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Synapse Summit wraps up with inaugural awards ceremony

Brian Hartz

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Lunchpool's interface allows users to move around from table to table in a virtual cafeteria that can be used for everything from casual conversations to major events and presentations.

The Synapse Summit concluded on Thursday with a presentation of the event’s first-ever Synapse Innovation Awards. The innovation conference normally takes place at Amalie Arena, but was held virtually this year because of the Covid-19 crisis.

Awards were handed out in eight categories: health care, clean tech, cybersecurity, defense, entertainment, community impact and emerging tech. There was also an award for overall innovation, which went to Tampa Bay Healthcare Collective.

Lunchpool, a platform for virtual events and networking, took home the emerging tech award, and Alex Abell, the company’s founder and CEO, spoke to the Catalyst about what the win means and how the firm, whose product could be likened to Zoom on steroids, plans to disrupt the worlds of social media and online meetings and events.

“Our thesis was that getting to know the people around you makes you happier,” he said. “There’s the culture component to it, but it also makes you more productive, which is kind of ironic because we’re encouraging people to essentially work less. They’ll be more productive and work better together.”

Lunchpool was originally conceived as a way to foster more in-person meetings and help reverse the trend of people eating lunch alone at their desks while staring at computer screens and social media feeds. But then the pandemic came along and, well, you know the rest.

“I worked in corporate America in a regular desk job and the saving grace, my favorite part of the day, was going to lunch with what I call my lunch pool,” Abell said. “It was like your carpool back and forth to lunch spots. And then my wife started packing my lunch because she saw some receipts and was not happy.”

Relegated to lunch at his desk and then at home because of the Covid-19 crisis, Abell attended his fair share of events held via Zoom, Google Hangouts and other online meeting services. But he thought it could be done better. Some sleuthing led him to Remo.co and its CEO, Hoyin Cheung. “I had goosebumps when he told me his vision,” Abell said. “It was basically the same as mine.”

Using software powered by Remo, Abell conceived Lunchpool as a virtual cafeteria where users can move around from table to table, meeting new people and striking up new conversations along the way. He acknowledged the concept is loosely similar to Zoom’s breakout rooms, in which users can leave the main conversation and meet in smaller groups, but it doesn’t require any work on the part of a moderator or administrator. Also, the lunchroom is always up and running and ready for meetings to take place spontaneously, unlike a Zoom session, which requires someone to send out a specific link to participants.

Like Zoom, the Lunchpool interface includes useful tools such as a whiteboard and text chat window. It also allows users to share their screens with others. Unlike Zoom, however, Lunchroom also offers event management services.

“Basically, we’ve relicensed the software from Remo and our clients pay us for planning,” Abell said, adding that he charges a flat fee that’s based on factors such as the length of the event and number of attendees. “So we’re part event planners, part technology consultants. A big part of [the business] is tech support — it’s new technology and we make sure that the speakers, organizers and especially the attendees know how to use it. And then we actually do run of show, so we’re in production as well. We’re like the Wizard of Oz in the background. If it’s a very advanced presentation, we have partners that will handle videography.”

Abell said winning a Synapse Innovation Award has already resulted in greater outreach opportunities for Lunchpool. The company is currently “100 percent bootstrapped,” he said, but he’s been building relationships with venture capital firms. He’s not in a huge rush to do a capital raise just yet because revenue generation has been strong, around $100,000 per month, and he wants to find “impact investors” who share his vision and want to use their money “to change the world,” he said.

“Social media is transforming the world well in many ways, but not in a positive way. The answer to that can be technology if we use it right.”

The other winners of the inaugural Synapse Innovation Awards are:

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