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Development group Fusion Pointe targets tech startups

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.

Walling and other Fusion Pointe representatives plan to make a presentation today to the Horizon Council, Lee County’s public/private economic development partnership.

The approach is modeled after JumpStart Inc., a Cleveland-based venture development organization founded in 2003 to counter the exodus of manufacturing companies there. Walling serves on the board of that group, as well. Fusion Pointe will focus on primarily tech-oriented companies with high-growth potential.

“About 40 percent of this group are serial entrepreneurs and that will be critical as we go forward as it has an impact on the entrepreneurs we select,” Walling said. “Instead of putting capital at the beginning, we will be providing high-energy technical and professional support.”

While still in development, the group has worked with MassiveU, a Naples-based startup launched in 2013 to develop mobile academic applications. MassiveU has obtained about $1 million in initial investment, including support from the Tamiami Angel Fund II.

“Fusion Pointe has helped us and supported us as we are on this very interesting journey as a new ed-tech company,” MassiveU President John Gamba said. “They have made some great introductions. Sometimes you have a great concept or a great idea and a lot of entrepreneurs don’t know where you go for that first client or that first capital.”

The company has five full-time employees, 12 contract employees and has created applications for Florida Gulf Coast University and the Lee County public schools.

Developing high-growth startups in Southwest Florida, especially in technology, can diversify the local economy and create jobs faster than any other economic development approach, Walling said.

“If we can develop an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Southwest Florida, that can do amazing things for our economy,” Walling said.

Fusion Pointe addresses gaps not served by existing economic development efforts, whether they are public or private, said Jim Moore, the former director of the Lee County Economic Development Office and a Fusion Pointe board member.

Existing efforts focus on growing established businesses or recruiting established businesses to Southwest Florida, Moore said. Fusion Pointe is about starting at the ground level.

“This is about the businesses of the future, not a hair salon or a shoe store,” Moore said. “There is plenty of money in Southwest Florida for investing in these kind of opportunities, but it is not being invested here. This is the missing piece of the puzzle.”

Laura Holquist, a founding board member of the Southwest Florida Economic Development Alliance, said Fusion Pointe is a welcome addition to existing efforts.

“This is a whole different segment of the economic development market,” Holquist said. “We are working to get the word out about Southwest Florida to bring companies in, but we can’t nurture startups like Fusion Pointe can.”

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Fusion Pointe is a nonprofit venture development organization based in Southwest Florida focused on dramatically increasing the number of high quality, investment-ready companies in Southwest Florida. Through mentorship and technical assistance, Fusion Pointe positions startups to attract private investment and create new jobs.

Email: fusionpointe@two39group.com

Phone: 239.673.0067

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