Monthly Archives: December 2019


Embarc Collective Announces Endeavr Coffee

UPDATE: As of January 1, 2022, Endeavr has rebranded to Blind Tiger Cafe at Embarc Collective.


Tampa Bay innovation hub partners with Blind Tiger Cafe owner Roberto Torres to develop a startup-focused coffee brand and public cafe


Tampa, Florida — Embarc Collective, the innovation hub that helps Tampa Bay’s startup talent build bold, scalable, thriving companies in downtown Tampa, has unveiled a new community cafe open to the public that will live on-site at the new innovation hub. Embarc Collective has partnered with Roberto Torres, owner of Blind Tiger Cafe, to develop a unique coffee concept designed with startup operators in mind.

Endeavr, a brand inspired by startups to support the entrepreneurship journey with sustenance, will be the on-site provider of cafe beverages and food at Embarc Collective’s community cafe. The new cafe will serve coffee, including nitro and cold brew, tea, kombucha, sandwiches, salads and acai bowls. 

“In building a central landing zone for tech entrepreneurship, it was critical to provide a place for food, coffee and conversation — open to the public — one which complements the vision of Embarc Collective and helps new ventures flourish,” said Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective.

Embarc Collective’s community cafe is a public space focused on bringing the broader community closer to other startup builders in Tampa Bay. The cafe is intentionally designed to invite the community to collaborate with entrepreneurs building both inside of Embarc Collective and the Tampa Bay region. Embarc Collective provides customized support to member companies through on-staff Executive Advisors, function-specific experts and expert-led programming inside of the 32,000 square-foot collaboration space. The new cafe gives members and the community a space for collaboration and conversation, which will open at the start of 2020.

Robert Torres worked with Tampa-based creative studio Pep Rally Inc. to develop the Endeavr brand. 

"When developing Endeavr, it was important for us to intentionally design a space where startup talent and the broader community could collaborate,” said Roberto Torres, Owner of Blind Tiger Cafe, “Creating places where like-minded people can share ideas and build ventures is key to strengthening the startup community in this region.“

To learn more about the Endeavr, visit:


About Embarc Collective:

Embarc Collective is a 501c3 nonprofit that helps Tampa Bay's startup talent build bold, scalable, thriving companies and current supports almost 40 early-stage technology startups. The support from Embarc Collective is hands-on and driven by the specific goals and needs of each startup being supported. Later in 2019, Embarc Collective will open its 32,000 square foot innovation hub in downtown Tampa.


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Featured Founder: Adam Nasir of Smarter Contact

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 Nasir, Founder of Smarter Contact, an SMS outbound prospecting tool for marketers in the real estate space.



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

I have been a real estate investor for seven years and still actively invest. I've bought and flipped over 500 homes in the career I've had as well as purchased and sold several properties in the real estate space. In this experience, I found a need in the industry. Knowing intricately I had a deep understanding of the space, I needed an effective prospecting tool that was easy to use. I initially built a version for personal use and to increase my deals. It wasn't until a couple years later, and finding success with my initial tool, that I realized a lot of other people could find this useful too.


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

Smarter Contact is an outbound prospecting tool that uses SMS as an output channel. It has a CRM built into it as well to help track and organize contacts. Many people were doing direct mail and cold calling when prospecting real estate deals. This process is not only time-consuming but inefficient. Smarter Contact not only speeds up the process, but it is much more efficient than previous prospecting tactics and cheaper. What get's me excited for work every day is solving the biggest challenges and the biggest problems. I love any kind of obstacle. If there is a very difficult problem ahead of me, I know that I'll have to spend more time to solving it, but in turn that fuels my drive and determination to solve it.


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

The biggest challenge was not having any technology or software background when I decided to build Smarter Contact as a company. Outside of being a normal consumer, I've never worked for a technology company or built one. The way I overcome my challenges is by being massively resourceful. This is one of the most important skills an entrepreneur should have. By being extremely resourceful and learning quickly, I adapted and found solutions that worked. However, it wasn't easy. I spend a lot of time trying to find the answer with limited resources.


Where do you see your company headed next?

My goal within the next 12 months or 18 months is to get 250K in monthly recurring revenue. I am aiming to position the company to be able to sell within a two to three year period. Our most immediate focus is making our product an enterprise solution. By providing an enterprise option, we plan to make our solution available on more sales channels to make it accessible to more users.


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

The two biggest ones are: 1) Be massively resourceful. Turn every stone and spend time on each problem. The key is to be very resourceful in anything you do. There's always an answer. Don't be afraid to ask for help from someone who knows more than you. 2) Work like hell. As an entrepreneur we have large goals that require hard work. Go all in.


Learn more about Smarter Contact on Facebook.



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Embarc Collective is Opening. What Does This Mean for Tampa Bay?


Embarc Collective helps Tampa Bay's startup talent build bold, scalable, thriving companies. Our team has been doing this since March of this year for the 40 member startups we support through 1:1 coaching from the Embarc Collective staff and 51 group workshops on the different needs of a startup.

But without our physical space, for anyone outside the Embarc Collective membership, our value proposition may have felt more like a future vision than a reality. Until now.

We're excited to announce that before the holidays, construction on our 32,000 square foot facility will be done.


So what does this mean for Tampa Bay?


If you're a startup:

For the 40 early-stage technology startups that Embarc Collective currently supports, welcome home. You have a physical place:

  • to build your company surrounded by others who understand the challenges and adventure of building new technology ventures.
  • to learn about everything there is to know when building a scalable technology venture with resources in close proximity to create an action plan quickly.
  • to collaborate on new ideas, test hypotheses and find a community of similarly driven and passionate individuals.

We know that different startups have different needs, so some companies will have private offices within Embarc Collective. Others can use the open collaboration areas within the space to build their business. But, no matter the membership type, all companies will continue to have access to the 1:1 coaching from Embarc Collective's staff (how great will it be to finally be co-located!) and access to our weekly sessions, with content driven by member startup needs. The efficiencies for getting that support will be so much more pronounced with the opening of the new space. If you're considering membership, apply here.


If you're an active startup supporter:

Within Embarc Collective, there are several dedicated spaces for the community to engage in discussions around technology, entrepreneurship and innovation. We hope to be the home to 100+ tech- and entrepreneurship-focused events in 2020, led by different organizations in the community. We are excited to welcome you to host an event or attend an event hosted at Embarc Collective. If you're considering hosting an event at Embarc Collective, contact our events manager here.


If you're a corporation:

Engaging the corporate community of Tampa Bay as early startup customers is critical to unleashing the power of this startup community. If you're a corporation or organization interested in corporate membership, contact our business development manager here.


If you're an entrepreneurial support organization partner:

Thank you for being our partner. From the start, we've said that, "the startups we support have a mindset toward scaling globally, so we needed to ensure that we've built in that connectivity from a support standpoint from the start. Knowing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, we have partnered with impactful organizations from around the world to help us do so." We look forward to continuing to find ways to be complementary to your work. If you have ideas to partner on programs, content and/or events to better this startup community, please reach out. We are your partner!

The ambition of Embarc Collective is bold. We want the world to take notice of the strength and momentum of the Tampa Bay startup community. Even in our early days, international audiences are taking notice as seen in the Financial Times, Inc. Magazine and Business Observer. With our space, the story will just be amplified further.

Rise with us in 2020.


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Growth Story: Lauren Prager of Synapse

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 Lauren Prager, VP of Community Engagement of Synapse, a platform to connect and organize Florida's innovation community.


What were you doing previously and what inspired you to join Synapse?  

I realized at a young age that I love helping people find their voice, enabling and empowering others to succeed. It's energizing for me to hear someone's story, help them make a valuable connection to another person or give the encouragement to take a next step that makes an impact.  To me, this is what it means to build a community.

For several years after we moved to Florida in 2013, I was fortunate to stay home full-time with our young daughters. I used that time to reflect on my previous career and passions.  Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to work with teams dedicated to making a positive impact on significant issues that ultimately create community.  I spent more than a decade in and around Washington DC building support for bipartisan public policy issues.  I was a registered lobbyist, a community organizer and educator.  I traveled around the country engaging activists and leaders, led international trips exposing people to new experiences and challenging ideas, and helping them all become advocates themselves.  Together, we rallied thousands around issues that had global impact, often creating new partnerships and friendships that might not have otherwise come to fruition.  We made a real positive difference in ways that truly matter.

I joined Synapse as a volunteer eight weeks before the inaugural Synapse Summit in 2018 at the invitation of a friend. I started out volunteering 5-10 hours a week to help develop the program.  I quickly realized that we were not just planning a conference; we were creating a movement.  Dozens of volunteers were giving hours of time to create an exciting celebration of innovation.  Business leaders, investors, educators, officials offered their time and expertise to educate others. The energy was - and still is - palpable and exciting.

Before I knew it, I was volunteering full-time, getting babysitters and working late into the night, dedicated to making sure we served the community with the best possible program.  We were literally innovating as we went, creating an event in Amalie Arena and willing our vision into reality.  In the end, when more than 3,300 people spent two days with us celebrating and connecting. We knew we had launched something transformative that and I was - and still am - proud to be a part of.

After Synapse Summit 2018, my volunteer role became a full-time leadership position.  Now, I spend my days meeting as many founders and leaders from across the state as I can and finding ways to help them connect with what they need and to share their story.  Sometimes it's by facilitating Innovation Challenges to help businesses crowdsource innovation solutions or designing program innovations for Synapse Summit in Tampa or Synapse Orlando, or finding other ways to ensure that we're engaging our community.

Synapse is the manifestation of my passion to create meaningful, impactful connections that empower others to make a positive impact on our community.  I'm proud and grateful every day to be a part of it!


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

The impact we've been able to make at Synapse has been remarkable, especially considering we're a two-year old non-profit startup!

Our mission is to make it easier for innovators to find what they need and share what they have.  Synapse is becoming the central hub to navigate Florida's dynamic and growing innovation community.  It's way too difficult for innovators in Florida to make meaningful, valuable connections. We're divided by our enormous geography, the distance between centers of gravity in our educational institutions, and city centers with car-dependent culture that differs from other cities. We are often siloed in our industries, missing significant opportunities for collaboration with the talented makers, doers, hackers, creators right around the corner.  And because we're all heads down working, we sometimes forget to celebrate the wins!

It's exciting to see how the movement we're powering is accelerating successes in Florida - new companies launched, companies who found investors, founders who moved to Florida or found the talent they needed because of connections made through Synapse.  That's the magic that happens when our movement comes together.


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

Synapse is innovating every day. Our greatest challenge is ensuring we're serving our entire community. As a Florida-focused organization, we're striving to tie in innovators from across the state. We intentionally structure all of our programming and content to engage eight key partners who need to work together: investors, entrepreneurs, corporations, academia, government, innovation enablers, entrepreneur support organizations and talent - not just students, but also the 1,000 people moving to Florida every day looking for jobs, members of our military ready to transition to civilian careers, professionals searching for their next opportunity.


Where do you see your company headed next?

Synapse is continuing to strategically refine our outreach across the state, doing more to serve our innovators.  We're also integrating exciting new ideas for Synapse Summit 2020 - we're not just celebrating innovation, we're challenging ourselves to innovate, too.


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

Stay focused on the problem you're solving and embrace the fact that there might be more than one solution.  Trust your gut.  You know more than you realize.


Learn more about Synapse on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.



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Featured Founder: Michael Joly of solu

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 Michael Joly, Founder & CEO of solu, consumer audio products that bring peace and healing to stressed and anxious minds



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

Before starting solu I owned and operated Michael Joly Engineering, a studio microphone design and modification business. I pioneered the concept of upgrading inexpensive Chinese and Russian mics to deliver the same quality as found in classic German mics –– for 1/10 the cost of those classic mics. Before that I did sponsorship sales in the FM radio business and before that I designed professional audio products and systems. Oh, I also built custom electric guitars and played in punk bands in San Francisco in the mid to late ’70’s. 
I was inspired to launch solu as a result of months of many late night conversations with my life partner Alene Sibley. These conversations led us to co-develop (channel really) the product that is now known as n.o.w. Tone Therapy System. n.o.w. is a 3 minute meditation aid in the form of two palm-sized speakers that play special tones to help listeners improve focus, reduce stress and anxiety, and change their lives for the better as a result. 


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

We’ve solved the difficulty of sustaining a meditation practice. And meditation is a big market, growing more rapidly than yoga, and destined to be even bigger and more pervasive than yoga.
We help people experience the benefits of meditation more quickly, more easily and more effectively than any product or service available. We do this without using voice-guided instruction or combersome wearables. Instead, we use our proprietary New Origin Waveform (n.o.w) aural neuromodulation signaling that effortlessly guides listeners (solo, couples or groups) to a relaxed, open-monitoring meditative state. Experienced meditators say it's like getting the benefits of a 30 minute meditation in just 3 minutes. 
I’m excited to work on solu everyday because our customers tell us we make their lives better. 
People tell us they are calmer, more peaceful, more productive, less reactive and less anxiety-ridden at work. We’re helping service veterans experience less PTSD, we're helping school children settle in quickly to a day of learning, we’re helping people reduce debilitating anxiety about driving in rush hour traffic. We’ve even helped people in hospice remain at peace as they transition from this life. 
And… I’m excited about bringing together some long standing interests of mine –– audio product design engineering, the metaphysics of consciousness and new business development. It’s the best job of my career so far!


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

Our second, third and fourth production runs all had a different manufacturing problem related to vendor supply chain issues (not with our design or our contract manufacturer’s execution of our design). 
While these problems took us months to troubleshoot and correct we were able to fix them before customer perception of our product or our company was affected negatively–– our customer reviews have held steady at 80% 5 star. 
We overcame these problems by working closely with our contract manufacturer –– a wonderful, female-founded and led company in Shenzhen, China. I’ve been traveling to China to sell (first) and then buy, since 1988 and knew the importance of building solid relationships first, before the inevitable challenges would arise. Having a solid relationship with my contract manufacturer helped us both weather these short term challenges and stay committed to our long term vision of mutual success. 


Where do you see your company headed next?

With two years of 7% CMGR in revenue since launch we’ve proven early product market fit and significantly de-risked the company. Three months ago we moved our three person team from Massachusetts to Tampa to join Embarc Collective and be a part of the dynamic startup scene found in Tampa.

With the help of the Embarc Collective team and other local resources we’re looking to scale n.o.w. Tone Therapy System to hundreds of thousands, then millions of users to help them lead more peaceful, productive and joyous lives. To drive those scaling efforts...

… we’ve got some compelling content marketing up our sleeves… as soon as we can get into the studio at Embarc Collective we’ll resume production of our podcast “Hey Mickey!” (a light and lively “working man’s” look at consciousness awakening), we’ll develop some short form videos featuring a trio of muppet-like puppets and we’ll launch Alene’s comic strip called “Bee-ing!” (sort of a humorous “Be Hear Now” featuring two lovable honey bees called GoBee and BeBee). All of our content marketing is designed to drive awareness of, and conversation about, the benefits of intentionally choosing a path of consciousness awakening and experiencing the joy that results.

AND … we’re developing two products for the sleep hygiene market –– one of them featuring our own team member / voice talent Ruane Sibley (top secret, can’t say more at this point).


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

Stop thinking, and end your problems” –– Lao Tzu


Learn more about solu at



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Designing an ADA Compliant Website

"The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect." — Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

In 2018 alone, there were 2,285 website ADA compliance lawsuits filed in the US, including many against high-profile names like Home Depot, Beyoncé, Nike, Harvard University, Blue Apron, and Domino’s Pizza. Despite these bigger names garnering national media attention, the vast majority of defendants in ADA lawsuits are small- to medium-sized businesses that aren’t able to invest dedicated resources in web development and legal protection. Penalties, fines, and settlements are extremely expensive in these cases, and can wipe out small businesses completely.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal civil rights regulation that was passed in 1990 making it illegal to discriminate against individuals with disabilities. ADA regulation is simultaneously straightforward and vague: businesses are required to provide disabled individuals with equal access to their goods, services, and physical locations.

The ADA outlines specific rules for constructing facilities that are accessible to users with a wide range of disabilities. When it comes to websites, however, the ADA does not set specific requirements or guidelines for making a site accessible. This gets many companies into legal trouble, as their site may not be noncompliant, yet they have no way of knowing.

With hazy regulations and a high risk of litigation, how can you make sure that your business is offering an accessible experience and protected from legal action? Even more important than litigation, is your website accessible by all of your customers including those with disabilities?

Who is required to comply with the ADA?

ADA compliance is mandatory for all “places of public accommodation,” defined as privately-owned, leased or operated facilities serving the public. This includes restaurants, hotels, retail merchants, private practice medical offices, private schools, daycare centers, gyms, movie theaters, and so on.

For startups, your technology products and website also serve as digital spaces that should be accessible to anyone.

Essentially, any business that serves consumers is required to comply with ADA regulations.

What accommodations are necessary for website ADA compliance?

The ADA covers a variety of disabilities and impairments, including visual, auditory, motor, and cognitive issues. In general, best practices for ADA compliance can be broken into three areas:

  • Focus accommodations are ones that help users navigate your site with a keyboard rather than a mouse, which is critical in cases of motor and cognitive impairments.
  • Semantics accommodations are ones that allow your site to be compatible with assistive technologies for visual and auditory disabilities.
  • Styling accommodations are visual design choices that make your interface as flexible and usable as possible, and primarily help visually-impaired individuals and those with cognitive disabilities.

Google provides guidelines for webmasters to ensure accessibility, including specific callouts for available HTML features that can help accessibility. While these guidelines aren’t strict legal regulations, following them will help you ensure that your site is at a lower risk.

Benefits of Designing with Accessible Principles in Mind

Per the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, "Creating an accessible website does more than make your site more usable — it also makes your site more likely to be found by improving search engine optimization (SEO). The goal of SEO is to drive more traffic to your content by improving your website’s ranking in search engines such as Google. While the exact details of how pages are ranked in Google are never fully-revealed, there are some SEO best practices that nearly all digital marketers can agree on."

The goal of web accessibility and SEO are aligned. Making your website accessible to anyone regardless of ability also allows search engines to better index and rank your content.

Websites that are designed per accessible design principles tend to have cleaner code. "Writing cleaner code has a variety of benefits for your website, including better user interfaces, fewer bugs, and faster loading times (which will also improve your SEO ranking as a result). In this light, accessibility should be seen as an investment in your code base and the future of your business." — Bureau of Internet Accessibility, 04/2019.

Auditing your website accessibility

In order to ensure that your website is accessible to all users, including those with disabilities, you need to conduct an audit with specific factors in mind. Here are some questions to guide your audit and ensure your brand is built with inclusive design at the forefront.

Is your site easily navigable with a keyboard?

Individuals with motor impairments often choose to navigate with a keyboard rather than a mouse. During development, make sure that your site is navigable with arrows, tabs, and keyboard shortcuts.

Can your site be read by a screen reader?

Individuals with visual impairments use technology to read the text on their screen and understand the user journey. This is one of the most common ADA complaints filed against websites. Make sure your site is readable by including semantic markups and effective alt-text for all images.

Is all interactivity obvious?

Providing users with indications to scroll, click, or hover can help with ADA compliance. These indicators are called affordances, and they ensure that a user knows which elements are interactive as opposed to static.

Are you using headings effectively?

Screen reader users navigate by using headings. Making sure that your heading hierarchy is clear, tagged correctly, and implemented consistently across your site will help screen reader users move quickly and easily through your site. Properly tagging your headings doesn’t only help with accessibility—heading tags are also a key SEO element.

Are text and images high-contrast?

If your text doesn’t stand out well from the background or images on your site, it can be difficult to read for visually impaired users. Visual impairments can include partial blindness, color blindness, or poor vision, and your site needs to be legible by every individual.

Are you providing transcripts, captions, and text alternatives for non-text content?

Hearing-impaired users still deserve to enjoy your video and audio content. Make sure that all videos and audio content (such as webinars or podcasts) include closed captioning and/or transcripts for people with hearing impairments. Be sure to include image alt-text and captions for your visually-impaired users, too!

Does your site include sufficient white space?

In addition to making your site easier for users with visual impairments or cognitive disabilities benefit from clear navigation, simple page flow, and abundant white space to improve focus.

For startups, it's important to lead with accessible design principles when developing your first website. Aside for the legal representation, startups aiming to solve worldwide challenges should also think about serving diverse consumers. Creating a website or platform that is accessible by all of your consumers, regardless of ability, can help you establish a brand committed to diversity and inclusion.


For more on accessible design:


Our partners at Bayshore Solutions contributed this guest post.



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