Tampa Bay's startup crossroads: A list of local entrepreneurial efforts

AbleNook is a modular disaster relief housing prototype developed by two former USF architecture students. The portable dwelling is an emergency option that can be assembled without professional tools.
AbleNook is a modular disaster relief housing prototype developed by two former USF architecture students. The portable dwelling is an emergency option that can be assembled without professional tools.
Published June 17, 2013

Altorr Corp. (

Founded in 2008 by Tim Barber, left, Bradford Clough and Michael Smith in Largo, Altorr is working on electronic devices that give the disabled greater control of their environment through speech, facial and gesture recognition.

Selling a product yet? No, but testing system that lets user control lights, TV and DVR/DVD with verbal commands.

Status: Received support from Tampa Bay Innovation Center. Has not yet sought outside funding. Secured patents for automatic door opener, solar panel that powers electric wheelchairs.

Noble aim: "Our goal is to allow a (quadriplegic wounded warrior) to control his lights, television, fan and door through voice control."

Banyan (

Founded in St. Petersburg in 2011 by USF students Toni Gemayel, TJ Weigel and Travis Staton in St. Petersburg.

What it does: Helps researchers collaborate in real time and expedite scientific breakthroughs.

Status: Moved to Chattanooga, Tenn. Still testing an app. Won $100,000 in Gigtank competition.

Why Chattanooga? "The only support we received (in the Tampa Bay area) was from USF and two or three local news outlets. We tried our hardest to reach out to other entrepreneurs and network, but really nothing came of it."

Advice: Cool digs matter. Create places where startups can work that provide the essentials — phones, Wi-Fi, loads of optimism and energy. A coworking space "so great you almost want to live there."

Black & Denim Apparel Co. (

The startup, founded in 2008 in Tampa by Roberto Torres, Luis Montanez and Christopher Findeisen, specializes in jeans and shirts.

Selling a product yet? Yes. Positive cash flow selling to more than 50 boutiques.

Local investor support? "Small and nonexistent. Most of the funding is for tech, biomed or inventions. We make stuff that people can sell."

Long-term goal: "There are few incentives here for apparel companies, no garment district or talent. We want to change that!"

Carvoyant (

Founded as "AutoIQ" in 2011, since renamed by Bret Tobey, Renz Kuipers and Matt Galvin in Odessa.

What it does: Device connects to a car's on-board diagnostic system, which lets company "listen" to what service car says it needs. Helps drivers better maintain cars and ensure good experience at a repair shop.

Selling a product? Yes. It's $99 plus $6.99 a month.

Accelerator success: One of the original six startups in the Gazelle Lab business accelerator program run by USF St. Petersburg in 2011.

Check I'm Here (

Founded in 2012 by Reuben Pressman and Andrew Grubbs i n St. Petersburg, the device tracks university student engagement to help student governments allocate funding.

Sales? Not yet, but "ask again in a couple weeks and that might change," Pressman said. Trials are under way.

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Money matters: "We still need more 'seed stage' investors willing to take a risk, and more space for entrepreneurs to work."

Citizinvestor Inc. (

A crowdfunding and civic engagement platform for local government projects founded in 2012 by Tony DeSisto, Jordan Raynor, left, and Erik Rapprich in Tampa.

Sales? Yes. Site takes a 5 percent fee on successfully funded projects.

Local roots: Raynor is a sixth-generation Tampa resident. He strongly believes that great technology companies can start right here.

Citysleekers (

USF St. Petersburg students Evan Brady and Nick Price, left, founded the waterless eco-friendly car wash service in 2012.

The twist: The washers come to you, on bikes, and don't use a drop of water.

Paying customers? Yes. A scheduled cleaning is $25.

Status: Starting to get recognized. Received some outside funding, but it was a gift.

Wish list for the startup community: "MORE GRANTS! MORE GRANTS! MORE GRANTS! Not every startup can afford to get small business loans or gain investors right off the bat."

Entrepreneurial wisdom: "It really is all in how well you can pitch your idea or business."

Cupcake Cache LLC (

Founders Michael and Eve Dobbins make and sell gourmet cupcakes.

Sales? Yes, through five counties.

Money motto: Want to avoid outside funding and keep control of business. "We believe in growing to our funds. Not funding our growth."

Hey, customers, look over here! "Pay attention. Surprising how many people drive by (on E Busch Boulevard in Tampa) but don't know we are here."

²DP (no website yet)

Founded in Tampa in 2013 by Mark Lloyd and Marilyn Bui, left.

What it provides: " A medical slide-scanning device and a pipeline of decision assistance software algorithms, which offer companion diagnostic tools to pathologists and researchers."

Wow! Sounds sciencey: Lloyd (MBA, Ph.D. candidate) and Bui (M.D., Ph.D.) are scientists at Moffitt Cancer Center.

The potential payoff: "Better diagnosis. Better treatment. The World Over."

Status: Not for sale yet. Founders could not be happier with local community assistance. Sought funding from international angel investor and federal grant funding. Local investor funding was challenging.

Eyecrawler Inc. (

Founded in 2011 by Shaun Rubrecht, St. Petersburg-based Eyecrawler provides iPhone and Android apps that show what's happening at nearby bars and other enterainment venues.

Selling a product yet? No.

Status: Focused on generating content and attracting users. Still looking for right investor.

The good: "The climate here is very conducive to creating and vetting ideas."

The bad: "There is a lower risk-tolerance here as opposed to other places."

The solution: "We need more pitch competitions or committees that can identify viable companies and fund them quickly."

AbleNook (

Founded in 2011 by Sean Verdecia and Jason Ross in Ybor City.

Goal: Shelter the world, at least anyone displaced by natural disasters and the like.

How? The two former University of South Florida School of Architecture students developed a portable dwelling that can be delivered flat-packed and assembled without professional tools in about two hours. Units are insulated, prewired for electricity, expandable and can be reused.

Sales? Not yet. An expandable basic unit costs $16,000.

Status: Funding is slow. Founders got a $12,000 grant and secured the first patent ever issued at the USF School of Architecture. USF will receive a royalty should AbleNook generate revenues. Microfunding group Awesome Tampa Bay granted $1,000. Working toward national deployment.

Quotable: "The more we can develop this idea and refine how it is made, the more cost-effective a solution it can be for what we want to make."

JLS MedEquip LLC (

Founded in 2011 by Jennifer Sineway, the Odessa startup sells medical equipment that physicians and veterinarians no longer use and relocates the equipment to facilities where it will best be used.

Fun fact: Sineway started the business with $200 and a cellphone.

Selling a product yet? Yes.

What she says: "I love Tampa! I studied marketing at USF Tampa, got my masters in entrepreneurship in applied technologies and want to grow entrepreneurship in the Tampa Bay area."

The hurdle: "It can be difficult to find funding unless one of three F's (friends, family, fools) is willing to share capital."

How Tampa Bay can help: Buy local services. Refer people you know to startups. Write reviews and give good feedback when you have a good experiences.

KeriCure Inc. (

Kerriann Greenhalgh, Edward Turos, Thomas Koob founded the Wesley Chapel biotech firm in 2011. It commercializes in topical polymer systems, mostly for wound care.

Not so surprising: All three founders hold Ph.D.s and have strong ties to USF.

Selling a product yet? Yes. KeriCure Skin Protectant, Natural Seal Skin protectant launched in 2013.

A familiar refrain: Relied on friends and family for initial funding after year of pitching to Florida investors.

How Tampa Bay can help: Attract legitimate investors at the angel level to help support initial biotech startups.

LocalShops1 (

Founded in 2008 by Ester Venouziou in St. Petersburg, the startup provides small business advocacy, promotions and networking to membeo members.

Selling a product yet? "Yes! It took a few years but we have an awesome working model now."

In the beginning: In a word, tough. Self-funded from personal savings with some event sponsors.

And now: In past year and a half had an "outpouring of support" from shoppers and business owners.

Share the (financial) love: "I'd love to see cities and counties offer incentives to startups rather than simply spending money to bring in big companies. … Let's invest in our homegrown ventures and see what happens."

LOLA Health (

Jessica Bellman and Christopher Welch founded it in 2011 in Chicago and relocated to Tampa for its lower costs. The tech platform helps doctors increase revenue, strengthen patient retention and empower patients.

Funding advice: Find the right fit. "Similar to marriage, it is a long-term or lifelong commitment. Choose wisely."

Bold prediction: "In three to five years, I'm confident Tampa Bay will be comparable to Denver as a technology and health care startup hub."

MamaBear (

Founders Steve MacDonald, Stuart Kime, Tom Cardy, Robyn Spoto started the Tampa company in 2011 to allow parents to use smartphone technology to monitor where their kids (or "cubs") are and where they have been.

Wow factor: Can alert parents if their child is in a car that is speeding.

Selling a product yet? Launched to public in beta in iTunes store, Google Play. Will offer paid premium subscription later in 2013.

Unwanted discovery: The local talent pool for mobile app development is thin.

MyAreaNetwork ( or locally

Scott Conlon founded it in Baltimore in 2006 and moved it to Tampa to finish college at USF. It provides a network of 75 websites connecting locals and local businesses.

Selling a product yet? Yes. All money going back into the business.

Educated money: "We have groups that are educating startups, but we have little support for educating investors."

Marxent Labs (

Founded in 2011 by Beck Besecker, left, and Barry Besecker. Now in downtown St. Petersburg.

What it does: Provides "augmented reality" apps to retailers and other clients to enhance marketing/interactive information opportunities for customers.

Selling a product yet? Yes. Recently profitable after 18 months in business. Startup backed by Detroit Venture Partners and Stage 1 Ventures.

Why St. Petersburg? It's "beautiful," "vibrant," "full of character" and "lots of cheap, yummy lunch places."

The downer: "It feels like Tampa Bay is substantially behind other metro areas. ... We had to leave Tampa Bay for both of our funding rounds."

If Detroit can do it: Efforts by Dan Gilbert (Quicken Loan chairman and Detroit Venture Partners co-owner) "in leading venture capital investment in Detroit are a great example" for what Tampa Bay could become.

Refresh-a-Baby Inc. (

Founder Gina Almonte patented baby bottle nipple that can convert water bottles to baby bottles. It's sold online, in local boutiques and in 13 Walgreens stores.

Local talent: Almonte is Tampa born and raised and taught school in Hillsborough County for 12 years.

Status: Tampa Chamber of Commerce helped with a 2013 "startup scholars program" award. Also received support from the Small Business Development Center. Still seeking outside funding.

Sakura Systems LLC (

Founded in 2010 by Chris McCurry and David Akers in Largo, it develops wireless LED light fixtures and controls.

Selling a product yet? Yes, selling kits since fall 2012.

A helping hand: Grants that support research and development of products with community benefits (energy efficiency, water conservation) would encourage technologies here.

SavvyCard (

Founded in 2010 by David Etheredge, Lisa Nalewak, Daud Power and John-David Sims in New Port Richey. The mobile web platform acts like an online business card and referral system.

Selling a product yet? Yes.

Why start here? Less costly to start a business and easier to retain talent with beautiful weather.

Why not here? Investor support is very weak. "There is a major problem creating visibility between good startups and legitimate early-stage investors."

SunQuest Energy LLC (

Founded in 2009 by Hudson W. Harr in St. Petersburg, it designs, installs, develops commercial and utility-scale solar projects. Privately funded and debt-free.

Sales? Lots. Quarterly projections indicate a record year.

Have we seen your work? Completed projects at the Dalí Museum and Catalent Pharma Solutions. James A. Haley VA project in Tampa under way.

Not as sunny: SunQuest does most of its work outside Florida. "This relates to state and county legislation and utility support."

The Tablet Marketplace LLC

Founded in 2012 by Dan Felman in Tampa, the business lets people buy and sell new and used tablets, without fees or commissions.

Cool fact: Felman is in high school.

Selling a product yet? No. "I balance sports and academics. So I am building a respectable name for my company before I start marketing this summer."

Status: Has met with area entrepreneurs to get an idea of what it takes to be successful. Mentors include Steve Allen of Idatix Corp. and Marty Schaffel of AVI-SPL. Has not sought outside funding.

Start 'em young: The area would benefit from "providing education in schools for kids who are interested" in startups and business.