Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Trigaux: Dollars are still lean but four Tampa Bay area firms win venture capital funding in first quarter

Fourteen Florida companies tapped $856 million in funding during the first quarter of 2016, according to new data released this week, with four Tampa Bay startups winning $27.4 million, or just 3.2 percent of the overall funding.

Among the Tampa Bay companies, St. Petersburg software firm PowerChord won $10 million, followed by Clearwater security awareness firm KnowBe4 winning $8 million. Tampa biotech startup CBC Biotechnologies gained $7 million in funding and Tampa Internet search software firm SiteWit received $2.4 million.

The overwhelming majority of funding in the quarter — $793.5 million — went to Dania-based Magic Leap, the secretive maker of augmented or "cinematic" reality technology. That enormous sum was big enough to make Magic Leap's funding round one of the biggest in the country for the quarter, following ridesharing startup Lyft, which received $1 billion. Tech giants Google and Qualcomm already are investors in Magic Leap and, in the latest round, Chinese e-commerce firm Alibaba joined the funding frenzy.

Florida's venture capital numbers are commendable, but absent Magic Leap they remain a drop in the bucket of first-quarter, national venture capital commitments of $12.14 billion.

It is the latest reminder that the Sunshine State is still low on the totem pole when it comes to entrepreneurial funding support. California, New York and Massachusetts continue to see the most investments, both in the number of deals and the money invested. As usual, Silicon Valley tops all metropolitan regions.

The nation's venture capital figures appear in a report released Friday by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the National Venture Capital Association, with data by Thomson Reuters.

Who are these local firms to win funding in the quarter?

PowerChord, based in downtown St. Petersburg, provides digital brand management technology. Last fall the growing firm, with about 50 people, hired CEO Lanny Tucker, whose last firm was sold to Google. He succeeds founder Patrick Schunk, who continues as chief strategy officer and chairman.

Why the name PowerChord? Because, the firm says, a power chord "is defined as a combination of musical notes playing together to make one, powerful sound." Its office comes decorated, naturally, with "plenty of guitars."

KnowBe4, based in downtown Clearwater, may be better known to recent readers since the security awareness firm was featured this month as one of the Tampa Bay Times 2016 Top Workplaces. The firm specializes in helping client companies secure their private IT systems against social engineering attacks or, in other words, against clever hackers who try to fool company employees to give them access to company computers and information. Company CEO Stu Sjouwerman is a serial entrepreneur who recently told the Times he hopes eventually to take KnowBe4 public in an IPO.

CBC Biotechnologies, based off W Linebaugh Avenue in Tampa, is a biopharmaceutical company focused on the synthesizing of cannabinoids. Its funding in the quarter comes from New York's Tuatara Capital, which specializes in advancing the legal cannabis (marijuana) industry.

CBC's technology, says company CEO Jeffrey Korentur, "represents a breakthrough in the creation and delivery of cannabinoid based medicines."

SiteWit, on Kennedy Boulevard in Tampa, provides Internet campaigns for client businesses to help raise visibility on major search engines. Co-founder and CEO Ricardo Lasa, first interviewed by the Times in 2013, remains a prominent figure in the regional startup community. This round of funding is the latest of several venture capital injections into the firm.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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