Sarasota-Manatee is no Silicon Valley. But we aren’t all real estate and tourism, either. The fact is that we have a growing number of bright, energetic tech entrepreneurs who are providing new products and services, from futuristic identity theft protection to nanotechnology inventions that stop the spread of disease.
And that’s great news, says Kathy Baylis, president and CEO of Sarasota’s Economic Development Corporation, because such companies bring “high-wage, good-quality jobs” as well as much needed variety to our economy. And the more we have, the more we’ll get, maintains Manatee Economic Development Council director Eric Basinger. “When we see this many high-tech companies locating to our area, it’s a good sign that the environment for them is strong, which should in turn lead to more high-tech companies locating here,” he says.
Let’s take a look at five local tech stars.
CEO: Norm Worthington
Number of employees: 50
Company description: Internet-based business phone company
Growth projection: Worthington intends to grow the workforce 100 percent this year, and he has a full-time recruiter searching for qualified people who “love the excitement of working at a dynamic, growing technology company.”
Address: 600 Tallevast Road, Manatee
Web site: star2star.com
Founding CEO Norm Worthington, 50, is a New College of Florida graduate with roots in Sarasota going back to his grandfather. He is also a serial entrepreneur, who started his first software company while attending law school in Oregon and eventually founded or co-founded more than a dozen companies, which developed such super-successful products as Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing!, the Chessmaster series and Opal. He returned to Sarasota in the ’90s, founding a mobile dictation company in 2000 called CopyTalk. In 2004, he was all set to sail around the world with his wife and two children.
“We started off with intentions to transit the Panama Canal,” says Worthington. “Those plans were disrupted when, after landing in Panama, my family and I were kidnapped at gunpoint, driven up to the hills [and] robbed. That experience took away everyone’s enthusiasm for the adventure.”
Returning to Sarasota, Worthington continued flying his own plane and pursuing boating and fishing interests. But he also got involved in a new enterprise—an Internet-based phone system for businesses—with an old friend, Siesta Key resident Joe Rhem.
Star2Star, launched in Rhem’s garage, was developed to improve upon existing Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems by offering a complete end-to-end solution that delivers everything the business customer needs—hardware, software, configuration, dial-tone and 24/7 after-sales support—on a national scale.
“It’s like Star2Star has put Ma Bell’s business, circa 1972, back together again except with greater functionality and huge savings for our customers,” says Worthington.
The company recently relocated its 50 employees to a 12,000-square-foot facility near the airport. They plan to double that workforce this year. Customers include Pizza Hut, Blockbuster, Kentucky Fried Chicken and Qatar Airlines. Worthington says 2010 revenues will be about $30 million and the company will report a profit for the year. “Most importantly in these times, [we have] no long-term debt,” he says.
Operating a technology company in this region has positives and negatives, Worthington says. “Of course, it is a pleasant place to live; my two children have prospered at Pine View School, one of the best in the country, and it’s attractive for employees. But it’s definitely off the beaten path for tech companies, and I have found it’s necessary to make employee recruiting a core competency if you hope to truly distinguish yourself as a company.”
Co-founders: Janis Krums and
Company description: Hacking protection for e-mail inboxes
Number of employees: None yet
Growth projection: Inbox Alarm focused initially on e-mail because it is “still an integral part of digital communication,” Krums says. “But we are also looking at any loopholes in Facebook and services such as Foursquare and Gowalla to see if we can implement security services for them.”
Address: 1990 Main St., Suite 750, Sarasota.
Web site: InboxAlarm.com
Janis Krums, 25, who gained international notice for his Twitter messages and shots of the U.S. Airways jet that landed in the Hudson River last year, is the co-founder of Inbox Alarm, a cool little company that does exactly what it sounds like: providing an alarm system for your e-mail inbox. “If a snooper starts looking for sensitive information, you will be notified instantly via text message that an intruder is in your inbox,” he says.
Originally introduced as tripwi.re,
Inbox Alarm got its start when Krums and his business partner Eric Frenkiel, 24, of San Francisco, came up with the concept after a hacker got into the e-mail accounts of Twitter employees and stole key information. “The hacker went undetected for days, until the stolen information was sent to prominent blogs,” Krums says. “We thought there should be a way to make sure that hackers and snoopers could be detected. First we researched to see if there was a service that was already providing something like this. There wasn’t, so we decided to make it ourselves.”
Initially, they considered launching Inbox Alarm in the Silicon Valley area, but Krums—who loves living in Sarasota—persuaded Frenkiel that his home town had all the resources to incubate their new business. One of those resources was The HuB, a Sarasota gathering place for entrepreneurs to connect and share ideas. HuB founders Matt Orr and Rich Swier Jr. helped launch Inbox Alarm by assisting with marketing and strategic partnerships with other companies within The HuB. One of them, Fast Pitch Networking, will be advertising Inbox Alarm to its user base.
The target market for Inbox Alarm is “an average Internet user who feels like he needs security for his sensitive information,” Krums says. “There are multiple scenarios out there, from suspicious wives to password information to confidential documents.”
Without divulging specific numbers, Krums says there has been a “steady flow of new users.”
“I want Sarasota to be known for more than just a great place to retire,” Krums says. “I don’t think many people know of all the exciting things that are happening here, and we wanted to be part of the new tech scene in Sarasota.”
CEO: Walt Augustinowicz
Company description: Identity theft protection
Number of employees: 4
Growth: 2009 annual sales of
$2 million; expecting to double
that in 2010
Address: 517 Paul Morris Drive, Englewood
Web Site: IDstronghold.com
Most people are unaware that some credit cards, all U.S. passport books since October 2006 and many employee I.D. badges now contain tiny chips called RFID, or Radio Frequency Identification. These chips allow all the information needed for a purchase or identification to be immediately transferred when a user holds the card in front of a scanner. The problem is that someone with a $10 scanner purchased from eBay can steal all that information—such as credit card numbers and their expiration dates—without you even taking your card out of your wallet.
That’s why Walt Augustinowicz, 41, founded Identity Stronghold, a company that specializes in making security products, such as ID Secure Sleeves ($4.99 each) and Secure Badge Holders ($5.99 each), which block the transmission of personal data on RFID chips.
The company, founded in 2005, has its warehouse in Englewood. NASA, the Office of the President and other federal agencies use Identity Stronghold’s products. Its badge holders even made it into the 2008 movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still.
Augustinowicz says his company was the pioneer in RFID blocking technology. Its two top-selling products are the Badgeholders, which are designed to be worn, and the Secure Sleeves, which can be used when you keep your cards in a purse or pocket. Some of the company’s products are manufactured by Sarasota-based ROBRADY.
Augustinowicz says his company, which has four employees in Englewood, had annual sales of about $2 million in 2009 and expects twice that this year. The market could be huge, especially since all credit card issuers are expected to incorporate RFID chips in all of their cards in the next few years.
“To the best of our knowledge, we have about 80 percent of the market,” he says. “We have sold product on every continent and to every branch of the U.S. government and to large customers like Boeing and Exxon/Mobil. We have sold about 7 million units to date.”
for Health and
CEO: Joe Navarro
Company description: Nanotechnolgy coating product to prevent spread of bacteria and viruses
Number of employees: 5
Growth: Expanding to 10 employees by December 2010. Company revenues expected to increase tenfold this year.
Address: 2975 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota
Web site: nanohygienix.com
NanoHygienix, founded as Nano Clean in September 2009 by Venice native Joe Navarro, 25, is a nanotechnology company that markets a coating product that “combats against any viruses, bacteria, mold or mildew” and helps prevent the contraction and spread of both airborne and contact illnesses. Navarro says his system also improves indoor air quality by reducing volatile organic compounds in the air. He says one treatment will last at least two years, and once treated, the surface can be cleaned with just a damp cloth.
Navarro says the company name was changed because “of a misconception that we were some kind of cleaning company, when in reality we are a nanotechnology company focused on reducing infection rates in healthcare facilities, fitness centers, public transportation, cruise ships, as well as small businesses and homes.” To make that point, the company is rolling out a new logo, Web site and marketing materials to support its mission and its new name: NanoHygienix for Health and Wellness.
NanoHygienix’s coatings, which are manufactured in Port Richey by Bio Shield Inc., “rupture and destroy the cellular material of any germs encountered,” Navarro says. The system is especially effective because it uses a primer coat under a top coat of titanium dioxide, which contains photocatalytic qualities important in combating viruses, bacteria, mold and mildew.
The company markets its products and services to facilities concerned about hygiene. Village on the Isle, a retirement community in Venice, has used NanoHygienix to treat its entire nursing facility. In recent weeks, Navarro has signed contracts with Sarasota Memorial Hospital, Habana Health Care Center (skilled nursing), Body Heat Yoga, Studio 217 and Primary Care of Venice. Navarro expects to treat 10 to 12 skilled nursing facilities this year.
The company has five employees, including a chief science officer with a Ph.D.-M.D. and a director of sales. Navarro expects to hire 10 or more employees by the end of the year.
His interest in working with nanotechnology goes back to when he was with the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation working with the Nanoscale Research Facility at the University of Florida. “I worked in a team with scientists to bring this type of technology to market and to fine tune the delivery method,” he says.
The company is headquartered in Sarasota because of the region’s many medical facilities as well as a large number of nursing homes and other businesses seeking to reduce infection rates.
CEO: Gabriel Marguglio
Company description: Technology services company
Number of employees: 5 in Sarasota; 22 total (other offices are in Washington, D.C., and Buenos Aires, Argentina)
Growth: Gross revenue has increased 300 percent from the first year of operation; gross income has increased 60 percent in the last six months
Address: 1509 State St., Sarasota
Web site: destiny-tech.com
CEO Gabriel Marguglio, 31, founded Destiny Technologies as a technology services company eight years ago from his home in Rockville, Md., in the metropolitan Washington region. Last year he moved the company headquarters to Sarasota.
“I was attracted to Sarasota for its beaches and weather, but I’ve found the general business climate here receptive to the creative technologies of Web site development and SEO [search engine optimization],” he says.
Marguglio says his company customizes open source technology to develop search-engine-friendly Web sites. Among his clients are marketing and public relations agencies, small nonprofits and large national chains.
Examples include the Sarasota Farmer’s Market, Sarasota Ballet, the Maryland-Virginia chain of Dogfish Head Alehouses and Baja Fresh Mexican Grill in California and the Washington metropolitan area.
Gross revenue has grown 300 percent from the first year of operation, according to Marguglio. He says gross income has increased 60 percent in the last six months.
Five of the company’s 22 employees work in Sarasota at 1509 State St., where they are involved in sales, project management and Web site design. Destiny Tech also has a sales operation in Washington, D.C., and it has staff for national and international projects in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
“We work with clients all over the country using online collaboration tools, so it doesn’t matter where we are based,” Marguglio says.
And there’s more!
A sampling of other local tech companies.
CSF International CSFI is a global player specializing in payment application software used for electronic funds transfer and other financial and ATM transactions. CSFI today has about 20 employees in its office at 1629 Barber Road and is one of about a dozen key providers of ATM and electronic transaction software, servicing millions of transactions a year and controlling thousands of ATMs with customers in more than 20 countries.
IntegraClick and Clickbooth.com Ranked No. 5 on Inc. Magazine’s Top 10 Companies by Growth Rate, IntegraClick—an online marketing company—established a new division called clickbooth.com, which specializes in matching advertisers with online publishers—sort of the way a dating service matches up couples.
Clickbooth gets a portion of every sale the advertiser takes in through its ad, thanks to the cost-per-action payment.
Clickbooth works with more than 3,000 active advertisers, such as Blockbuster and Gevalia coffee, and about 27,000 publishers, some as big
as Microsoft’s msn.com. The company’s revenues now are estimated at $100 million a year.
Radiant Power Corporation Located in a state-of-the-art, 10,000-square-foot facility about five minutes north of the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport, Radiant Power Corporation has 55 skilled team members who design and
manufacture emergency power systems for
Voalté This all-in-one voice, alarm and text message system on an iPhone, and eventually other smart phones, is designed to allow hospitals to communicate better with doctors and nurses. Sarasota Memorial Hospital uses the new system.