Saturday, April 21, 2018
Business

Tampa startup Muzimé blends skills of musician, technology expert

TAMPA — At age 26, these two local guys were supposed to be long gone from here.

Joel Fenelon, a University of Tampa music graduate with a University of Wisconsin master's degree in conducting, should be off in Europe now, baton in hand on tour as a guest maestro of classical music orchestras. Nick Jagodzinski, a University of Central Florida grad, should be in New York City plying his technology skills.

That was the plan. But startup fever hit the duo just in time. Now they're preparing to launch an online music service that they hope will empower musicians, expose music lovers to new talent, shake up online music heavyweights like iTunes, Pandora and Spotify, and make a little money along the way.

The business and music site is called Muzimé (pronounced mew-zi-may), an idea of founder and CEO Fenelon. For starters, he wants to build an online grass roots catalog of Tampa Bay music as the start of a service he sees going global. Jagod­zinski, chief operating officer, is the tech guru making Muzimé come to life online.

The two, who met at Tampa Bay Technical High School, are launching the new service right here in Tampa. It's not just because this is their hometown. Tampa, they explain, has the potential to become a red-hot music market with less online competition, at least right now.

"Everyone wants to go where it is already booming," Fenelon says. "I am more of a trendsetter. Tampa can be such a good music market."

Muzimé is the latest example of a rising wave of entrepreneurial activity taking hold across the Tampa Bay area. The rise of startups can be attributed to a convergence of trends: more formal startup support in Tampa Bay and at its universities; a growing understanding that the area needs more homegrown businesses to enhance job creation; a younger generation more inclined to take business risks and make something of their own; and years of a weak economy that has forced more people to rethink how to build a career in an era when quality jobs are tough to find.

Muzimé isn't ready for prime time. The website exists, but music fans won't find much yet. But it's coming, Fenelon says.

So far, the startup founder has enjoyed a remarkable series of networking breakthroughs to help launch Muzimé.

A contact in Wisconsin who happens to babysit for a rich family in Turkey introduced Fenelon to a Turkish investor educated in the United States. After meeting in Tampa, the investor agreed to help fund Muzimé in a series of $19,000 infusions of capital. Fenelon tracked down and recruited Jagodzinski just before his moving to New York, convincing him of Muzimé's potential. What are the odds?

Fenelon also approached a University of Tampa business professor for some early feedback on the Muzimé concept. Professor Rebecca White chairs the business school's entrepreneurship program and is director of its Entrepreneurship Center.

"When I first met Joel, I was immediately impressed with his passion for advancing musicians and his willingness to listen and learn," recalled White, who is now one of Fenelon's mentors.

"Once Nick joined the team with his technology skills, I was convinced they would succeed," she said. "The Muzimé concept also made sense because of the increasing demand for more intimate and customized social networking sites."

This region's emerging "entrepreneurial ecosystem" is also trying to help. Fenelon last week met with actor, entrepreneur and community activist Bob Devin Jones to talk about Muzimé's potential. Jones may help introduce Fenelon and his new online service at an upcoming event at St. Petersburg's [email protected], a place where regional talent is introduced and where Jones is artistic director.

Will Muzimé succeed? Fenelon and Jagodzinski are good salesmen and seem quite aware that the business model of their online service differs from the big-name online streaming music sites.

The two have their work cut out for them. Right here in Tampa Bay.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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