Monday, February 19, 2018
Business

Pressed financially, Tampa's Savtira seeks Chapter 11 and possibly a new city

From hot property to likely flameout, the trajectory of Tampa tech company Savtira has skidded into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

Soon after initial bankruptcy papers were filed Friday with the court, Savtira CEO Tim Roberts emailed a statement claiming that his Ybor City firm had been forced to seek legal help.

"This is actually a protection bubble around the company to ward off this hostile takeover attempt," Roberts said. "We have plenty of money circling us and now that the blood is in the water, the sharks are all circling.

"We feel confident," he stated, "we will come out of this quickly and fully funded."

But where might Savtira be located by then?

I'm not sure many local folks share Roberts' financial optimism given the drumbeat of bad news emanating from the e-commerce company in recent months — especially the Department of Labor's inquiry into Savtira employees who are owed substantial sums in back pay.

This region's chief technology group, the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, finds itself shifting gears from November when it named Savtira its "emerging company of the year." Now it's publicly urging its members to help former Savtira employees find work again. (More than two dozen ex-workers have registered to do just that so far.)

"It's now a distraction," TBTF chief Heather Kenyon says of Savtira.

The startup's tale gets stranger with media reports from St. Louis, where Roberts got his start, and where he recently visited seeking fresh incentives in exchange for relocating his company there.

I'm guessing St. Louis can have Savtira if it wants to lure back a business in bankruptcy. A St. Louis official told its local Business Journal that if Roberts wants incentives, not only will he have to produce jobs, but also come up with a letter of credit from a bank proving Savtira could pay back any incentives if any job goals are unmet.

It feels like Tampa, which already bent over backward to welcome Savtira with millions in incentives if the company produced new jobs, has seen enough.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has indicated there will be no bidding war to keep Savtira. And he made those comments before the company sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Savtira filed a lawsuit last week against a website called savtiraexposed.com that has content critical of Roberts' past practices in business startups.

"This is only the first amongst many lawsuits that Savtira feels it has to and will file against responsible parties" for trying "to derail Savtira's cause and course," Kevin D. Astl, Savtira general counsel since December, stated in an email that accompanied a copy of last week's suit against savtiraexposed.com.

A founder of that website and a disgruntled Savtira customer, Austin Hurst, told the Tampa Bay Times that the Internet is full of longstanding websites that share criticism of particular companies. He said he will contest the lawsuit as "frivolous" and will not shut down the site.

"I think the industry has beat him to market," Hurst said of Savtira's slow-to-launch e-commerce product.

In the technology world, that's probably the nastiest remark of all.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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