- Meet the entrepreneurs that are impacting our region
- Meet our experienced mentors
- Meet the Fusion Pointe team
- Help Fusion Pointe fuel the SWFL economy
If you’ve been thinking about breaking away from the corporate world and starting your own small business, now may be a great time.
Business accelerators are popping up across Southwest Florida. And they can help you with all aspects of starting a business, from renting office space to learning necessary skills to attracting financing.
In case you’re not familiar, an accelerator is a sort of school for startups. They gained traction with the rise of tech companies, many in Silicon Valley. They work best for companies that can take advantage of a quick timeline from startup to getting a product or service to market. A company that joins an accelerator hopes to—as the name suggests—speed up the process of going from the idea stage to an entity that’s up and running.
An incubator, which is slightly different, is usually sponsored by a university or a municipality and supports a young company through very early stages of development. (For example, Florida Gulf Coast University’s Runway Program is available to help student entrepreneurs and the City of Fort Myers sponsors the SWFL Enterprise Center.)
Eric Berglund, president and CEO of the Southwest Florida Economic Development Alliance, feels that the influx of accelerators is a natural fit for this area. “We’ve been doing innovation in Southwest Florida since 1885 when Ford, Firestone and Edison showed up. People want to live where they can have a great lifestyle, and today a lot of companies are not location-dependent. I think we’re going to see a bustling ecosystem of companies.”
“The goal is lots of tech jobs in the area,” says Dieter Kondek, founder and CEO of The RocketLounge in Fort Myers, which he describes as “a co-working space, an incubator and an accelerator.” Kondek, who has worked in Silicon Valley, had that in mind as a model as he set up his operation on Hendry Street in downtown Fort Myers. In the bright, modern office space there, he’s worked with entrepreneurs starting new businesses for about six months.
“Our job is to help these young teams build a company. That means you have to have proof of concept, build a product, build a business model, build hardware and software, use social media, and on and on.”
Other areas in the country that have gotten behind startups—especially technology ones—are Austin, Texas; Boston and New York City. “Compared to these regions, Florida is very far behind,” he says. “That’s why I wanted to do something here.” As a resident of the area and a veteran of many startups himself, Kondek could see the potential in this region. While he recognizes the vast difference between Southwest Florida and Silicon Valley, he is hopeful that this is an area whose time has come.
A critical initial phase at RocketLounge, he says, is getting the companies investor-ready. “We create pitch events so the company founders are presenting to their potential investors. They will have worked with mentors who’ve been on both sides of these pitches, so they know what they will be asked, what to expect.”
Those who get financing can then move on to create what they need to take their product or service to market. Kondek and others at The RocketLounge often make a deal to take equity in the companies they shepherd into being. This, he says, is critical so that all parties have a vested interest in helping that company succeed. “We are here to help them grow and eventually for them to have an exit—either by someone buying them or having them go into an IPO [initial public offering].”
Travel south from The RocketLounge and you’ll come to Naples Accelerator, just off Pine Ridge Road. Like The RocketLounge, it offers co-working space at various price points, events and a collaborative environment for entrepreneurs. It’s been in business for about two years now. Marshall Goodman, president and CEO of Economic Incubators Inc., the overseeing 501c3, says that they offer a platform that allows innovators and entrepreneurs a place to get support in areas like finance, legal, marketing as well as funding opportunities.
Entrepreneurs, Goodman says, “Bring us a great idea, and we can help.” He goes on to explain. “A lot of entrepreneurs come to us without a business background. They may have a great product or service, but they don’t know what a term sheet is. They don’t know how to talk to a venture capitalist. We can help them get the data they need and prepare them for those meetings.”
In addition, Goodman says, they can help entrepreneurs see into the future. “When you’re involved in a startup, you’re generally very concerned with what’s happening that day, that week. But investors want to see a 10-year plan,” he says with a laugh. “That’s where we come in.”
Unlike The RocketLounge, Naples Accelerator is a nonprofit. It depends on government funding and also has price plans for members.
Cari Lee Jones, who owns Elephant Marketing & Media, is one of the entrepreneurs who has taken advantage of these new institutions. She moved her fledgling company into Naples Accelerator in May 2016. Part of her motivation, she says, is that she wanted a level of professionalism for her company. “I didn’t want to take my meetings at Starbuck’s,” she says. But what she’s appreciated even more than the space is the collaboration with other professionals. “I usually start off my morning by stopping into Marshall’s office and bouncing some ideas off him,” she says.
“When you’re starting a company and you’re by yourself, you don’t have that team to run ideas by.”
Jones, whose Elephant also provides marketing for companies coming into the accelerator, says she’s gotten more out of joining than she ever hoped for. She appreciates the ability to talk through all aspects of business—be they legal issues, scalability, or creative ideas. “If you need total quiet, then it’s probably not the place for you,” she says. “But if you want to collaborate with others, you will really benefit from the space. I can’t say enough good things about it.”
If you are looking for customized mentoring for your company, look to Fusion Pointe. Based out of the VentureX co-working space in the Mercato in Naples for almost two years, Fusion Pointe specializes in bringing together entrepreneurs and mentors who can guide them.
“Naples is the center of the universe for experienced men and women who have time to give back,” says Executive Director Rob Strandberg, who has set up a similar shop on the east coast of Florida.
Companies are nearly guaranteed to get relevant help because, to get into the program, the company must be selected by a mentor who can specifically help them. “The mentors are like directors on a board,” Strandberg says. “They help with specific execution of what it will take to succeed.” He adds that Fusion Pointe brings in subject matter experts as well, such as engineers or digital marketing pros, who help guide the new companies.
Strandberg continues: “The key thing is to create a product that has a market. Then the challenge is building the right team, which Fusion Pointe helps with. Investors invest in a strong team, not a single person. We help the companies check the boxes that the investors will want them to take care of.”
Currently, Fusion Pointe doesn’t charge a fee or an equity share. Strandberg says, “We don’t want to burden the entrepreneur with paying fees or giving up equity.” They have sponsors from within the community and have received funds from grants, foundations and some of the mentors. Although, Strandberg says, “We may have to tweak the model to keep it sustainable.”
According to the Small Business Administration, more than half of the nation’s jobs and almost two out of three new jobs are created by small business. Here in Southwest Florida, there is plenty of opportunity to get help with a new small venture.
Berglund, of the Southwest Florida Economic Development Alliance, thinks it bodes well for the young people just finishing school. “I’m excited about what this means for the next generation,” he says. “They won’t have to move away; they’ll have great opportunities right here.”
Fusion Pointe held a Welcome Back Reception in November to launch its 2017/2018 season and share exciting updates of very positive progress.
The new permanent office at the Naples Accelerator will enhance the efforts to advance the creation and growth of innovative companies in Southwest Florida.
Fusion Pointe will be working closely with the Adrenaline Fund, an early seed fund that focuses on the most promising pre-angel/pre-institutional funding startups from around the state that demonstrate considerable potential. The Adrenaline Fund will collaborate with Fusion Pointe in selecting and mentoring these start-ups. Adrenaline’s funding approach is a phased investment strategy that allows start-ups to receive funding subject to the achievement of mutually agreed to milestones.
The reception provided the opportunity to hear from some of the talented, high potential entrepreneurs in the current mentoring program. Exciting plans were presented from start-ups that will soon join the Fusion Pointe Mentoring program.
Fusion Pointe’s mentoring program consists of a diverse group of entrepreneurs that represent growth businesses in such market segments as health care, IT, CRM, augmented reality, and consumer products.
We would like to extend a warm welcome to all of the mentors and entrepreneurs that partner with Fusion Pointe. With your help and participation Fusion Pointe will continue to advance Southwest Florida’s innovation economy.
Naples doctor Michael Havig has an idea he hopes will simplify health care around the country.
He’s developed an online store where patients can shop competitively for health care services and pay for them online before visiting a doctor, taking the mystery out of the cost of their visits, consultations and procedures.
Havig recently rolled out his website: healthmedocs.com. But the practicing physician and orthopedic specialist is unsure about the next steps to grow his startup business, so he’s turned to Fusion Pointe for help.
Fusion Pointe, a nonprofit group, offers a no-cost mentoring program for high-tech entrepreneurs in Southwest Florida. The goal of the program is to produce more investor-ready businesses in the region.
Havig is working with two mentors: Jim Talano, a healthcare and technology focused entrepreneur whose father is a local cardiologist, and Jim Hummer, a Harvard graduate who founded Whole Health Management, a provider of on-site clinics for large corporations.
In January Havig started meeting with his mentors, who he said are helping him with “a little bit of everything.” He has some lofty goals including having at least 1,000 participating doctors offering services through his marketplace within two months to “stock the shelves” of his online store.
Through his mentors, Havig said he’s happy to get help with sales and marketing, which will be key in his efforts to grow the business in Southwest Florida — and around the country. Also, he’s turning to his mentors to help him raise the money he needs for growth.
“I’ve bootstrapped it this far,” said Havig, who grew up in Naples and graduated from Naples High.
Havig came up with the idea that led to his launch of HealthMe five years ago, but he didn’t act on it until a little over a year ago. He feels his marketplace, offering discounted services to customers who pay upfront without involving an insurer, is needed now more than ever. With high-deductible insurance plans patients have more incentive to look for affordable services — and health care providers have more reason to find ways to get paid directly by their patients as the administrative headaches caused by insurers only get worse, causing physician burnout, he said.
Havig is grateful for the expert help he’s getting through Fusion Pointe. He said it allows entrepreneurs like him to stay in Naples and create jobs in Naples.
“To grow the company in my hometown is pretty exciting,” he said. “I really want to change for the better the way health care is being bought and sold in this country. I’m not just trying to make money with this.”
Havig is just one of the entrepreneurs who turned out for an annual community update Thursday night hosted by Northern Trust Bank in Bonita Springs, where attendees heard about the growth of Fusion Pointe’s mentoring program and a talk about “Entrepreneurship and the Florida Startup Ecosystem” by Mark Volchek, a partner in Las Olas Venture Capital based in Fort Lauderdale.
Volchek shared his success story with Higher One, a higher education payments technology provider that he co-founded in his 20s. He helped raised multiple rounds of angel and venture funding for the enterprise, but after taking the company public, Volchek said it was “not that much fun” to work for and he left in 2014 feeling burned out. He went to his place in Fort Lauderdale to decide what to do next and never left, finding partners to create a fund to invest in Florida-based startups.
The partners in Las Olas Venture Capital have vetted more than 500 companies from around the state since May 2016, but have only invested in two. They expect to put their money into a third soon, Volchek said.
“We have many of the ingredients of having good startups in Florida,” he said. “We have smart people and lots of capital.”
However, there are many obstacles for entrepreneurs in the state including not enough professional investors at every stage, not enough “glue” that brings all the ingredients together, mixed advice and “too many bad actors” in Florida,” Volchek said.
Also, he said, there are not enough homegrown success stories to encourage more investing.
Fusion Pointe wants to be part of the solution to the many challenges entrepreneurs face in Southwest Florida. Its mentor program, launched in 2015, has 15 companies in it. Another 10 have come and gone through it.
Tim Allen, president and CEO of aboutMYmortgage, said his two mentors have helped him with his elevator pitch (the pitch he will give to investors) and so much more, such as his financials. He’s developed an online tool that gives homeowners direct access to their mortgage servicers to learn more about their mortgages. Most people, he said, don’t even know who their servicers are and don’t know where to go online to find them — and servicers lose money when homeowners decide to refinance and go with a new company ($5,000 on a $250,000 loan).
A former banker, Allen said his tool could help homeowners avoid refinancing when it doesn’t make sense, keeping them from unknowingly taking on more debt. His new company is approved to operate in 30 states and he makes his money from fees he collects from servicers who sign up to be part of the service, which appears as a pop-up when homeowners search for refinancing information online.
Many of the mentees in Fusion Pointe’s program have developed health care-related services including DocCharge, a mobile medical billing efficiency platform founded by a busy physician, and Koala Healthcare System, a technology solution that designed to improve the delivery of care at home. They are finding a fit with the mentor pool, which includes a handful of health care industry experts.
“We are starting to attract entrepreneurs from other parts of the state,” said Rob Strandberg, Fusion Pointe’s executive director.
He acknowledged most startups fail, but his organization wants to increase their odds of making it. Not every entrepreneur is accepted into the mentoring program, only the ones who appear to have the greatest chances of success.
There’s a pool of about 25 mentors. Some are specialized experts who jump in to help when needed with everything from computer hardware to digital market strategy.
Mentors pick the companies they want to help, so it’s not an automatic assignment, Strandberg said. The mentors are active and retired executives and others with expertise in a range of areas from consumer products to applications.
“Every entrepreneur is treated differently,” Strandberg said. “I call it tactical mentoring.”
Entrepreneurs and mentors are forming such strong bonds that they almost have to be pried apart, he said. Some are meeting weekly, rather than monthly, as originally envisioned.
“Engagement has no end,” Strandberg said.
Later this year Fusion Pointe plans to launch a Startup Academy in cooperation with the Naples Accelerator, a business accelerator for local, national and international companies looking to grow in Southwest Florida, and the Adrenaline Venture Fund, which is investing in promising companies in the United States, particularly in South Florida.
The new academy will cover the essentials for entrepreneurs to consider as they prepare to launch a company. Topics covered will include business modeling, product development, team building, finances and cash flow.
By Laura Layden, Naples Daily News
Fusion Pointe is working to advance Southwest Florida’s innovation economy by connecting entrepreneurs with experienced mentors, who will help them build their high-tech startups into investor-ready ventures.
We officially launched in 2015 and currently have 15 companies mentored by over 30 mentors. Our companies have received advice on strategic goals, execution, financial projections, valuations, team building and investment strategy. We have held workshops for mentors and entrepreneurs on valuations, digital media strategy and investor pitching and each has highlighted local subject matter experts that bring great value to our community. Our team would like to share our traction to date and how you can support our engagement in the community.
You are invited to our 2017 community event
Thursday, March 23, 2017, 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Our host and sponsor of this reception is
26790 S Tamiami Trail
Bonita Springs, FL 34134
Meet the Fusion Pointe Team, enjoy a keynote by Mark Volchek, Partner Las Olas VF, and hear how the mentoring process is working for our mentees and mentors.
Click here to register or RSVP.
Our keynote speaker for the evening is Mark Volchek, Partner Las Olas Venture Capital.
“Entrepreneurship and the Florida Startup Ecosystem”
Mark is a Founding Partner of Las Olas Venture Capital, an $50MM early stage venture fund focused on Florida and other underserved venture capital markets. Prior to starting Las Olas VC, Mark spent about 15 years at Higher One, a company he co-founded in 2000 while a senior in college. In his roles as CFO, Chairman and then CEO, Mark has had a major hand in steering the company from its first round of seed funding and multiple rounds of venture funding all the way to its successful IPO in 2010, and beyond. He helped grow Higher One from just three founders to more than 1,000 employees and guide the company through multiple acquisitions exceeding $150mm in aggregate value. When Mark left in 2014, Higher One’s products and services supported more than 1,900 schools and approximately 13 million enrolled students.
Since 2008 Mark has been an active angel investor and has invested in over 30 companies. He is also a Director of the Founder Institute – South Florida, where he helps budding entrepreneurs get their companies started. Mark is the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2010 New England Financial Services Award winner and was an EY Entrepreneur Of The Year 2011 National Award finalist. He has been a regional and national judge for the program since 2012.
Mark holds a BA and MA in Economics from Yale University. He was a founding officer of the Yale Entrepreneurial Society and on its board from 2000 to 2010. This nonprofit organization promotes entrepreneurship among Yale students, faculty and alumni, and sponsors an annual business plan competition. Mark’s civic roles include serving on the Fort Lauderdale Aviation Advisory Board. His past civic activities include Chairman of the Tweed New Haven Airport Authority, and positions on the Florida Board of Take Stock in Children, the New Haven Economic Development Committee./
CASEY LOGAN , CLOGAN@NEWS-PRESS.COM 12:40 p.m. EST November 11, 2016
Starting a business is hard. Finding success is even harder.
The Rocket Lounge tech hub in downtown Fort Myers, along with InspireLink, presented a roundtable Wednesday called “The Evolution of a Startup.”
Nine out of 10 startups will fail, according to Forbes Magazine, so learning from those who have succeeded can be especially helpful.
On the panel: Jason Dolle of Testimonial Tree, Greg Scasny of Cybersecurity Defense Solutions and Felix Lluberes of KORE Telematics.
The entrepreneurs came together to discuss “thinking bigger and taking action,” said Brian Benson, founder of InspireLink, which aims to bridge the gap between academic and business experience.
“They’re creating jobs and imagine if we had hundreds or thousands like them,” he said, before starting the discussion.
Dolle’s background is in computer engineering and real estate, but he disliked not having any free time on weekends as an agent showing homes. He founded Estero-based Testimonial Tree, which allows clients to share their stories through automated customer review software.
“I’m going to take this leap,” he said, when he decided to go for it. “I did everything really lean and I got really lucky.”
Testimonial Tree started with real estate testimonials, but is now venturing into medical and other verticals. It has more than 60,000 users.
Testimonial Tree got a boost in February, when it secured venture capital with help from Naples-based Fusion Pointe, which unites entrepreneurs, mentors and investors. The business quickly grew from having Dolle and a contractor to employing nine.
At age 26, Scasny co-founded his first company, Golden Tech, which provides managed IT services. Prior to that, he worked as a systems engineer for Bethlehem Steel.
“I tried working in corporate America, but I just can’t stand someone telling me what to do,” he said.
Golden Tech grew to be a $10 million company with 70 employees. He sold his piece of the business back to his partners, then took on a different partner to start Cybersecurity Defense Solutions, now in downtown Fort Myers. His work there has included training the IRS on hacking techniques.
“Our goal is to help companies with what the real threat is out there,” he said. “I work all the time. I love what I do. I love consulting, I love helping people.”
Lluberes, based in Naples, explained his motivation when thinking back to his start as a software developer.
“Loving what you do, it’s definitely got to be there,” he said. “I just found something I really loved to do. I knew that by solving, I was going to do well.”
In 2007, he founded Position Logic, a business-to-business location-based services provider, then sold the company nearly six years later to KORE Telematics, a $160 million company where he is now an executive vice president.
Founders of startups often have an exit strategy, a plan to sell the company to a larger business that allows them to make money and in some cases move on to another venture.
Lluberes learned from three failed ventures before finding success with Position Logic.
“It is tough,” he said. “You learn so much from the pain.”
Among his biggest lessons? Having the right partner and the right plan to execute.
Of course, it’s important to serve a great need.
Scasny called cybersecurity “a huge market” because the cost of losing data is so great. His company helps financial institutions, medical and legal businesses and government “improve their security posture,” which he called a people and a process problem.
Scasny and Lluberes agreed it’s important to constantly reinvest in the business so it can evolve.
“Every deal you make, what are you getting out of it?” Lluberes said he would ask himself.
He sometimes had to be reminded that small profits are still profits. One day, as he plotted his course, a lightbulb went off in his head.
“I just need to be a part of the solution,” he said of building his reputation with customers. “If you grow, I grow.”
Along the path to success, Scasny called it challenging to hire the right people and implore them to believe in your vision.
“Managing people is the most difficult part of any business,” he said.
Through the ups and downs any entrepreneur encounters, Scasny stressed the importance of believing in your abilities: “You’ll never lose investing in yourself.”
As for hiring, Lluberes looks for aptitude, attitude and core values, adding startups must seek talent relentlessly. He called people among a company’s greatest assets, but said they are part of a huge equation. Without a sense of ownership, production and quality will suffer.
“Employees need to have a sense of pride in the company, or it’s going to hurt you,” he said.
When planning the exit strategy, Lluberes said it’s important to ensure the business is solid in all areas. To get everything where it needs to be, he suggested finding the right players to help in different aspects of the business, from financial to legal.
“It’s really a transformation,” he said. “It’s going to come different for every business. The best time to sell is when you have a buyer, and we had that.”
And for anyone weighing whether to make the leap to entrepreneurship, Lluberes said it’s OK to give yourself permission if you think you can make it work: “Now is the right time, and the difference is you.”
Connect with this reporter: email firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @caseylo
Lessons from the startup trenches
Jason Dolle: “Don’t be afraid to fail fast.” If a venture doesn’t work out, realize it quickly and move on.
Greg Scasny: “You to have this love for lifelong learning.” Learn how to sell and how to talk to people. Building the culture is important.
Felix Lluberes: “The real problem starts when you start making money. Have fun doing it and plan as much as you can.” Building the foundation is critical. Make sure your employees know you are there to support them. Pay attention to the little things.
Who Is Your Target Customer?
Monday, October 17th, 2016
To whom are you selling? This is one of the most basic, albeit crucial, questions you must answer when developing your go-to-market strategy. The answer will determine your target market, a group of potential customers who you intend to be the recipients of your marketing efforts. These customers are the people or organizations that have pain points your product or service is trying to address.
Below are a few strategies to help you to identify your most profitable audience:
Identifying Your Target Market
Identifying your target market will likely require a deep understanding of your customer and their needs. This knowledge can be obtained by collecting data through primary and secondary market research.
Primary market research is completed using surveys and speaking directly to customers–tasks that are often referred to as customer discovery. Secondary market research is accomplished by leveraging existing research that’s been collected from reports and studies by government agencies, trade associations or other businesses.
Finding your niche can be tough, but it is vital to your success. This video, by Customer Development Labs, illustrates a strategy that helps narrow down a larger customer segment into a more focused target segment. In addition, Chuck Cohn’s Steps To Identify Your Target Market provides additional insight and strategies for success in this arena.
Keep it Focused! Expand On Success, Don’t Contract On Failure
Early-stage companies are often ambitious and tend to make the mistake of thinking that “everyone is our customer” or “anyone with a smartphone is our customer.” This is not a great strategy considering startups are strapped for money, time and other resources. It requires a lot of these resources for a company to try to attract “everybody” as their customer.
Instead, young companies should seek to dominate a smaller market, then expand to a larger market rather than failing to reach a larger market and then being forced to refocus on a smaller segment.
A minimum viable segment (MVS) is a market that is focused enough that your product or service can dominate by meeting the common needs of the customers in the segment. MVS methodology allows you to quickly and cheaply validate potential markets. If the assumed target customer isn’t a good fit, the company will have likely saved enough marketing resources to shift marketing efforts toward a different segment.
Developing Customer Personas
Buyer personas are fictional, generalized representations of the customers that you are trying to attract. By creating fake characters like “Attorney Anthony” or “Manager Molly,” you can make it easier to see your customers as real people.
For example, let’s say your ideal customer is someone you name Manager Molly. A handful of the many characteristics that you could assign to her might include:
She is in her 30s with a college degree
She hasn’t been in a management role for more than two years
She is ambitious and wants to capture the attention of senior management
Imagining Manager Molly as a real person who embodies each of the above attributes can help you to consider her deepest needs and how to effectively market to her. Want to give persona creation a try? HubSpot offers an excellent template for creating detailed buyer personas.
Understanding Multiple Audiences
Sometimes a business will have two or more very different types of potential customer markets and will need to decide which group to target first. For example, Google has two types of customers, the first being individuals that use the search engine and the second being the companies who pay to advertise to those individuals.
You should thoroughly examine each unique potential target market, then aim your immediate efforts toward the market that you determine to have the greatest pain point that your solution can solve.
If you go after multiple target markets, measure how each market compares in regards to sales revenue, customer acquisition costs, length of sales cycle, buying habits and market penetration rate. With this information, you will afford yourself the opportunity to make data-driven decisions concerning your target markets’ profitability, thus positioning your business for future success.
A new nonprofit is spurring startups in Southwest Florida.
Local entrepreneurs and others connected in the region’s business scene have likely heard of FusionPointe. For those unfamiliar, it’s an effort to help promising early-stage companies grow faster — or fail faster, if necessary — by providing technical assistance and a network of mentors with a variety of expertise.
Steve Walling, who owns a Naples-based business consulting firm, is founding chairman of the venture that launched in 2014. It has taken time to lay the groundwork, but the organization appears to be coming into its own.
An event Tuesday night at a bank in Bonita Springs showcased a class of seven startups and 10 entrepreneurs, along with five other ventures in the pipeline.
“As you can see, we’ve got a lot going,” Walling told the crowd. “I’m really excited about where we’re headed.”
Walling is no stranger to the startup world. He was a founding board member of Cleveland-based JumpStart Inc., a similar organization founded in 2003 that has found huge success in transforming the economy in northeast Ohio.
FusionPointe has three goals: to identify and support promising companies, produce more investor-ready companies and speed outcomes by partnering with mentors in the region to provide expertise and connections. Its initial focus is on tech startups. The companies in the present class: Fly N Style, Endlink, Cydec, Testimonial Tree, Stay Secure, Doc Charge and Bun.
“It’s candidly amazing we’ve been able to put together such startups in such a short period of time,” said Rob Strandberg, executive director.
FusionPointe looks at startups on a continuum, from imagining to incubation to demonstrating to market entry.
“Mentoring makes a big difference,” said Strandberg, adding the hard fact that the vast majority of startups fail. “It’s without question a very valuable program to these entrepreneurs.”
One of the keys to giving startups the best chance for success comes in making the right matches. The good news is that the region has an amazing array of retired CEOs and other executives to draw from, as well as many subject-matter experts.
“It’s an extraordinary asset,” said Strandberg, calling it a distinguishing factor in Naples and by extension Southwest Florida.
Ultimately, FusionPointe is looking for startups that have high promise, but need a lot of help.
“We’re creating success,” he said.
The night’s keynote speaker was Ray Leach, founding CEO of JumpStart, who said there isn’t enough economic growth coming out of small companies, necessitating organizations such as JumpStart and FusionPointe.
“The broader economy is not diverse enough in Southwest Florida,” he said. “It’s about diversification.”
This region’s economy is dominated by the leisure and hospitality industry, as well as construction. Leach said the work that’s being done to spur more growth is not especially complicated; it’s about maximizing potential and transforming lives.
“It’s not rocket science,” he said. “It’s very straight forward.”
Leach, who has a winter home in Fort Myers, spoke of leveraging the region’s greatest, most unique assets.
“Southwest Florida’s greatest assets are the smart people who live here,” he said, as well as the personal and professional networks the people here have. “That’s an incredibly compelling asset.”
Cleveland, historically a manufacturing city, and northeast Ohio have come a long way over the past 10-plus years. In 2002, for example, Entrepreneur Magazine ranked Cleveland the worst entrepreneurial region among metro areas in the nation. Many Fortune 500 companies had left over the years.
“The region was dying,” Leach said.
Fast-forward to today. Ventures such as JumpStart, in partnership with the state, have worked as change agents. JumpStart now invests $40 million a year and the companies it has helped, according to Leach, produce a $1.4 billion economic impact in Ohio. As a local reference point, the Tamiami Angel Fund has invested over $7 million in startups since 2011, according to Chairman Tim Cartwright.
“It’s infinite the amount of opportunity there is and the payback is very real,” Leach said. “The economic outcome of the work in incredibly powerful.”
FusionPointe, he said, also can help communities realize their entrepreneurial potential by being a connector. Leach noted Southwest Florida’s growing population, large concentration of successful entrepreneurs, the number of quality companies needing assistance and its significant amount of investment capital.
“It’s about leaders in the community who want to unlock the growth,” he said. “If a place like Cleveland can do this, with all of its legacy issues, think what Southwest Florida can do.”
Rob White, co-founder of a communication platform called Endlink, talked about the desire to gain traction and avoid making mistakes.
“I think it’s just amazing,” he said of his experience with FusionPointe. “It far exceeded any expectation I could imagine.”
Mentor advice led him and his business partner to redo the company messaging, which he said had been too generic.
“They’re not just telling you what you want to hear,” White said.
Dennis Hampton, founder of vehicle monitoring company DeviceOnGuard.com, said he needed help with structure and marketing. He got that and more, saying mentors provided encouragement as well.
“We’re looking to start, stay and grow in Southwest Florida,” he said.
Roger Sippey, a mentor and former CEO of Ferralloy Inc., discussed the mentoring process.
“The most important thing is to listen a lot and take a lot of notes, then come back with questions,” he said, adding that it’s important to have a timeline and to have a system of accountability and responsibility.
“The talent through networking is absolutely imperative and incredible,” he said. “I’ve found it to be very valuable, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it.”
Sippey, too, referenced the plethora of retired CEOs and other retired executives in the region who are in their 60s and 70s: “They want to do something other than just play golf.”
News Press, CASEY LOGAN, 6:53 p.m. EST February 6, 2016