Terrorism-alert systems, compounds that stop bleeding, genetics testing that could change the face of the pharmaceuticals industry, even diamonds.
All produced in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
Beyond the beaches, resorts and newly built developments is a fast-growing core of technology-based companies that might surprise those who know the region only for its tourism and construction. Economic developers have been working for years to expand the economic base. One way to do that: growing the technology sectors-from information technology to electronics to bioscience-and the high-skilled, high-wage jobs they promise.
"We know real estate development, in particular, is not a sustainable industry; some day there won't be land to build on. So we know that it's important for us to diversify our economy," says Kathy Baylis, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County.
To boost technology industries, economic developers in the two counties have teamed up to form 82 Degrees Tech, a public-private initiative. The goal is to build a "critical mass" of technology-related companies and academic opportunities, says 82 Degrees president Dan Miller. "Without a critical mass number of companies here, it's hard for those companies to attract the types of employees they need. At same time, it's hard to attract companies without being able to show them that knowledge workers are in the area."
As those companies grow, they spin off other companies, and the skilled workforce they create benefits additional industries that use technology.
Sarasota and Manatee already have a good start. They boast companies, large and small, that produce everything from Alzheimer's research to "black box" recorders for aircraft and ships, and from tax-planning software to intelligent traffic systems.
The following roundup is by no means comprehensive, but represents the growing diversity of technology-based companies that can be found in the two counties.
While hockey fans across North America parsed every move in the 2004 NHL playoffs, the folks at Biolife were following the action, too. When Tampa Bay Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier took a blow to the head and the nation saw him treated with a brown powdery substance that stopped the bleeding and let him keep playing, it was cause for celebration at the Sarasota company. Its QR (Quick Relief) powder, which instantly stops bleeding, had just received major exposure in a sport known for bloodletting. Founded by a group of scientists and businessmen, including Charles Entenmann of Entenmann's Bakery fame and his son-in-law, Biolife developed the QR potassium-salt compound. A variety of products are for external cuts, nosebleeds, and a milder version in case little Josh gets wild on the skateboard. The product forms a scab-no chemicals, no dangerous products; the FDA classifies it with bandages and gauze. QR products are sold nationwide in retail outlets including Wal-Mart and Publix. Healthcare facilities, sports trainers and companies also buy the products. QR might not be right for something as severe as an amputation, but it can stop a wound in the professional hockey world, and Biolife backers believe it can be useful in the military, too-which is its next target market.
President and CEO: Douglas R. Goodman
Location: 1235 Tallevast Road, Sarasota
In Sarasota since: 1999
Web site: www.biolife.com
Decision Management International, Inc.
By the time you shake a heart pill out of a bottle or squeeze a skin ointment out of the tube, that drug has gone through extensive testing and scrutiny against U.S. Food and Drug Administration standards. Records document everything from ingredients and how they're processed to the cleanliness of the equipment making and packaging the drugs. Not so long ago, all those records were done on paper, but Bradenton-based Decision Management International is one of the companies helping to usher the FDA-compliance process into the 21st century. It develops software designed to help FDA-regulated manufacturers-specifically those that fall under the FDA's current Good Manufacturing Process-more quickly and efficiently, and without the reams of paperwork. A publicly traded company, DMI was founded in 1993. With customers in Europe, Japan, Canada, as well as Puerto Rico and the continental United States, it deals primarily with pharmaceuticals and biotech products currently, but plans are in place to branch into other sectors, including food and medical devices.
Chairman and CEO: Frank Grywalski
Location: 1111 Third Ave. W., Bradenton
In Bradenton since: about 2000
Employees: approximately 30
Web site: www.dmius.com
DNAPrint genomics, Inc.
It has helped catch murder suspects and can lead genealogy buffs to their ancestors, but for the folks at DNAPrint genomics, the focus is what their genetic testing products can do for the pharmaceuticals industry. DNAPrint has developed a DNA mapping technique that can profile a person, from eye color to ancestry to susceptibility to certain diseases-or adverse reactions to certain drugs. In a Louisiana murder case, the company's testing determined police should be looking for a black, not white suspect, as investigators had believed. It also can help people learn more about their heritage, but the company's primary focus is on pharmacogenomics, which entails the use of genetic profiling to determine how a drug will affect a person. Some drugs that could benefit certain people fail to gain FDA approval because of potential ill effects on others. Even drugs that do gain approval can have terrible side effects on some, and Tony Frudakis, a DNAPrint developer, foresees the day when a patient's DNA will be tested for a more customized approach to medication. What's more, the use of DNAPrint could help smooth the approval process, by identifying the specific group who could benefit from a drug. That concept and others are still in development, but the company, founded in 1999, already has plans to grow from its one lab.
President and CEO: Richard Gabriel
Location: 900 Cocoanut Ave., Sarasota
In Sarasota since: 1999
Employees: about 12
The Gemesis Corp.
Here's a company that might bring a sparkle to your eye. Gemesis Corp. makes diamonds, and not the cubic zirconia-type substitutes. These are the same as the earth-mined originals romanticized by De Beers-same hardness, same composition, same brilliance-but in the fancy yellows and oranges (with pinks and blues coming soon) that most people can't afford. The main difference is they are created not by the forces of nature, but by technology in a lab. The rarity of the naturally occurring colored stones puts them out of the price range of many people, but Gemesis's stones (laser-inscribed with the manufacturer's name) sell for significantly less. Carter Clarke founded the company, which grew from research and development at the University of Florida, before operations eventually were consolidated in Sarasota, with marketing offices in New York. Still privately owned, the company is protective of its financial and employment numbers, but customers can be found worldwide. Buyers include retailers, jewelry designers and wholesalers throughout the United States and from Asia to Europe and the Middle East, which in turn make them available as gifts for the diamond-dazzled.
President: David Hellier
Location: 7040 Professional Parkway E., Sarasota
In Sarasota since: 2003
Employees: "It has grown from 18."
Web site: www.gemesis.com
You could be in one of the worst situations of your life if you come in contact with MadahCom's products. This Sarasota company makes alerting systems used extensively by the military, but also found in industrial plants and even such public areas as the Statue of Liberty and the Bronx Zoo-what a terrorist might consider a target-rich spot. MadahCom makes potential victims less vulnerable with its Wireless Audio Visual Emergency System (WAVES). If a truck drives into an unauthorized area at the Statue of Liberty, WAVES could trigger a recorded message instructing people to go to a certain safe area. A town in a tornado-prone area could alert its residents to a coming twister.
If an industrial explosion sends a cloud of chlorine toward a neighboring building, WAVES could alert occupants to close the ventilation system or evacuate. WAVES consists of software, a base station and digital, wireless radio transceivers that are situated throughout the area, hooked up to speakers for audio alarms such as sirens or messages, or visual alarms like strobe lights or LED. It can integrate with other security systems, including chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear detection systems. Not surprisingly, MadahCom has customers around the globe. The private company moved from New York to Sarasota, where it handles everything from engineering and manufacturing to sales and marketing.
CEO: Reuben Ben-Arie
Location: 540 Interstate Court, Sarasota
In Sarasota since: 2002
Employees: about 50
Web site: www.madah.com
Medical Education Technologies, Inc.
"You won't know until you try" is a fine credo for plenty of things in life, but not if you're the patient of a novice doctor or rescue worker. Experience is hard to come by for people learning life-saving procedures, which is why hospitals, medical and nursing schools, the military and other educators worldwide are snapping up simulators developed and produced by Sarasota-based Medical Education Technologies, Inc. Launched in 1996 with five employees, the Sarasota company has grown to more than 100 employees, a European office, and distributors in South America and Asia. The simulators are mannequins with computer-controlled functions that produce lifelike responses to various medical conditions and situations. They breathe, speak and blink. They have pulses, make heart and breath sounds, and show most of the physiological responses a real patient would have to a treatment-right or wrong. It can be programmed for different patient profiles, from an obese teenager to a middle-aged drug addict to an elderly person with allergies. And if a student applies the wrong medication or dosage, then the simulator can die-which tends to make the experience personal, even with a mannequin.
President and CEO: Lou Oberndorf
Location: 6000 Fruitville Road
In Sarasota since: 1996
Web site: www.meti.com
Telesis Technology Corp.
Chances are pretty good you've been somehow touched by Telesis Technology products-and odds are equally good you'd never know it. The company has an international reach, making very specialized products and catering especially to the aerospace industry (from which its founder and president hails). It produces components that go into a wide range of devices, including aircraft navigational systems and radar, MRI machines, cars and cell phones. Telesis produces electronic components-semiconductors, diodes, voltage regulators, transistors, and so on-which it manufactures in Nebraska and Singapore, all overseen from its headquarters in Palmetto, where it also maintains a testing facility. Founded just three years ago in Bradenton with six employees, Telesis went public in 2004, claiming sales last year of $1.6 million. It expects to double that figure this year.
Chairman, CEO and President: Hasit Vibhakar
Location: 1611 12th St. E., Palmetto
In Palmetto since: September 2004
Employees: 14 local; 41 total
Web site: www.telesistechnology.com
Layers of regulations, litigation threats and insurance requirements-not to mention the complexity of diagnoses and treatments-make the business of healthcare so complicated that record keeping has spawned a sub-industry. Vox2Data offers software to relieve the pain. It simplifies the process by integrating an array of medical-record capabilities and healthcare data with voice-recognition software. It eliminates the transcription step, which can take a week or two. Vox2Data also promises a better communication flow, confidentiality and greater accuracy, and it's almost instantaneous, so a patient's file can be sent quickly to a specialist, compiled for insurance or checked by a doctor for prescription discrepancies. In a clinic or hospital, it helps prevent a patient left lying indefinitely on a gurney while her records to get passed between departments. And Vox2Data promises a high level of security, in compliance with federal HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations, so only those who are supposed to see the records can get at them. Started in 1991 in California and still privately owned, Vox2Data's software can be found in healthcare facilities throughout the country.
President: Katherine Conners
Location: 1283 Tallevast Road, Sarasota
In Sarasota since: 1997
Employees: about 10
Web site: www.vox2data.com
"Flowing water" is the metaphor this oddly named Sarasota company uses to describe itself, except its medium isn't water, but information-specifically, information that deals with potential liability issues. Suspect Sally the cashier of switching the price on a few items? Or maybe Chris fell off a ladder, or Tim has been accused of sexual harassment-again. Even founder and CEO A.C. Cristiaan has a little trouble describing the products, because the various software packages, or "suites," can be applied to so many industries to address so many situations and issues. Wazagua software helps companies manage liability in retail, human resources, safety and other sectors. Different suites can help detect fraud, document personnel or legal files, track assets, audit activities, and integrate insurance information or OSHA regulations. The software is Web-based, which can reduce onsite hassles of software loading or hardware problems, and wireless capabilities mean a facility could be audited with nothing more than a hand-held device. Founded in New York in 1995, the private business serves Fortune 1000 companies as well as smaller regional businesses and municipalities. Sears, Toys R Us, and Family Dollar are among its clients, as are companies in 20 countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Americas.
Chairman and CEO: A.C. Cristiaan
Location: 2520 Trailmate Drive, Sarasota
In Sarasota since: 2003
Employees: fewer than 15
Web site: www.wazagua.com
Credit and debit cards have become such a way of life for most Americans that it's easy to forget an awful lot of people still rely on cash-about 33 million, by Bradenton company Morgan Beaumont's estimates. Many of the "unbanked" are migrants, who aren't comfortable using banking institutions or don't qualify for credit. They collect paychecks each week, and then stand in lines at neighborhood check cashing or money-transfer outlets, where they pay stiff fees. And without those plastic cards, they can't buy online, rent a car or use other conveniences many of us take for granted. With a Morgan Beaumont card, though, they can. It works sort of like a prepaid phone card: a person can purchase a card, "load" their cash onto it, and use it like a debit card. Lose the card, and the company will replace it; the money remains secure. Cardholders can reload it when they want, and use it where VISA and MasterCard are accepted. Morgan Beaumont has close to 55,000 card-distribution outlets throughout the country and is aiming for 100,000 by the end of the year. Incorporated just five years ago and based in Bradenton, the publicly traded company has a sales office in California, and it's growing fast: recent company acquisitions are expanding services to include prepaid telephone minutes on the cards, and to provide payroll direct-deposit convenience.
Chairman and CEO: Clifford Wildes
Location: 6015 31st St. E., Suite 201, Bradenton
In Bradenton since: about 2000
Web site: www.morganbeaumont.com