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Tampa Bay Innovation Center showcases members of third cohort

Brian Hartz

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Johnny Crowder, founder and CEO of Cope Notes, was part of Tampa Bay Innovation Center's third Innovation Accelerator cohort. File photo.

Founders of the five startups that comprise Tampa Bay Innovation Center’s third cohort got to make pitches to a panel of experts and audience of potential investors on Wednesday during a virtual Innovation Showcase hosted by TBIC Managing Director Ken Evans.

The event began with an update about TBIC’s new facility in St. Petersburg’s Innovation District that’s scheduled to break ground in July. The 45,000-square-foot facility has been awarded some $12 million in funding from federal and county sources, but is seeking to raise an additional $3.5 million to account for cost increases that have occurred during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The project, Evans said, “is something that’s been 12 years in the offing, and we just have a few more hurdles to get over, like you always do on a big project like that.” Evans added that TBIC expects the building to be completed and open within two years.

The members of TBIC’s third cohort, Evans said, are all impressive because they all have viable products on the market or in beta-testing stages, while “some are actually at a revenue-producing stage.” He said the companies — BlockSpaces, CodeOne Medical, CopeNotes, Neuron Education and RB Technologies — all fit what TIBC looks for in startups that apply to be part of its 12-week business accelerator program.

“I’m the first to say that I am very, very biased toward making sure that people get the product right, because as we’ve seen from a lot of the research that’s out there, that’s the number one reason for startup failure,” Evans said. “Ideas can be great, but unless you build a product that actually gets some traction that can attract customers and address a need, you are generally going to be the only person that uses that product. We really want scalability, so we focus, I would say, 60, 70, maybe 80 percent of our agenda on making sure people are paying attention to what users need, finding early adopters and building a product that is going to get some market fit.”

The first company to be showcased, Tampa-based BlockSpaces, recently raised $1.2 million in seed funding. Founder Gabe Higgins described BlockSpaces’ product as a middleware platform “built to ease the specific challenges of blockchain integration. “We are generating revenue and have several potential partners lined up for beta testing and eventual launch in Q4,” Higgins said.

Next up was Code 1 Medical Devices and founder Nicholas Travis, who explained the market opportunity for his company’s airway device that is designed to lower the risk of complications for patients who undergo endoscopy procedures. “It’s designed to reduce the need for sedation,” he said, “thereby reducing hypoxia rates … we keep the patient’s airway open. And it has the ability to monitor respiration and deliver oxygenation and ventilation if needed.” The Nasoesophageal Obstructer, as the device is called, is currently in a prototype stage, Travis said, while the company develops relationships with manufacturers and distributors.

Cope Notes and its founder, Johnny Crowder, then got the spotlight. Cope Notes is a mental health and wellness service that provides daily affirmations through text messages that offer advice and encouragement. “Cope Notes,” Crowder explained, “combines the proven psychological principles of peer support, positive psychology and ecological momentary interventions, or EMIs, to deliver brain training, life-changing health education in the modern era’s favorite format — text messages. And because we built Cope Notes with scale in mind, we can onboard a brand new enterprise client in just a few minutes, even if they’re asking us to support a thousand or a million users at once. No wait-lists, no downloads and no personal info required.”

Crowder told audience that Cope Notes has sent nearly 1 million text message and signed up close to 18,000 subscribers in 94 countries since it launched three years ago. He said the service is popular with public-sector organizations that are wary of having employees’ personal information exposed to app-based services: “We plan to expand our footprint here in the U.S. by closing our 10th government contract before the end of this year.”

The fourth founder to be featured was Gabriel Gavrilov of Neuron Education. He said his company sees a huge opportunity in the pandemic-driven shift to remote and hybrid work models in which parents are working from home while trying, and often failing, to care for school-age children – and help them with their studies in the window of time between when the child comes from school and the parent’s workday ends.

“Corporations are starting to have a larger say in the work-life balance of employees,” he said, “and you’re also seeing worker stress is costing billions of dollars in productivity for corporations.”

Using college students to provide content, Gavrilov said, “we built a solution which provides virtual child care and tutoring as an employee benefit. What we do is we quantify the data for HR [departments] to show them the impact that we have on their employees. Right now, we’re in the early adopter stage. We closed two contracts and we have a pipeline of deals, with our average deal size between $5,000 and $20,000.”

Rounding out the presentations was Chris Jones and RB Technologies, a company that has come up with a solution for helping makers of dietary supplements comply with regulatory standards and more efficiently document and track their production processes. Dietary supplements, he explained, are not subject to the same U.S. Food and Drug Administration scrutiny as pharmaceuticals.

“It’s been found that 80 percent [of dietary supplements] can be contaminated with germs, pesticides or toxic heavy metals,” Jones said. “It’s not until someone gets sick or hurt that the FDA will consider recalling these products. Additionally, 60 percent of manufacturers in the supplements industry are still using paper and pen or piecing together software applications to document all of their processes. They also lack the transparency and accountability that would be expected in modernized supply chain management.”

RB Technologies’ solution, Jones said, is primed to take advantage of the rapidly growing dietary supplement market, which he said was worth $132 billion in 2016 and is expected to be worth $278 billion by 2024. “Our SasS product incorporates industry regulatory guidelines with blockchain backend to help manufacturers easily track and meet quality standards and verify product integrity,” he said. “So not only can supplement brands say they are producing a quality product but they can actually prove it this way. We expect to move from beta to first commercial launch in late Q2 of this year and already have $2 million worth of orders lined up through eight brands with annual contracts.”

Click here for more information about TBIC and its Innovation Accelerator program.

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