The startup process for most technology companies was muddied when John Montelione sought to get a firm going in Boston in the early 1980s.
Montelione was convinced his idea, to sell a signal system businesses could use to retrieve data, would work. But investors were hesitant to take a chance on unproven technology. Recalls Montelione: “It was esoteric to them.”
Montelione stuck with it, however, and after receiving $250,000 in startup funds, the company, Mercury Computer Systems, was launched. It was profitable within 18 months, and in six years it had $20 million in sales.
Now a semi-retired Sarasota entrepreneur and business consultant, Montelione seeks to un-muddy the grounds where businesses get started on the Gulf Coast. The avenue he created to do that is Gulf Coast Startup. It's a for-profit entity he formed that's a new business help desk, an entrepreneurial learning center and a clearinghouse for experienced entrepreneurs to connect with startups.
The center is run out of a former Washington Mutual Bank branch in a Sarasota strip mall, a few miles south of downtown. It's a 5,000-square-foot space, donated by Milford Inganamort, the owner of the complex.
“I'm just tired of seeing business start and fail,” says Montelione. “We want to be the first stop for an aspiring entrepreneur.”
At Gulf Coast Startup, the first stop is BusinessStartup2012, Montelione's version of a new business boot camp. There are 14 classes that last about 50 minutes each. Topics range from improving an idea, to making sure a market exists for a product, to hearing feedback from others in the industry.
The basic cost for a 14-week program is $299, although Montelione offers several levels of discounts for students, veterans and unemployed participants. Attendees who sign up early for sessions also get a price break.
Montelione and a few other local business executives and entrepreneurs will teach the sessions, and participants are assigned a business adviser for the first eight weeks. Fees go toward technology equipment and running the sessions. “This is all grassroots,” says Montelione. “There's no government funding.”
Montelione hosted an open house for BusinessStartup2012 in early January. Several local businesses had space at the open house to demonstrate products and services.
One firm at the event was Sarasota-based Visual Applications, which developed a series of online tools and interactive showrooms for the home improvement industry. Another Sarasota-based firm at the open house, Aqua Mizer, developed retrofitted toilet-based products it says can reduce water usage in toilet bowls without impacting performance.
Companies like VisApp and Aqua Mizer are examples of the types of businesses Montelione targets for his seminars.
A New York native, Montelione retired to the Gulf Coast more than a decade ago, first in Marco Island and later in Sarasota. He has since backed several businesses, and he cofounded a venture capital fund with other successful entrepreneurs.
But Montelione's passion lies with startups. “We believe in the profit motive,” says Montelione. “If we are successful here, there's no reason this can't be duplicated.”