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Prominent VC firm invests in local Web3 company

Mark Parker



Shayra Antia (left) CEO of TouchBrick, and Jason Melo, chief technology officer. Photo provided.

Tampa’s TouchBrick is halfway to its $2 million fundraising goal following a recent investment from Expert Dojo, a California-based international startup accelerator and venture capital (VC) firm.

TouchBrick provides enterprise-scale Web3 solutions that allow companies to seamlessly integrate blockchain technology, smart contracts and decentralized networks into daily operations. Shayra Antia, founder and CEO, told the Catalyst that the latest funding pushed her company over the $1 million mark in its seed round.

She did not reveal further transaction details. According to Expert Dojo’s website, the firm has invested at least $100,000 in over 220 startups.

Antia, a University of South Florida graduate whose parents immigrated from Colombia, noted that innovators faced some “tough times” over the past year. She said the investment validates her work and shows that tech hubs exist outside California.

“Web3 is not going away; blockchain products and digital assets are not going to disappear off the map,” Antia added. “There is still a lot of movement going around, and infrastructure and real technology are being built behind this.”

Web3 is the latest blockchain-enabled internet iteration that promotes decentralization, security and efficiency through smart contracts. Antia explained that TouchBrick enables companies to connect and transfer data to service providers like HubSpot, Salesforce and Amazon Web Services.

Jason Melo, chief technology officer, said their platform also allows business officials to integrate smart contracts without dedicating a team of programmers to blockchain applications. Enterprise Web2 companies can utilize TouchBrick’s “no code,” “drag-and-drop” solutions to create a Web3 ecosystem with minimal effort.

“An example of that is a sales department incentivizing their sales team using blockchain technology for transparency,” Melo said. “That same organization, their finance team might want to connect their financial system … into a business analytics platform, or vice versa, and bring some financial data into what the sales team is doing. You don’t have to have the technical knowledge, blockchain knowledge or coding expertise to use it.”

Antia said that artificial intelligence (AI) applications provide a significant benefit and easily incorporate into every sector. Her goal is to foster that ubiquity in blockchain technology.

However, Melo noted that the industry is rapidly evolving. He said TouchBrick’s platform would allow company officials to focus on their product offerings rather than incorporating the latest developments.

He added that the recent investment will help accelerate “every aspect” of TouchBrick’s growth. Expert Dojo will also provide guidance and marketing resources to increase customer engagement and product development.

Melo said investors valued TouchBrick at $6.25 million during its 2022 pre-seed round last year but declined to provide an update. Antia said securing investments, despite the current environment, “shows how strong of a company we really are” and that people believe in her team and services.

“Also, having Expert Dojo is a great move for Florida,” she said. “It’s showing that there is a wider net of technology companies and concentrations outside of just California. And I think that’s another big point that this entire relationship and partnership has brought.”

Melo has a unique perspective on the industry’s shift away from traditional tech hubs. As a self-described serial entrepreneur and technologist, he launched startups in Silicon Valley and co-founded Cross Borders Solutions in New York City.

He was part of the group that moved the unicorn, AI-enabled enterprise tax company to St. Petersburg in 2020. Cross Borders employed 500 people at its height, and Melo once worried that Tampa Bay could not provide the same talent pipeline as other areas.

He realized those fears were unfounded before exiting the company to start TouchBrick.

“There’s phenomenal talent here,” Melo said. “Money and attention are starting to come in, so I think it’s one of those new market frontiers that … have all the support you would want to find in some of those other hotbeds around the country.”

Scott Kelly, CEO of Black Dog Venture Partners, facilitated the partnership with Expert Dojo. He collaborated with its CEO, Brian Mac Mahon, before Kelly relocated his company to St. Pete.

Kelly introduced Mac Mahon to Antia and Melo and said that Mac Mahon shares his vision of Tampa Bay becoming the “next great” innovation hub. Antia was born and raised in the area and said the region’s young entrepreneurs are becoming “stronger.”

“I think what Expert Dojo saw in us was a first-time founder, female-led – but then also the mix of the team having multiple exits and being able to scale up companies really rapidly,” Antia added. “I think there was just this perfect opportunity in a new emerging market, the right team and just the right formula behind it.”

Mac Mahon said in a prepared statement that the local partnership “aligns perfectly with our vision of fostering innovation and propelling startups to success in emerging technology sectors.”




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