• Sorena Vargas

Fusion Pointe: Shining a Light on Naples’ Brightest Entrepreneurs

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.”

Fusion Pointe offers a three-step process to help businesses reach their next-level goals. The first step works on communication among organizations that have investors with similar goals. Because Fusion Pointe focuses on high tech-based businesses and creations, they will help clients who come to them with unrelated ideas find the right organization to help them.

“We help the entrepreneur ecosystem,” Relf said. “The business world needs people with different specialties, so if someone comes to us and wants to start a restaurant, we refer them to organizations that focus on that. Once companies are identified as high-tech startups, we have the ability to help them qualify for private funding by giving them a mentor to guide them.”

The mentors work similarly to full-time case workers, taking on multiple clients at once. The mentors typically have 7-10 companies under their guidance at once, many of which may have differing needs and goals. If a client is identified by Fusion Pointe as technology-based, then a mentor will be assigned.

After being matched and referred to a separate organization or a mentor, the second step is the mentorship itself.

“Most people starting small companies aren’t skilled in some areas, so a lot of work has been done to show that if they are properly mentored by experienced professionals, it dramatically improves their likelihood of business success,” Relf said. “The Cleveland model selects mentors by skills and tools and by making sure they have the time and commitment to do it.”

“We are acting like a startup ourselves, making sure we manage our expenses carefully. So with something like our mentor program, we use JumpStart as a mentor provider because there is no way that someone here can give one day a week to everyone. As we grow as a company, we will add more as appropriate.”

The final step is finding investors for their clients. Because there is plenty of investment capital available from private sources in SWFL, Relf has no doubt that there is a market for entrepreneurs to bring their business ideas to the Naples area.

“We help with business plans and ideas,” Relf said. “It’s a great way to get the help you’re looking for, especially if you know specifically what you need such as a patent or attorney or prototype. We can help you find those contacts.  But advice and new expertise, well, you’ll find that here.”

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