Palm Beach Tech AssociationPalm Beach Tech Association

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Garden of Life

Business: A health and wellness company specializing in science-based, Certified USDA Organic and Non-GMO Project Verified nutrition. The company offers more than 330 branded supplements.

HQ: Palm Beach Gardens

Founded: July 2000

No. of employees: nearing 300 nationwide

President: Brian Ray

Website: gardenoflife.com

 

Garden of Life, a health and wellness company, was founded in 2000 in a garage. Today, the Palm Beach Gardens-based company employs nearly 300 and is the market leader in nutritional supplements.

“We develop, formulate, sell and market nutritional products. We also develop health and wellness content and publish a quarterly magazine for people who are trying to get or stay healthy,” said Matthew Cousins, part of the sales team in the company’s eTail division.

“In the earliest days we sold probiotics to practitioners and we grew from there. We developed into the top brand in every health food store nationally,” explained Cousins, who joined the company in 2002. “And it all started right here in Palm Beach County.”

The health and wellness industry is very fragmented, but Garden of Life is the market leader with nearly 11 percent market share and that’s across a number of popular categories such as probiotics, protein, multivitamins, and most recently CBD, he said. The company is also the leader in certifications, such as Certified Organic, non-GMO Verified and Dual Certified.

Leveraging eCommerce Technology

Christy Poe, Garden of Life’s Senior Director of IT, joined the company in 2014, when the company numbered just over 100 people. At the time, the tech team was just four people.

Now her tech team is 15 strong, yet still lean and mean, and Poe also contracts with local tech companies for projects as needed. “It’s is not a place for a lot of bureaucracy or a lot of formal heavy project management. The company moves very quickly. We bring in two new product lines a year and extensions of product lines so you can imaging the innovation required,” she said.

The tech team, an Oracle shop, support 11 different departments. The challenge is trying to get the right skills sets to keep up with a fast-moving business, said Poe. For example, the team recently opened a warehouse to pack and ship its CBD products, a new line for the company, she said. “We had 12 weeks to do it – we had to put in network wireless, scan guns, scales, etc., and it is usually a 6-month project. Some companies would take that long just to decide what they are going to do.”

Before joining Garden of Life, Poe worked at Office Depot for 15 years in a variety of IT roles. In the last role there, she worked with the PMO doing test management and capital planning in IT. It was a good stepping stone for coming to a smaller company. “I had never done the infrastructure side and it’s been great. The company is very supportive, it is not a company where IT is in the back — we try to stay business relevant.”

And a small team has to be scrappy. “Sometimes it’s kind of sink or swim, we have to figure it out. We are doing a supply chain project now we haven’t done before. You just dig in and learn it,” Poe said.

Building a Team

In hiring, in addition to technical skills, Poe looks for the willingness and ability to learn and interact with people well as well as communication skills. “We like to hire recent college graduates who are hungry and eager to make a difference.“

“We used to say it was hard to source IT talent, but that is changing and Palm Beach Tech has been able to make that more visible,” Poe added. “There are a lot of skilled workers, you just have to look for it – you don’t have to go to Fort Lauderdale or Miami.”

The benefits package is an attractor as well, including gym memberships, an in-house gym and time on the clock to do healthy activities. The company also brings in free, healthy lunches three days a week. And then there is the famous slide …

A good culture starts at the top, said Cousins. “It starts with strong healthy leaders, and it is expected from the top down that we are going to connect with each other and treat one another with respect.”

Garden of Life President Brian Ray recently announced four new holidays, and time off includes school holidays to help working parents. He sends out company-wide emails asking people “what stresses you?” Because many said laptops were not working optimally, that led to a refresh across the board.

“It’s a very flat company, leadership is very involved in all aspects of the company,” she added. “And it’s a very healthy culture – you don’t bring in McDonald’s, you don’t bring in donuts.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | PeakActivity

Business: PeakActivity partners with enterprises to deliver digital marketing and technology tailored to create outcomes that matter the most to growing their businesses.

Headquarters: Boynton Beach

Management team: Manish Hirapara, CEO; Scott Earnest, COO;  Paresh Hirapara, CTO; Daryl Long, Creative and User Experience; Alison Riveira, eCommerce and Optimization; Scott Townsend, Partnerships and  Business Development; Robin Dimond, Social Commerce.

Team members: about 100 (including contractors)

Website: peakactivity.com

 

For the past four years, CEO Manish Hirapara and his team have been building PeakActivity into a technology solutions provider that now employs about 100 people. The Boynton Beach-based company was recently honored  as a top Florida Company to Watch by GrowFL, a statewide economic development initiative to support growing second-stage businesses.

“PeakActivity is a collective of great individuals  – dreamers, thinkers, marketers, designers, technologists – and our goal is we want our customers to take advantage of the digital economy,” Hirapara explains. “We do that by partnering with them and figuring out how to create outcomes that will impact their business in a positive way, oftentimes when it comes to revenue growth.”

How does the company do that? Four ways, said Hirapara.

PeakActivitiy partners with clients to help them acquire top talent. Its digital marketing services enable clients to acquire new customers. The company helps these customers create custom technology solutions, such as for e-commerce, that help them differentiate themselves from the competition. And last but not least, PeakActivity helps them optimize their path to growing revenue. “It’s how we work with the team to uncover the big ideas that are hidden below the surface and figure out how to bring these ideas to bear,” Hirapara said.

Today, PeakActivity is nearing $10 million in revenue, 10X growth from where it was just three years ago. Its client base includes City Furniture, TherapeuticsMD, Tyco, which is part of Johnson Controls, and Total Wine & More, among others.

 “We are over 100 team members now; that is what I am most proud of. It’s a great group of people, and we are really able to create a culture that is embracing and transformative both for our community and our customers,” said Hirapara.

PeakActivity nourishes the culture by giving its team members – Hirapapa calls them Peaksters – high-level challenges, and recognizing them for how they have made a difference for their community or their customers, he said. “’I’m a huge believer that culture is the difference between good companies and great companies.”

PeakActivity hires its Peaksters straight out of the universities and into its internships or as new hires. It also hires veterans who have solid experience in large enterprises and want to apply their skills more broadly, said Hirapapa, who worked in senior roles at Office Depot before founding PeakActivity.

“We are looking for elite talent who are … joining the family and signing up for the mission more so than being here to collect a paycheck.”

In 2020, PeakActivity will create its own set of e-commerce solutions, said Hirapara.

“None of our customers should ever feel like they don’t have the knowledge or the wherewithal to compete with an Amazon or a Netflix or a Facebook. They may not have the financial resources but it shouldn’t be a barrier to entry. We create tech solutions that match what the big guys have and provide them to the masses. We will continue to develop our own software and methodologies and bring them to market and make ourselves as much of a software product company as we are a consulting company.”

To give back to the community, PeakActivity Cares is a way for the team to share their products, services, labor, and donations to multiple philanthropic causes. The American Heart Association, Habitat for Humanity and Kids in Distress are just a few of charities PeakActivity’s team has helped.

Photo at top of post, from left: PeakActivity team members Scott Townsend, Robin Dimond, Alison Riveira, and Manish Hirapara at the GrowFL awards ceremony in 2019. PeakActivity was named to Florida Companies to Watch, a statewide program honoring 50 top companies. 

By Nancy Dahlberg

1909 | Partner Spotlight

Imagine walking into a welcoming workspace where you can talk to a software developer, a graphic designer, a business mentor or a startup founder. On any given day, you can ask anyone for professional or personal advice, whether it’s on how to organize a pitch deck to improving your website to registering a non-profit.

A year ago, this dream became a reality in Palm Beach County as 1909 opened its doors at 313 Datura St. in downtown West Palm Beach, thanks to a group of creators who worked diligently to make it happen.

1909, a non-profit organization, was launched in November 2018 by the Palm Beach Tech Association with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, after about six months of strategizing and raising funds. “It’s gone incredibly well, and we certainly learned things along the way,” said Palm Beach Tech’s CEO Joe Russo, who directed 1909 in its inaugural year.

“We are more prepared than ever to support the next generation of creators.”

1909 provides workspace and programming for creators, including entrepreneurs, creatives, developers and designers, all working on bringing their ideas to life. “1909 was built for entrepreneurs by entrepreneurs,” said Shana Ostrovitz, incoming Executive Director of 1909.

In the past year, 1909 has attracted 250 members, opened a second location in Delray Beach (135 E. Atlantic Ave.) and hosted four accelerator programs and multiple events. And it’s just getting started.

 

“In creating this space for people to come together and interact on a daily basis, we are just seeing so many people gravitating toward us and sharing with us that this is what they have been looking for,” explained Ostrovitz. “That’s a testament to what 1909 is — the culture we are creating and the space we provide. It’s about our members, about our members accomplishing their goals and having the impact they want in the world.”

Founding members of the 1909 team included Co-Founders Joe Russo and Danielle Casey, along with Jared Fishman, Aaron Nosbisch, and Ryan Walden, who is 1909’s Entrepreneur Director.

“We’re a startup ourselves and there was a lot of experimentation in the first year,” Ostrovitz said.

“Really, people want to connect to other people and that is biggest value. So Instead of offering so many additional benefits or services or products, the one thing we really learned is to focus on our core – creating an environment where people can connect with other creators, build relationships and thrive. That is the most important thing.  We really don’t have to get so crazy in our offerings — we have something that people are thirsty for and focusing on that is what our members want.”

Workspace

Accessibility is critical to the success of 1909, the name inspired by the year Palm Beach County was founded. That’s why 1909 memberships start at just $50 a month for use of the community spaces. For 24/7 access to the space and all the perks, including wifi, unlimited printing, phone booths for privacy, showers and cold brew on tap, resident memberships cost $100/month and a dedicated desk with a mailbox and business address costs $350 a month.

  • Community Membership | $50 /Month
  • Resident Membership | $100 /Month
  • Dedicated Desk Membership | $350 /Month
  • Office Membership | Starting at $750 /Month

Accelerator

In year one, Ostrovitz directed the accelerator program for 1909 before being named Executive Director. The team put on a music accelerator in Lake Park, a mini-accelerator in Boynton Beach and 6-month general accelerator programs at its Delray Beach and West Palm Beach locations, all of which included a curriculum, expert speakers, mentorship and connections.

At 1909FEST, an event on Nov. 23 celebrating emerging businesses, music and talent, local bands that participated in the music accelerator will be performing and six selected startups from all the accelerators will be pitching for cash prizes. Find out more here.

Ostrovitz said in year two, the primary focus will be on growing membership and building more engagement and value for members in West Palm and Delray Beach. “We want to provide as much value to our members as possible. They are the true heroes of this story and they are one’s who will make long standing impacts in our community.”

If you haven’t checked out 1909 yet, now’s the time.

“If you’re interested in connecting to local visionaries, 1909 is the place to be and the place to see. There are incredible things happening right here in our backyard being led by these incredible founders, I think most people have no idea there is so much innovation and work being done here locally that is going to have an impact on our community and the world,” said Ostrovitz.

Adds Russo: “Everyone here is doing something awesome, and we are really happy that they are doing it with 1909 and with our community of creators.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | TRUE Digital Security

Business: TRUE Digital Security brings together a world-class team of experts, dedicated to the advancement of security, governance and IT management in the connected enterprise.

Offices: West Palm Beach (home of the company’s Network Operations Center), Tulsa, Okla., and Hauppauge, N.Y. 

CEO: Rory Sanchez

No. of employees: More than 80 employees company-wide, with half of them in West Palm Beach

Website: truedigitalsecurity.com

 

When SLPowers, a Palm Beach County-based pioneer in the Managed IT, Cloud and Security Services space, and TRUE Digital Security, a leader in security consulting and security program development, announced they were merging last year, they said their strategy was to form one company that would tightly integrate security and IT operations and bring a new level of efficiency to their clients. A two-in-one solution, if you will, that would take on the TRUE Digital Security name but operate out of three offices, with its largest operation based in West Palm Beach..

 “Our vision is to protect and empower the connected world”, said CEO Rory Sanchez, at the time of the merger announcement. “It may sound like a lofty goal but we’re playing at that level and making it happen one client at a time.”

So how has the strategy been playing out for this IT security business information technology company? “Together, we can identify weaknesses and leverage TRUE’s core services to fill any gaps in an organization’s skillset,” its website states. Services include engineered IT solutions, secure cloud migrations, managed SIEM or MDR solutions, and validation and penetration testing.

We talked to Lisa Remsa, TRUE Digital Security’s Marketing Manager, to learn more.

“We are unique in our space in that usually managed service providers do one or the other and we do both. … The innovation comes from the combination of the two companies,” said Remsa, who grew up in South Florida and worked for SLPowers, a 35-year-old company, for a few years before the merger.

Today, 45 to 50 people work in the West Palm Beach office, including CEO Sanchez, who previously was CEO and president of SLPowers. The entire company, which also has offices in Oklahoma and New York, employs more than 80, said Remsa, who has worked in the tech industry for 17-plus years. The West Palm Beach office houses the company’s Network Operations Center.

“We are changing the way you win the technology race. With the threats businesses face every single day, it’s impossible to keep up. They often have to juggle running their business and protecting it, which can stifle day-to-day operations. TRUE is here to do the protecting,” Remsa said, noting that clients include Goodwill Industries, Dale Carnegie Training and Best Lighting.

A new solution the company provides is a dashboard called TrueSpeed where you can see all of your security and operations information through one single pane of glass customized to the client. “This is unique to our business and works specifically with our solutions,” Remsa said, noting that the company’s security experts worked for agencies such as the NSA and the DOD.

From left, TRUE Digital Security’s Sam Ruggeri, Executive Vice President; Bob Hochmuth, former Executive Vice President; CEO Rory Sanchez; and President Dominic Schulte at the company’s annual charity event, the Margarita Ball.

 

 

Locally, TRUE Digital Security is involved in the Chambers of Commerce, Palm Beach Tech and the South Florida Technology Alliance. As SLPowers and last year as TRUE Digital, it has hosted a Margarita Ball charity event in Palm Beach for more than a decade. Next year it plans to incorporate a philanthropic program that that will include all three of the company’s locations. TRUE also supports other organizations, including Memory for Memory, a local organization that supports Alzheimer’s through the money it raises from electronics recycling, and Stand Up Foundation, which offers community and education events for kids and adults, Remsa explained.

As for hiring, Remsa says: “There is a huge demand for security and IT specialists in general. We work with the local universities to make sure we are involved in continuing to grow our local tech communities and providing opportunities for new talent.”

TRUE Digital Security is looking for people with certifications and expertise in networking, virtualization and security. In South Florida, it is currently seeking seasoned project engineers.

 “We are always looking for every level and focus area to develop a growth environment for the employees,” Remsa said. “Our VP of HR works with employees to put together a career path. We are looking for people who are skilled, team players, that take initiative, and enjoy being part of an innovative team doing new and exciting things in technology.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Red Ventures & Bankrate.com

Business: Bankrate.com is a leading online publisher, aggregator and distributor of personal finance content.  It helps consumers find and compare rates on financial products like mortgages, credit cards, car loans, savings accounts, certificates of deposit, checking and ATM fees, home equity loans and banking fees.

Parent Company: Red Ventures (acquired Bankrate in 2017)

South Florida office: Palm Beach Gardens

No. of South Florida-based employees: about 50

No. on mortgage tech team: about 15

 

When engineers are willing to commute from Miami and Fort Lauderdale to Palm Beach Gardens to work at Bankrate.com, that’s a sign of a special culture.

April Gibson-Fulton, Software Engineering Director in Bankrate.com’s Palm Beach Gardens office, is proud of that. While she has worked to nourish a strong engineering culture, the tech industry veteran embraced the collaborative spirit as soon as she arrived about three years ago to lead the mortgage tech team.

“I really liked the fact that the business team and the tech team worked really well together. It wasn’t like we were the IT shop and it was a necessary evil. We were treated as equal partners and we worked really collaboratively. That was a big draw,” said Gibson-Fulton, who previously was a software development manager for Dycom.

In her role at Bankrate, Gibson-Fulton is responsible for working with product management and data teams to deliver solution to Bankrate.com  that will help its advertisers – banks and lending institutions – generate more volume.

BANKRATE’S OWNERSHIP

Bankrate.com was acquired in 2017 by Charlotte-based Red Ventures, the largest technology-enabled platform for launching and growing sales & marketing businesses in the U.S.  The Bankrate brand is a leading online publisher, aggregator and distributor of personal finance content that helps consumers find and compare rates on financial products like mortgages, credit cards, car loans and savings accounts. Bankrate also owns CreditCards.com, which was part of the acquisition.

Gibson-Fulton oversees a mortgage experience team, which focuses on the main rate tables on Bankrate.com and an integration team that sends leads to advertisers. In all, about 14 engineers report to her, she said.

“We run a scrum process, collaborating not only with engineers but we also work closely with our design team, product managers and data team. Data is something really big and I consider it to be a key differentiator from some of the other engineering organizations I have worked for. We are an outcome-driven organization as opposed to an output-driven organization. We look at a problem and figure out our hypothesis — what data do we need to collect to see if we are achieving that outcome — and then based on the data do we pivot or move forward on certain initiatives?”

Bankrate has moved from a click-based business to a leads-based business and is actually collecting more information about the consumer and that helps the advertiser, Gibson-Fulton said. It is also working on customized user journeys, which involve meeting consumers where they are at in the home-buying journey and providing the education, tools and workflows to support them.

THE ROLE OF CULTURE

Hiring has been a challenge at times, but culture is a huge draw and retainer, she says.

“I truly believe engineering is a team sport,” said Gibson-Fulton, who played basketball at alma mater Florida Atlantic University. “For me, everything is about teamwork. Our office manager every month recognizes birthdays and seasonal events and we have a very competitive ping pong table. It’s a thing. People will come from the New York or Charlotte office and there are full-blown competitions.”

How can companies nourish the company culture? Let’s talk to Gibson-Fulton about some of the things Bankrate as part of Red Ventures does:

  • Bankrate created a culture where people feel safe. People have to feel comfortable bringing good news as well as bad news, she said.
  • A collaborative spirit is also key. “It is about making sure everybody’s voice is heard, everybody has input and it’s valued. Everybody says that but it really happens here. “
  • Continuous learning is key. Everyone has opportunities to grow and learn, from the most junior to the most senior person. “We have a strong mentoring culture, we do a lot of pair programing.” Bankrate also holds hackathons and tech summits during the year.
  • Gibson-Fulton does one-on-ones weekly with her team, but she knows some people are uncomfortable voicing concerns there so she also sends out an anonymous happiness survey quarterly to see how people are feeling and what motivates them to keeps them coming to work. “Hands down it is our culture — we are a tight knit group of people,” said Gibson-Fulton, adding that the team socializes after work, attending each other’s hockey games and heading to dinner afterward.

In hiring, Gibson-Fulton looks for attitude and aptitude. Being a continuous learner is critically important with technology changing all the time, so she looks for candidates that would value participating in lunch and learns, fireside chats and lightning talks that Bankrate offers, as well as  events and educational opportunities in the community.

“What we look for in candidates and in performance reviews stem from Red Ventures’ RAPID formula: result driver – accountable team player – passion – influential communicator – development driver.”

The company’s values are exemplified on the walls at the Palm Beach Gardens offices, with messages like “Everything’s in pencil,” “Running up escalators,” and “We believe in leaving the wood pile higher.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | FPL

Business: Florida Power & Light Company is the largest energy company in the U.S., serving 10 million+ people across Florida. FPL is one of the state’s largest employers.

Parent company:  NextEra Energy, a clean energy company and the world’s largest utility firm. 

Headquarters: Juno Beach, FL

No. on FPL tech team: 1,000 (approx. including contractors)

Speaking with: Michael Fowler, VP of IT at FPL

Fowler’s advice: “You have to be constantly refreshing your skills. If you graduate today, you will have to keep learning at an intense pace for the rest of your career… Otherwise you will be left behind.”

 

Michael Fowler is the Vice President of IT for FPL, leading one of the state’s largest tech teams. That includes all the IT professionals who support customer service, all who help get your power back on after an outage, and those who develop and maintain FPL’s mobile app and website. Under Fowler, about a thousand people work on FPL’s tech.

If you don’t know Fowler yet, you will. In addition to his executive role at FPL, he is the chair of Palm Beach Tech. He is also a leader on the Technical Advisory Committee for Palm Beach County Schools, passionate about nurturing the next generation of tech talent.

Let’s hear his thoughts about hiring tech talent and growing a tech community.

 

‘I DIDN’T KNOW THIS IS FLORIDA’

Before accepting a position at NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent company, about 9 years ago, Fowler spent 23 years in utilities in the Washington DC/ Baltimore area.

“Who can say no to West Palm? Part of it was the job opening was similar to what I was doing in Baltimore. And the other draw was NextEra, with their focus on renewables – it is just a great story. Why would you not want to work for a company that is driving toward the next era of renewable energy at scale? How many times do you get the opportunity to jump onto that train?”

And he adds: “On my first visit, I said wow, I didn’t know this is Florida.”

Still, Fowler quickly learned that hiring in South Florida was not nearly as easy as in the Washington DC area. “When I stumbled upon Palm Beach Tech and their vision to make this a tech hub, selfishly I became very interested. I always have needs for IT people,” said Fowler. “It’s connectors like Palm Beach Tech that have brought the community closer together.”

 

MAKING IMPACT AT SCALE 

Should you think working in tech at a utility isn’t sexy, think again.

“When you peel back the covers, we do some really interesting work. And I think that we do interesting work because we have a lot of smart, creative people,” Fowler said.

In the old days, FPL field work would always take a human and ladder. Now drones do some of that work.

“What you will see in the future is not only is the drone taking pictures of the work or the inspection, but when you add in AI it will get you to better, faster answers as well. It is a really exciting to be here at a utility with utility scale problems and being in IT to help them figure out how to do that better, faster, cheaper and by the way there is the safety component. If you don’t have someone crawl up on a ladder, you have just made the world a safer place.”

There’s more, said Fowler. “We have done smart outage – how do you give customers the best, most reliable answer on when their service will be restored? Customers want better, faster, more accurate data. My team has tackled some of those challenges, as well as getting the technology into the hands of the people who work in the field.”

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE NETWORKING

Fowler meets job candidates through networking at Palm Beach Tech’s meetups and hackathons and through PBT’s career boards.

“They just don’t stumble onto Juno and walk in the front door and say I want a job… They don’t sit at home with a bookmark on Careers at FPL and look at it every day. It takes proactiveness on our part to get out there and find the people.”

In his role on the Palm Beach County Schools Technical Advisory Council, which also includes local universities, Fowler tries to figure out how to build stronger partnerships not only for better curriculum but also to better connect students with the jobs they are looking for, he said.

A Palm Beach Tech project Fowler is focused on is bringing on an apprenticeship program that will build even more technical skills in the region. Palm Beach Tech is in discussions about collaborating with Miami Dade College, which received grant funding to build such a program.

“If we want to be a regional player, we need to figure out how to make these programs scale regionally. We’re stronger as a region if we can develop these programs that allows you to live, work and learn near where you want to do that,” Fowler said. “But we need a lot of participation from businesses up and down the region.”

 

PREACHING CONTINUOUS LEARNING

The apprenticeship program will help people to skill up, whether they have been in the workforce and want or need to learn tech, or they received an IT degree but need to polish up with some certifications, said Fowler.

Tech professionals need to be constantly updating their skills. Fowler uses Cloud skills as an example. Two years ago, just 2 of the 30 FPL IT interns used Cloud in their projects. Last year about half did, and this year all 33 interns used some form of Cloud in their projects. “In the space of two years, we have gone from the Cloud is sort of interesting to it is ubiquitous – you have to be there.”

Fowler also believes everyone should look for ways to invest in the next generation. “If you are in a leadership position, figure out how to make that next opportunity for that intern or that new college hire,” he said.

 “We are only going to win in this world economy by focusing on education. We will win in the global economy if our people are the best prepared to do their jobs.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | ShipMonk

Business: ShipMonk provides stress-free packing and shipping services for small and mid-sized e-commerce companies.

HQ: Fort Lauderdale. Fulfillment facilities in California and Pennsylvania.

Founder and CEO: Jan Bednar

Year founded: 2014 at FAU Tech Runway

No. of employees: More than 400; about 250 in South Florida

Website: www.shipmonk.com

 

“It’s been a little crazy but good — we’re moving in the right direction,” said Jan Bednar, in describing his startup’s busy summer.

His logistics-tech company, ShipMonk, provides “stress-free” packing and shipping for small and mid-sized e-commerce companies. Its multichannel order fulfillment services enable startups and SMBs to focus on building their brand and achieving next-level growth.  In July, ShipMonk moved into a 220,000-square-foot headquarters and logistics facility in Fort Lauderdale, three times the size of its former Deerfield Beach facility.

ShipMonk plans to open a new facility in California early next year, having already outgrown its 95,000-square foot facility. “We are out of space there, too,” Bednar said in a recent interview with Refresh Miami.

In addition, ShipMonk opened a fulfillment facility in Pennsylvania in June, it’s third in the U.S.A. “We might open one in the Midwest but for right now we’re good,” Bednar said.

More than 400 people now work at ShipMonk, Bednar said, including about 250 in South Florida.

Expect many more jobs: Bednar has committed to add another 400 jobs in South Florida over the next five years.

Revenues have followed a similar projectory. The company once again landed on the INC 5000 this year, at No. 154, with 2,470% three-year growth and $28.4 million in 2018 revenues. That was up from about $10.6 million in revenues in 2017 and $3.9 million in 2016.

This year ShipMonk is on track to more than double its revenues again.

To fully appreciate this growth, remember ShipMonk’s first office was a corner of FAU TechRunway’s accelerator space in Boca Raton, stacked high with boxes, just five years ago when he was basically a company of one. Bednar, an FAU student from the Czech Republic in his early 20s, started the first iteration of the company, then called BedaBox, in 2014 while part of TechRunway’s first accelerator class. His concept won first place in FAU’s business plan contest and tops in the Florida Venture Forum’s Collegiate Competition at the time. Fast forward to 2018, and Bednar was named to the national Forbes 30 Under 30.  

ShipMonk was a bootstrapped company for the first four years and always profitable. Last November, ShipMonk raised $10 million in a Series A round led by SJF Ventures in North Carolina, with participation from Virginia-based Grotech Ventures, Maine-based Supply Chain Ventures, and a group of angel investors who specialize in supply chain investments. Bednar gave up just 15% of the company, the Sun Sentinel reported at the time, and he planned to use the funding for hiring and automation.

Bednar wasted no time putting the venture money to work.

In addition to all the facility growth and hiring – the employee count has nearly doubled since last fall – ShipMonk has been heavily investing in automation.

ShipMonk team in Fort Lauderdale.

“We have a lot of exciting things going on. We have a $2 million automation project we will be implementing in our Florida facility early next year. We’re trying to increase our through put capacity and automate a lot more things as well to be more competitive in the market,” Bednar said.

Robots? Check. “In October, we will be deploying the robots.”

Global expansion is in the works, too. Next year, ShipMonk hopes to open its first Europe locations. “We are still researching locations but looking at Western Europe, Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, one of those three most likely,” he said.

ShipMonk’s tech team of about 30 people is currently based in the Czech Republic. The company has some tech positions at each of its locations, but in South Florida a lot of ShipMonk’s jobs are in operations, supply chain management, industrial engineering, account management and sales, and customer support (ShipMonk calls its customer support managers Happiness Engineers). “HR, finance and marketing grows as the business grows,” Bednar said. Find the current job openings here.

 

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.”

1 2 3
Member Spotlight | Garden of Life
Member Spotlight | PeakActivity
1909 | Partner Spotlight
Member Spotlight | TRUE Digital Security
Member Spotlight | Red Ventures & Bankrate.com
Member Spotlight | FPL
Member Spotlight | ShipMonk
Member Spotlight | Levatas
Member Spotlight | VXIT
Member Spotlight | Bidtellect
Member Spotlight | rinehimerbaker
Member Spotlight | USA Recycling Centers
Member Spotlight | Modernizing Medicine
Member Spotlight | SkOUT Secure Intelligence
Member Spotlight | Locke Lord