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
Fusion Pointe is off to a running start with its mentoring program for high-tech entrepreneurs in Southwest Florida.
The nonprofit group has accepted seven startups into its no-cost program. Other companies are in the pipeline and will soon transition into the program, which launched in November.
Fusion Pointe’s mission is to encourage, accelerate and expand the region’s innovation economy. The goal of the mentoring program is to produce more investor-ready businesses in the region (think elevator pitches or pitches on ABC’s “Shark Tank”).
“The first key is finding those potential entrepreneurs and the second key is aligning their mentors and their skills and market expertise to the entrepreneurs’ needs,” said Steve Walling, Fusion Pointe’s board chairman.
The group has about a dozen mentors and will continue to add more to its already impressive slate of successful entrepreneurs and business executives as its program ramps up to meet demand. The high demand for the services has surprised some, including Jim Moore, Lee County’s former economic development director who now sits on Fusion Pointe’s board of directors.
“We’ve done more quickly than I ever thought was possible,” he said. “The demand is there. The ideas are there. I was concerned are there even enough entrepreneurs here and the answer is they are here.”
Moore has been involved with Fusion Pointe from its inception. He was in the crowd of about 80 who attended an event Tuesday night at Northern Trust Bank in Bonita Springs that offered a glimpse into the early successes of the mentoring program, modeled after one offered by JumpStart Inc., a nonprofit that has helped turn around northeast Ohio’s hard-hit economy.
“It’s hard to get people to move,” Moore said. “It’s easier to grow your own to create companies.”
The group’s first mentees include:
FlyNStyle — A mobile app connecting travelers with consumer brands and airport and airline retailers
EndLink — A comprehensive relationship management platform that organizes and enhances engagement with members
Cydec — Web platform, with an educational twist, that helps entrepreneurs and small to medium-sized businesses launch world-class eCommerce sites
Testimonial Tree — A platform offering a quick way for Realtors and other professionals to collect testimonials for their websites from happy customers
By Laura Layden of the Naples Daily News
Feb. 03, 2016
This article originally appeared in the Naples Herald on May 4, 2015.
Naples continues its practice in supporting entrepreneurs as more organizations provide opportunities for innovative new business ventures. Fusion Pointe is a unique nonprofit venture development organization focused on dramatically increasing the number of high quality, investment-ready companies in the Southwest Florida area.
The company employs mentorship and technical assistance to startups that are looking for private investments with the goal of giving talented professionals more reasons to stay, live and work in the region.
Scott Relf, the vice chair of Fusion Pointe, describes the organization as a startup company itself. The 501(c)3 charity is based off of Cleveland, Ohio’s JumpStart program which has been helping entrepreneurs for the last 11 years. Naples will have access to the Fusion Pointe after it officially opens by July.
“The purpose is to help startup businesses and entrepreneurs of high tech businesses to form their business plans and achieve the milestones necessary to get angel funding or venture funding,” Relf said. “While the TV show Shark Tank is dramatized, the processes in real life are not as dramatic, but essentially we are doing the same thing. The purpose is to help people in southwest Florida to advance what they’re doing so they can make pitches like that to groups of investors and successfully get funds.”
This article originally appeared in the News-Press on November 20, 2014.
Southwest Florida entrepreneurs soon will have a new advocate as a fledgling effort to encourage the creation of high-growth companies gathers momentum and money.
Fusion Pointe, a nonprofit venture development group that grew out of the Gulf Coast Venture Forum, has raised $100,000 toward a first quarter goal of $250,000 to begin mentoring entrepreneurs working to turn their ideas into a profitable business, said Steve Walling, the group’s chairman. The group hopes to raise about $500,000 through the middle of 2015 and will recruit an executive director next year.
“Our plan and our mission is to concentrate on finding high-quality, investment-ready companies,” Walling said. “We will invest very strategically when it is necessary. What we will do more of is work with entrepreneurs to find investment opportunities for them.”
The group will look for companies that have finished the typical “friends and family” investment stage but have yet to cast the wider capital net.
This article originally appeared in the Florida Technology Journal on November 25, 2013.
Newly-formed venture development organization Fusion Pointe shared its mission with an enthusiastic, at-capacity audience of entrepreneurs, investors and civic, philanthropic and business leaders last Monday evening. The group’s mission is to to encourage, accelerate and expand the innovation economy in Southwest Florida.
Fusion Pointe hopes to open its doors to high growth tech entrepreneurs in Spring 2014.
The nonprofit is building resources and partnerships so it can begin providing a combination of capital and high impact technical assistance to promising young startups in the region.