Fusion Pointe Connects Entrepreneurs w Mentors in SWFL
By Laura Layden, Naples Daily News
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.