A gap that makes it difficult for independent contractors to get traditional work benefits prompted St. Petersburg entrepreneur Eve Epstein to launch SoleVenture Inc.
The company, which has raised $900,000 from two investors, has a platform that connects self-employed white collar professionals with one another and with new clients, and it will leverage their collective numbers to get health insurance and other benefits.
It’s a growing need. New statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau show a 3.6 percent increase nationally, and a 10 percent increase locally, in “nonemployer businesses.”
The Census Bureau said the biggest jump in those businesses was in the transportation sector, which includes ridesharing businesses such as Uber and Lyft. But there are many other participants in the gig economy, Epstein said.
“We’re redefining what the gig economy is. It’s not just Uber drivers. Right now in the U.S. we are dealing with over-employment and wage stagnation, so many people will work for an employer for the benefits and then get a side job,” she said. “We’re offering an alternative.”
Epstein is an attorney who has practiced labor and employment law in Washington, D.C, including a stint at the U.S. Department of Labor. She’s a St. Petersburg native who returned here in 2015 to work for the city as the wage and hour compliance coordinator, and later for Modern Business Associates, a professional employer organization in St. Pete, as assistant general counsel and HR consultant.
She incorporated SoleVenture in February and has been building out the platform. The capital raise will be used largely to bolster the technology, she said.
A July 1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission showed Epstein had raised $650,000. An upcoming filing will show the full $900,000 raised so far, she said.
The company’s website says it offers the benefits and stability of employment without the employer. Its tagline is “employ yourself.”
Through SoleVenture, professionals continue to work as independent workers, setting their own pay, defining the scope of their work and accepting their clients, Epstein said. By conducting transactions, building the community, sharing content and referring new members, SoleVenture rewards their contributions with access to insurance and fringe benefits.
“When you work for an employer you receive income, insurance, and fringe benefits in exchange for your labor. The larger the employer, generally, the more expansive those offerings become,” Epstein said. “We offer rewards points as a revenue sharing model for them to access the insurance and fringe benefits that are traditionally only available with a large employer. The larger our community becomes, the more robust the offerings will become.”
Health insurance will be the first benefit offered. The company has secured an insurance plan that offers several levels of affordable, quality coverage and is available in 34 states, primarily those that don’t have health exchanges, including Florida.
“We are starting in Tampa Bay and hope to be in Austin, Texas by March,” she said. “We’re having a soft launch event in September. Right now there’s a beta group in place and we’ve been redesigning the platform for the local community.”
After health insurance, SoleVenture aims to provide other benefits such as personal time off (PTO), retirement savings plans and possibly a line of credit.
SoleVenture has a team of four – Epstein; co-founder and chief operating officer Robyn Rusignuolo, who also previously worked at Modern Business Associates; Joe DeSetto, product manager overseeing the technology development; and Darden Rice, director of business development. Rice also is a member of the St. Petersburg City Council and is married to Epstein.
The market opportunity is enormous.
“By 2027, half of the U.S. workforce will have at least one side gig, although it may not be full-time,” Epstein said. “They spend so much on marketing and accessing benefits that they can’t grow their business. We’re offering them the chance to grow.”