TBBJ-inno on Fire Award

By October 8, 2020October 13th, 2020No Comments

In the nine months since Tampa Bay Inno’s official launch, we’ve published close to 200 original stories to showcase the startups and entrepreneurs elevating Tampa Bay as a leading innovation hub.

And, today, we highlight 50 of those who are stoking the fire.

We are pleased to introduce our inaugural Inno on Fire list, a celebration of the growth-stage businesses, enterprises and innovators who are working above and beyond to set the ecosystem ablaze.

You — along with friends, family, co-workers or anyone interested in the Tampa Bay startup ecosystem — are invited to join us Nov. 20 to celebrate the winners over at Factory 114. We’ll have networking, tasty bites, cocktails, craft beer and wine, along with the very special announcement of the “Inno Blazer.” That’s right, we’ll be choosing one standout company or individual from each category to be honored as a blazer, which will be announced at the event. (Blazers will receive, yes, a red blazer)

And now, we’re thrilled to reveal our inaugural Inno on Fire winners. We’ve got virtual reality medical devices, alcoholic push pops and software galore. So let’s dive in.


• Grifin — After co-founder Aaron Froug and his sister went to Starbucks and Froug’s sister mentioned, “We should really own stock for as much we spend here,” Grifin was born. Grifin is also an early member of Embarc Collective, as well as engrained in the startup community: It was a finalist for a UF pitch competition and snagged a win at a University of South Florida pitch competition. The company, which allows users to buy stock where they shop, raised $510,000 in a pre-seed round with eyes on a Series A seed.

• Washlava — Washlava, which has smartphone exclusive laundromats, has had a major investment year. The startup received $5 million in funds in September, following laundry giant LG Electronics’ announcement it would lead the Series A-1 equity financing round. The company, which launched in 2017 after starting at the University of Tampa, has six other locations across the United States, including Austin, Orlando and Monmouth University in New Jersey.

• Danyell Jones, CEO of CrowdMed — With over $5 million raised in venture capital by some of Silicon Valleys top VCs, Jones heads the healthcare startup that reaches over 2,700 patients. CrowdMed specializes in providing medical diagnosis for patients with hard-to-solve medical conditions using a patented algorithm and the power of Crowdsourcing to find a cure. Jones also serves on several local boards, including as a mentor through the Tampa Bay Wave mentor network.

• Homee — Founded two and a half years ago, Tampa-based property maintenance platform Homee now employs around 5,000 subcontractors in 32 states. It closed a $15 million funding round in August, which will help the company further expand.


• KnowBe4 —The cybersecurity tech company recently raised $300 million in a round of funding led by KKR Investment Firm, bringing the valuation of the organization to $1 billion. The company has carved out a space as a leader in the industry, racking up over $100 million in recurring revenue, near triple-digit growth and a customer base of over 28,000 organizations across all industries.

• ConnectWise — 2019 was arguably the biggest year for ConnectWise. The provider of professional service automation was acquired in February by Thoma Bravo for an undisclosed amount. However, CEO Arnie Bellini was able to say $270 million in stock was being redeemed by ConnectWise’s non-C-level employees — making around 70 of their employees millionaires in Tampa Bay.

• A-LIGN —After the security, compliance and privacy solutions provider raised $54.5 million from FTV Capital in 2018, it is expanding its second office west to Colorado and its team is expanding rapidly.

• ReliaQuest — The IT security solutions company has spent the past year expanding to include more partnerships and acquisitions. In August, it announced it will be the first of eight local companies working with Junior Achievement of Tampa Bay and 3DE Schools to increase student success. It also acquired Austin-based ThreatCare in October, along with opening up a fourth office in Salt Lake City in July.

• ComplianceQuest — The company, which provides software for the life sciences and manufacturing industries, made a splash in the tail-end of 2019 by cinching a $36 million investment. It also landed at No. 163 on Inc. 5000’s “Greatest Entrepreneurs and Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America for 2019,” and is the youngest company on Gartner’s Market Guide for Quality Management System Software. According to the Inc. 5000 list, in the past year alone ComplianceQuest had 2,357 percent growth and brought in $2.5 million in revenue.


• Robyn Mussler, president of Connect-IT 360 — Mussler is the chair of the Next Generation Tech Program in Pinellas County. It’s a seven month after school program where teens can be taught the essential skills to develop good software. During the program they take their idea and work alongside business mentors to produce a working software prototype. The program is in its fifth year and Mussler is working to implement it across Florida.

• KK Quah — Quah is a STEM teacher at Tampa Prep, an independent 6-12 school. He teaches a slew of topics including robotics, engineering and Autodesk Inventor CAD 3D design. Under Quah, students program Raspberry Pi’s using Python (one example is a student-created sign-in system at the reception desk), use power tools like laser cutters, CNC machines, and routers to build circuitry. The precision and originality of 3D printed artifacts are phenomenal. KK leads an Architecture Club for students where they use Sketch Up, Revit 3D BIM software to apply engineering and 3D design skills to explore the field of architecture. His innovative projects included projection mapping with Lightform, Nvidia Jetson Nano for AI, quiz analytics with Pandas Data analysis tool in Python, RFID tagging of mobile devices for teachers and students.

 Vector Solutions — Over the last year, the company has acquired three new brands: CrewSense, Halligan, and IndustrySafe. 2019 also brought the addition of its new VR training app developed to help businesses and employees practice ladder safety without ever stepping onto a ladder. And in the last year, it also created the very first suite of safety training courses for students in grades 9-12, with topics including bullying, youth suicide awareness, acohol, vaping and drug prevention, sexual Harassment and digital citizenship.

• Steve Diasio, University of South Florida St. Petersburg — Diasio has launched a learning framework and edtech initiative which allows students to create videos that educate others through his learning platform. Realizing everyone in the world does not have access to education, the learning framework creates better learning outcomes for those engaging with the framework and also creates learning material for others who do not have access to education content to learn from.

• Script — The edtech company has been in the news in recent months for snagging multiple investments, including an undisclosed amount from Ark Applications in May. There was also a $900,000 investment from Ark Applications on April 8. Script is an app and platform that provides paperwork automation for schools (and was on our EdTech State of Innovation panel).

• Knack — The company that helps pair tutors with the chance to network with businesses may have received a major investment in 2018, but it has continued its momentum straight through 2019. The company won the Lumina Foundation 2019 Education Innovation Prize challenge (along with $25,000) and also launched a $125,000 partnership with Washington D.C.-based Village Capital investment fund and the Educational Testing Service, which administers the SAT.


• Jennifer Whelihan, Economic Development Manager, Hillsborough County — Hillsborough County Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDi2) is growing technology and innovation startups, jobs, and private investment by strengthening the services and resources that directly support entrepreneurs. EDi2 has a program-oriented framework, providing grant funding and support for large-in-scale events and opportunities that enable entrepreneurs to achieve success.

• Shane Smith, Director of The Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship’s Central Florida Operations — Shane’s entrepreneurial expertise and deep roots in the Bay area helped him launch the Jim Moran Institute’s Central Florida operations in 2019. Now, programs are available in both Tampa and St. Petersburg. Since the programs began in early 2019, approximately 50 small business owners and 20 nonprofit leaders have participated or are currently active in the programs — with a plan to reach 100 of each for each coming year.

• The Dalí Museum’s Innovation Labs — The innovation labs take a note from Salvador Dali’s own innovation and has launched hands-on programming for individuals and companies. The programming helps participants reimagine business opportunities and improve creative capacity & innovation outcomes. This year, the program underwent an overhaul, including the creation of a new class of Labs and the launch of a dozen new Labs, workshops and experiences.

Health Care

 The Natural Nipple — The two female co-founders created a bottle that mimics a woman’s breast for breastfeeding and that helps the baby switch between a bottle and its mother. The product already teamed up with Johnson & Johnson for a $50,000 investment to help the $300 billion worth of complications babies encounter with current baby bottles.

 • SCIX — The company has earned multiple accolades in 2019, including Top 100 Startup of the Year, Smart Woman of the Year and winning the 2019 BioTech Challenge. It was also selected by the National Institutes of Health for its bio device and health application development. SCIX has digital health devices that can monitor, predict and prevent life-threatening events.

• Verapy — Verapy is a virtual reality “games” that help patients improve their mobility. Verapy software is able to target shoulders, wrists and elbows, as well as the neck and lower extremities. The software is now in six clinics. Verapy is a part of the Tampa Bay Wave Accelerator and the University of Tampa Accelerator programs. They were chosen as the best AR/VR speed pitch at SXSW 2019 and selected as a Top 100 Startup Semifinalist from Startup of the Year 2019.

• Immertec — The company has grown from three people to 24 employees, partnered with Johnson & Johnson, raised $6 million in a Series A funding round and won the Rise of the Rest pitch competition, to name a few achievements. The software is used to train physicians in real-time using virtual reality.

• Path Optical Systems, Inc. — Path Optical is developing a process for creating smaller optical interconnects that connect optical chips and components. The interconnects can be directly printed on device boards to enable the next generation of computing devices. The new technology allows for an increase in the speeds that electronic devices can operate, dramatically reduces temperatures inside of electronic devices, uses less power, and creates safer components.  The company has won a $10,000 Cade Museum prize and a $25,000 BRAG award.

• Carole Post, AVP & Chief Administrative Officer, USF Health — Post leads the operational transition and move of the Morsani College of Medicine to downtown Tampa while heading up USF Health. In addition, she volunteered to help transition Mayor Jane Castor into her new role, as well as organized planning committees focused on transportation, sustainability and resiliency, construction support and services, workforce development and affordable housing.

• Mo Kasti, CEO at CTI — CTI is INC 5000, top 50 companies to watch in Florida, Small Business of the year finalist in Tampa. They are saving lives by empowering physicians to lead and communicate effectively. Their approach to professional personalized learning is unmatched in the industry.

• XS Supply — XS Supply has developed a strategy to eliminate a major source of healthcare waste. The firm will buy excess or slow-moving single-use surgical supplies (which are very expensive, consumable items). Billions of dollars of unused medical supplies are thrown into landfills every year, but XS Supply can monetize that inventory, putting those dollars back into a hospital’s budget.

Inno Picks (Let us decide)

• Tony DiBenedetto, founder, Think Big for Kids — Most people know DiBenedetto through his role as a cofounder and CEO of Tribridge. But in 2019, he launched Think Big for Kids, which helps close the gap on the talent needs for the future. He also is on the boards for A-LIGN, MyArea Network, Global Safety Management and chairs the Tampa Bay Wave’s Innovation Council.

• Joy Randels, founder and CEO, New Market Partners and Board Chair, The Undercroft — From building her own companies to non-profit leadership, engaging every university and ESO, she mentors at multiple accelerators and individuals, has funded more than 35 local companies, is an active Angel and VC investor through her own fund and the 5 venture firms she works with in Boston and Silicon Valley. She’s been honored as the Technology Leader of the Year, Business Woman of the Year, and Localpreneur of the Year multiple times and is one of the 50 Women to Watch in Tech globally.

• Suffolk — Technology and innovation are typically not words used to describe the construction industry. But Suffolk, which opened in 2017, is transforming the construction experience using virtual design & construction, virtual reality, AI and big data and analytics. Suffolk has completed some of Tampa’s most notable projects including two projects for Water Street Tampa and a 400 unit residential project in the West River re-development.

• Positive Return LLC — Positive Return launched Visible Opportunities, which provides equal access to visibility events such as being a speaker, panelist, moderator or contributor. They are working with event organizers to be inclusive in their events by connecting the diverse people and experts of Tampa Bay to strengthen the community.

• Lunchpool — They won Startup Weekend, were a top 3 contender at Startup Week and secured a launch with billion dollar company KnowBe4. The platform has the simple mission of connecting people within an office building who normally would not eat together, getting rid of the awkward networking email ask.

Lifestyle (Food, Wine, Gaming, Travel, Consumer Tech, Sports)

• Venuetize — The mobile tech company with a specialization in sports has had a big year. In 2019, they closed on new funding for their business, hired top talent and added new clients including Tampa-based Strategic Property Partners, Memphis Grizzlies, Colorado Rockies and Delaware North. They already power the mobile experience at over 40 PGA Tour events, Amalie Arena, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami and many others.

• Marcus Howard, co-founder, ProjectMQ — ProjectMQ is changing the face of indie gaming.  Howard and his brother Malcolm are bootstrapping the company while working full time. Along with his company, Howard not only helped bring the University of South Florida eSports Summit to life, but presented at it.

• Logan Clemens, founder/CEO of WanderSeat — WanderSeat’s patent pending approach helps travelers get discounted airline tickets if they are flexible on their destination. The software is in product development and received SOME funding from Tampa-based accredited investors. Clemens was also part of the University of Tampa’s Lowth Entrepreneurship Center Incubator program.

• BuzzPop Cocktails — The company’s growth rate has hit 3200% since launching in 2017 and in the last 12 months launched a mobile franchising option for budding entrepreneurs. It can also be found in Disney Springs, WTR Tampa, the NBA All-Star Weekend and the Fort Lauderdale Food and Wine festival.

Software (B2B, artificial intelligence, machine learning augmented reality, virtual reality, etc.)

• Pocket Network — It was founded in 2017 and has already been backed by many of the heavy hitters in Tampa Bay: it is one of the early partners of Embarc Collective, it is housed in the Blockspaces blockchain incubator and Florida Funders have filled the business’ pockets. It also caught the attention of the national Rise of the Rest tour, which visited Tampa Bay in May. The company raised a first seed round of $750,000. It also won two blockchain grants, from the Tezos Foundation and Aion Network, respectfully. It is currently in the process of closing a Series A round with funding from international venture capital firms, syndicates and local angels.

• Steve Lazaridis, CEO of Phonism — Phonism sells software to the telecom industry that manages voice over IP phones, to eliminate the need for onsite technicians. The company was chosen as one of the first for Embarc Collective’s portfolio. Their team is currently working on a new product, which will auto-detect & monitor phones to drastically reduce on-boarding times.

• SaLisa Berrien, founder and CEO of COI Energy — The company has a platform to help businesses and utility companies alike become more energy efficient. Berrien founded the company in 2016 and bootstrapped the company to its first million dollar contract. The company is not only growing in customers and team size, it also most recently represented Tampa Bay at the Accelerator.

• Sourcetoad — The company has grown immensely in 2019, growing from 18 to 30 employees, doubled the number of clients and nominated for the Inc. 5000 list at #1699. SourceToad helps cut the booking time of hotels by 80%, saving clients over $1 million each year. It also has a focus on cruise ships, which has reduced onboard waste and printing on over 70 ships.

• SiteZeus — Since SiteZeus launched their SaaS location intelligence platform in 2016 they’ve signed up some of the world’s most prestigious brands like Burger King, Subway, Kroger, Inspire Brands and Checkers who use the product to determine where they will open new stores. The company uses a self-service artificial intelligence app which provides results in minutes versus months from traditional consultants.

• Mike Bachman, founder and CEO, Preferhired — In its three years, Preferhired has raised $1 million to date in seed money, have over 50,000 users and work with clients such as CVS, Six Flags and Humana. The Tampa-based company is a platform where users can refer their network to companies and jobs for cash.

• Stonehill Innovation — Stonehill is a strategy and innovation firm that focuses on the use of the design thinking framework. The company was founded less than two years ago and has done work with large brands including Valley Bank, Melting Pot, PODS and White and Case. It has been chosen by the United States Chamber as a United States Chamber of Commerce Emerging Business of the Year Finalist, Greater Tampa Chamber Small Business of the Year Finalist, CIO Review Magazine 20 Most Promising Performance Management Provider, and a Great Agencies Top Analytics & Business Intelligence Agency.

Supporters (coworking spaces, VCs, professional services, edu, accelerators, etc.)

• Rachel Feinman, executive director, Florida-Israel Business Accelerator— Feinman has elevated FIBA to an entirely new level.  She was a major part of two delegation trips to Israel in 2019, one leading other local executive and another as a part of Governor Desantis’ delegation. The newest FIBA cohort had most of its companies over $1 million in revenue and she has increased FIBA’s partnering in the community as well. She has become one of the ecosystems main leaders and is bringing companies from the “startup nation” Israel all the way to Florida.

• Tampa Bay Wave — The nonprofit organization has continued to churn out successful companies this past year: its TechDiversity Accelerator, investor network, mentor network and post-accelerator program have all enhanced (or brought!) tech and innovative talent to the ecosystem.

• Tyana Daley, Communications Manager, Embarc Collective — Daley has singlehandedly supported 25 companies in Embarc Collective’s network with marketing needs while also building up the innovation hub’s brand from scratch.

• Daniels Ikajevs, founder of The Ring — The Ring is a shared workspace for entrepreneurs in downtown Clearwater, is the brainchild of Daniels. In addition to being the first eco-friendly coworking space and accelerator in the region, The Ring is working with Harvard to validate the affects of working in a health promoting workplace.

• Synapse — The organization has amped up its “Synapse Challenges” in 2019, which create real results for real business challenges including ConnectWise, Metro Lagoon, Tampa Bay Rowdies and Metropolitan Ministries. It also is launching its first summit outside of Tampa Bay, in Orlando on October 18.

• Blockspaces — BlockSpaces is an organization that aims to educate individuals, startups and enterprises on blockchain technology. It hosts educational workshops and has partnered with several Tampa Bay orgs, including IBM, AgileThought, Synapse and the Tampa Bay Wave.

• Daniel Greco, Managing Parter of Ark Applications —  Greco is the Managing Partner of Ark Applications, which conducted investments in local companies such as PeerFit and Script. Additionally, Dan is also the Chief Operating Officer of Script and has assisted the company during their scaling phase. Within the community, Dan is an active member of the Tampa Bay ecosystem as an Entrepreneur-In-Residence at the University of Tampa’s Lowth Entrepreneurship Center. Greco also serves on multiple boards within the community, such as the executive committee for the Synapse Innovation Summit and serves as the president of the Bayshore Little League.

• Tampa Bay Innovation Center — The Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s program for expanding its services in the Innovation District of Saint Petersburg received a $7.5 million grant from the federal government in 2019, which came alongside a commitment of $4.5 million from Pinellas County and land for a purpose-built innovation center from the city of Saint Petersburg. This move allows the incubator/accelerator programs to be sustainably funded from rents, sponsorships and fees from clients of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center.

• Morgan Hill Partners — Coming to life in 2018, Morgan Hill continues to prove the value in setting a scalable foundation. By licensing its ‘Path-to-Value’ platform to entrepreneurship support organizations, like Embarc Collective, Morgan Hill provides the tools necessary to better serve the startups they work with. It is a pivotal catalyst in the local tech ecosystem, helping to drive value to a variety of innovation participants like startups, accelerators, incubators and investors.

• James Faison, The MainFrame —Faison founded The MainFrame in 2017, which is a nonprofit in Tampa Bay seeking to attack the lack of diversity in tech from a multitude of angles: helping with workforce development, entrepreneurial support, research and creating a funding vehicle.


View the original article here

Leave a Reply