South Florida Tech AssociationSouth Florida Tech Association

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Boca Code & Todd Albert

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: A coding academy offering short courses in web and mobile development,  game development, data analytics and UX/UI.  In the plans for early 2021: a 10-week career course.

Address: 7035 Beracasa Way, 207, Boca Raton

Team: Todd Albert, founder and lead instructor; Emily Cleary, lead UX instructor; Mariela Pascual, developer and instructor; Ashley Taylor, creative director; Pearse Brolly, business development, Maddie Galvelis, social marketing.

Website:  Bocacode.com

 

Todd Albert learned to code when he was 7 and built his first arcade game as a teen. For some reason he did not pursue a career in tech, but instead he became a scientist as a NASA research fellow and then taught at in universities for 15 years, as well as at the middle school level. “And through my research and in my teaching, I was always coding.”

When Albert decided to leave teaching after moving back to South Florida in 2012, he followed his heart into tech and started a tech agency. At one point the agency had 17 developers, and Albert said finding local developers was always difficult. Most of the resumes were coming from code schools in Miami or from out of state.

That’s when Albert began noodling with the idea of starting a local code school. Then, after he has seen some schools come into Palm Beach County or northern Broward and then fail – and the mistakes they made — he took the plunge, founding Boca Code in February of this year.

“I love to code and I love to mentor young developers. And I realized — and people around me realized too — that having a code school was really not just my dream but it almost felt like that was what I was destined for. My background in teaching, in coding, in mentoring, it was all me leading towards this.”

 

MAKING AN IMPACT

With a code school, you’re helping people enter a good career with great earning potential, he said. Graduates can earn $60-$65k in their first job, and in just a few years it could be six figures.

But just as important: “The community is desperately needing the talent.”

Boca Code’s home – a 2,900-square-foot bright and modern space at the intersection of Palmetto and Powerline in Boca Raton — is nearly built out, but Boca Code started offering virtual intensive short courses classes this spring and summer and has offerings such as Data Analytics & Python and AR, VR and Game Development through the fall.  It is in the process of obtaining its state of Florida license to teach its signature career course – a 10-week full-time bootcamp – and Boca Code expects to begin offering that in January. Boca Code also offers a number of free workshops and offers a scholarship to women.

While other code schools have tried and failed, Boca Code has a few differentiators that will make it successful, Albert believes. First, Albert is not only the owner but the lead instructor, so he doesn’t have to worry about the lead instructor quitting mid- class, as happened at other schools. He also has built a very talented team who are also instructors as well as experts in sales and marketing. He and his team are also well-connected within the community. “Being a part of the larger South Florida tech community I think is really important for the success of the school but for placing the students in jobs afterwards.”

 

DEDICATION TO COMMUNITY

Another key differentiator is that Boca Code students are going to be doing real projects for real companies. “So for small businesses that are just getting started, we can help develop their app or their website. The students are getting real experience and the companies are getting affordable development work. And I don’t know anyone else who is doing that.”

In addition to the 10-week bootcamp, Boca Code plans to always offer the 15-hour short courses, such as Intro to Web Dev for people who just want to dip their toe into an introductory coding course or who want to upskill in the latest technologies, like React, or learn more about UX/UI. The courses are often offered at nights and weekends to accommodate full-time employment.

“We are all dedicated to helping not just the students but the community as a whole,” Albert said. “We want to become a central hub in the community for training and for talent, and we are starting to make good progress.”

This is Albert’s third time living in South Florida, and he likes what he sees: a unique and cohesive tech community.

“Rather than competing and vying for talent, we’re all getting together and supporting each other as a community, which is owed in large part to South Florida Tech. Joe [Russo] has provided us a central hub,” Albert said. “And when you have such a giving community it makes you want to be a part of it and it makes you want to help others. It’s contagious.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Digital Resource & Shay Berman

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: A full-service digital marketing agency

HQ: West Palm Beach

President: Shay Berman

No. of employees: 55

Website: yourdigitalresource.com

 

When Shay Berman moved his digital marketing agency, Digital Resource, into new offices last year, he wanted room to grow.

The company had been on a growth tear over the past couple of years and had outgrown its 1,500 square foot offices. The trade-up: 9,000 square feet that can accommodate up to 101 employees. Now that the team is back in the office, the much roomier space seems rather prescient with the pandemic still a threat.

Berman believes a creative team like his needs to be together physically to bounce ideas off one another and collaborate. “There is a culture that’s created when we’re physically together that can’t be recreated in a digital environment,” he says. So as soon as they were able to go back to the office, they did, although they moved back into physical offices in four phases.

And when the company – now with about 55 employees — is ready to grow again, there’s room for that too.

 

‘AMAZING PROCESSES’

In the past two years, Berman has been busy putting systems and processes in place to maximize growth and efficiency. He says the company has increased services by about 50% and the team has been growing by about 15 members a year and has become more specialized. “We used to have one person doing multiple things, and now every one of our services has its own dedicated specialists,” Berman says.

Clients represent over 100 different verticals, including fitness, restaurants and bars, medical groups, retail stores and financial companies. Berman is justifiably proud to be a Great Places to Work winner twice, which says a lot about the team and the company culture.

Digital Resource has racked up a number of awards, including its third time in the Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Companies. Shay was also named to the South Florida Business Journal’s 40 under 40 this year and to the 4 under 40 by the American Marketing Association.

Berman believes a key to Digital Resource’s success is its focus on innovating customer service processes. That included invested in custom reporting software that will report on all aspects of the client’s digital marketing campaign. “It’s 24-7 accessible by the client, It’s manipulatable and maneuverable to where the client can look at all the different metrics they want without support from a team member here.”

The company also systemized how team members communicate with clients, and incentivized account managers for retaining clients. Now, the account managers own the relationships — and the results.

“We have optimized the last two years to have amazing processes,” Berman said, adding that Digital Resource has a two factor layer of communication among team members so “almost nothing falls through the cracks.”

BERMAN’S AMA

Berman also does one on one sessions with everyone in the company every quarter now. “They can ask me anything … and it has also allowed us to continue to innovate for clients with new ideas I never thought of.”

We did our own AMA with Berman:

Areas of growth? Over the next year, Berman wants to steer the company into a lot more automation to help clients. “So instead of just sending them a lead, we help nurture that lead and track the metrics at a level that we don’t really see other marketing companies doing.”

What about hiring? “My philosophy for hiring is hire fast, fire faster. We give a lot of people that opportunity and we expect performance right away. … When I’m in the hiring process, I look at who the person is — are they someone who I see passion in their eyes or are they looking to punch a time clock.”

Secret to culture? “I believe in being fully transparent, where people know the goals and intentions behind everything, not just for themselves or their team but for the entire company, because if you want to get everyone rowing in the same direction, everyone has to know where they’re going …  If you show people your cards and  they are on the same team, they are going to help you get the win.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Bridge Connector & David Wenger

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: a healthcare integration platform-as-a-service

CEO: David Wenger

No. of employees: 165 (12 in Palm Beach Gardens)

Main offices: Nashville and Palm Beach Gardens

Funding: Raised $45.5 million in Venture Capital

Recent awards: Inc. 2020 Best Places to Work; Gartner 2020 Cool Vendors; Modern Healthcare 2020 Best Places to Work;  South Florida Business Journal’s 2020 Best Places to Work and 2019 H. Wayne Huizenga Startup Award.

Website: Bridgeconnector.co

 

Bridge Connector, the healthcare platform-as-a-service company founded in 2017 and born in Palm Beach County, now has 165 employees and services about 100 enterprise customers spanning some 750 sites across the U.S. The company has raised $45.5 million, including $25.5 million announced last week — yes, during a global pandemic.

David Wenger, Bridge Connector’s co-founder and CEO, makes hyper-growth look easy, but he has led the company through a number of strategic moves that have unleashed the growth, including properly scaling up talent by continuously bringing on additional roles and raising levels of expertise. “We’ve been really good at seeing the forest through the trees, so to speak, and overcoming any major issue that would prevent us from ultimately continuing to grow at the pace we’re growing now,” he said.

 

THE STORY

The story of Bridge Connector begins with a pitch competition at Palm Beach Tech in November of 2017, says Wenger. (Bridge Connector didn’t win. It still stings.) But shortly after that, Wenger raised the startup’s first round of funding and “it has been a rocket ship since then,” he said.

Bridge Connector provides a suite of vendor-agnostic integration solutions and a full-service delivery model, helping healthcare vendors, providers, and payers more easily share data between disparate systems, such as electronic health records or patient engagement solutions.

“What we figured out is a way to build an integration in healthcare that is agnostic of specification – we can work with any type of vendor no matter how you expect to connect to it. And then, what we’ve created is a way to reuse the integration,” Wenger said. “On top of that, we’re a no-code platform. We’re in that new wave of technology vendors that are focusing on the business user rather than the engineer.”

The company moved its headquarters to Nashville, a healthcare hub, last year and recently expanded the offices there to 37,000 square feet to accommodate about 250 people. But Palm Beach Gardens will always be an important base for the company, Wenger said. Much of the company’s management team, including Wenger, work out of offices above The River House restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens. The company also recently hired a president who will also be working from Palm Beach Gardens. Wenger said South Florida Tech (formerly Palm Beach Tech) has been very supportive as the company has continued to grow. Even that 2017 pitch competition he didn’t win pushed him to push on harder.

 

KEY TO SUCCESS

A key to the company’s success has been its focus on scaling partnerships and creating an ecosystem of healthcare technology vendors.  About a year ago, the company made a strategic decision to focus on hospital vendors instead of hospitals or health systems. “Simultaneously we have created a technology here that we don’t view as another tool or another technology. We view it as a solution to a pain point for all health systems,” he said. Instead of hiring an engineering team to build an integration, they pay Bridge Connector a monthly recurring fee not to worry about it. “Our customers rely on both our people and our technology to help stand up their integrations.”

The result: Business grew 1,000% last year and has doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic, Wenger said. During the pandemic, the company has seen many additional use cases for Bridge Connector, from contactless check-ins and SMS appointment reminders to integrating telehealth visits directly into the EHR. Bridge Connector has hired 40 people since the pandemic started.

To be sure, fund-raising during a pandemic has been a major challenge. Originally planning to raise more than $25.5 million, Wenger met with 100 or so or the top VC firms in the country during the first 8 weeks of COVID, all remotely. Some were interested but a lot of them were just not doing deals. Bad timing.

So Bridge Connector decided to keep the round to its internal investors, which include the firm of former Public CEO Howard Jenkins, and pursue a larger round with top-tier VCs as soon as they can, Wenger said.

 

A DREAM TEAM

For now, Wenger said he couldn’t be happier with his dream team. “It’s because they truly love what they do and where they work. We’re lucky to have the level of talent that we have here.”

To entrepreneurs, he advises: “Stick with your guns and always believe in your idea, you’ll find someone eventually who also believes in it. Create a solid distribution strategy and your go-to-market segment early on. Focus on customer segmentation early on in the life cycle of being an entrepreneur. First, figure out what your ideal customer profile is… and figure out how to create a scalable pricing model that has a solution for any type of buyer that fits within that ideal customer profile.”

Why is your product better than everybody else? Have a good answer for that, Wenger advised, and as you scale proper financial modeling will be a key to success. “And ultimately, don’t be afraid to dream because it might just happen.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Improving & Adi Raina

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: a full stack IT consulting company

Background: Improving’s Palm Beach County office was formerly part of Innovative Architects, an IT consulting company acquired by Dallas-based Improving in January 2019.

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

No. of employees: 600+ across North America

Website: Improving.com

 

Trust Changes Everything – it’s Improving’s tagline.

Improving is a technology management and consulting services firm rooted in its deep commitment to establishing trust within its team and with clients, partners and communities. Trusted advisorship is what the company offers.

“With any IT project, we can fit in anywhere,” explains Adi Raina, Principal Consultant with Improving in Palm Beach County. “We are also one of the largest trainers of agile and scrum in the nation. We are doing multiple projects from mobile to data or consulting.”

As Covid-19 began its deadly spread in the U.S. forcing businesses to close or go fully remote, many of Improving’s clients found themselves needing help with the challenge of working virtually for the first time and making sure the remote environment was cyber secure so they could resume their businesses, said Raina, who has engineering degrees from Georgia Tech and Southern Polytechnic State University and has worked for Improving for 12 years.

During the pandemic, a lot of businesses have leaned on Improving’s trusted advisorship more than ever. “They are saying I have so many things going on I am glad I can hand this off to you and focus on the other 10 things. Everybody’s job has changed and everyone is wearing multiple hats in business and in their personal lives,” said Raina.

Navigating these COVID times has put a spotlight on the importance of communication and relationship building. Some businesses have had to delay projects, but Improving has helped them keep learning and innovating, Raina said. “We ask them, how can we help you so you are not suffering operationally and also not suffering by not having any innovation.”

As a conscious capitalist company, Improving is responsible for its customers’ success, Raina said. “We could say ‘you can do it a different way,’ which might reduce our hours but it is better for you,” he said.  “We are the managers  they trust enough to say ‘we trust you to lead our teams’.”

Education and training is a big part of what Improving’s team does, and during COVID, they found was that by offering education sessions virtually they could help more people, including distributed team members in Europe and Asia, as the sessions could be viewed anytime.

Take Improving’s popular lunch and learns. for instance. Topics have ranged from how to run a good Zoom meeting, to talking about new software upgrades on the horizon, to providing specific learning opportunities.

“We try to cover awesome new topics and technology. We put our lunch and learns online for everyone to see them free,” Raina said. “The feedback has been tremendous. We are going to continue some version of this going forward. We are giving clients a chance to request topics too.”

Giving back to the community is also key pillar of Improving. Raina, who moved to Palm Beach County with Improving in 2017, serves on the board of Palm Beach Tech, where he is the Community Chair, and has served on the School Advisory Council of South Olive Elementary School since 2018.

Raina said the company looks forward to getting back to participating in local in-person events and good old-fashioned networking when the time is right. That includes resuming its “Game Nights,” where Improving invites the community in for a night of board games. No technology required.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Modernizing Medicine & Erin Shaw

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: Modernizing Medicine aims to transform how healthcare information is created, consumed, and utilized to increase practice efficiency and improve patient outcomes.

HQ: Boca Raton (BRIC), with offices in California and Chile

Founded: 2010

Co-founders: Daniel Cane (CEO) and Michael Sherling (Chief Medical and Strategy Officer)

Employees: About 800

ModMed Telehealth: modmed.com/telehealth

 

“Crisis brings out true character,” says Erin Shaw. She should know because she has been on the front lines as a Product Manager at Modernizing Medicine, one of South Florida’s most successful healthcare technology companies.

With the full support and trust of senior leadership, Shaw worked with a team of ModMed’s developers to build an advanced telehealth platform in two weeks just as COVID-19 was beginning to spread in the US. Then the entire company was on board to train users, market, and release the product by the end of March so that its thousands of physician clients nationwide had free access to the real-time audio and video telemedicine platform, modmed® Telehealth, when it’s needed most.

“We knew we needed to get it out there fast – we developed an entire telehealth platform within two weeks,” said Shaw, noting that a project like this typically would take four months.

All the while, ModMed’s clients — mainly physician practices — were champing at the bit to get the product.

“We hammered it out and built an incredible experience with that group of developers,” Shaw said. “We are continuing to iterate as we get feedback and push things out very rapidly, which is what the market needs right now.”

FINDING HER WAY TO MODMED

Shaw started working at ModMed in January 2018 as a Senior Business Analyst, and then was promoted to Product Manager in 2019. Before ModMed, she worked at Office Depot for nearly four years as the company was launching its e-commerce department. “It was a huge opportunity to learn how to bridge that gap between business and development and create good experiences for customers,” she said.

Shaw is also a cancer survivor. During her time at Office Depot, the company was very supportive during her treatments, but she was also going through a personal journey and wanted to transition to making an impact in healthcare. She thought: Why can’t healthcare tools be just as simple to use for patients as e-commerce sites are for consumers? After that she worked with nonprofits in healthcare for two years before coming aboard at ModMed, which was recently named a 2020 Best Workplace by Inc Magazine.

‘ORGANIZED AND EXCITING CHAOS’

“Something cool about my job is I get to focus on our patient engagement tools, anything that gets in front of patients to collect information or provide access to a portal or a more user-friendly intake process, so obviously telehealth, and we also have a kiosk product and our web patient portal,” said Shaw.

Shaw describes a typical day as “organized and exciting chaos” full of brainstorming sessions and strategy meetings with the developers, as well as with her boss, marketing, client services, and various stakeholders.

Never boring.

“I love it because I don’t have direct reports but I work with a development team that is responsible for all my products and so it is very much an invested team environment. As soon as you start to feel like the load is getting heavy, there is always someone there to brainstorm with you and help you work through things.”

RALLYING TOGETHER

She’s managed other product launches, but COVID-19 urgency made this one extra special.  “The entire company rallied together, from marketing and sales to client services, they were all a part of this project to get things out the door and in front of our clients, whether it was awareness, or materials, videos for training, or webinars … I literally cried because it was such an emotional roller coaster ride because our clients needed it, their patients needed it and we are building something now that they are going to get to start using immediately.”

Support came from all quarters, from senior leadership to the women of mmWIT, which includes women from throughout ModMed. Regarding mmWIT, Shaw said, “I have been able to partner with them and go to them for support and encouragement.  We really lift each other up … I played soccer in college and always had that team mentality and I feel like mmWIT is also my team.”

Shaw, who is part of mmWIT’s leadership team, continued:  “The whole goal of mmWIT is to make sure women are honing skills so we are ready for advancing in the workplace. To be part of this project and a woman responsible for driving it, I felt like it was an opportunity to showcase what women can do for the organization.”

CLIENTS LOVED IT

Once ModMed released the telehealth platform, client response was quite strong. About half of its clients are already using it, Shaw said.  The use cases are widespread in all the specialties that ModMed serves, particularly in dermatology and plastic surgery, Orthopedics can use it for post-op follow-ups for wound checks and range of motion checks. ENTs use it, too, said Shaw: “You’d think it would be difficult to look up the nose or the throat with a camera, but because the quality is so clear they are using it a lot.”

What’s next? Among the focuses will be the launch of ModMed’s mobile Patient Portal that will have the telehealth capabilities as well as enhanced contactless ways to pay bills, request appointments, and provide information prior to the visit.

The emotional roller coaster ride was well worth it, Shaw said.

“It’s almost like your moment — our developers, our trainers, our educators, we all felt this way. We are in healthcare, these are the things that matter and this is how we get it done together.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Crown Castle & Lonnie Maier

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: Crown Castle is the nation’s largest provider of communications infrastructure.

HQ: Houston

South Florida offices: 2 in Palm Beach County, 2 in Miami-Dade County, 1 in Broward.

No of Crown Castle employees in South Florida: About 400

Head of Sales, South Area: Lonnie Maier

Website: www.crowncastle.com

 

In this time of crisis, Crown Castle is certainly on the front lines too.

Crown Castle, a national, publicly traded company, provides the underlying infrastructure to cellphone providers, wireless carriers, businesses, governments and other entities that are deploying mission-critical networks.

Lonnie Maier is Head of Sales for Crown Castle’s fiber division in the Southeast region, including Florida, Georgia and Texas. “We provide custom-built networks to businesses hospitals, governments, and financial institutions. We provide the communications infrastructure for them to be able to connect their various offices to serve their employee base and customers,” she said.

Maier is responsible for about 1,700 customers. “My job is supporting my sales team, talking to customers, making sure that we have proposals in front of them and implementation plans for the sales we made. It is always about understanding our customers’ challenges and we’ll work together to offer them connectivity options.”

The sales leader has been looking at the big picture and connecting the dots to solve customer needs her entire career in telecom. Maier was promoted in 2019 to oversee the Southeast and recently celebrated her 10-year anniversary with Crown Castle (in 2017, Crown acquired FPL FiberNet, where she worked since 2010).

Maier is proud to work at Crown Castle.

“We understand – especially now – that the infrastructure everyone is dependent on is an essential part of your daily life. If we take good care of our employees we will be doing a better job of taking care of the customers who depend on our infrastructure.”

MANAGING DURING COVID

Maier, who was born and raised in South Florida, thrives on doing business face to face with her customers, some of whom she has had for 30 years.

With about 100 offices across the U.S., Crown Castle too has a face-to-face culture, but was quickly able to work remotely once COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Even so, Crown Castle was an early adapter in stopping employee air travel and moving to telework as the pandemic started its spread its the U.S., and Maier says, the 25-year-old company hasn’t missed a beat.

“Now that we are all virtual, it is all about coordinating WebEx meetings to talk to your customers and keep them posted,” said Maier. “It’s been great — you get to see people in their own environment. We have become more understanding as a leadership team, more nurturing.”

Crown Castle is also active in community service through its Connected for Good program; the company most recently serving meals to healthcare workers during the COVID-19 crisis. Maier has also always been passionate about community involvement, particularly economic development.

Maier retired from the Florida Atlantic Research and Development Authority board last year after serving 12 years. That’s when Michael Fowler of FPL gave her a call to suggest joining Palm Beach Tech. Since then, she has been helping Palm Beach Tech with content for meetings and initiatives and sometimes mentors small businesses. She’s also the membership chair on Palm Beach Tech’s board. Maier has also served stints on the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance’s board over the last 20 years.

‘WE AREN’T COMPETING, WE ARE COLLABORATING’

“Our governments are working closer together than ever before,” said Maier. “We are defined now as a South Florida Tech region and definitely work for the betterment.”

Maier says that mentoring and connecting startups to resources is a big need —  especially now. “Every day you turn on the news it is a bad news story. We have to focus on the assets and the support mechanisms in place to help our small businesses.”

Palm Beach Tech, the Research Park at FAU and FAU Tech Runway are all setting an example by helping these young companies stay focused and get resources they need, she said.

For example, she said Palm Beach Tech is asking the right questions — what does the community need? What do small businesses need? What do potential unemployed workers need? Then they look at the big picture and try to connect the dots to bring about solutions.

“We even had a virtual job fair. There are efforts in place that are really focused on who needs the resources the most. It is all about just keep going, don’t get frustrated, don’t get distracted … We are not going to lose hope,” Maier said.

“I feel that South Florida has a way of coming together.”

Pictured at top of post: Lonnie Maier and Crown Castle’s network operations team visit with FAU in 2019.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | FPL & 35 Mules

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: Florida Power & Light Company is the nation’s largest energy company, serving more than 5 million customer accounts across Florida. FPL’s typical 1,000-kWh residential customer bill is among the lowest in the U.S.

Parent Company: NextEra Energy

HQ: Juno Beach

President and CEO: Eric Silagy

Senior Director of Economic Development: Crystal Stiles

What’s new: 35 Mules, an innovation hub for selected startups in energy or energy-related industries.

 

This September, 20 startup entrepreneurs with game-changing ideas will move into FPL’s Juno Beach headquarters, in a collaborative workspace being designed for them. For 12 to 18 months, they will be part of FPL’s inaugural cohort of 35 Mules, an incubator and innovation hub.

In addition to the workspace, the companies will have access to subject matter experts in solar, renewables, innovation and smart grid, and free coaching from FPL executives, along with a grant of at least $50,000 to help scale their ventures. In total, in this first year, this is a commitment from FPL of about $2.5 million.

“We are looking for big, bold, brave, game-changing, world-changing ideas. We will be looking for things we have not thought of, products we have not heard of, solutions that seem 5 or 10 years down the road,” said Crystal Stiles, FPL’s senior director of economic development. “If we find a startup with a game-changing idea in any industry we will consider it, but we are really focused in the energy and energy-adjacent areas because that is where the expertise in our company lies.”

 

Rooted in History

The name of the program is a nod to the humble beginnings of NextEra Energy, FPL’s parent company. Because of FPL’s innovative culture and its focus on being a driver and a promoter for the state’s economic development efforts, the startup incubator was a natural project to launch.

“We started our company 95 years ago with an ice plant, a sponge fishing boat, and a herd of 35 mules among a few other assets and 95 years later we have grown into a company that is globally significant. We are… the world’s largest renewable energy company and we are the country’s largest utility by retail energy sold. We have a lot to be proud of and we have a lot to share with these startups. We’d like to take some of these ideas coming from brilliant individuals in our community and outside our community and help them grow into businesses that we can ideally plant right here in Florida,” said Stiles.

 

Spirit of Innovation

The 20 companies have not been selected yet, but the decision will be difficult. Strong applicants hail from within Florida and beyond – at least 7 states and 3 countries, Stiles said.

35 Mules plans to customize the program to each entrepreneur in the incubator. “All of the startups will be at different stages … We want to work with each individual entrepreneur and make sure we are putting together a program of success that moves their company to the next level, whatever that next level is for them,” Stiles said.

In addition to cultivating industry-changing ideas, the program will also complement FPL”s spirit of innovation. The company has run internal Shark Tank competitions and offers a number of programs supporting innovative thinking. This culture has spurred internal innovations such as augmented reality training on safety equipment and the deployment of drone technology for line inspections that have made FPL’s jobs safer. “Bringing brilliant minds outside our organization will help inspire the brilliant minds inside our organization to think even bigger,” Stiles said.

 

The Big Florida Picture

In addition, FPL plays a strong role in supporting the state’s economic development efforts, Stiles said. “Our headquarters is here, our home is Florida, and we want to see Florida’s economy vibrant and thriving and strong. It makes sense to add an entrepreneurial or startup focus to the typically more traditional economic development programs we have offered over the years.”

Bigger picture: 35 Mules can help drive Florida’s already strong culture of entrepreneurship forward, Stiles believes. “I believe Florida can compete on that level with all the other areas of innovation in our country including Boston, Silicon Valley and New York,” Stiles said.

The idea is to add to what is already being offered by entities like Palm Beach Tech, FAU Tech Runway and other organizations, she said.

“We would love to see the next wonderful technology that is going to transform the energy industry as a whole. From our company’s standpoint, we are always striving for excellence, we are always looking to change the way we do things. If there is disruption on the horizon, we’d love find it, see it, nurture it and see what happens.”

FPL hopes to continue the incubator program with more cohorts down the road, Stiles said. “Get involved, stay tuned and come see us when the facility is open and it is safe to do so.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Meggie Soliman & DSS Inc.

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: DSS is a health information software development and systems integration company, providing solutions at VA medical facilities nationwide, as well as in the private sector.

Year founded: 1991

CEO: Mark Byers

Headquarters: Juno Beach

Employees: 600 nationwide; 304 in Palm Beach County

Corporate values: Family, Agility, Synergy, Teamwork, Pioneers, Quality.

Website: dssinc.com

 

The COVID-19 pandemic is playing havoc with clinical processes and administrative workflows in hospitals worldwide at a time when the healthcare institutions have one focus: saving precious lives. So DSS Inc., a healthcare technology company, is on the front lines of tech, implementing and updating its software applications to support locations battling the novel coronavirus.

DSS was founded in 1991 in by three brothers who had a passion for software, Mark, Ron and Joe Byers,  in their Colorado garage. They won their first contract ever from the West Palm Beach division of the Department of Veteran Affairs a few years later. DSS started with one product and now the company has 600 employees working in offices across the U.S., including its Juno Beach headquarters.

Today, DSS provides 70-plus software applications to improve veteran healthcare in VA hospitals nationwide. “We develop applications across the healthcare spectrum – billing, administrative, clinical. We have several applications in every VA hospital today,” said Meggie Soliman, Director of Strategic Innovations, Applications.

Pivoting to the Private Sector

DSS also now has a commercial division, and is developing an EHR (Electronic Health Record) application. It’s important because one out of five EHR implementations fail today, Soliman said. “Clinicians are developing the EHR so it is for clinicians by clinicians. We want to make sure we are the forefront of usability and technology and we are really excited about it and will be launching soon.”

Patients , particularly veterans, are at the center of DSS’s mission.

“That’s been a big gap in the healthcare world and it something DSS does very well – we are engaging clinicians very early on in the process and making sure they are part of our building of cutting edge technology applications,” Soliman said.  ” It is not just about having cool technology and nice apps but it’s about making sure you are patient-first.”

Soliman has been with DSS for six years. She earned her master’s degree in biomedical informatics and worked at a clinical research company in Miami and a big pharma company in New Jersey before joining DSS. At DSS, she started as a product owner and moved into project management operations and now is directing strategic innovations for applications.

A typical day for Soliman involves working with customers and clinicians, and brainstorming with the team. “We have a family culture, an open collaboration … brainstorming is really our art.”

Soliman also enjoys collaborating with the greater tech community, for instance her recent work with Palm Beach Tech Association and the Chamber of Commerce. “I feel we can make bigger strides if we all work together.”

At one recent event, the topic was the millennial impact on the workforce in South Florida. “As a millennial myself in leadership, I believe that organizations need to adapt and adjust to the needs of the millennial to attract that workforce. … [Millennials] are more about working for a purpose and that is really important for organizations to have that in their messaging and in their mission.”

Building an Innovative Team

As for hiring, DSS looks for collaborative team members who are creative and open-minded, said Soliman, who is currently looking for a data scientist and engineer for her team. “I look for those innovators who really love to collaborate and think outside the box and challenge themselves.’

She said what’s most special is DSS’s family values — “the openness our leadership has for providing environments for us to truly innovate. We are very patient centered, and that gives everyone purpose, they know at the end of the day their work is impacting a patient’s health.”

That’s clearly evident as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. DSS has a product that provides customized surveillance alerts and reports to clinicians, streamlining their workflow, for instance. It also has consult tracking and a chemotherapy manager that have been implemented for COVID-19.

“I am passionate about all that DSS has to offer because it truly is coming from an amazing place,” Soliman said. “The end product is coming from working with clinicians and our innovators, the end result is going to be cutting edge. I stand by that.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Jim Walker & CloudHesive

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: Founded by cloud executives, CloudHesive provides cloud solutions that help companies improve security, reduce operating costs and increase productivity.

HQ: Fort Lauderdale

CEO: James Walker

No. of employees: 50-55

Website: CloudHesive.com

 

 

 

In 2014, Jim Walker debated moving to Boston to continue his cloud technology career or starting a company in South Florida. Lucky for the tri-county region, he chose the latter.

The venture he co-founded was CloudHesive, a Fort Lauderdale-based technology company that provides cloud solutions through consulting and managed services with a focus on security, reliability, availability and scalability.

“We are a Managed Service Provider helping customers consume cloud services,” said Walker, CloudHesive’s CEO.

The company’s services include everything from migrating large data centers into Amazon Web Services to DevOps work building out infrastructure as code deployments all the way through to migrating contact centers out of old legacy equipment onto cloud-centric solutions and services, said Walker. He is a 25-year tech veteran who was previously Global Head of Operations of Operations and Security at Pegasystems.

AWS PREMIER PARTNER

CloudHesive is also the largest AWS Premier Partner in Florida. “We are niche player for Amazon Connect, Amazon Workspaces, and Amazon Elemental,” he said.

Today, CloudHesive has 50 to 55 employees split between its offices in Fort Lauderdale, Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile. Last year, the multi-million-dollar company was named to the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies, with a 424% 2-year growth rate.

“We’ve grown 80% year over year, and we won South Florida’s Fastest Growing Companies. This year we are projecting another 60-80% growth,” Walker said. “From a headcount perspective, we are anticipating adding another 10 heads.”

CloudHesive moved into new offices off Commercial Boulevard at the end of 2019. It also opened its Santiago office last year, Walker said. “We’ve had some incredible growth and we’ve been blessed with great customers.” Overall, he attributes the growth to being obsessed with customer success. “We go above and beyond to make sure all of our customers are successful.”


The company began expanding to Latin America in 2017, where it has set up full service offices to serve the region, Walker said. “We saw a need in the market for cloud services. It is a green-field geography — there are not a lot of cloud partners down there right now. We thought it would be advantageous sooner rather than later.”

Still, hiring and retaining high quality tech talent has been a challenge in the South Florida market, he said. “One of the biggest skills you can have down here is a Cloud or Amazon certification and we focus on that. So every time we bring someone in, it is hard to keep them retained.”

HIRING FROM ALL 3 COUNTIES

CloudHesive hires from Palm Beach to Miami, and looks for great engineers, not necessarily cloud engineers, Walker said. The company brings in people with skills in everything from VMware to networking to security. While leveraging those skills, the company can train them to be cloud engineers.

CloudHesive became a member of  Palm Beach Tech about a year ago. The company hosts community meetups for AWS and at universities. On campuses, Walker has also judged startup pitch competitions and done proof of concepts for next-generation technology for student labs.

One of the areas where South Florida is still lacking, Walker says, is with formal training on cloud based solutions. That would be a smart area for universities to add to curricula, he said. Miami Dade College is already starting to do that.

Culture is an important recruiting tool. CloudHesive has a flexible work environment with work-at-home days, Flip Flop Fridays and a java-rater in the office. “We have corporate events and happy hours,” Walker said. “We try to have some fun while we make our customers successful.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | PATHOS

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: Marketing firm specializing in “creative intelligence”

Headquarters: West Palm Beach

Leadership: Ann Savage, Founder & CEO; Shane Savage, Chief Strategy Officer

Employees: 20 full-time

Clients: hospitality groups, automotive, retailers, financial firms, hospitals and community organizations.

Websitewearepathos.com

 

Hannah Haywood walks, Fabiana Otero bikes, and Luke Liscom soon plans to One-Wheel to work. And that’s just how their employer, Pathos, likes it.

Pathos is a creative intelligence firm, specializing in full-service enterprise marketing, and is located in downtown West Palm Beach. A big part of its culture since the 29-year-old company rebranded and moved to 319 Clematis Street about a year ago has been to get more involved in the community. For team members Haywood, Otero and Liscom as well as others, that’s easy to do when you work where you want to live – and vice versa.

“We have hosted more than 40 events that have gotten community members from all walks of life into our offices. We also go to other events around the community – it is part of our culture,” said the 24-year-old Otero, who is Brand Coordinator for Pathos. She has been working at Pathos for one year, and before that graduated from UF and did marketing work for the university. “And with our open office, we learn from each other every day. That is ingrained in our culture, too.”

Liscom, 23, is a Motion Designer at Pathos. He interned twice for Pathos while studying at Ringling College of Art & Design. Now he’s fulltime at Pathos working with cutting edge technologies such as 3D mapping and augmented reality, and he’s planning to move downtown soon. One-Wheel, he says, is his primary mode of transportation and you are likely to see him on One-Wheel group rides around town, too.

“We look at the community as part of our effort to create creative capital. To be in a space where we bring people in and work with each other and help grow the creative community has been wonderful,” he said.

Haywood, 23, is Media Coordinator at Pathos, working with clients on their media assets as well as diving into media research for them. But on Saturdays, you’ll always find her at downtown’s Green Market when it’s running. For her, like the others, the live-work-play lifestyle is natural. “We love the city feel, with all the the local vendors and small businesses.”

“Pathos is so unique and special to us because we aren’t scared to search for what makes us happy in our work life and Pathos provides a great balance of play and work and just being happy to go to work every day,” she said.

Achieving that balance and community engagement were the goal a year ago when Pathos moved downtown, said Shane Savage, Pathos’ Chief Strategy Officer, “We want to open our doors into the community, have that neighborhood feel, and start building things with those around us,” he said then.

Mission accomplished. In addition to the 40 events the company has hosted this past year – including for Creative Mornings, Leadership Palm Beach County, Junior Achievement  and various high school groups that get to experience augmented reality, 3D modeling and video production – Pathos’ team gets out in the community too, such as holding open office hours at 1909, helping Wellington High School prepare for its dance marathon, holding branding workshops with Palm Beach Gardens High School, and regularly attending meetups like Blood, Sweat & Beers.

Savage said the move downtown and a focus on getting out into the community has paid off in several ways. Pathos has found it easier to attract like-minded creatives to join the team full-time.  The company is also attracting community-focused clients. Pathos is currently helping Good Samaritan Medical Center with its 100 year anniversary and it started working with the Community Foundation of Palm Beach and Martin Counties, in addition to adding two large statewide organizations to its client roster, Savage said. “We’ve grown our profits as well, just through these initiatives.”

Savage said the stories of Haywood, Otero and Liscom, all native Floridians, show that students and young professionals don’t have to leave the state to find the innovative companies and challenging career paths.

Looking ahead, Savage added: “We want to continue to help build West Palm Beach into a creative capital.”

By MonicaRojas

Member Spotlight | Child Rescue Coalition

Read Time 2 Minutes

Business: A nonprofit organization that rescues children from sexual abuse by building technology for law enforcement, free of charge, to track, arrest and prosecute child predators.

South Florida office: BRIC 

No. of children rescued: 2,500+

No. of arrests made thanks to Child Rescue Coalition: 11,000+

No. of countries World Wide: 96+

 

“This is a charity that helps thousands of people in a very short period of time, and it’s all because of its ability to maneuver quickly because of technology. This is preventative. This is efficient. This is revolutionary.” – Andrea Jessup Bogdan, child sexual abuse survivor

Palm Beach Tech Member and partner, Child Rescue Coalition, hosted their first ever “Cheers to The Year” event this month to thank supporters for an impactful 2019. The evening was generously sponsored by the Heidi Schaeffer, M.D. Charitable Trust.The event was attended by more than 80 guests including Palm Beach County Commissioner, Robert Weinroth; Assistant United States Attorney, Greg Schiller; our very own Palm Beach Tech VP of Development, Nikki Cabus, and several CRC philanthropists. A special thanks went out to speakers Assistant State Attorney, Eric Baum and CRC Coalition Club Member, Chrissy Eaves for sharing their experiences with the organization.
 
 
 
 
The Child Rescue Coalition aims to “protect innocence through technology” and the organization has protected thousands of children this year alone. Check out some of these cool stats:
  • 2,766 Children Rescued
  • 12,029 Predators Arrested
  • 96 Countries Worldwide
  • 500,000 Cases of Abuse Prevented

The Child Protection System (CPS) Technology provides the most comprehensive view of where child predators around the world are downloading and sharing explicit content online.

They work around the clock to collect and index 30 to 50 million reports of online users trading child pornography every day. This information allows us to expose hidden networks of abusers and report their activity.

Data is provided to local law enforcement agencies free of charge to help them protect children by tracking, arresting and prosecuting child predators worldwide — often without having to put children through the trauma of testifying in court.

If you would like more information on how to get involved, learn more about the technology used, or attend a future event, visit www.childrescuecoalition.org.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Dedicated IT

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: IT services for companies

HQ: Palm Beach Gardens; second office in Melbourne, Fla.

CEOAdam Steinhoff

COO: Aaron Underhill

Year founded: 2002

Employees: 50

Website: www.dedicatedit.com

 

Just before Thanksgiving, Dedicated IT employees gathered for a holiday luncheon and afterward took a company picture. CEO and founder Adam Steinhoff looks at the photo and gets a little emotional.

“There are a lot of stories in that photo, people getting married, people having kids, getting promoted, buying houses. Our company is making them better tomorrow than today. We are of the size now where we can focus on employee development. It’s neat to see the number of mouths that are fed as a result of this little dream I had almost 20 years ago now.”

There is a lot to celebrate in 2019.

Dedicated IT, a managed service provider or MSP based in Palm Beach Gardens, will close this year with 50 employees, nearly double the number it had in early 2018. GrowFL, a statewide economic development agency that supports the growth of second-stage companies, recently honored Dedicated IT  as one of the 50 Florida Companies to Watch.

“We have been growing revenue about 40 percent, which is a pretty good place to be, We’ve been told recently we are the No. 2 Cisco Meraki dealer in Florida and in the top 1% of the Microsoft partners in the Southeast. We were recently invited to Microsoft headquarters to meet with them,” said Steinhoff, who is an officer on the board of Palm Beach Tech Association.

The company also is acquiring a VOIP telephone company. “The goal is to offer our clients one more piece of the technology puzzle as a one-stop shop… We will be bringing on not only a new technology but a really solid team that thinks like us, and our clients will be very well served because of it.” The acquisition of T5 Telecom, based in Michigan, is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

BREAKING OUT

Dedicated IT would seem to be in a crowded space – providing IT services to companies – but the last couple of years the company focused hard on differentiation. Steinhoff and the team were inspired by the book Blue Ocean Strategy to swim upstream from the pack.

While much of the MSP industry supports companies with 10 to 50 employees, Dedicated IT focuses on companies with 150 to 1,500 employees. These companies have very different needs than smaller companies. They likely have IT departments but need a new set of eyes to assess and resolve complex pain points and implement solutions alongside the departments.

“We are co-managing the IT with them now,” Steinhoff said, adding that the strategy has been a boon for Dedicated IT, especially with healthcare companies. “We are now competing at a national level rather than a regional or local level.”

About three months ago, the company freshened and sharpened its core values. “We use them to make sure the people who want to work for Dedicated IT are going to embody what it is that makes us who we are at the core. It’s the secret sauce of Dedicated IT. It’s the thing that really makes us us.” Steinhoff says. Those values steer all hiring decisions.

The core values are: “We attack challenge with action and innovation. We deliver results and are obsessed with excellence. We value partnership over profit. We encourage people to have fun and let their hair down.”

Even more importantly, DedicatedIT doubled down on its mission statement: “We help people and organizations be better tomorrow than today.”

That mission statement empowers everyone to make the right decision, not a short-term fix but a solution with long-term impact. “It’s a comfortable place to be as a business owner to be able have your entire organization making decisions the same way you would. When you have 10 or 15 employees, you can be involved in everything, but not at 50. By having this really solid foundation, it empowers them to do the right thing and stay on mission.”

FACING CHALLENGES

To be sure, it is challenging to double the company in a short time. It means putting systems and processes in place and adding middle managers that weren’t there before. Scaling the company to this next level took a couple years of laying the groundwork.

As the breakout year comes to a close, Steinhoff, an avid reader, recommends to entrepreneurs three of the books he read in 2019 that helped him with current challenges.

Measure What Matters looks at breaking goals down to milestones and how best to measure those milestones. Necessary Endings talks about why some relationships need to be ended, whether they are partners, clients, employees or whatever, in a way that doesn’t burn bridges.

It’s Your Ship, an older book, is about a commander who had the worst ship in the Navy and ultimately turned it around. He did this by getting everyone on the ship to not only own their particular jobs but to take ownership in the entire ship’s performance by cross-training in various roles and learning to work as a cohesive team. “It helped me to understand how to foster teamwork and to understand how to be a better leader,” Steinhoff said.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Garden of Life

Read Time 4 MinutesBusiness: 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

Read Time 3 Minutes

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

Read Time 4 MinutesImagine 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.”

1 2 3 4
Member Spotlight | Boca Code & Todd Albert
Member Spotlight | Digital Resource & Shay Berman
Member Spotlight | Bridge Connector & David Wenger
Member Spotlight | Improving & Adi Raina
Member Spotlight | Modernizing Medicine & Erin Shaw
Member Spotlight | Crown Castle & Lonnie Maier
Member Spotlight | FPL & 35 Mules
Member Spotlight | Meggie Soliman & DSS Inc.
Member Spotlight | Jim Walker & CloudHesive
Member Spotlight | PATHOS
Member Spotlight | Child Rescue Coalition
Member Spotlight | Dedicated IT
Member Spotlight | Garden of Life
Member Spotlight | PeakActivity
1909 | Partner Spotlight