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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 5, 2018 1 year ago

Market Moves

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Southwest Florida technology entrepreneurs should have plenty of new places to work in 2018. Will it lead to a breakthrough business?
by: Ted Carter Contributing Writer

Why it Matters: The Fort Myers-Naples region, on a mission to shed its image as only being a hub for real estate, development and tourism, seeks to expand its base of technology companies.

The tech scene in Southwest Florida is ready for a big year.

For starters, tech startups in Fort Myers and Naples will find new choices in 2018 on where to work.

Fort Myers incubator-accelerator RocketLounge is expanding into Naples and plans to open a 10,000-square-foot location there in February. If successful, there's the potential of an additional 20,000 square feet available in the building, says RocketLounge co-founder and CEO Dieter Kondek. The Naples location is off Tamiami Trail, south of Pine Ridge Road.

In Fort Myers, tech entrepreneur Matt Hurley and his investment partners are in the process of transforming the 123,000-square-foot former Atrium Executive Center into the H2 Innovation Center. They are counting on the revamp of the 38-year-old building at the southwest corner of College Parkway and Winkler Avenue to make it a magnet for startups of all sorts. Hurley expects companies from around the region — and nationwide — to begin working there in September.

Workers are demolishing the interior of the building to create about 42,000 square feet of incubator space and additional room for shared workspaces. Office suites and an innovation theater will also be included, Hurley says. A 21-year-old Fort Myers native who recently sold his share of digital ad broker Torchlight, Hurley says he and his partners will look for startups to back, among incubator residents.

The RocketLounge's Dieter, meanwhile, says his decision to expand south of Fort Myers is both about being out of space in one spot and seeing promise in another spot. “The capacity in Fort Myers is maybe 20 companies,” he says. “In Naples, it's totally different because we have a such a bigger space. People like to have their own offices.”

Dieter has spent the past couple decades in entrepreneurial pursuits after stints in corporate IT. He's targeting corporate partnerships and working to strengthen the international reach of RocketLounge, especially in drawing Israeli companies to the region. He also hopes to add technological muscle to the region's strengths in health care, tourism and construction.

In addition to new spaces, the city of Fort Myers' Southwest Florida Enterprise Center says its 2018 priority is to help startups at the center become more business savvy, says Mike Love, director. And helping international companies make soft landings here will be a priority for the Naples Accelerator, says Director Marshall Goodman. The accelerator's links to tech startups in France, Finland, the United Kingdom and Germany are expected to grow even more robust in 2018, Goodman says.

But to truly have a good year, Goodman, like other Southwest Florida tech community supporters, says investment capital must remain a front-and-center priority. “Nothing attracts innovation companies like seed capital,” Goodman says. “So the more we can grow a risk-reward culture and investing in startups becomes more routine rather than an outlier for family funds, the more we will be put on the venture-innovation map.”

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