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Developer looks to a new industry

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  • | 11:00 a.m. July 9, 2010
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The revival of Sarasota-based product design firm Robrady has added another component: A gatekeeper for the company's venture capital portfolio.

That gatekeeper is Matt Leiter, a University of Chicago MBA who developed a name for himself five years ago as a savvy young developer for condo and other residential projects on the Gulf Coast. Leiter, no surprise, was run aground by the recession; he told Coffee Talk he caught “a falling knife in the real estate business.”

But while Leiter's projects, including Hacienda del Mar, a $220 million townhome/condo/marina project near Boca Grande, suffered over the past year, Rob Brady was leading his firm through a business model shift. The shift included designing more products on spec and looking for more businesses to invest in through Robrady Capital, the company's venture investment arm. (See Business Review, Nov. 12, 2009.)

Leiter, who at one point led a group that planned to redevelop several parcels in downtown Sarasota, near Palm Avenue and Main Street, met with some Robrady executives late last year. He took on some work on a consultant basis and then deiced to take a full-time job with the company.

In doing so, Leiter exited the real estate development business, save for a few hours a week he spends on some administrative tasks. “There was just no buyers,” says Leiter. “Every day you thought it couldn't get any worse, but then it did.”

Now Leiter is director of the Robrady venture capital unit. The idea is to find small businesses with unique components and products for Robrady to invest in, either through financing, design work or both. Leiter likens the unit to Shark Tank, a TV show on ABC where would-be inventors and entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to a panel of executive judges.

But at the Robrady shark tank, Leiter will hold the other company executives, including Brady himself, in check. Leiter worked in financing for Caterpillar Inc. and a few small European startups before his turn in real estate development.

“I'm entrepreneurial and like to take risks, but I'm here for controls,” says Leiter. “I'm going to make sure we check the numbers.”


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