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From cybersecurity to hiring tech talent, Tampa-St. Pete startups tackle top business issues

Margie Manning



Seven local startups are out to change the way business as usual is done.

The companies just graduated from the Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s B2B Tech Accelerator, and showed off their solutions to business problems for a panel of judges at an Innovation Showcase this week.

During the 90-day program, the companies received training and mentoring in customer delivery, investor readiness and leadership.

“Enthusiasm is great in the beginning but you have to show that you’ve got traction and you understand who your market is,” said Ken Evans, managing director of the Tech Accelerator. “That’s where I’ve been adamant about making sure they are out there doing those interviews and hearing no a lot.”

Here’s a look at the accelerator graduates.

• Ceres Engineering LLC, an advanced analytics and decision support solution for the trucking and supply chain industry.

The problem: “Flooding today is one of the largest and most impactful weather events you’ll find. It costs $56 billion a year to U.S. industry. The technology that develops that flood data still is limited to only providing the probability of risk of that flood, rather than detailed descriptions of the risk itself,” said Cesar Morales, co-founder.

The solution: “What we’ve built is a technology that combines cloud-capable analytics software with enhanced data models, that goes beyond probability of risk, but provides where and when that flooding will occur as a result of a real time weather event,” Morales said. “If you are a company like Amazon or Walmart that depends on consistency and predictability in the movement of your goods, then it’s not enough to know if a road will flood. You need to know exactly where and when that flooding will occur and how it will interrupt your operations and your business continuity. That’s what we do.”

The market: Supply chain risk management companies were a $1.5 billion market in 2019 growing at  13.4 percent annually

elitRecruiter, HR technology to assist recruiters with sourcing and vetting technical talent.

The problem: “Hiring software is currently built for HR and recruitment professionals, not technical managers, and many small to mid-size companies simply do not have these employees,” said Luke McGinn, co-founder. “The baggage of HR software routinely outweighs the benefit. The  average interview life cycle for a software position takes 40 days to complete, while the best candidates are typically off the job market 10 to 20 days after initial contact, making it crucial for lesser-known companies to process their candidates quickly.”

The solution: “We’re building agile hiring software that adds structure and repeatability to the process by automating workflows and streamlining interview coordination to eliminate repetitive and manual administrative tasks that delay the hiring process,” McGinn said.

The market: Hiring software will be a $3 billion market by 2025.

LeaseHoney, an agtech marketplace connecting beekeepers with landowners and real estate investors.

The problem: “Every year bees pollinate over $15 billion in U.S. crops. Beekeeping as a hobby and an industry is growing by almost 10 percent year over year … However, with the growth of beekeeping and the growth of urban redevelopment there is less land for bees now than ever. Urban and rural beekeepers can’t find land. This inhibits new beekeeping operations from starting and it’s detrimental to existing operations’ growth,” said Gianna Whitver, founder.

The solution: “Bees count as livestock, and placing bees on your land may save a landowner 80 percent off their market rate real estate taxes,” Whitver said. “We have a marketplace that matches beekeeper and land owners to help landowners save money on their real estate taxes while saving the bees.”

The market: There are more than 5,000 registered beekeepers in Florida. LeaseHoney also works with attorneys and CPAs who can help their landowner clients save money.

MangoSigns, a digital signage as a service platform.

The problem: “It is essential for brick and mortar businesses to communicate while keeping customers and employees safe and engaged,” said Thomas Westerberg, founder. “Existing solutions require significant upfront costs, long-term contracts, hardware and network configuration. This made individual signage unaffordable for most businesses, especially small business.”

The solution: MangoSigns solve this problem with an easy to use Software-as-a-Service platform that eliminates upfront costs using hardware that is readily available, with no long-term contracts, and pay as you go. We are a secure cloud-based platform so all you need is internet access and a compatible smart TV or a device connected to your TV.”

The market: Digital signage was a $4.5 billion market in 2016 and will be a $9.24 billion market by 2023.

Paragon Cyber Solutions, a veteran-owned cybersecurity and compliance solution.

The problem: “Currently federal contractors have to comply with [a federal rule] which allow self-certification for compliance. With the new CMMC [cybersecurity maturity model certification], self-certification is no longer an option. Contractors must achieve formal CMMC certification in order to bid on and maintain federal contracts,” said Courtney Jackson, founder and CEO. “Most companies are aware that this mandatory requirement is forthcoming but they lack the knowledge, time and resources to achieve compliance.”

The solution: “Our product is a compilation of scalable Software-as-a-Service readiness assessment tools, to streamline the CMMC process and prepare companies to achieve mandatory certification,” Jackson said.

The market: There are over 300,000 federal contractors in the U.S. and in 2018 the U.S. government spent over $550 billion on federal contracts.

Real Random LLC, a security solution for enterprise users

The problem: “In the early days of dial-in internet, standard security was math on a microchip. With ecommerce, hackers have figured out how to reverse engineer the math behind that security,” said Doug Hill, founder. “As threats become more advanced security must become more advanced.”

The solution: “Throw out the math that makes security vulnerable and replace it with true random numbers that can’t be predicted,” Hill said. “Real Random has developed hardware and software for a cloud-based system to deliver true random numbers that are impossible to predict.”

The market: Companies will spend $6 trillion globally on cybersecurity by 2021.

Smart Edge Technology, a supply chain management solution for small to medium-size retailers.

The problem: “In today’s market, to manage inventory you have large enterprise solutions which are high-end implementation, they have long deployments and high price tags. On the other end you have small business solutions which are very static and don’t allow for many variations or integrations,” said Christina Dills, founder. “Mid-market retailers were being left behind to manage inventory and supply chain with no available solutions that fit their profile.”

The solution: “We set out to build a more robust, turn-key off the shelf solution … that provides inventory management analytics with a scalable approach,” Dills said. “We use RFID technology and a mobile inventory card reader for simpler deployment.”

The market: The company is currently working with Goodwill and is targeting apparel and cannabis retailers. Overall, the smart retail market will be $30.7 billion by 2026.

Each company had a chance to make a one-minute pitch to a panel of judges: Travis Milks, managing partner of Topmark Partners; Joy Randels, founder and CEO of New Market Partners; and Mark Swanson, managing director of Lane Five Ventures. The judges questioned each entrepreneur about what made their technology unique, their customers and their competition.

“The success of these companies is not determined by the pitch they made to you today,” Evans said. “Their success is based on their ability to deliver and to execute on what they’ve promised and the customers they have identified as their early adopters, the real targets for that technology.”

The Tampa Bay Innovation Center expects to open applications this month for its third B2B Tech Accelerator cohort, with sessions starting in January.

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