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Story behind the story: Tampa Bay Wave, local entrepreneur played role in funding for video conferencing startup

Margie Manning

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Steve MacDonald

It took veteran entrepreneur Steve MacDonald about a half-hour to see the potential in Vizetto, a technology company with a video conferencing platform to enable remote teamwork.

After that meeting in March 2019 in a conference room at Tampa Bay Wave, an enthusiastic MacDonald, executive entrepreneur-in-residence at Wave and a partner and member of Florida Funders, pitched Vizetto as an investment candidate at Florida Funders.

A little over a year later, Florida Funders and Vizetto closed the deal, with Florida Funders co-leading a $3 million seed round for Vizetto, a Canadian company that’s planning to open its U.S. office in Florida.

The backstory of how the investment evolved highlights the power of connections and persistence, as well as the role startup hubs like Wave can play in growing the technology ecosystem.

“Wave is a standout place for aspiring entrepreneurs and aspiring companies. It’s a great resource that most early stage companies at least tap into when they are looking at Florida or looking at the marketplace around Tampa,” MacDonald said.

Simplicity of the message

Allen Clary, director of investor relations at Wave, met Av Utukuri, Vizetto CEO and founder, through a mutual friend. Clary was intrigued because Vizetto’s product was similar to technology at Jibidee, a company Clary co-founded 12 years ago.

Allen Clary

Allen Clary

Utukuri previously worked at a company that made large LED touchscreens and decided to create software to go with those touchscreens. That’s what became Vizetto, Clary said.

“He already knew how to make touchscreen really responsive. So he built this software to have a great touchscreen experience on a big screen that’s as smooth and responsive as an iPhone. That’s the magic part,” Clary said. “The end result is that conference rooms are forever changed.”

Vizetto’s technology, called Reactiv SUITE, includes three tools. STAGE offers a “digital table” for presenting a variety of content, including documents, pictures and videos. SCRIBBLE, used for re- ideation and brainstorming, lets participants makes notes and organize information. HUDDLE lets remote workers and customers collaborate as if they were in the same room.

After Vizetto became a co-working member at Wave, Clary set up a meeting for Utukuri to demonstrate the product to MacDonald, who has been active in the local tech community for 20 years and founded myMatrixx. That company sold in 2017 to Express Scripts for $250 million. MacDonald was appointed executive entrepreneur-in-residence at Wave in 2018. He met with Utukuri at Wave in March 2019.

“We booked that room in the Wave with big monitors and I struggled for 30 minutes. I couldn’t connect up to them. I was freaking out, and I ended doing the whole demo on my laptop,” Utukuri said. “This is exactly the problem we’re going to solve. I think technology fundamentally is getting too complicated. Companies tend to load up a thousand features, and they’re not realizing that the simplicity of the message is more critical and not the complexity of how all the tech combines together.”

Despite the technical snafu, “Av pulled it together well,” MacDonald said. “Av is a smart and very seasoned entrepreneur. He had a well-designed product and a lot of skin in the game. He’s invested substantial sums of his own money. And I also thought when I saw it that — similar to a first version of Adobe —  this product potentially had a lot of different legs in a lot of different markets.”

Persistence

MacDonald was interested in investing personally, but didn’t have the resources on his own to do a full due diligence on Vizetto. So he went to Marc Sokol, a partner at Florida Funders and head of the investment committee, who agreed to send it through the investment committee for review.

Av Utukuri

Utukuri had another connection to Florida Funders.

“I had some friends in New York who had additional connections. It’s really interesting. Multiple times whenever we went back to the market, someone would connect us to Florida Funders. It happened two or three times,” Utukuri said.

Still, it took a while for Vizetto to get through the Florida Funders’ process.

“We had a few deals in the hopper already. It didn’t hit right at first, but Av continued to follow up and he got more and more traction. He was always on mine and Marc’s mind and we went back to the investment committee to take a look again,” MacDonald said.

Persistence is a key takeaway from the story, MacDonald said.

“I think oftentimes inexperienced entrepreneurs go into these meetings and expect it will be one and done, I’m either going to get funded or not, and then they move on. And it’s like any other sales process. People who are good at selling recognize oftentimes it’s a long-term commitment to closing a deal. As a seasoned business person, Av understood that and continued to make the right steps,” MacDonald said.

While Florida Funders was ready to invest prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the crisis has brought home the importance of the Vizetto technology.

“For people who have a requirement for remote workforce collaboration and Zoom doesn’t check all the boxes for them, this product is a missing link. I think it’s worth lots of companies taking a look at this. I think it would improve productivity and make the experience through Covid that much easier,” MacDonald said.

Now, Vizetto is looking to locate its U.S. office in Florida and is identifying locations.

“We have no desire to  go to Boston or New York or California and suddenly face cost overruns. So we are looking for secondary markets that are up and coming, and Florida is fantastic because there is a huge customer base, from Disney to NASA, the type of companies that need this,” Utukuri said.

“And from a competitive advantage, a company like ours that’s growing quickly can attract the right type of talent and not be worried about Google or Facebook trying to squash our territory. And there’s an investor community that’s eager to support and help us expand. That only sweetens the pie.”

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