role at Ideal Agent. What does a day in the life look like?

My role as VP of Sales is to be a leader for my growing team, a visionary molding our platform as we continue to grow, a trainer working with new employees, a customer support representative available to our clients, an HR manager and a few more. Being a co-founder of a fast-growing start-up is exciting but everyday has its surprises and sudden pivots have been made along the way and my part is to be ready for whatever tomorrow brings.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

My career in the Real Estate industry actually started when I was working with teams at Capital One Corporation’s call center here in Tampa. In 2001, the company’s trainers were being sent to other countries to train foreign employees how to do the jobs we were doing here. Not to long after, empty seats started appearing and eventually empty buildings. I had recently purchased my first home and became very interested in real estate. So, I took the real estate course, state exam, and became a licensed real estate agent. In 2002 Steve Johnston, Ideal Agent’s Founder, was rapidly growing his real estate platform Home Discovery that was composed of in-house teams including a call-center, contract negotiators, inside sales teams and more. Through mutual friends, I was fortunate to have been reacquainted with Steve and with my call-center background, newly acquiring real estate license, and Steve’s need for someone to join and lead his teams, it was a perfect fit.

The biggest challenge that we all experienced was the real estate market crash that started in 2006 and continued over the following years. At the time we employed close to 300 employees, had a fleet of cars for our agents, employee benefit packages, and more which was all supported from homes selling. The months following the burst of the real estate bubble came with hard times that no one wants to experience. However, it made us stronger and smarter. The real estate market comes with ebbs and flows. Going through the crash has been instrumental in the design of Ideal Agent.


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

Tampa has everything I need – friends and family support, great place to raise my two boys, amazing restaurants, sports and so much more. No better place to be part of a start-up and continue to make Tampa a better place to live. Home discovery early on shaped my real estate knowledge and now we have a second opportunity to fulfill the mission.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

Everyone who has a new business idea wants to succeed. Rushing to success and staying too far under the radar may lead to failure. Use your focus groups, friends and family, mentors, and business connections to get feedback when making critical decisions. Making adjustments during the early stages of your business plan can save much time and money on your road to success.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

In all my years of living in the Tampa Bay area I have never seen so much excitement that comes with the growth we are experiencing currently. You’re not able to drive down the road and not see a new business opening, buildings being erected, new homes being built, new roads, new communities, and I can go on and on. I see Tampa as a place of opportunity for entrepreneurs, and all, that are looking to be part of a success story in their work and personal lives. The Ideal Agent leadership team is creating a place where diverse, driven individuals can be part of a workplace that supports positive values, teamwork, positive leadership and a fun and productive workplace improving Tampa’s future outlook.


Learn more about Ideal Agent on LinkedIn and Facebook.



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Growth Story: Lynn Gurschke of SpotMyPhotos

Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Lynn Gurschke, Operations Manager at SpotMyPhotos, a private photo delivery platform used by event professionals that enables your photos to find you.


Where are you from?

Plainfield, Illinois


Tell us more about your role at SpotMyPhotos. What does a day in the life look like?

What I love most about my position is that it's multidimensional; there aren't many areas of the company I don't touch. 

At SpotMyPhotos, we use a variety of pattern recognition and machine learning technologies to seamlessly deliver custom-branded professional photos to those photographed, in real-time. It’s often equated with using facial recognition in event photography, but our technology does so much more, while focusing on preserving peoples’ privacy preferences.

The majority of my time is spent as a Community Manager and Product Manager.

As Community Manager, I work with our licensees who are typically event planners, photographers and photo booth companies. I help to keep them happy and informed. On a macro level, this means managing mass communications. Everything from email campaigns to communications within our platform. At a micro level, I work personally with individual licensees to get them on-boarded and then guide them in how to use the system to achieve their goals. In working closely with them, I also learn about how we can improve features or build new ones, which brings me to the other hat that I often wear.

As a Product Manager, I am the liaison between our community and our technical team. Because I work so closely with our licensees, I am constantly striving to ensure the product is growing to fit their needs. This means I play a critical role in steering product direction and prioritizing development efforts with our technical team. In addition, I help the team build features that are on our tech roadmap to ensure the user experience is nothing less than extraordinary.

This role allows me to work with photographers and photo booth companies not only within the TB region, but also beyond. Organizations of all types in every major metropolitan area of North America are using SpotMyPhotos to grow their brand and wow event attendees.  It’s been fun to see our platform take off, and I love meeting folks from all over who are using our platform in different ways.


How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?

I have always been in client-facing roles, usually ones that have required a strong skill set in customer service and sales. It’s interesting to note, I started this role without a previous background working for tech companies.

I have a background in HR, specifically, recruiting. Coming from a staffing agency, I was constantly managing 30+ HR and Admin associates, across all industries. This experience has proven valuable, as I served as the liaison between my candidates onsite and my clients they were working for- similar to what I do with our product team and licensees.

There are always challenges to overcome with any role. I remember clearly facing a lack of management, as two months into my staffing job, my Division Director left the company. She was valuable and her shoes were hard to fill, so this role remained vacant for over a year. As an already small team, this left my colleagues and I working daunting hours and looking to ourselves for direction when daily struggles arose.


How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?

Tampa has influenced our company positively in many ways. My CEO and Founder recently moved here to open up another office and we have seen great reception from the community. It is exciting to see the entrepreneurial community in the Tampa region being energized with new initiatives focused on growth and innovation.


What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?

I have two pieces of advice. The first is to always be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. When you understand where your strengths shine, this allows you to build a truly effective team that fills all the gaps. No one can do it all, and our company prides itself on hiring people to fulfill roles they want and believe they can shine in.

The second piece of advice I would offer is a strategy to increase daily productivity – time blocking. This strategy led me to great success as a recruiter and it still serves me well in my role at SpotMyPhotos. If you're like me and have several things constantly pulling at you throughout the day, you have to find a way to balance your proactive and reactive tendencies. For me, this means diligently and strategically planning my tasks for the day. All too often, people waste time on the "in-between" moments thinking about what to do next. This opens up the risk of becoming distracted and not retaining critical focus on what’s truly important. Time blocking makes sure you are prioritizing your day according to your goals and responsibilities.


Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?

I'm looking forward to seeing Tampa Bay grow. Like the Chicago startup scene, I feel Tampa Bay is working on their own startup city identity, which is exciting to see happen. I saw this first hand when I took part in Rise of The Rest back in May. 

As we build SpotMyPhotos from both Chicago and Tampa Bay, I plan to visit Tampa Bay more frequently. We are excited to move into the Embarc Collective space and collaborate with other like-minded entrepreneurs.


Learn more about SpotMyPhotos on Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.



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