TECHNOLOGY by Janet Leiser | Senior Editor
For proof of the technology sector's growth on Florida's Gulf Coast, look at the University of South Florida, where 18 startups now call the tech incubator home. A year-and-a-half ago, it was home to three.
"We're seeing a very healthy appetite for entrepreneurs getting into the technology business in this area," says Rod Casto, associate vice president of economic development at USF's tech incubator.
Clearly, technology is changing how people live. Breakthroughs in medical science are improving lives and saving lives. Communication has been changed by cellular phones, which are more prevalent today than phone booths ever were in the last century, and computers long ago replaced the typewriter.
"People are really valuing technology," says Andrew Cohen, CEO and founder of Vertical IT Solutions. "Those businesses that don't embrace technology are struggling."
In Florida, the technology sector has been a shadow of the industry in California's Silicon Valley or the area around Route 128 in Boston. But it's growing, evolving into a stronger local economic force.
"We're not one of top four or five technology clusters by any stretch," Casto says. "We can be strong and we can have good numbers. But we'll never have the population required to have a million people working in the industry." Still, George Gordon, president of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum and CEO of Enporion Inc., makes a bold prediction: Technology will be the single-largest growing business sector in the region, after construction/development, within the next decade, he says.
Growth begets growth
In the Tampa area, as well as in Sarasota, medical science is one of the fastest growing technology clusters. It's also popping up in the Lee-Collier area.
"That cluster is very robust," says Kathy Baylis, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. "They're all doing very well, but that one is growing the fastest."
Other clusters include information technology, software development, electronic manufacturing and life/environment sciences. The life/environment science cluster includes the Tampa-based H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Hospital and a trio of Sarasota-based operations: the Silverstein Institute, the Mote Marine Laboratory and the Roskamp Institute.
Medical science also includes the manufacturing of medical devices, such as pacemakers and artificial joints. Florida has the second largest medical device cluster in the country after Minnesota, says USF's Casto. Depending on whom you ask, the Tampa Bay area has between several hundred to 1,000 medical device manufacturers.
Because of the regulatory process, it takes less time to produce a medical device than a pharmaceutical, he says, adding, "you can expect to see results within a few years as opposed to pharmaceuticals where it takes at least a decade to get a drug on the market."
Clusters are important in business growth for the entire region.
"You begin to get a critical mass that use similar resources, humans, for example, or educational resources or financial resources," Baylis says. "As those start to gather, they feed on each other."
Baylis says another strong tech cluster on the Gulf Coast is creative services, even though many people don't consider it part of technology. The cluster includes architects, graphic designers, Web site developers, advertising and public relations firms, all of which are becoming more technical.
As technology becomes an integral part of most businesses, officials struggle to define technology companies, Casto says: "It's really hard to say what's a technology company and what's not."
Unlike the pre dot-com bust of late 2000 and 2001, Casto says today's growth is more stable.
"I think we're in a different world right now where a lot of these companies are growing organically," he adds. "If you compare it to where we were in 2000, where financing was real easy, startups and investors are much more sophisticated now than they were back then. You have to have a good company, a good business plan to get venture capital now."
Although Casto and others say funding is much better today than it was a couple years ago, business leaders say the lack of venture capital remains one of the biggest problems facing startups.
"One of the challenges that we have is when businesses in the technical area are just beginning they need venture capital," Baylis says. "How do you attract that kind of capital, create those pools of funds?"
Enterprise Florida has a group that's looking at how we create venture funds, Baylis says, and the governor's budget includes a proposal for tax credits for venture capital.
Fewer companies are receiving capital, Casto says, but those that are getting funded are receiving more money.
Reports show that venture capital investments are up an estimated 25% over the last two years, Gordon says, adding: "The Tampa bay area is favoring very well from technology investment and talent."
Enporion, started in 2001, has grown about 20% annually, he says, adding that other tech companies have seen similar growth. Vertical IT, Cohen's technology support firm, grew 68% over the last year.
Still, the tech sector would grow even faster if the state took more of an active role in technology development, Gordon says, adding, "it has more of a hands-off attitude compared to other states."
The governor's recent proposal, he says, is a "very good start. But we are still years behind other states in early-stage capital."
He says states such as Oklahoma, California and Pennsylvania, help attract private investment through tax breaks, and some even invest state pension money in startups.
Startups currently in USF's Technology Incubator
1.Delphi Analytical Services Inc.
Improve clients' level of compliance with good manufacturing practices and quality system regulations by providing training, training technology, consulting services and products.
Develops and markets products that allow clients to quickly and cost-effectively implement electronic document and information management applications with enterprise-based application software.
3.Engineering Manufacturing Services
Offers rapid prototype equipment and product design software for medical modeling and mechanical engineering.
Encrypts files to download including images, movies, cookies, history and temp files.
5. Radiance Technologies
Specializes in the applications of emerging technologies to deliver government and commercial solutions that provide products and services that save time, money and lives.
6. Saneron CCEL Therapeutics Inc.
Focus is neurological and cardiac cell therapy for the early intervention and treatment of deadly diseases, which currently lack adequate treatment options providing readily available, non-controversial, ethically acceptable cells, both stem cells and other cell types, for cellular therapies.
7. TransGenex Nanobiotech Inc.
Developing nanoparticle formations to diagnose as well as treat acute and chronic pulmonary inflammatory diseases and cancer based on unique gene expression and delivery technology.
Provides high-precision measurements and models for microwave design simulation to accurately measure components and to build software models that enable popular EDA systems to generate more accurate results.
9. Nanopharma Technologies
Development of new antibiotics and biomaterials to treat and prevent drug-resistant hospital infections, and ant-bioterrorism agents against anthrax. Company is also seeking new anticancer therapies including designing nano-sized vehicles - one billion times smaller than the head of a pin - to provide improved antibiotics passage to infection sites.
Service provider for technology consulting and professional staffing services.
11. Pixel Wizard
Developed a patent-pending technology laser process that prints digital images directly on novelty products using proprietary hardware and software.
12. PPR&D BioMarkers
Perform clinical tests to the public to help prevent diseases and will develop biomarkers to detect various diseases in the early stage.
13. KnowledgeTech Inc.
Provides technical support and training in specialized information technology for clients in the United States and abroad.
14. Magellan BioScience
Leveraging natural product discovery treatments to help people with devastating diseases live more normal lives - and experience fewer side-effects by bringing expertise in marine natural products, microbiology, pharmacology and synthetic chemistry to the task of developing small molecular therapies.
Application of state-of-the-art research results to improve the performance, cost-effectiveness, and quality of health care providers, health organizations and public health agencies.
16. I/O Test Inc.
Hardware and software systems designer, developer and integrator of the common core test platform used for simulation and testing of military avionics.
17. Intezyne Technologies
Committed to addressing challenges in drug delivery by developing new, advanced polymers, which can be tailored to a variety of therapeutic applications.
Development of products, including one that chemically synthesize metabolites of intermediary metabolism.