Palm Beach Tech AssociationPalm Beach Tech Association

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Levatas

Business: Levatas helps clients understand, design and deploy artificial intelligence solutions across their enterprises.

HQ: Palm Beach Gardens, moving to West Palm Beach in early 2020

Management Team:

  • Ryan Gay | CEO
  • Chris Nielsen | Founder and Chairman
  • Daniel Bruce | CAIO
  • Brian Dunnam | CTO.

No. of employees: 95 (and poised to hire 50 more)

Website: Levatas.com

Levatas built a strong business by helping companies with their own digital transformations. Now the South Florida tech company is undergoing its own transformation, powered by an intense focus on artificial intelligence.

Let’s let Chris Nielsen explain. He founded the company in his Jupiter garage in 2006.

“Since 2006, we’ve been a digital transformation agency and we helped our clients bring to life their digital tools, their platforms, their data integration, you name it. But in recent years we strategically made this shift to be ready for the era of AI …  The biggest shift around here is that we are developing our own software and becoming more of a software product company than an agency or consultancy.”

Last month in Silicon Valley, at VentureBeat’s 2019 Transform conference, Levatas announced its first product while also discussing on stage how it has been partnering with its client Royal Caribbean to introduce AI and computer vision into its fleet, said Nielsen, chairman of Levatas. Computer vision, a subfield of AI, helps computers “see” objects in digital imagery. Royal Caribbean has begun using it to help it control crowds at ship dining destinations.

CONSULTANCY TO PRODUCT MAKER

 “We have the privilege of working with companies like Royal Caribbean, FPL, OrangeTheory, G4S and Johnson Controls. We have these great clients that we have been delivering AI solutions to and we just felt it was time for us to bring our own product to market …Our long-term goal really was to put our time, our energy, our brainpower, our people, and our passion into a product that we own and can evolve.”

Enter Recon.

It’s a computer vision platform that brings visual AI to life. For example, for a manufacturer with an assembly line or a builder with a construction site, Levatas trains its algorithms to understand productivity levels, spot a defect in a certain part or section or discover a safety concern. “Our algorithms will look through the cameras and analyze the images to make decisions based on safety or productivity. It’s a really cool platform,” Nielsen said.

EXPANDING ITS OFFICE

That’s not all. Levatas is moving its headquarters from Palm Beach Gardens to Rosemary Square (formerly CItyPlace) in West Palm Beach.

The new 16,000-square-foot space, planned to open around April of next year, will be 40 percent bigger than Levatas’s offices in Downtown at the Gardens. It will be in the former home of Revolutions, the bowling center. The space ticked off a lot of boxes: across the street from a Publix, near restaurants and entertainment options, near a world-class hotel (Hilton) and close to the airport.

“For us it was a no-brainer, but the Brightline really pushed us over the edge,” said Nielsen. That’s because Levatas can now hire talent from the Miami and Fort Lauderdale market and it also has a number of clients in those two counties.

 “We are working with some really sharp architects to create a modern space but also one that focuses heavily on productivity and culture. There will be a big space for community events, lunch and learns and happy hours, and because we will be right there in Rosemary Square, we are intending to be open and available to the community at large.”

Perhaps a bowling lane in the new space? “Everyone would love to have it except for the noise and the extreme waste of space.  We are in the design phase now so all the cool stuff is coming to life as we speak.”

50 NEW JOBS COMING

Today, Levatas employs 95 people, and is currently hiring for a computer vision engineer and a senior software engineer. Levatas used to be larger but within the last two years, it broke off two units into separate, autonomous companies – VXIT, an IT company, and 2Ton for branding and marketing.

As soon as Levatas moves into its new space, it will begin hiring about 50 new full-time employees.

“Not only is South Florida and more specifically West Palm Beach home to a thriving AI company but also the industry is thriving and growing,” Nielsen said. “We are excited about the ability to bring more high tech jobs here.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | VXIT

Business: VXIT provides small- and medium-sized businesses with an outsourced IT department.

HQ: West Palm Beach

Management team: Co-founders Paul Vedder, Managing Director; Craig Royston, Director of Technology.

No. of employees: 11

Business growth: 50% to 100% revenue growth every year.

Website: www.vxit.com

VXIT’s core values: Empathy, Big Picture Thinking, Fair Approach, Exceeding Expectations, Balance, Integrity, Intentionality, Communications

 

It typically doesn’t make business sense for small and medium sized companies to staff their own IT departments. That’s where VXIT steps in.

“What we do is provide an entire outsourced IT department to small and medium businesses,” said Paul Vedder, Managing Director of VXIT based in West Palm Beach.

“For a flat monthly fee, they can outsource all of their infrastructure and their day to day technical support to our company. We maintain and manage everything from laptop computers to servers, email systems, phone systems, backups – we do everything.”

Vedder and Craig Royston run VXIT. Together, they have nearly 30 years of experience in the tech industry. Before co-founding VXIT, Vedder was an an IT consultant for the FDIC, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the University of Arkansas and worked in the non-profit space, among other roles. Royston served as a manager of consulting services in New Jersey and studied IT at Rowan University and Chubb Institute.

VXIT, a team of 11 in a fun, modern office near the Grandview Public Market, has grown its annual revenues 50% to 100% every year, while helping its clients grow their own businesses by properly using technology, Vedder said. Clients include Levatas, Ancient Nutrition, Three Natives and other retailers, manufacturing companies and doctor and lawyer offices. “We provide IT services, like help desk support, and maintain all the servers and everything else in the background.”

VXIT HAS BEEN HIRING

In job candidates, VXIT looks for people skills first and foremost. The company also seeks strong technical skills of course but how the candidate will fit in with VXIT’s culture is infinitely more important, Vedder said.

Indeed, the importance of soft skills can’t be underestimated, Vedder added. “I believe I am a successful IT person because I understand people and I also understand the business. You can engineer solutions all day long, but if you forget there is a person sitting behind that screen or keyboard, you will have lost that battle all year long.”

Vedder was born and raised in Palm Beach County. He didn’t graduate from college, and he doesn’t think that’s necessary for people to be successful in tech. However, he believes internships are huge. Nothing beats real world, on-the-job experience, he said.

 “There is a lot of talent in Palm Beach County and I am excited about our future. I love that we live in paradise and that we are in an environment where we can work hard and play hard,” said Vedder, who enjoys boating and hiking and has mastered the unicycle. “It’s a great place to live and to raise kids. The cost of living is increasing but it is still cheaper than a lot of cities.”

GROWING A TECH COMMUNITY

Vedder has been involved with Palm Beach Tech Association since the organization’s founding in 2015.

He has served on the Palm Beach Tech board and is transitioning to the board of 1909, a co-working space, accelerator and mentorship platform in West Palm Beach founded out of Palm Beach Tech. Within Palm Beach Tech, he chairs the IT Member Council, provides IT support to Palm Beach Tech as needed, has helped with hackathons and served on the 1909 planning committee  —  “whatever Joe needs.”

As to 1909, Vedder said, “I am impressed with the community surrounding it that has made it really successful. I‘m excited to dive in more in the coming year, including doing more mentoring.”

Vedder shared this advice for young techies: “Find a good mentor. Learn where your weaknesses are and work on them constantly. Having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset is huge.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Bidtellect

Business: Bidtellect is a performance platform for the content-driven marketer: one platform to execute Native campaigns across all formats and devices including text, imagery, and video with unparalleled scale.

HQ: Delray Beach; offices in Manhattan and San Francisco.

Founded: 2013

Team: John Ferber, Chairman; Lon Otremba, CEO; Jason Boshoff, COO;  Michael Conway, CTO.

No of employees: 60, of which 29 work in the Delray headquarters.

Website: Bidtellect.com

 

Bidtellect was built by pioneers in the advertising technology industry.

The Delray Beach-based technology company was founded by John Ferber. Before digital advertising even existed, he created advertising.com and sold it to AOL in 2004 for about $435 million.

After that, Ferber saw another opportunity in the rapidly evolving digital advertising space: The mounting consumer frustration with banner and popup ads that were proliferating websites.

Ferber started Bidtellect in 2013  to build a cutting-edge programmatic Native advertising display platform, the beginnings of what it is today. He sought out industry veteran Lon Otremba, who led the team at AOL that bought Ferber’s technology years before, to join him in Delray Beach as Bidtellect’s CEO.

Bidtellect is now one of the largest suppliers of Native Ads in the ecosystem, with 10 billion Native auctions daily and access to 58 million distinctly targetable placements across the web, as well as unique optimization capabilities to ensure engagement.

 “Our mission is to be the leading paid content distribution platform which gives marketers one place to distribute their content,” explained Michael Conway, Bidtellect’s CTO, in an interview. “Our differentiator is that we wrote our algorithm so that we optimize the placement of the ad. We don’t waste ad spend for our clients.”

How that works today: In real time bidding, Bidtellect bids on those optimum placements, deciding how to bid and the price to bid based on who will be shown the ad – all that happens within a 100th of a second, Conway said.

“We have transformed Bidtellect in the last two years into one of the best delivery platforms through our machine learning and real time optimization algorithms. We combine our own data and observations of people’s uses as well as third party data targeting and we go head to head with demand-side platforms out there and we continually outpace them and meet our customers’ goals.”

Today, the venture-backed company is a team of 68 with multiple offices around the country serving brands including Microsoft, Toyota, Sony, Hilton and Walgreens. Bidtellect outgrew its Atlantic Avenue offices, so it is now relocating to the former Office Depot headquarters off Congress, a space that is twice as large.

This spring the company completed a massive infrastructure upgrade to meet growing advertiser demand.

“The infrastructure was 5 years old and wasn’t keeping up. We had to do something to survive our trajectory,” Conway said. “We went out and replaced 90 percent of our infrastructure on the fly with a minimum of downtime. We more than tripled our queries per second and 3½X our ability to bid.”

The undertaking took the Bidtellect technology team 32 days of nonstop working, including sleepless nights and 40 hour sprints in which the team would take turns napping. The massive overhaul was completed without interrupting business-as-usual, Conway said, adding that the undertaking was akin to changing four tires on a car while speeding 80 mph on the highway – and not crashing.

The heroic effort by the tech team of 18, including both software and network engineers, didn’t surprise Conway.

“Head to head, we have differentiated ourselves and become a state of the art tech company through our optimization, that’s what we are known for. We have a huge customer retention rate now, and we are stealing money from Facebook and Google and that’s a good thing. I’ve just excited to be down here.”

Conway arrived in May 2017 from AOL in Baltimore, where he was senior director of technology. His community work includes helping Palm Beach Tech and he is also president of the Executive Advisory Committee for FAU’s College of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. It’s an industry board that helps drive the curriculum for what’s needed in the community. Also, Bidtellect and FAU have a sponsored research agreement for R&D on its machine learning algorithms.

“I was pleasantly shocked that there is tremendous opportunity and also tremendous talent coming out of the universities here. That’s why I got involved in Palm Beach Tech and FAU. I think there is nothing but growth here,” said Conway, who added that since he’s arrived he has added five to the tech team and they have all been local hires.

Still, brain drain is a challenge, as students are lured to tech hubs in other parts of the country with better paying salaries. Palm Beach Tech is focused on stemming the tide and is making progress building awareness and supporting the local tech community’s development, he said.

 “We have to make the investment and compete with salaries or other benefits but we also have to continue to grow the tech industry down here to give them more interesting things to do. … Everyone loves the fact that Magic Leap is down in South Florida, but there are so many other great technical firms down here and we just need to make it known.”

 

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | rinehimerbaker

Business: A tech-savvy accounting firm that specializes in outsourced accounting and tax services, typically for a flat monthly fee.

Headquarters: Jupiter

Year founded: 2013

Founders: Neil Rinehimer and Chris Baker

No. of Employees: 12

Website: rinehimerbaker.com

Slogan:  “Play Harder. We’ll Keep Score.”

With new tech tools and software coming onto the market every day, business owners and executives can more efficiently track what’s going on inside their companies in real time and react much more quickly, making better informed decisions and often saving the company time and money in the process.

It’s no different with accounting, and increasingly companies don’t want to wait until the end of the quarter for a full financial picture to come into focus. Decisions need to be made in real time. Yet not all accounting firms are forward-looking and adopting the best of the technologies out there to help their clients. That’s where rinehimerbaker strives to stand out from the crowd.

Zachariah Merschdorf, a senior accountant with rinehimerbaker, says, “We strive to bring accounting into the 21st Century.”

But how?

rinehimerbaker offers outsourced accounting services, also called managed or client accounting services. The firm can handle everything from bookkeeping to controller duties for clients, or a la carte services to fit their needs. It uses the latest cloud technologies to do all that, taking the stress off the client.

 “We can do soup to nuts, from receiving invoices, scanning them and entering them into your system all the way up to CFO-level services,” explained Merschdorf, who also oversees business development for the Jupiter-based firm. “So we can do all of it, or if you have a CFO but missing the bookkeeper staff, or vice versa – you have an accounting staff but missing that CFO piece of it – we can do that as well.”

The firm will set up a company with the latest technologies for efficient, automated input, access and visualization of its data. Merschdorf points out a benefit of outsourced accounting is the team’s experience: “There may be 2,3 or 5 people working on your account and you are getting all our experience … but you are not paying for five employees. We are also a durable solution, we are always there, always on call, we don’t call in sick or quit on you. You don’t have to worry about a disgruntled employee running away with your data.”

rinehimerbaker typically charges a flat monthly fee for services. It employs about 12 accountants. Many of them have Big 4 experience or are experienced accounting managers from Fortune 200 companies.

The firm’s clients typically range from companies with a half million to $50 million in revenue. That includes many hospitality clients such as a franchise restaurant with three locations. rinehimerbaker handles the accounting for the three locations, business tax returns and personal taxes, for example. The firm also services software companies, nonprofits, medical practices and b2b businesses such as a small trucking line.

rinehimerbaker was founded in 2013 by Neil Rinehimer and Chris Baker, who combined their complementary areas of expertise – tax and finance operations.

“Our mantra is doing everything on the latest software, and both partners are very forward thinking. They think about where accounting will be in 10 or 20 years,” Merschdorf said.

Growing businesses look for a solution like rinehimerbaker’s because the service can evolve with the company, he said. “Companies that want to grow and see in the future say ‘I don’t want to see my financials just once a quarter, I want to see real time insights and make decisions with actionable information’.”

Merschdorf is a rare Florida native who was born in Naples and grew up in Tampa. He commends Palm Beach Tech and 1909 because, he says, they get people together who normally wouldn’t convene, promoting community engagement that is important for a growing technology community. “We all bonded with this group that supports tech in the area.”

He says he learns a lot about tech at the events, too.

We want to stay on the edge of what’s going on in the industry because there are so many changes. We use Sage Intacct for our core accounting solution, but we work with dozens of other software [products], such as bill pay automation, payroll automation and others. And we are constantly evaluating what is new out there … to better serve our clients,” Merschdorf said.

“It’s the wild west – there is something new out there every day. You are leveraging our experience.”

Pictured at top of post: Some of rinehimerbaker team members in the Jupiter office, from left, Zachariah Merschdorf, Tonya Lilly, Laney Kneib, Kacey Robinson, and Daniel Olbrych. Other team members work remotely. 

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | USA Recycling Centers

Member Spotlight

Business: full service electronics recycling company for e-waste removal and recycling, ITAD, and onsite data storage device sanitization.

Headquarters: Palm Beach Gardens (and Riviera Beach)

Year founded: 2014

Founder and president: David Palmer

No. of employees: 5 full-time, plus subcontractors for large jobs.

Website: usarecyclingcenters.com

The next generation of internet connectivity, 5G, is expected to be revolutionary, exponentially speeding up tech innovation. But for David Palmer, founder of USA Recycling Centers, it also means electronic waste is also growing exponentially.

 “With a lot more devices becoming smart devices. wired circuit boards will be everywhere. Just throwing that stuff in the garbage can be hazardous to ground water, the environment,” said Palmer, president of USA Recycling Centers. “Everything needs to be handled properly.”

E-waste is already a massive environmental problem.

According to a recent United Nations report, nearly 45 million tons of electronics were tossed out in 2016, but only 20% has been recycled in some way. In the U.S., the rate of recycling is closer to 25%. While that sounds better, it’s not always done in a responsible manner.

Worldwide, the report said, only an estimated 15% of e-waste recycling is done by socially responsible companies.

Count USA Recycling Centers (USARC) as one of those.

Headquartered in Palm Beach Gardens, with a warehouse in Riviera Beach, USARC is a fully certified, full-service electronics recycling company offering e-waste removal and recycling and ITAD (IT Asset Disposition), as well as onsite data storage device sanitization and shredding to ensure complete data privacy.

USARC, which has customers nationwide, services B2B customers including corporations, particularly in the healthcare or finance fields with a lot of sensitive data, smaller companies with technology equipment, government contractors and aviation engineering firms, among others. To expand its territory beyond the Southeastern U.S., USA Recycling Centers also partners with its vetted network of subcontractors.

Palmer, who grew up in Palm Beach County, learned about electronics recycling while he was a concert promoter in California. From time to time, he had to purchase equipment to build stages and began going to swap meets and started reselling recycled electronics. When he decided to move back to Palm Beach County, he started looking to start a new business.

Unlike in California, where there were many recycling companies, locally “at the time there was very little going on in electronics recycling here, so I started a recycling company,” Palmer said.

USARC provides provide environmentally responsible solutions that ensure secure destruction of digital data. “We are physically crushing the hard drives at their facility and logging serial numbers and certifying the destruction has taken place,” Palmer said.

After documenting and sorting all materials, scrap materials are then distributed to its responsible network of certified processing facilities that adhere to the most stringent industry standards, Palmer said. Some of the components or complete working units are refurbished and resold, extending their useful life.

“A lot of what we do is documenting what is happening to the devices – they are either resold or turned into raw materials again for manufacturing. We are very thorough,” he said.

Still, market challenges are many.

 “There are other electronics recyclers that don’t have proper certifications and say that they are recycling but are illegally exporting equipment to foreign countries where labor laws and regulations are a lot different than ours and they have very dirty, toxic waste processing,” Palmer said.

USARC’s mission states, in part: “First and foremost, our commitment to the health of the local and global environment remains paramount.”

And in addition to the massive environmental impact, if the information contained within isn’t properly and thoroughly sanitized before this equipment is discarded, the repercussions can include legal, financial, and public image liabilities for a company or organization. 

In a blog post on USARC’s website, Palmer added: “Identity and intellectual property theft and environmental damage risks are too severe to take chances in this industry. A simple check of a company’s certifications, standards, and protocols, is a great starting point in vetting a vendor and avoiding liability in an environmental incident, as well as legal and financial woes due to sensitive information leakage.” You can find USARC’s certifications here.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Modernizing Medicine

Boca Raton, FL

Business:  Modernizing Medicine creates specialty-specific EHR technology to increase efficiency for physician practices and improve patient outcomes.

Founded: 2010

HQ: Boca Raton; offices in BRIC

No. of employees: 724

CEO: Dan Cane

First employee: Mihai Fonoage, now VP of engineering

Website: modmed.com

 

Fonoage’s advice to young engineers:  “Keep learning, keep growing. Don’t feel bad about setbacks because they are learning experiences. There’s a lot of opportunity to have a meaningful impact  –take advantage of that. Keep dreaming. Keep moving forward.”

Books Fonoage recommends: Drive, by Daniel Pink, and The Oz Principle, by Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman.

It was only a one-hour meeting in a small nondescript Boynton Beach office across the street from a tattoo parlor. But for Mihai Fonoage, Modernizing Medicine CEO Dan Cane’s vision and the startup’s impactful mission were crystal clear and Fonoage knew then – in 2010 – he wanted to be a part of the health-tech startup.

Fonoage was in his fourth year in a PhD engineering program at FAU when he jumped at the chance to join Modernizing Medicine co-founders Cane and Michael Sherling as an intern. Once he graduated, he became their first full-time employee. “I not only got to do what I loved, but I also got to work on something meaningful, something I felt was much bigger than myself where I could truly have an impact.”

Employee No. 1’s first project: developing an application for the just-introduced iPad. As Modernizing Medicine kept outgrowing offices, Fonoage was promoted to oversee mobile strategy and then user experience came under his management umbrella. In 2018, he was promoted to VP of engineering, overseeing all of Mod Med’s application development across multiple platforms.

“I am very blessed to have an amazing team,” said Fonoage, who is from Romania. “We have around 100-plus engineers under product development.” He sees his leadership role as straightforward: “To ensure that our engineers and our products succeed.”

Members of the user-experience (UX) team go onsite with customers to learn their journey and their pain points, he said. “So we build with all those things in mind…. The user is at the center of everything we do… We have a clear mission of making sure what we build for our customers is high value to them and high quality.”

Modernizing Medicine moved into expanded offices at BRIC in Boca Raton this year.

And investing in engineers’ growth makes great products happen. “My days are about making sure our engineers succeed, that they are happy and have what they need.”

But his job is made easier because of the company culture, the same culture he envisioned as Cane described the company vision to him in 2010.

“Openness, transparency, being helpful to each other, experimenting, doing good — those are some of the values that define our culture,” said Fonoage.

Here are some tangible ways Modernizing Medicine works to sustain the culture and develop engineers:

Leadership Book Club: Fonoage and his managers meet to discuss a book once a week. Each person takes a chapter and leads the conversation. “It’s a way for us to learn and grow as well as bond.”

A recent book was Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell, which led to a spirited discussion about when to make rapid decisions and when to step back, he said. Another book studied was Presence by Amy Cuddy, about how our bodies influence our mind and behaviors. Another was the popular leadership book Start with Why, by Simon Sinek.

Lunch and Learn: These are weekly gatherings for the whole engineering team to talk about things they are doing, seeing, reading or experiencing, Fonoage said. Sometimes they are showcasing products or discussing a technical paper, for instance.

Conferences: Modernizing Medicine encourages and supports engineers attending conferences specific to their field. “Then they come back and share in a lunch and learn,” Fonoage said.

An employee places his personal peg on the office’s constellation board that says “We are the future of medicine.”

 

A great culture is also an attraction for new hires, and for the fast-growing Modernizing Medicine (now 724 employees and counting), that’s key: “As they get to learn about our culture [in the interview]  … you see their eyes opening, their face changing, you can see how they see themselves here,” Fonoage said. “The moment you see that, you know that is someone you want to bring them in.”

Beyond the technical requirements of the position, Fonoage looks for engineers who will mesh with the collaborative culture and share its core values. [They are:  Create customer delight; Save time; Innovate boldly, then make things happen; Align passion with purpose; Think big. Have fun. Do good].

“They feel strongly about their craft – they have a passion for it — and want to do something meaningful. We offer as a company all those things,” Fonoage said. “We find the talent we need right here in South Florida.”

Still, the challenge for the region is to ensure there is enough talent for all the needs. “We as a community can do much more to make sure the people who grow up here or go to school here stay here because there are enough opportunities in South Florida. I think there is a very big IT hub here in South Florida and we want to make sure people know about it so they don’t have to go to Austin or Silicon Valley or Boston to get a great job.”

“We have truly amazing universities here. Through the programs and classes they offer, the amount of knowledge students are coming out with is very helpful to us.” Even so, he said, companies could do more to form partnerships with the schools that help enhance the curriculum or the technical exposure.

Enter Palm Beach Tech and the important work it does through its meetups, programs and mentorship.

“Palm Beach Tech helps create the bridge between universities and industry. It has created this community. Once we come together, there is nothing we can’t solve, overcome or make better,” said Fonoage.

Palm Beach Tech arranges speaking engagements at local middle and high school schools, and Fonoage enjoys learning about what the students are doing and sharing why he’s so passionate about STEM. Fonoage is also a board member for the CEECS Department at FAU. In the role, he can make recommendations to the university about curriculums and programming for the future workforce, some of which will likely land at Modernizing Medicine.

“I wake up every day wanting to come to work. It’s certainly a way a lot of us feel about Mod Med,” said Fonoage. ”I am truly grateful.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | SkOUT Secure Intelligence

Business: SkOUT Secure Intelligence provides cybersecurity monitoring for companies of all sizes around the world.

Founded: 2013

No. of employees: About 100

CEO: Aidan Kehoe

Investors: Stephen M. Ross’s RSE Ventures, ClearSky

Website: getskout.com

SkOUT Secure Intelligence provides cybersecurity technology and solutions.  SkOUT combines a proprietary blend of cloud-based technologies and data analytics with extensive customer service to offer accessible, affordable cybersecurity for businesses of all sizes.

The New York-based company has strong Florida ties. It has an office in North Palm Beach, and its co-founder, Lee Noriega, lives in Cape Coral. 

The need is real. Cyber attacks, including phishing, advanced malware and ransomware, are becoming more sophisticated, more targeted and costlier to small and medium sized businesses. According to the 2018 State of Cybersecurity in SMBs Report conducted by Ponemon Institute, in the past 12 months, 67 percent of respondents reported experiencing a cyber attack and 58 percent had a breach involving sensitive information.

SkOUT’s motto: Find trouble before trouble finds you. To help companies do that, its management team consists of experts from both the government and private sector.

Noriega has been hunting down the cyber bad guys since 1982.

At age 22 and in the U.S. Navy,  Noriega was temporarily assigned to a Navy supply center  where he started to play around with its computer.

 “I managed to start breaking in to networks. Once they figured out what I was doing, the Navy wanted to start an organization within the Navy that looked for people who wanted to attack. I pretty much became a nation-state hacker for the military. I did that for 17 years.”  

After that, he worked on a project with the FBI and became an agent, pursuing some of the most prolific hackers of the 1990s. After a few years, he left to work for Nortel Networks overseeing security. When Nortel went Chapter 11 in 2009, he and other experts in the cybersecurity field started a government contracting company and sold it three years later.  Then, after working on a project for the NSA that involved writing software that identified where hackers were coming from worldwide, Noriega had the  opportunity to co-found SkOUT in 2013. “We thought this is the time to build a cyber company.”

The co-founders spent the first 6 months essentially researching the MSSP landscape. “There were a lot of competitors, but there was also a lot of market share – a lot of companies doing nothing,” Noriega said.

At the same time the team was able to spend time with the NSA to see what the government was doing on the prevent and protect side, Noriega said.

“The things we learned about how we should be watching networks for security was really compelling. … You have to see everything on the network, not just a few devices. Malware hides out. MSSPs weren’t doing that.”

SkOUT receives threat intelligence feeds and alerts its customers  of those threats. In addition, everything its customers in 30+ countries experience gets fed into the platform. SkOUT went after the highest credentials, and built its security operations center in 2014.

Said Noriega: “We look at real threats within a network environment based on threat intelligence. But we also look for things that look suspicious within the network and we are asking the hard questions.”

SkOUT found a big opportunity in doing assessments for companies, because they were woefully under-protected. SkOUT gains new business when the news media alerts of another massive breach – and also gets the call when a company has been breached.

 “We are at a point in the cybersecurity industry where there is not enough of the people who work in this industry to stop the hackers. There are 155,000 registered ethical hackers. Times that by 100 nefarious people and that’s probably how many [nefarious] hackers we have to deal with on a daily basis,” he said. “And they are changing the game a lot.”

So how can a smaller company reduce its cyber attack risk without spending a fortune?

“We scan their networks on a continuing basis, we work with them on closing up gaps because most attacks are opportunistic,” Noriega said. “[The attackers] are scanning the network and if they can’t find a hole in 10 minutes they are gone, likes kids in a candy store, to find another candy store. There are too many targets, too little time.”

Another SkOUT feature: a mail-protection filter. Every email is red, yellow or green. Red won’t let you open it.

SkOUT, founded in 2013 with six people, today has about 100 employees. SkOUT’s customers are high net worth executives all the way to very large enterprise customers. In Florida, a few dozen customers include a large Palm Beach hotel to a shipping company in Sarasota. “We can do all their monitoring, assessments, and social media monitoring on the Dark Web.”

There are so many threats out there: from disgruntled employees, amateur cyber criminals, the Dark Web mafia, terrorists …

Noriega’s message to companies: Start somewhere. Start with software patching and awareness training and build from there.  “We sell through education, a lot of people don’t realize what their risk is.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Locke Lord

Business: Locke Lord is a full-service corporate law firm with global reach of 20 offices designed to meet clients’ needs around the world.

West Palm Beach office established: 1983

Partner John Igoe’s specialties: startups, venture capital firms, private equity firms

Igoe’s advice to startups: Organizational discipline is critical from the start.  Choosing the right structure and coordinating those structural decisions with the lawyers and  accountants is also very important.

 John Igoe, a corporate lawyer and partner at Locke Lord, has been representing venture capital firms and startup companies his entire law career. He’s also a longtime board member of the nonprofit Florida Venture Forum, a statewide member-based organization for the private equity, venture capital and angel community.

“A lot of my practice is working with startup companies from the very beginning, helping them raise capital and then helping them with a merger and acquisition transaction when it gets to an exit,” said Igoe, who began practicing in 1981 in Providence, RI, and moved to Palm Beach County in 1983.

Igoe has been recognized as a Top Lawyer in the South Florida Legal Guide from 2010 to 2019 in the area of private equity. He has been named a Florida Super Lawyer by Law & Politics Magazine each year since 2006.

Igoe has seen it all. Among his clients are a wireless equipment venture and a medical imaging device company that he helped all the way through IPO. A discussion with Igoe about the South Florida entrepreneurship scene is a discussion about promise, progress and growth.

“When I moved to Florida in 1983 when my firm opened an office here, there were only a handful of VC firms and there were virtually zero organized angel groups. That has changed for the better. Today there are a significant number of organized angel investment groups focused on investing in startup companies – New World Angels, Florida Funders, Deepwork Capital, Arsenal Ventures and many more.”

“A lot of these startup funds and angel groups collaborate with each other,” he said. “The good news is this is productive collaboration, and if you get one group interested in your startup, they could bring other groups along and increase the size of the financing.”

To be sure, the biggest challenge for startups remains raising capital. “What startup companies really need to do is find a way to get customers in order to start generating revenue as soon as you can. Prospective investors look at you so much differently if you have found a path for generating revenue. It’s validation of the idea, validation of the business model. Until that, you are really just a science project. “

While getting to revenue and raising capital are two big challenges, another may be conveying the right message to investors, he said. He sees this a lot: In pitches, startups will say it’s an $x-billion market and all we have to do is grab 1%.

“Investors can’t stand that, like it’s just going to happen by magic. I tell my clients you have to show your investors that you have a strategic marketing plan, a path for generating revenue and acquiring customers.”

Is Palm Beach County the place to raise a startup? He’s bullish.

“It’s always a challenge when people say it is easier to raise money in Silicon Valley and I am just going to move my company there. I have seen this work for some companies, but that’s depressing to me when it happens. I think there is enough of an ecosystem here now and we are starting to generate enough talent for whatever a company needs,” said Igoe. “The Palm Beach Tech Association has done a terrific job of pulling all the various constituents together and they have created a lot of awareness of resources in the county for startups companies.”

Igoe previously chaired the VC Committee for Palm Beach Tech and continues to serve on the committee. They have been working on a matching grant program and a resource about investment groups.

Locke Lord has sponsored Florida Venture Forum since the Forum’s early days. Back then, it hosted events in South Florida where companies presented their business plan to a relatively small audience — “kind of an early shark tank but more polite.” Said Igoe, who serves on the Forum’s board of directors and executive committee.

The Forum evolved into a statewide organization that hosts two annual major conferences – the Florida Venture Capital Conference and the Early Stage Capital Conference — as well as co-sponsors smaller events around the state. The conferences typically feature up to 20 presenting companies as well as  panel discussions,  keynotes and of course excellent networking opportunities.

Igoe and Locke Lord Partner Jon Cole pushed for the addition of the Early Stage Capital Conference 12 years ago because they saw a need for a separate conference that would showcase early stage startups. “We paid for the first one, and it has been steadily increasing in size almost every year. You could probably couple the growth of the conference with the growth of startup funds,” Igoe said.

This year, the conference included some startups at earlier stages than it had in the past. “It’s kind of back to the roots of 30 years ago when we were featuring startups. We had evolved away from that, to companies with revenue, but with all the startup funds around the state now it seemed like a good idea to go back to our roots and include pure startups and seed stage as well as early-stage companies.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Palm Beach Software Design

Business: A full-service software design and development firm that specializes in ERP systems, CRM, workflow management and document control.

Headquarters: Boynton Beach

Year founded: 1987

No of Employees: 11

Website: palmbeachsoftwaredesign.com

Secret to success: “Integrity and good communication and the ability to do what we say we will do. We always cross the finish line. Always,” said founder and President Mark Turkel.

In 1984, Mark Turkel, a straight A student, dropped out of college to take a job at a computer company. He worked his way up the ladder and then started his own company in Miami, called New Wave Computing, a few years later. In 1997, he moved the company to Palm Beach County and renamed it Palm Beach Software Design.

Palm Beach Software Design creates custom software solutions and applications for cloud, mobile and desktop for all sizes of businesses and organizations. Some of its clients include Fran Tarkenton, the NFL Hall of Famer, the Association of Mechanical Engineers in New York, the Diabetes Coalition of the Palm Beaches and the St. Lucie Department of Health.

 “Our niche here is that nobody writes software specifications as well as we do. We write world class spec and we have never failed a project in 30-plus years,” said Turkel, who is president and senior software architect.

Through the years, the boutique full-service software design firm has navigated a changing marketplace, including competition from cheap labor.

“We’ve grown and matured and because of the changing times we have had to switch to a hybrid where we have software developers in on our office doing analysis, architecture, design, QA and programming, but we also work with an overseas team in Europe that handles some of our heavy duty programming so we can offer a better price to our clients.” said Turkel. 

As a boutique firm, Palm Beach Software Design works off referrals. “All our staff are senior people whether it is project managers, developers or C-level people. We are all highly experienced and gray haired,” said Turkel, adding that some of his clients have been with the company for 15 or 20 years.

Still, he said, finding talented, responsible developers who really want to work is a challenge.

 “We find them in Palm Beach County but it is getting harder and harder. We are always looking for .Net developers. We are looking for seasoned senior developers that follow our philosophy of taking really good care of our clients.”

Turkel said he also seeks team members with excellent written and oral communications and the ability to understand clients’ needs and how their businesses run. “We all walk around with a lot of pride – we all love what we do.”

In the last couple of years, Turkel has created a couple of spinoff companies for software packages that Palm Beach Software Design wrote, sometimes partnering with clients and sometimes going solo.

For instance, with a company called Mend, Palm Beach Software Design has created Mend Learning and Mend is marketing the learning management system. There’s also Branded-pix, a 99 cent app that lets you seamlessly merge your logo onto your picture, and it copyrights your picture – ideal for posting anything on social media with your information or message. “Brandedpix.com – it’s kind of what snapchat does but it’s for business people and professionals who want to do marketing and not just put puppy dog faces on people,” Turkel said.

“We have also partnered with a company called The Jazoma Plan, and we produce both the software and a hardcover book that allows people to record their personal and family information in case something should happen to them.”

Turkel’s newest venture is called Palm Beach Creative Design with partner Rick Romano, who created the original Yahoo logo. The company will do web/UX development, digital marketing, digital imaging, and print media, he said. 

Turkel is bullish on the outlook for Palm Beach County, encouraged by the space programs ramping up again, which should bring more aerospace opportunities. “We are also excited the growth of the colleges and everything else going on, and looking forward to having a bigger resource pool in Palm Beach County soon. I feel like the economy is getting stronger.”

Turkel recently put together a business group of C-suite business owners and decision makers called the Elite Breakfast. They meet once a month on a social basis in the evening, and once a month for breakfast on a more formal level with a program and speakers.

 ”It’s a different kind of networking, much higher level and more relaxed, because everyone is in the same boat. At our meetings, I encourage people to talk openly about our businesses because we are not going to improve ourselves if we don’t.”

Turkel’s advice to business owners and aspiring tech entrepreneurs: “Cross the finish line by all means. Make sure you are going to do what you said you’d do and have pride in the work you put out.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | BRIC

What is BRIC? Boca Raton Innovation Campus, on the former site of IBM

Developer: Crocker Partners LLC, a Boca Raton-based real estate company

Website: workatbric.com (check out the events page)

Address: 4920 Conference Way North, Boca Raton

Home to: 36 companies and organizations so far, and counting

Coming soon: $28 million renovation of Amenity Corridor

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, IBM’s research & development campus in Boca Raton bustled with innovation.

The huge office building housed several firsts, most notably as the place where the world first personal computer was invented by Philip “Don” Estridge and his IBM team and introduced to the world in 1981.

It was also home to the first smartphone, Simon, and it was said to be the place where Bill Gates made his notorious licensing deal, licensing his operating system to IBM instead of selling it to them so he could license it to others and become Microsoft. The building itself, featuring a Y-shaped design by architect Marcel Breuer, was considered an engineering marvel for its day when it opened in 1970 and was designed to withstand a Cat-5.

That’s what made the purchase of the office complex in 2018 so special, said Giana Pacinelli, marketing director of Crocker Partners, a commercial real estate company headquartered in Boca Raton. Last April, Crocker purchased the 1.7 million square foot property, which had been expanded over the years and had changed hands a couple of times since IBM sold the property in 1996. It’s now called BRIC, the Boca Raton Innovation Campus.

Crocker has big plans for BRIC as it welcomes today’s new wave of technology innovators.

“Our goal is to take that past and bring it into the future so the campus continues to be a place where innovation happens,” said Pacinelli, adding that the giant office park is now home to 36 companies and organizations, including corporate and regional headquarters.

“We want to make it a destination, not just for the organizations that work on the campus but a destination for the entire community to enjoy, which is why we are partnering with Palm Beach Tech. We are hosting a lot of programming on campus. We have a program board of 11 community leaders that helps us put together programs. We partner with TedX Boca Raton to do speaking events on campus.”

Over the next year or so, BRIC’s Amenity Corridor will undergo a $28 million renovation. The renovated section will  include a STEAM Lab equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters and other equipment. Tenants can rent it out and BRIC will also house programming there for local organizations and schools. Hungry? There will be a food hall with seven  restaurants open to the public and a 1,200-seat dining hall that can also serve as a presentation hall. Also planned is a wellness center with an onsite nurse, two coffee shops and a co-working space. “It’s exciting times for us,” Pacinelli said.

Already, there are inviting outdoor spaces to work or relax, with miles of walking and bike paths, a conference center that can seat up to 400 where events are now held and a fitness center tenants can use. With the renovation will come special studios for yoga, pilates and the like.

Health-tech company Modernizing Medicine relocated its headquarters – and its more than 800 employees – to BRIC in January. BRIC is also home to MobileHelp, MDVIP, Transunion, BlueGreen Vacations and Shoes for Crews, among others. “We are the largest single office facility in the state. … We’ve been moving very quickly,” said Pacinelli.

 “Boca Raton has been Crocker’s home for years. We helped build Mizner Park and Crocker Center – we’ve been around for over 35 years. We want to make this a special place where we can bring technology companies and jobs and really just revitalize the area. The property, when IBM housed it,  was a very closed off, very secretive space, but now we want to open it up to the community.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Improving

Business: a full stack IT consulting company

Background: Improving’s West Palm Beach office was formerly part of Innovative Architects, an IT consulting company acquired by Improving in January.

Services: cloud strategies, interactive design, custom development, integration services, strategic consulting, collaborative solutions, data engineering, agile training and coaching.

West Palm Beach office: 324 Datura St., Suite 300

No. of employees: more than 400 in 10 offices

The name is Improving now, but you may know this technology consulting business better as Innovative Architects.

Innovative Architects was founded in 2005 by five people in Atlanta who believed IT consulting could be better in every way. Five years ago, the company expanded into Washington DC and about two years ago it opened a West Palm Beach office. By the end of 2018, it had grown into a $27 million IT consulting business of 140 people, most of them based in Atlanta. Along the way, it has been honored as a top place to work by the Atlanta Journal Constitution and on Fortune’s Greatest Places to Work among small technology companies.

In January, Innovative Architects was acquired by Dallas-based Improving, a company of more than 400 consultants now with 10 offices around North America. Both companies shared a commitment to building trust, delivering excellence and cultivating culture, Improving said in announcing the acquisition. With Innovative Architects on board, Improving expects to grow to $100 million in revenues this year.

“A lot of people still know us as IA — we still think of ourselves of IAers,” said Tim Shine, CIO of Improving’s West Palm Beach office who worked for IA for eight years. “Slowly but surely we are making that transition.”

Shine grew up in South Florida and went to college at FAU. After college he moved to Georgia and eventually joined Innovative Architects. When it grew and opened a West Palm office, he and his family jumped at the chance to make the move back to Florida.

Downtown West Palm Beach’s Improving office on Datura is small – about 6 consultants now – but mighty. The office’s clients include SMArtXChange, the Downtown Development Authority, Velocity Credit Union in Palm Beach Gardens, and NASA, to name a few. The office plans to hire about four more associates this year, and will likely be seeking a larger office.

“We can do a lot of different things. Any IT project across the board we can fit into – web development, mobile development, data visualization, collaboration or intranet development. We have other special services like CIO as a service and cloud based development. Start to finish or no matter where a project is, we can fit into and help accelerate that,” Shine said.

More clients are seeking data visualization for interactive business intelligence reporting and cloud-based services remain very popular. A year ago the office may have gotten one call a quarter about AI and machine learning, but now calls come in weekly about that, he said.

Although West Palm Beach is completely different from Atlanta, which has more of a technology hub, the local area benefits from a rich tri-county metro that includes the larger Fort Lauderdale and Miami areas. However, West Palm is special on its own, Shine said.

“What we love about West Palm Beach is the community effect. We love working with clients who become partners and we can help them move forward with their IT strategic goals. We love being part of Palm Beach Tech because we get to know these guys and we love helping them along the way.”

Indeed, one of its clients, SMArtX, is across the street. Another is a block away. It’s not difficult to meet for coffee or chat at an event, Shine said.

“We are a culture-driven organization. Having happy associates and consultants matter to us, it near and dear to our hearts. That work-life balance is real to us. We love presence. We love meeting people and doing business face to face. Maybe a little old school but we have been extremely successful at it.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Office Depot

Business: A leading B2B integrated distribution company providing business services and supplies, products and technology solutions.

HQ: Boca Raton

Beginnings: Launched in 1986 with a single store in Fort Lauderdale

No. of stores today: 1.350

Tech Team: 450 people

Robots and automation. Hundreds of real-time applications. Co-working spaces. Internal hackathons and an “Innovation Week.”

At the heart of much of the transformation of Office Depot from an office supplies retailer to a business services company is a IT team of about 450 people.

“One of the great things about my role is I enable [taking] business strategy to reality by using the latest tech. I truly love my job. Working in a retailer is an extremely interesting one because we need to transform and that’s what [Office Depot CEO] Gerry Smith is doing — his whole strategy is to transform the business from a retail based business to a digital services business… and he’s had success with that,” said Andrew Parry, VP of IT, Application Development and Support, who works in Office Depot’s Boca Raton headquarters. “60% of our business is digital now. It’s business to business.”

Parry’s team, about 200 employees, develops and maintains more than 400 applications, essentially all of the applications for Office Depot.

“We have multiple websites, multiple customer facing apps, mobile apps, retail stores … It’s all a real-time enterprise. When someone buys in a retail store I know not to sell it online for in-store pickup – the omni-channel just works and we spend a lot of time making these applications real time,” said the British-born Parry, who joined Office Depot in 2003 as part of an acquisition. He has lived in South Florida since 2006.

“Within IT we have so many roles,” he continued. “We are investing a lot in modernizing user interfaces. Also automation – we are in a wonderful world right now where the tools are available to us to do automation in a big way.”

A part of that is through CompuCom, a company Office Depot acquired in late 2017 that provides IT services to many organizations.

“We are having huge success with integrating those services to our customers. There’s tech services, building, automation services. Services has been doubling year over year, and that’s been awesome,  and moves us  away from selling traditional office products to providing real value add services to our customers. Sticky services.”

A big innovation within the company is its Workonomy platform, which offers comprehensive business services married with “human touch” expertise to small- to medium-sized business customers. This includes in-store tech service kiosks, self-service print and copy kisosks, pack and ship services in store and online, and most recently co-working.

Office Depot opened its first ever integrated co-working space within a retail location in California last year, and recently announced Workonomy Hub openings in Texas and Chicago. Customers can buy membership plans to use the modern in-store coworking spaces, including private offices, dedicated desks and conference rooms, all with access to mailing, shipping, marketing, printing, concierge and tech support services.

“It’s not like any Office Depot you have seen before in your life,” Parry said.

And then there’s Office Depot’s recently announced partnership with Alibaba that aims to connect its 10 million small business customers with the Chinese e-commerce giant’s 150,000 global suppliers to better serve the needs of its small to medium-sized businesses.

“Alibaba is a very exciting opportunity for Office Depot … there is a lot of opportunity. We are right in the beginning of this relationship, and I am looking forward to seeing that come to fruition,” Parry said.

Closer to home, Parry says he learns a great deal by being involved in the Palm Beach Tech community.

“We hosted Palm Beach Tech community hackathon in October here on site and doing the same again this year. It was a great success. We actually hired some of the talent and I’ve kept in touch with a number of the winners.”

Leveraging what it learned from the community event, Office Depot plans to do an internal hackathon in addition to another community hackathon, Parry said.

“We have 40,000-plus employees and they all have great ideas. We have an Innovation portal – an idea collection site, if you will  – and a number of them lend themselves to a 24- or 48-hour sprint to develop them through a hackathon-like event. We will wrap around that a whole Innovation Week to really show our people the art of the possible. If they can see what is possible, they can see what they can change about what they do for the better of Office Depot.”

Office Depot’s first Innovation Week will be in June; the root of this came from listening to what others are doing in Palm Beach Tech, he said. “That was the seed that made this grow.”

For the upcoming Innovation Week for its employees, Office Depot Invited in top companies to show their innovative tech, Parry said. “But also we have some great tech that goes on within Office Depot; for example, CompuCom has a building automation platform. Building automation is a big area – think switching on and off lights, the environment, security, panic buttons – and we will showcase all that. We will showcase what we are doing with our robots in warehouses – they are pretty cool, actually.”

He said he learned some different agile development best practices and strategies from the Palm Beach Tech community, and it goes both ways. During a meetup Office Depot hosted, Parry talked about the company’s success moving data warehouse platforms to Snowflake, a Silicon Valley SaaS company, and now other companies are using Snowflake too.

Parry says it’s important for him to get out into the community,

“I love going to meetups in Palm Beach Tech and talking to people outside of my environment to get new perspectives on things. I am always meeting interesting people. I love that. It lets me see different ways of doing things and bring that back to Office Depot and I can think about different trends going on in the market that maybe we weren’t thinking about here.

“I’m most impressed with the bench strength of the tech in Palm Beach County.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Back Office

Business: Automated bookkeeping platform for small businesses

HQ: West Palm Beach

Number of employees: 12 and hiring

Year founded: 2018

Co-founders: Felix Rodriguez, Glenny Rodriguez and Edwin Mejia

Website: backoffice.co

Fresh off a successful 500 Startups Demo Day, Back Office, which created an automated bookkeeping platform for small businesses, announced last week that it raised $1.8 million in seed financing to fund its growth. The round was led by Active Capital, and included PlugNPlay Ventures and angels from San Francisco, New York, Boston and Florida.

For this young startup, the funding news was another key milestone in a year marked by building, learning and rapid growth.

Back Office was co-founded by Felix Rodriguez, Glennys Rodriguez and Edwin Mejia in early 2018 and is based in West Palm Beach. The startup helps small- to medium-sized businesses by automating their accounting and finances, typically cutting accounting expenses in half and saving business owners at least 20 hours a month, the company said.  “We just take it off their hands,” said Felix Rodriguez, CEO.

The team will use the capital to expand operations, enhance its technology and add complementary tools to help small businesses succeed.

Felix and his co-founders have three exits under their belts. Their first tech company helped small businesses with their web presence and grew to 50 people and about 3,000 customers when they sold it.  “We’ve been building technology businesses ever since … but at the end of the day, the thing that kept coming back and was a core part of every business was having a good set of books.”

Yet for small companies, bookkeeping is intimidating, stressful and time consuming – and that’s where Back Office comes in. “We automate bookkeeping and allow business owners to see how they are doing all in an easy to use platform which saves businesses time and money,” added Glennys Rodriguez.

When Back Office was selected for the highly competitive 500 Startups Accelerator in Silicon Valley, as one of 20 companies in Batch 24, it had about 50 customers. By the completion of the accelerator, the company had close to 300 customers, said Felix. “We were getting as many new customers per month as it took us the whole first eight months. It was crazy growth and it was just the three of us — we had to quickly hire, we had to hire people over Christmas” for Back Office’s West Palm Beach office.

Said Mike Sigal, partner at 500 Startups Fintech Fund: “We liked Back Office from our first conversation with them, but were quite frankly surprised – and thrilled – with the ramp up of marketing, sales and customer service performance they were able to receive during our program.”

The team moved out to San Francisco for five months for the accelerator, and then moved back. “South Florida is a great place to build a company with an immense untapped talent pool here,” Felix said. “I just don’t think we have the [investment] support system yet.”

During the fund-raising process, Felix sent a letter to Active Capital, a seed fund that invests in B2B SaaS companies like his.

“It was a cold email, a really good email — he had a lot of credentials and in his reach-out to me he did a very good job of painting the picture of why we would be a good fit together,” said Pat Matthews, founder of the San Antonio-based venture fund. “We traded emails and I went out there to meet the team and we all hit it off.”

Matthews is the co-founder and former CEO of webmail.us, an Inc 500 B2B company that sold to public company Rackspace in 2007. With Active Capital, Felix said: “It was not just the money. It’s was like here’s how we did it and here’s how we can teach and leverage what we know to help you build the company.”

Added Matthews: “Back Office is solving a big problem for a huge market, their execution so far has been amazing and I really look for entrepreneurial teams that have made a lot of traction without a lot of capital. They also at the same time have stayed very focused and built the core of the business without trying to do too much. … I think they have the makings of something great here.  It’s time to scale the company up.”

Back Office has about 12 employees now in West Palm and is in a hiring mode. “I think we will be at 20 in the next month,” Felix said.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | LexisNexis Risk Solutions

Business:  LexisNexis Risk Solutions provides customers with solutions and decision tools to assist them in evaluating and predicting risk and enhancing operational efficiency.

Local campus: Boca Raton

Parent company: RELX, based in the United Kingdom

No. of employees: In Boca Raton: 643; globally: 6,166

Website: Risk.LexisNexis.com

 

As the technology industry looks for ways to attract more women into its careers, perhaps it should pay more attention to what LexisNexis Risk Solutions is doing.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions provides customers with solutions and decision tools that combine public and industry specific content with advanced technology and analytics to assist them in evaluating and predicting risk and enhancing operational efficiency. Its Boca Raton offices employ more than 600 people.

It doesn’t surprise Lisa Simmons, VP of Technology for LexisNexis Risk Solutions in Boca Raton, that 51 percent of Boca’s workforce and 25 percent of its development team are women.

”It’s an amazing company to work for. We promote from within. There are two tech [career] paths – manager-director-vice president, my path, or you can be an individual contributor on the path to become an architect,” she said.

“We move people around. If you’ve proved yourself in IT, and you want a developer position, we will do that. We allow you to learn and we teach on the job.”

Simmons’ LexisNexis career spans 20 years but her interest in technology reaches back to high school, when she talked her parents into buying her an early home computer – a TI-99 – and she started writing games. “I had a passion for programming since then. It’s in my blood. I am proud to say both of my children are in the field,” said Simmons, who majored in the computer information systems.

Simmons started her career at LexisNexis Risk about 20 years ago, first as a developer and then began managing developers. In 2004 she became VP of product development and ran public records system. “Accurint is my baby — I brought it up and made the product what it is today. I am very proud of that,” she said.

Today, as VP of technology, Simmons leads all of the company’s development of its products and technology for the government side of the business.

In order to attract more women into technology, outreach in the community is key, and LexisNexis Risk Solutions is very active.

“We have events all the time,” said Simmons. “We do a lot with middle schools, high schools and FAU.” said Simmons, noting that one of the women she recruited right out of FAU five years ago is already on her way to becoming a software architect.

One of LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ programs is Tomorrow’s Technologists, a free computer science/STEM initiative that LexisNexis Risk Solutions funds and hosts in events around the country. On Jan. 16, LexisNexis Risk Solutions kicked-off its technology education initiative with “She IS Tomorrow’s Technologist” — a free event held in Boca Raton that focused on educating young women about the advantages of pursuing a career in technology. More than 50 female high school and college students attended the event featuring female executives from LexisNexis Risk Solutions, including Simmons.

LexisNexis Risk Solutions also hosts programs for children on the autism spectrum. It does events with iRISE2, which is part of Florida Atlantic University. The camp and mentoring program helps help students with autism and other related disabilities develop skills in the field of technology, as well as provides coaching on resume creation and interviewing.

In another program, Simmons said, “middle school students come to our engineering conference and demonstrate what they have done in robotics. This past year they started doing agricultural robotics. They get to know Lexis, they get to know technology and the opportunities here.” 

Simmons lauded the company’s CARES program, in which the company gives two additional paid days off to employees to support the community in many different ways. She said other benefits include flexible hours, stock option purchases and an excellent bonus program. “If the company does well, every single employee of LexisNexis Risk Solutions gets a bonus.”

“It’s amazing how [Palm Beach County] has grown up into a big tech sector,” said Simmons. “It is very hard to find talent because … we have some of the most amazing companies right here in the tri-county area, We have all these companies drawing from the same pool of people so we need more.”

Software developers need to be dedicated and “the logic background needs to be with you,” said Simmons, whose mother would take five 30-piece puzzles and throw all the pieces together and at age 5 Simmons would do them all.

To be a good leader, the number one quality is integrity, she said. “You need to be a great manager, of course, you have to be able to work through all kinds of good and bad. But without integrity it doesn’t really matter if you are good at managing.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | SAMA Labs

Business: E-commerce marketing agency

HQ: Boca Raton

Websites: SAfishing.com, alphadefencegear.com, sama-labs.com

Founder: Thomas DeSernia

No. of employees: 150

Secrets to success: Believing in the people who work for you and allowing them to be creative and have their free range of motion, said DeSernia, adding that persistence and hard work are also important attributes.

Thomas DeSernia started an e-commerce company out of his bedroom with 50 T-shirts and an Instagram account in 2013 and turned it in to what it is today – an outdoor lifestyle brand.

Through SA Company, headquartered in Boca Raton, consumers can purchase apparel, gear and accessories for fishing, hunting, boating and other outdoor activities. DeSernia also launched Alpha Defense Gear, a brand selling military-themed outdoor wear, and because of the company’s success marketing products – that Instagram channel now has a million followers — DeSernia also started a marketing company called SA Marketing, or SAMA.

This year, DeSernia was named to Forbes’ prestigious 30 under 30 for his success in the retail and ecommerce sectors.

His entrepreneurial story started while he was in dental school. DeSernia had already graduated from Nova Southeastern with a business degree and from Florida Atlantic University with a degree in biology.

But while she was supposed to be studying dentistry, DeSernia found he was always thinking about what he could invent and patent. He invented an accessory for fishing that protected the bottom of a fishing rod so it wouldn’t scar the deck of a boat. But he knew very little at the time about branding and marketing and the product did not sell.

But as DeSernia learned more about social media, he opened an Instagram account  and put his first T-shirt up. Salt Armour, the name of the company then, received about 10 orders that day and that marked the birth of the company. “At that point I knew this was what I wanted to do.”

Goodbye dentistry.

With a strong social media following, the company began expanding its product lines and selling all over the country. It changed its name to SA Company in 2015. “We believed Salt would not resonate with users in Middle America that were into hiking or hunting.”

So what started as an outdoor apparel company became a lifestyle brand as accessories and other consumer products were added, including a website for military-style apparel. Because SA Company owns its own manufacturing facilities (all in Boca Raton) and sells completely online, it is able to sell at better quality and more affordable prices than competitors, the company says.

“So we took the inception of one product, grew the brand to a successful e-commerce business, diversified the e-commerce, and then we saw that we had this unique opportunity and the talent to do marketing that also helped other companies. And that became our marketing agency,” DeSernia said.
SAMA calls itself the anti-agency.

SAMA is now also launching an incubator for entrepreneurs and private equity fund.

 “It’s a little of everything now,” DeSernia said, admitting it wasn’t a premeditated business model. “It’s about a passion for helping people. I’m a big believer in positive energy.”

SA Company has never raised capital; it is self-funded. It has been growing at a double digit rate since inception, DeSernia said. The company is hiring about 12 to 15 people a month – everything from fulfillment to graphic design, video editing, creative directing, digital marketing, research and development, sourcing, merchandising and logistics.

“A lot of people say to build a technology-based company in Southeast Florida is difficult because of the talent pool, but I think the talent pool here is amazing,” DeSernia said. “People are much more loyal, much more passionate. Being sunny 350 days of a year is really important for overall morale. We may not be a big tech community but I think we are disruptive in our own way.”

Growing into other similar direct-to-consumer markets and investing more into SA Company’s people and infrastructure are business goals for this year.

Longer term, DeSernia plans to continuously diversify SA Company, mirroring the Berkshire Hathaway model. “That’s the goal — so my children’s children and hopefully my employees’ children’s children can one day work in the same organization.”

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