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Florida Funders’ Tom Wallace sees a ‘sleeping giant’ in the Sunshine State

Margie Manning

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Mike McNally of the Vinoy Business Alliance interviews Tom Wallace, managing partner, Florida Funders, at the Vinoy Sunset Ballroom.

There’s a large pool of untapped funding for young technology companies in Florida.

Only a fraction of the state’s 400,000 accredited investors — people who are financially sophisticated, have $1 million in net worth and can deal with securities not registered with financial authorities — currently back local startups, said Tom Wallace, managing partner of Florida Funders in Tampa.

Wallace wants that to change, because access to capital historically has been a major challenge for Florida tech firms.

“Our hidden gem, our sleeping giant if you will, in this state is this bevy of accredited investors,” Wallace said, at the Vinoy Business Alliance Thursday.

Florida is second only to California in terms of the number of accredited investors, but the nature of the investors in each state differs.

“A lot of the California investors made their wealth in technology, where most of our accredited investors in Florida made their wealth in insurance or restaurants or construction or real estate. They didn’t make it in tech,” Wallace said.

Florida Funders, a hybrid venture capital fund and crowdfunding platform that invests in tech startups, does the due diligence for investors who may be unfamiliar with technology businesses, Wallace said.

“We’re on a mission to change Florida into a state as known for technology and innovation as we are today for tourism or strawberries, or oranges — you pick the fruit,” he said. “We’re on a mission to change Florida into a state where our best and brightest are staying here to start their companies, not going to Silicon Valley, not going to New York, not going to Austin. And if anything we’re pulling some of those really bright young entrepreneurs here because Florida becomes known to be the best place on the planet to start a tech company.”

Florida Funders is “geo-targeted” on Florida companies. It has funded about 20 companies, investing about $1 million in each deal — one-third of that from its own venture fund and two-thirds from its crowdfunding platform.

The organization reviews 50 to 100 potential deals each month, and invests in one of those, on average.

“We know we’re going to miss deals. We want to miss deals. It may not be the right deal for us,” he said. “We know we’re going to make mistakes and not get them all right.”

Wallace singled out two Florida Funders companies that he said are very exciting: Peerfit, a Tampa digital health firm, and Homee, a Tampa company with an on-demand property maintenance app.

Wallace likes the business-to-business focus of both companies. Homee concentrates on working with large real estate owners, including REITs (real estate investment trusts) and apartment owners, while Peerfit works with companies that make fitness offerings available to their employees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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