Make us your home page
Instagram

On Demo Day, celebrating entrepreneurs but feeling we've only started a long journey

ST. PETERSBURG

Backstage early Thursday morning in downtown's elegant Mahaffey Theater, six entrepreneurs prep for a spotlight moment on the grand stage. Each will have eight minutes to pitch his startup idea.

Combined, these entrepreneurs will be asking for nearly $4 million to help take their startups to the next level.

The audience, nearly 300, is made up of a key core of potential investors, supportive members of this area's business community, families, friends and curious locals.

Ty Mathen, founder of Dropost.it, is off in one backstage corner rehearsing his pitch about a next-generation gift card service. Bret Tobey and his team all wear matching green polo shirts adorned with their AutoIQ logo. Sean Davis of Red Hawk Interactive, first up to pitch this morning, looks ready to go. Jeff Baird, just 23 and still a university student, struts about muttering his pitch for Kngroo, a scavenger hunt game to help tourists and cities get to know one another better. Then he grabs a water bottle to moisten a dry mouth.

For all six, this is graduation day from Gazelle Lab, a business accelerator affiliated with the University of South Florida St. Petersburg's College of Business and the TechStars national network for startups out of Boulder, Colo.

It's show time. Gazelle leader Daniel James Scott welcomes the audience, reminds them of Gazelle's ambition to create more locally based businesses and jobs in the area, and then sets the hook.

"We're looking to be a great community partner," he says.

Gazelle's now looking for the next crop of exciting startups and new mentors who can guide entrepreneurs. And, Scott adds, Gazelle is looking to raise a $3 million fund that will allow the business accelerator to continue operating here for the next five years. Scott calls it the "Big Ask."

So how did the six founders do? Some were sharp. Others less convincing.

Red Hawk founder Davis' delivery is forceful, though his business plan to provide a new service for TV content over the Internet puts his startup in a chaotic industry. He asks for $500,000.

AutoIQ's Tobey pitches his business as a "digital health record" for cars. Some people think the niche has potential in a big-dollar industry. He asks for $1.5 million.

Leads Direct's Jerry Lamb wants $750,000 to fill the information "hole" between property owners and property managers. It's less tech-sexy than some pitches, but the founders boast decades of experience.

For Kngroo, Baird's pitch is youthful, cleverly localized, sometimes funny and occasionally hesitant. It's a cool idea but, as one observer notes, it could become very competitive with more startups considering similar services.

At Dropost.it, Mathen is smooth on stage and his service is compelling (if you've ever been frustrated with gift cards). It also sounds complex to pull off. He asks for $500,000 to push into five markets.

Finally, Teburu's Greg Ross-Munro comes across as polished and funny explaining his online menu and ordering service for smaller restaurants. He's testing it with Clearwater's Gondolier Pizza chain and drops names like ex-Beef 'O' Brady's president Nick Vojnovic as advisers. Teburu seeks $500,000.

Serial entrepreneur Tom Wallace, who runs Tampa's Red Vector, a provider of online education services, attended most of Demo Day. He's a big supporter and even a personal investor in Gazelle Lab.

"I have absolutely no doubt that some of today's presenters are going to be building successful companies that create high-paying jobs, as well as wealth for the entrepreneurs and their shareholders," Wallace says. Some of that wealth, he predicts, eventually will get invested back into other tech startups.

As of Thursday evening, no investment deals with the Gazelle Lab startups had been announced, Scott says. But that's no surprise. We'll hear more in the coming days or weeks whether any deals are struck. For now, kudos to those curious enough in the Tampa Bay community to come and hear the pitches.

Truth is, Tampa Bay's behind the entrepreneurial (and investor) times, so all of our regional efforts are still playing catchup.

So now it's up to the Tampa Bay community not to squander what it's finally started. It's time to put some skin in the game.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com.

On Demo Day, celebrating entrepreneurs but feeling we've only started a long journey 11/17/11 [Last modified: Friday, November 18, 2011 7:03am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Judge throws out $458,000 condo sale, says Clearwater attorney tricked bidders

    Real Estate

    CLEARWATER — Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold on Monday threw out the $458,100 sale of a gulf-front condo because of what he called an "unscrupulous" and "conniving" scheme to trick bidders at a foreclosure auction.

    John Houde, left, whose Orlando copany was the high  bidder June 8 at the foreclosure auction of a Redington Beach condo, looks in the direction of Clearwater lawyer and real estate investor Roy C. Skelton, foreground,  during a hearing Monday before Pinellas County Circuit Judge Jack St. Arnold.  [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times ]
  2. Pasco EDC names business incubator head in Dade City, will open second site

    Business

    Pasco County economic development officials are busy reigniting their business start-up resources following the departure earlier this year of Krista Covey, who ran the Pasco Economic Development Council's SMARTStart business incubator in Dade City.

    Andrew Romaner was promoted this summer to serve as program director of the Dade City SMARTStart Entrepreneur Center, a start-up incubator service of the Pasco Economic Development Council. He succeeds Krista Covey, who relocated to Texas for another startup position. [Courtesy of Pasco EDC]
  3. Proposed Tampa tax increase prompts second thoughts about Riverfront Park spending

    Local Government

    TAMPA — Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park has a $35.5 million price tag with something for everyone, including a rowers' boathouse, a sheltered cove for beginning paddlers, an event lawn, a community center with sweeping views of downtown and all kinds of athletic courts — even pickleball! — when it opens …

    Expect the $35.5 million redevelopment of Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park to be a big part of the discussion when the Tampa City Council discusses Mayor Bob Buckhorn's proposed budget and property tax increase this Thursday. LUIS SANTANA   |   Times
  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer

    Nation

    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Superior Uniform acquires Los Angeles-based PublicIdentity

    Corporate

    SEMINOLE — A subsidiary of Seminole-based Superior Uniform Group has acquired Los Angeles-based branded merchandise company PublicIdentity Inc.

    Superior Uniform Group CEO Michael Benstock
[Courtesy of Superior Uniform Group]