Tech Hub South FloridaTech Hub South Florida

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | Crown Castle

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: Real estate investment trust and provider of shared communications infrastructure across the United States

Launched: 1994

HQ: Houston, Texas

Employees: 4,500+

Website: CrownCastle.com

Using the internet can feel magical. You grab a metal object out of your pocket, tap on the glass, and in a matter of milliseconds are presented with all the world at your fingertips.

None of that magic would be possible without people like Chris Carr. He’s the Fiber Sales Manager for South Florida at Crown Castle, the nation’s largest provider of communications infrastructure. Crown Castle’s assets include cell towers, small cell nodes, and fiber that connect people and businesses to the data they need.

Carr focuses on the fiber part of Crown Castle’s business, working together with his team of seven account executives to help solve his customers’ needs. Those needs can vary quite a bit considering the diverse range of clients Crown Castle works with – from K-12 and higher education institutions to large businesses and government agencies.

One of the things that makes Crown Castle stand apart, according to Carr, is “the fact that we own our own infrastructure.” That means that clients can see maps showing the exact route the fiber cables take to arrive at the client’s facility from the core network node. 

“Guaranteeing a physical route enables our customers to have an increased ability to design their assets and guarantee diversity,” said Carr. This diversity is important because it gives Crown Castle’s customers maximum flexibility. 

“Flexibility is crucial when needs are in flux like during Covid,” Carr explained. He also said that flexibility comes into play when dealing with restoration efforts after natural disasters like hurricanes. “Owning our assets lets us go out and restore service quicker than the competition.”

Security is increasingly important for Crown Castle’s clients, as our personal and professional lives become more digital than ever before. Carr said that the company plans to roll out additional security enhancements for clients, helping them thwart threats before they become an issue.

Carr moved to South Florida from upstate New York this past Spring and is bullish about the growth of our region’s economy. “It’s exciting to see familiar names that are moving down here,” he said. 

“It comes at no surprise to me that tech would be at the forefront of this growth,” said Carr. “This is a tremendous opportunity for South Florida as a whole. It’s going to turn into an incubator of best efforts across the country, in tech and all industries.”

Carr also enjoys mentoring ambitious young people in his industry. After graduating from college, Carr tried to make it as a professional golfer, but had to abandon his goals. But he said that while this “seemed like a failure 15 years ago,” it has actually “turned into a blessing.” He believes that this life path has led him to a career and company that he is passionate about, as well as enabled him to meet his wife and cultivate strong professional connections.

His advice to young people finding their path in life? “It’s important to stay committed to yourself and true to who you are. Take some initiative but also let things happen. Everything comes full circle.”

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | DSS

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: Health information software development and systems integration company

Launched: 1991

HQ: Juno Beach

Employees: 600+

Website: DSSInc.com

Healthcare is one of the biggest businesses in the United States, making up almost 18% of GDP. For technologists looking to make an impact, the healthtech space may be one of the most ripe for innovation.

Christopher Kunney has worked in information technology with a focus on healthcare for three decades. He is the Chief of Strategy & Business Development at Juno Beach-based DSS, a healthcare software development and systems integration company with over 30 years of health information experience. From DSS’ commercial division, Juno Health to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs and other Federal agencies, DSS solutions are used daily by thousands of clinicians and administrative staff nationwide. 

“Data is truly the currency to help understand what determines someone’s wellbeing,” said Kunney. “It’s the info that helps hospitals and clinicians make smarter, more informed decisions.” Smart use of data is critical in the shift towards what Kunney describes as “accountable care” or “incentivizing hospitals and clinicians to prevent you from getting sick, and rewarding such behavior.”

Kunney explained how DSS is leveraging technology and data to solve the industry’s thorniest problems. Take electronic health records (EHR) for example. According to Kunney, “eight out of ten professionals dislike their EHR.” That’s because legacy systems are often very keyboard heavy, which makes entering data an unnecessarily laborious task.

DSS is, in Kunney’s words, “taking a bold step in the hospital EHR market” with its upcoming launch of Juno EHR

“We’re turning the concept of the EHR on its head,” said Kunney. “We’ve built it on the clinicians’ needs, giving power back to the providers with access to the patient data they need when they need it” he explained.

This cloud-based system will centralize information and seamlessly integrate with third-party services. Because it’s a SaaS product, Kunney says that the “capital outlay for acquisition of our product is lower” compared to that of legacy providers.

This is an enticing selling point for hospitals that work off a very tight margin, said Kunney. “When they purchase as a service, it means that they don’t have to compromise: scale up as you need and scale down as you don’t.”

Another one of DSS’s most recent innovations under the Juno Health division, Juno RxTracker, automates and simplifies the ePrescribing process. Kelly Kavooras, Chief Marketing Officer at DSS, says that this product is especially important for meeting eprescribing mandates for controlled substances like opioids. It enables healthcare providers to check a patient’s medical records across different systems to avoid bad interactions, while also enabling prescriptions to be efficiently and effectively submitted to pharmacies.

Kunney explained that “Covid brought out the gaps and weaknesses of legacy systems.” He believes that “tech still has a long way to go to support clinical efficiencies” and thinks that DSS can play a major role in addressing the biggest healthcare challenges of our time.

“We’re starting to anticipate the direction of the industry, develop tools that help field those gaps, and help drive the market down the path for disruptive care,” he said.

Hailing from Atlanta, Kunney is “very encouraged and very excited by the healthtech market in South Florida.”

He continued, “we’re staying very involved in the tech community to support the narrative that South Florida can become a healthcare tech hub.”

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | Steve Edwards & Premier Virtual

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: Digital platform for virtual events like job fairs and trade shows

Launched: 2018

HQ: Delray Beach

Full-time employees: 19

Website: PremierVirtual.com

In early 2020, no one was really ready for a global pandemic. The one exception just might be Steve Edwards, Founder and CEO of Delray Beach-based startup Premier Virtual.

Edwards had worked in the job fair industry for the better part of a decade, “living on the road” and traveling as far north as North Carolina and as far west as Texas. He started running virtual events in 2018, and decided to build and license out a platform to help others run virtual job fairs too.

In 2019, when Edwards launched Premier Virtual’s first platform, he did not have a very receptive audience. “People laughed at me,” said Edwards of his early days. “People told me that I would never have clients.”

Enter the pandemic. “We went from small – just me, my business partner, and an administrative assistant – to international almost overnight,” recalled Edwards. Premier Virtual hosted 1,500 events on their platform from April to December 2020. 

Now, the startup has hosted over 200,000 candidates across more than 2,000 virtual events. They have a diverse set of clients including the US Army, who has run their national recruiting event through Premier Virtual’s platform, as well as colleges like the University of Arizona and a host of private corporations. All in all, 25,000 organizations have participated in job fairs run on Premier Virtual’s platform.

The startup is leveraging this growth to continue improving on its core product. Edwards told Tech Hub South Florida that Premier Virtual will launch its 2.0 platform later this year. “Our goal is to make it one of the most user-friendly platforms out there.”

Edwards explained how Premier Virtual’s platform both aims to replicate and improve upon the in-person job fair experience. Jobseekers can easily learn about participating companies and share a video resume. Through Premier Virtual’s “my journey” feature, candidates can keep track of the companies they have seen. They can also customize their resume for each company, which is crucial to stand apart in an increasingly competitive job market.

The platform offers a suite of tools to make it easier for organizers to set up fairs, and more attractive for companies to join them. This includes live reporting, which gives these parties an easily-digestible and constantly-updating dashboard with figures about what is happening on the platform.

Premier Virtual’s success is also a success of the South Florida tech ecosystem. Edwards took part in 1909’s accelerator program, which he credits with helping him learn the ropes of leading a startup. Equally, he noted that the Premier Virtual team actively participates in Tech Hub South Florida events: “there’s always something going on – from peer groups to coffee chats. I feel like Tech Hub is creating a really good community, so we try to give back.”

Ultimately, Edwards said that Premier Virtual’s MO is simple: “We connect people.” After a year of social distancing, perhaps there is no more important pursuit in the business world than forging strong digital connections. For that, Premier Virtual is happy to help.

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | Andrew Parry & Office Depot

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: A leading provider of business services, products and digital workplace technology solutions to small, medium and enterprise businesses.

Launched: 1986

HQ: Boca Raton

Employees: 40,000+

Website: OfficeDepot.com

Office Depot might just be one of South Florida’s biggest commercial success stories. Founded in Fort Lauderdale in 1986, this publicly traded organization now provides business services, products, and digital workplace technology solutions to small, medium and enterprise businesses. They have an integrated business-to-business (B2B) distribution platform, which includes world-class supply chain and distribution operations, dedicated sales professionals and technicians, online presence, and approximately 1,100 stores.

Andrew Parry is VP of Product and Technology for Office Depot, focusing on application and product development, including customer-facing apps, order management platforms, and tech related to supply chain management. 

While Boca Raton is Office Depot’s headquarters, Parry coordinates with teams in Texas and India to develop the tech that helps the company best serve its customers. “It’s about providing the best experience to customers, from purchasing through to delivery,” said Parry.

Like many businesses, Office Depot had to react quickly to the pandemic. Parry said that technology played a major role in turning this disruption into innovation. He gave the example of consumer deliveries. “Many people are working remote now, so we’re not just delivering to commercial mailrooms anymore. We’re adapting our deliveries to fit the shifting needs and expectations of our customers.”

On the ground, Parry’s mission during Covid has been to “double down on our focus on the customer,” both consumer and business alike. 

Office Depot’s CEO, Gerry Smith, has also noted an increased importance of the B2B market within Office Depot’s overall strategy. Smith said in a statement that the company has “made significant progress on our B2B pivot and digital transformation.”

To get there, Office Depot is investing heavily in all things tech. Parry told Tech Hub South Florida that Office Depot is currently hiring “in all areas” related to technology. “In technology, we can’t grow fast enough,” Parry said, underscoring the company’s commitment to its digital-first approach.

According to Parry, one of the benefits of working at Office Depot is what the company calls its 5C Culture: Customer, Commitment, Change, Caring, Creativity. “These principles help us excel at serving our clients while also making Office Depot a great place to work,” said Parry.

As part of these principles, Office Depot makes an effort to have a positive impact in their communities. Parry is particularly proud of the company launching Elevate Together™ powered by Round It Up America®, a new nonprofit initiative designed to help accelerate the creation, growth and prosperity of Black and Hispanic-owned small businesses.

The initiative, which is run in partnership with the National Urban League’s Entrepreneurship Centers and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, provides education, access, and aid to minority-owned small businesses with five or fewer employees. Eligible small business owners will gain access to educational workshops, training and mentorship services, professional networks and more. 

Parry has thoroughly enjoyed mentoring a few small businesses in South Florida through Elevate Together. “I loved sharing my knowledge and learning from these entrepreneurs,” he said.

“With initiatives like this, it’s definitely an exciting time to be with Office Depot.”

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | Streann

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: SaaS platform that enables content providers to build their own distribution platforms

Launched: 2016

HQ: Miami

Employees: 48

Website: Streann.com

 

Miami tech veteran Gio Punzo is passionate about building the next generation of digital tools for content creators. 

Punzo is the CEO and Co-Founder of Streann Media, which develops an SaaS platform that enables users to “build their own Netflix, Spotify, or HQ in less than 24 hours.”

Streann calls their service “Smart OTT” (Over-the-Top), meaning that users can access content from providers through white-labeled web and mobile apps. Content providers have various options to charge for their content, including pay-per-view, recurring subscriptions, and AVOD (advertising-supported video on demand).

In a media ecosystem where digital accessibility reigns supreme, Streann’s products are in high demand. “Now everybody is becoming a content platform,” Punzo explained, noting the wide range of organizations they work with, from television stations to comedians to event organizers. 

Today’s media landscape stands in stark contrast to the pre-digital prevalence of television and radio broadcasters. According to Punzo, this growth of digital, decentralized content distribution has been favorable for Streann’s bottom line: “Everything doubled during Covid.”

Streann expects that this growth will propel them into a $10 million Series B round of funding. Punzo said that Streann has enlisted the help of Boca Raton-based Noble Capital Markets to scour the market for investors who are interested in a front-row seat to their disruption of the media space.

With this Series B funding, the top priority for Punzo and team will be to continue developing their more than 150 tools. This includes a tool that enables content providers to set up their own social content platform. In Punzo’s own words, this helps Streann’s clients “become more like TikTok and less like Quibi.” 

Streann also hopes to further develop its split-screen feature that displays advertisements right beside content. This allows users to watch their programming without having to pause. Companies are a fan of the feature because it increases the likelihood of users catching a glimpse of their advertisements, unlike the skippable advertisements that are common on other platforms.

Streann plans to expand its team in order to make this product development happen. “We’re hoping to hire for everything from web designers to front end developers,” said Punzo.

While his team is global, Punzo is proud of his Miami roots and hopes to source much of their talent from the South Florida community.

“I’ve been getting messages on LinkedIn from people who are planning to move to Miami, so I see a new pool of talent that’s moving in,” Punzo said. 

Since the pandemic and recent growth of the Miami tech ecosystem, Punzo finds it “easier to convince people to move to Miami.” He says that this Series B funding will allow Streann “to be more aggressive with bringing talent to Miami,” thereby contributing to an increase in the quality of the overall talent pool.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for Miami to grow,” Punzo said. “I feel there’s a movement.”

But seasoned entrepreneur Punzo cautions fellow founders in Miami not to get swept up in the hype: “You’ve got to keep your focus, appreciate the noise, and see if you can ride [the growth].”

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | Signature Consultants

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: National technology and professional staffing firm

Launched: 1997

HQ: Fort Lauderdale

Employees: 700

Website: SigConsult.com

Fort Lauderdale-based Signature Consultants connects companies with top tech talent in South Florida and across the US. In an industry and a region where jobs move fast, Signature Consultants is laser focused on finding the right talent for their clients.

“We pride ourselves on building strong relationships,” Account Manager Sarah Norton told Tech Hub South Florida. She explained that having a deep understanding of their clients’ and job candidates’ needs allows Signature Consultants to create a winning match. 

“We don’t want to just place a candidate,” said Norton. “We want to find a long term employee-employer fit.”

Norton believes that a company’s culture is one of the best ways to ensure strong compatibility between jobseekers and Signature’s clients: “It’s about the way you work, not just the job you do.” 

“Skills are important, but skills can be taught and learned,” she said. In Norton’s experience, aspects of company culture, such as whether team-working or individual work is the norm, is harder to learn.

Having been active in the Florida tech community for almost a quarter of a century, Signature Consultants has seen the industry blossom into the robust tech environment it is today. They work with clients of all sizes – “small, medium, big, and everything in between,” said Norton – across a diverse range of industries, including automotive, energy, finance, and hospitality.

While the beginning of the pandemic last year brought uncertainty to the South Florida tech job market, Norton reports that employees and employers alike have reason to feel optimistic.

“It’s awesome to see that the IT market is rebounding quickly from Covid,” Norton explained. Since the turbulent job market has largely stabilized, Norton has noticed a boom in the South Florida tech scene: “People are a lot more eager to get down to South Florida.” 

This growth has led to a strong market for candidates: “Right now there are more roles than there are candidates,” Norton said.

Technical roles are most in demand at the moment, “especially DevOps and cloud migration experts.” But Norton said that demand for project manager and business analyst roles is “always huge” for Signature’s South Florida clients.

While the working world is on track to broadly bounce back this year, Norton thinks that some changes brought on by the pandemic will remain. In her mind, the biggest change has been the shift towards remote working. “South Florida companies used to just hire candidates based in South Florida,” she explained. “Now they’re getting used to hiring people from all across the world.”

With employers casting a wider net for talent, Norton said that local talent should not feel discouraged: “If you’re an active IT candidate, you’re in demand.”

She tells candidates to “apply to as much as they can” and see rejections as learning experiences. “You’re probably not going to get the job after your first interview, so be open to the coaching and to the feedback,” she said.

Her advice to jobseekers in today’s market? “Go with your gut. Go with the person who gets to know you, and knows what you want. That’s how you’ll land the job you’re looking for.”

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | Gravity IT

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: IT staffing agency specializing in filling roles for companies in South Florida.

Launched: 2015

HQ: Fort Lauderdale

Employees: 30+

Website: GravityITResources.com

Fort Lauderdale-based Gravity IT has had a front-row seat to South Florida’s booming tech industry. 

“We see a lot of companies today that are growing like crazy,” Account Manager Stephanie Grassi explained. “It’s a great time for people in the tech industry in South Florida.”

This boutique staffing agency serves some of the most technologically advanced companies from Juno Beach to South Miami, including energy giant NextEra (parent company of Florida Power & Light) and security firm G4S.

Since its inception six years ago, Gravity IT has grown tenfold: from three people to a team of more than 30 employees spread across offices in Fort Lauderdale, Charlotte, Cincinnati, and Columbus.

Grassi, who was Gravity IT’s tenth employee, said that the company prides itself on “providing high quality talent in the areas that matter the most” to their clients. 

No role is too niche for Gravity IT’s staff. The company has teams that focus on recruitment for specialized areas of expertise like Salesforce development, business analytics, and project management.

“One of our main differentiators is our referral program,” said Grassi. She called it their “number one source for quality hires.” This program incentivizes people in the tech community to share referrals, which Grassi described as “crowdsourcing the recruitment process to people we trust.”

Gravity IT is fast moving. Grassi said that in many cases her team finds and delivers talent in under 48 hours: “it’s a very quick turnaround.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has shifted the needs of Gravity IT’s clients. “Project managers are more needed now, as well as business analysts,” said Grassi. “There’s also still demand for software engineers, DevOps folks, and Salesforce experts.”

According to Grassi, the pandemic has opened up employers’ minds to remote work. “We’re seeing more companies now that are open to remote work,” she said. Employers still want these contractors to be based in the US, but Grassi has noticed that they are increasingly flexible about the time zone they are in.

Grassi noted that this flexibility towards remote working opens the pool of potential applicants to fill her clients’ roles. However, she said that it is still possible for local talent to stand out in a crowded space.

“Keep your resume up to date and connect with as many people as possible to keep your name out there,” Grassi said. She advises candidates to have multiple versions of their resume on hand to fit different roles that may arise.

She also suggested that jobseekers “talk to as many recruiters as [they] can.” While this may be difficult to do in a pandemic, Grassi said that LinkedIn is a great resource for meeting recruiters.

“You can tell recruiters that you’re looking for a new opportunity and would love to connect,” Grassi said. “It’s really helpful for us to know that you are open to work.”

Despite the high demand for jobs, Grassi says that people looking for tech jobs should feel optimistic: “there are lots of opportunities out there.”

Learn more about Gravity IT on their website, GravityITResources.com.

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | OutPLEX

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: Customer contact management services for a wide range of public and private sector clients

Launched: 2001

HQ: Fort Lauderdale

Employees: 2,000+

 Website: OutPLEX.com

OutPLEX is bringing call centers into the 21st century. 

 

Jim Ryan, OutPLEX’s Founder and CEO, explained that they “help build, design, and deploy tools that combine artificial intelligence (AI) and human beings” to manage these business-to-consumer contact points. This use of AI makes customer interactions more efficient.

Unlike its competitors, OutPLEX benefits from a substantial amount of data, which increases the effectiveness of its AI systems. “It’s incredibly hard to design what conversations are going to be without the data, and you need the experience of the human being,” Ryan said. “Lots of startups don’t have that.”

This foray into AI stemmed from OutPLEX’s early adoption of chatbot technologies. Ryan, a former AT&T executive, described the development of AI tools as a “natural progression” from traditional text chat and concurrent chats, “where one agent can have multiple conversations at a time.”

OutPLEX’s industry leadership did not happen overnight. Ryan said that for many years, OutPLEX’s growth was “incremental, but not as fast as I had hoped.” However, in the last three years, “business has dramatically changed.” Now some of the biggest companies in America like Lowe’s, American Express, and Comcast leverage OutPLEX’s services to ensure their customers are given the highest level of service.

Ryan credits this recent growth to his laser focus on bringing tech innovation to the forefront of everything OutPLEX does: “as a tech entrepreneur, I’m always looking at new tech platforms in the marketplace.”

He continued, “I’ve pivoted the business over the years, trying to come up with different services, and now we’ve found a service [AI-powered chatbots] that we have a pull position on.”

Ryan expressed excitement about the state of the South Florida tech ecosystem: “We’ve gone from a spot of tourism and real estate to a wonderful blossoming tech hub.” Having lived and worked in Florida since the late 1990s, Ryan is impressed by “how far Florida tech has come in such a short period of time, the last 5-8 years.”

“Miami has taken the baton and is at the top of the rocket ship,” said Ryan. “It continues to drive this bursting ecosystem because of its size and dense population, as well as the thirst of Latin America to seek mentorship and capital in Miami.”

He acknowledged that Palm Beach and Broward counties “have done a good job considering their size, but there’s still work to be done.” He urges leaders to “work collaboratively” and that they must “support each other, if our ecosystem is to thrive.”

“Isolation is not going to work,” said Ryan, who prefers to take a regional perspective when looking at tech development in South Florida. Ryan highlighted the importance of transportation to the development of the region: “logistics are a challenge, but the situation is improving.”

Ryan is optimistic about the talent base in South Florida. “Covid is forcing and accelerating an exponential growth in South Florida’s tech talent,” he noted, citing key initiatives at local universities such as Florida Atlantic University’s Tech Runway.

Ultimately, Ryan says that “it’s an exciting time to be a tech entrepreneur in Florida.”

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | CITY Furniture

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: Florida-based furniture retailer with 20 showrooms across the state and an e-commerce platform.

Launched: 1971

HQ: Tamarac

Employees: 2,500+

Website: CityFurniture.com

Selling furniture might not immediately come to mind as the most technologically innovative business. But Andrew Koenig, President of CITY Furniture, sees things differently: “My mindset is for CITY Furniture to become a tech company that sells furniture, not a furniture company that has tech.”

Koenig’s bias towards innovation has served CITY well during the pandemic, when most brick-and-mortar businesses scrambled to go digital. Not CITY. They had already armed their associates with transactable iPads, enabling the company’s salespeople to work virtually as soon as in-person businesses were mandated to close. 

CITY had an e-commerce platform before the pandemic, but Koenig said they “doubled down” on their online offerings in a matter of days. They started offering free shipping with no minimums. As soon as they were legally allowed to reenter the showrooms, CITY set up virtual store appointments for customers. This involved two socially-distant salespeople who could chat with customers via an online video feed and show them products in real time.

“We were prepared, and we responded quickly,” Koenig reflected. Even though CITY’s sales took a hit last Spring, the company was able to bounce back, ultimately turning a profit for the year.

Despite the difficulties brought on by the pandemic, Koenig said that CITY “still lived our values and cultures.” The company did not have any layoffs and was able to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to employees. CITY maintained their employee profit-sharing pledge, while also continuing to donate 5% of profits to charities.

Out of the pandemic came growth for CITY. To respond to an increase in business, Koenig hired around 500 new employees in the fourth quarter of 2020. CITY also plans to build a Miami warehouse and enlarge their Tampa warehouse.

Koenig’s unique perspective on running CITY extends past his penchant for technical innovation. Much of his leadership philosophy stems from the time he spent in Asia after college.

“I learned about elements of buddhism: the idea of the collective, the whole. That really resonated with me.” He describes employees as his family and treats them as such. His email signature urges employees to prioritize their work-life balance: “please do not respond to my emails during non-work hours.”

Koenig admits that this emphasis on work-life balance was not always the norm at CITY. “We used to over-work people – that’s just the way it was. But now we’ll terminate leaders if they overwork their people.” Initiatives like this have led to what Koenig describes as “record levels of employee satisfaction.”

Emphasizing work-life balance is not just the right thing to do: it’s backed by empirical evidence. Koenig studied Toyota’s ‘lean’ manufacturing process, which sets out best practices for time management. This philosophy is all about maximizing efficiency and productivity, and, as Koenig described, employees need to understand that “life is not a sprint, it’s a marathon.” He explained: “Sometimes you have to sprint for a period of time, but you can’t sprint forever without becoming a rude, frustrated person. I’d rather go out of business than overwork our people.”

CITY took another page from Toyota’s book, implementing their ‘kanban’ approach to project management. The company urges employees of all levels to give their input on how to make their processes more efficient. Koenig claims to receive an average of two suggestions per year from each associate. “I take this wisdom of the crowds very seriously,” he said of this suggestion system.

Koenig has a positive outlook on the state of our local economy. “South Florida is one of the best places to be in the country, maybe even the world,” Koenig asserted. He highlighted the region’s diversity and population growth as factors that look to make the “next two or three years very exciting.” And CITY Furniture will not just sit on the sidelines of this growth; rather, Koenig looks forward to being an active participant.

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | PATHOS

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: PATHOS is a full-service, multidisciplinary marketing firm that takes a creative approach to solving its clients brand-building needs.

Launched: 1990

HQ: West Palm Beach

Employees: 18

Website: WeArePathos.com

In the rapidly-changing world of marketing, businesses must stay on top of the trends to keep their competitive edge. But Shane Savage, Chief Strategy Officer of PATHOS, admits that this is often easier said than done.

Savage sympathizes with this struggle that many of his clients face. He relishes the opportunity to, in his words, “translate” the ever-evolving opportunities and threats facing companies in an increasingly complex marketing environment.

PATHOS “offers strategic marketing executed through design-orientated thinking,” said Savage. They take a creative “left and right brain” approach to tackle clients’ thorniest marketing needs. This strategy has worked well for PATHOS, which boasts a rapidly expanding client base throughout the South Florida region and, increasingly, the rest of the US.

One way to think about PATHOS, according to Savage, is as an outsourced marketing department for mid-sized corporations: “we’ve become vertically integrated over the decades.”

But the PATHOS team is more multidisciplinary than what you would find in a typical corporate environment. “We hire multifaceted and multidimensional people – people with diverse sets of backgrounds and skills that allow us to adapt quickly and bring cutting-edge innovation to each client,” explained Savage. “As marketing trends come and go, what you need are fantastic people who are hungry to keep learning and keep growing.”

“This has allowed us to break down silos,” he continued, comparing PATHOS to more traditional marketing companies that hire for rigid roles that conform to predefined verticals. By contrast, at PATHOS, “programmers talk to copywriters, copywriters talk to designers, brand consultants speak to all of them.”

The services PATHOS is able to offer reflect their employees’ wide range of skills. They help companies across the entire product lifecycle. Savage mentioned a few tangible ways PATHOS engages with clients: “we help them bring a new product to market, create branding around it, conduct internal training sessions around how to speak about this new product, create go-to-market strategies, leverage media to win new sales.” This beginning-to-end approach ensures that all their clients’ marketing needs are met.

Savage believes that small businesses are often overwhelmed with social media, but that “quality over quantity wins every day.” He said that it’s best to focus on one or two social media channels and use them effectively, rather than have a business stretch itself too thin by using too many platforms. This philosophy also extends to clients: Savage advises newer businesses to avoid “getting caught up on trying to continue getting clients, and try to serve repeat clients well.”

While PATHOS has clients across the US, the company is deeply rooted in the West Palm Beach community. “West Palm Beach is no longer just a tourist destination,” said Savage, “it’s a thriving business center.”

Savage cited Florida’s competitive tax rates, coupled with the trend towards decentralized workforces since the onset of the pandemic, as two major factors leading to the current economic boom in South Florida. According to Savage, PATHOS prides itself on helping “provide a path for career growth for recent college graduates” as well as “continuing to educate the more experienced people in our industry.” 

By providing opportunities for workers of all experience levels to “evolve, change, and learn,” Savage believes that local business leaders can develop “a very dynamic work ecosystem in Palm Beach County.”

PATHOS is taking a front-row seat in pushing for this progress. Pathonians (as PATHOS’s employees are called) mentor fledgling businesses at local accelerators, high schools, and colleges.

Savage’s goals are ambitious but commensurate with this moment of rapid growth. “We’re working with partners in the community to make West Palm Beach into a creative capital. I look forward to continue building on the momentum of uplifting West Palm Beach.”

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | Alice Figuerola & The SilverLogic

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: TSL helps companies develop software to improve operational efficiency, saving time and money.

Launched: 2012

HQ: Boca Raton

Employees: 41

Website: TSL.io

CEO: David Hartmann

 

 

If the pandemic has taught private and public sector leaders anything, it’s that a digital-first approach is no longer optional. But digitization can be tricky and time-consuming, especially for companies that do not have a strong in-house tech capacity.

That’s where Boca-based custom software development firm The SilverLogic (TSL) steps in. They help bring digital innovation to businesses, modernizing processes to save their clients’ two most precious resources: time and money.

“We squash inefficiencies by implementing more efficient digital processes,” explained Alice Figuerola, TSL’s Marketing & Business Development Manager. 

According to Figuerola, the pandemic has highlighted the need for the automation of business processes. “Businesses need return on investment (ROI) now, not later. Automation brings ROI now by automating activities that currently require a lot of human input, freeing up employees’ time to focus on revenue-generating activities.”

The TSL team was able to do just that for one client in the logistics industry. They were able to develop a program that uses machine learning to flag discrepancies between invoices and contracts. This task was done manually in what Figuerola called an “exhausting process that took at least 36 hours per month.” Implementing TSL’s bespoke solution saved this client money, freeing employees’ time to pursue new business development leads.

 

It’s All About the Approach

TSL takes a holistic approach to each project, starting by understanding the client’s needs and IT resources available internally. Sometimes their work is primarily advisory, but they often develop custom tools. Figuerola described their approach to software development as “iterative, involving a circular system of always learning and improving.”

Before each client engagement comes to an end, TSL ensures that employees are empowered to use and manage the platforms TSL creates. “We pride ourselves on helping to elevate the skill levels of employees, empowering them to be able to manage the platforms,” Figuerola explained. She called this “leveling up” the workforce: a major topic of conversation at a time when businesses are beginning to think about post-pandemic opportunities.

Figuerola said that upwards of 80% of new clients found TSL through referrals from current or past clients. She credited TSL’s “high quality of development” as the main reason why clients refer TSL to their colleagues. This has contributed to TSL’s rapid growth from just a few employees in 2012 to over 40 full-time employees in 2021. And TSL is getting attention for this growth: they have appeared on the Inc 5000, which spotlights the fastest growing companies in the US. TSL has also received a GrowFL award as a Company to Watch, and was an honoree for the South Florida Business Journal’s Technology Award.

 

Working Flexibly for Clients

While TSL is based in Boca Raton, it has employees around the world. “We have always been open to remote working, but since Covid began we’ve gone fully remote,” noted Figuerola. She highlighted the company’s globally distributed workforce: “about half our staff is in South Florida while the other half live all around the world.”

“As a company, we are diverse and welcoming,” Figuerola said, “and people are able to express themselves.” TSL leverages this diversity as a strength, helping employees better understand clients perspectives when they might be different from their own.

But ultimately for TSL, it’s all about driving business success, as Figuerola described: “We are proud to help improve our clients’ business operations from a technical perspective.”

By Riley Kaminer

Member Spotlight | CAI

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: CAI is a technology firm that helps public and private sector organizations manage digital transformations

HQ: Allentown, Pennsylvania; South Florida office in Coconut Creek

Year Founded: 1981

Employees: 4,300 worldwide; 450 in Florida

Website: https://cai.io/

 

When you interact with CAI’s employees, you can immediately tell that CAI is more than the typical tech firm. “We’re purpose driven in everything we do,” Jen Boyer, an advisory client executive who has worked at CAI for the better part of 3 decades, told Tech Hub South Florida. “We’re committed to prioritizing client success, employee well-being, and serving the community.”

CAI advises clients on how to leverage the power of the latest technologies to optimize processes and better serve their customers. Boyer pointed out that this is more important than ever, since “all companies are really tech companies” in a digital-first world. Many companies were forced into digital transformation over the past year, exposing gaps in legacy systems and a need to modernize technology and applications.

 

CAI’s Autism2Work Program Matches Candidates’ Talents with Employer Needs

It is CAI’s work in the broader community that makes them stand out from competitors. In particular, diversity is at the core of everything CAI does. The centerpiece of its diversity strategy is its Autism2Work program, which guides companies on how to employ neurodiverse workers.

This program hits home for Boyer, whose nephew has special needs. She noted the high levels of un- and under-employment that neurodiverse people tend to face. “It’s important to highlight the useful skills they can bring, like creativity and analytical thinking.” Boyer explained that employers are not typically used to hiring neurodiverse talent; however, with CAI’s help, they are able to identify tasks well suited to those with autism. According to Boyer, 184 people on the spectrum have been hired through Autism2Work so far, providing them a pathway to “thrive on their own while obtaining a meaningful career.”

CAI supports the community more broadly through CAI Cares, its philanthropic arm that has programs promoting inner city education initiatives and support for families in need. They are a company that strives to build and nurture a culture where diversity, equity, and inclusiveness are fostered, reflexive, and celebrated. CAI welcomes and recognizes all people to be their full selves where engagement and collaboration can flourish. They have also been recognized for championing the wellbeing of their own employees – more important than ever in a time of a global health crisis – having won the 2020 Wellness Award from Bravo Wellness.

 

Eye on industry trends

Working across both the private and public sectors gives CAI a uniquely comprehensive perspective on how the economy is digitizing. Modernization means many things to many people, but Boyer described her goal as streamlining clients’ tech processes by “simplifying and delivering value, not just tech.” This focus on value allows CAI to help its clients take advantage of innovative technology efficiently and cost-effectively.

Another top concern of Boyer’s clients is security. “Hackers are getting better and smarter,” noted Boyer, and companies come to CAI for the tools they need to respond. While prevention is always top of mind for Boyer’s clients, she recently noticed an increase in interest for tools that enable companies to see if they are being hacked in real time.

Recovering from Covid-19 is a major area of focus for CAI’s clients. Tyshel Sasso, a Service Delivery Manager at CAI, relishes the opportunity to help clients “come up with innovative ways to stay in business” by creating tailored solutions to fit their rapidly changing needs during the pandemic. “Adaptability is one of our major strengths,” Sasso said of CAI’s flexible approach to problem solving.

 

 

 

Opportunities in South Florida

Boyer and CAI are no newcomers to the Florida tech scene – CAI has had a presence here since 1994, Boyer since 1997. That has given them a front-seat view to the development of the regional tech ecosystem. “Tech in South Florida now has a positive connotation,” said Boyer. 

She described South Florida as a gateway to other countries, which is all the more exciting considering the “great influx of talent” the region has experienced since the onset of the pandemic. CAI is well positioned to take advantage of this growth with it’s 450-person footprint in the company’s Coconut Creek office.

Boyer explained that CAI sees ample opportunities in South Florida thanks to the diverse range of organizations that call the state home. In particular, Boyer expressed optimism about the hospitality industry, which has a large presence in Florida. Equally, Boyer noted the large number of major public sector organizations at the federal and state level in Florida. Many of these organizations are forward-thinking and can leverage CAI’s services to modernize and better serve our community.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | 2TON & Ryan Boylston

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: 2TON is a full-service creative agency

HQ: West Palm Beach

Year founded: 2011 (formerly called Woo Creative)

Founder and CEO: Ryan Boylston (also Vice Mayor of Delray Beach)

No. on team: 21

Website: 2ton.com

 

It’s not easy for a small business to find a good creative partner for web development and marketing. So about a decade ago, Ryan Boylston began bringing those services in house as part of his consulting firm and kept adding new services as the team grew. Soon his company was a full-service creative agency.

In 2017 the company (then called Woo Creative) acquired the marketing department of a larger technology firm and rebranded as 2TON. “A lot of agencies say they have a ton of talent — we have 2 tons,” said Boylston, the agency’s founder and CEO.

Today 2TON is a team of 21. It services small to medium businesses as well as large companies. Its main office is in West Palm Beach’s warehouse district and there is a satellite office in Delray Beach. In addition to all the usual creative services – branding, package design, web design, print design, etc. – the company also offers strategy consulting. In fact, more than half its team is on the strategy side of the business.

“A lot of our clients come to us and they’re not looking for just pretty things … At the end of the day no matter how great it looks, if it’s not driving sales, then it doesn’t matter.”

 

FOUNDING THE ANTI-AGENCY

Before founding the agency, Boylston had an eclectic career in the auto industry and then publishing. Since 2018, he’s been serving on the Delray Beach City Commission, where he is Vice Mayor He was a founding board member of Palm Beach Tech Association and a past chairman of Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority, among other roles.

Boylston founded 2TON to be the anti-agency. You won’t find account reps at 2TON. Clients work directly with project managers and project consultants. Also, he said, “we’re not a turn and burn shop, we’re not a one-time project shop. We look for relationships with our clients.”

Customer service sets 2TON apart. “We don’t believe in outsourcing. Period. Everything is done in house — you’re working with our team,” he said.

The key to happy longtime clients is happy employees. 2TON doesn’t pigeon hole team members to one industry, as some agencies do. “My team is constantly dropping in and out of different industries and bringing best practices from one industry to another. It really keeps my team sharp.”

As for hiring, he said, culture fit is key and good people know good people. “So when we go to hire for a new position, we’ll put it out our own network and we’ll post it out to the world, and nine out of 10 times, someone on the team knows someone that is dying to work at 2ton who they will vouch for… and it turns out to be great fit.”

 

KEEPING EVERYONE HAPPY

Chief of Happiness is Lily Myers. “She used to be chief of client happiness but we found out Lily makes everybody’s life better.”

She keeps the office running, takes care of birthdays and fun team activities, and she is also the first touch for new clients and potential clients. “We do not have salespeople so if you call in to 2ton, you’re going to be on a meeting or on a call with the CEO and founder of the company within 48 hours,” Boylston said.

Early on during the pandemic crisis, 2TON’s team made the strategic decision to stick together and be as flexible as possible with its clients,

“It was a tough summer. But it was really our team deciding that rather than lose clients or lose one or two people we’re all going to get through it together and we are starting to see that was the right decision.”

The company did not have to lay off anyone and its clients that had to pause their marketing are all returning now.

 

LEARNINGS FROM COVID

The office is open for team members who want to use it, but some are still working remotely and that has been a challenge. “Being together brainstorming bouncing ideas off of each other, there’s just a magic that happens when we’re all together in our office.” Indeed, by design, 2TON’s West Palm office is one big room – there are no cubicles or private offices, not even for Boylston.

Knowing the struggles of clients in particularly hard-hit industries during COVID has been particularly difficult, but a silver lining is that the crisis pushed some to make digital moves they had been putting off for years, whether it was a more powerful website, e-commerce capabilities or a home delivery model. “These are going to be tools for their business forever.”

Boylston was pushed, too. Boylston has always been a meet-in-person kind of guy, but COVID pushed the agency to embrace the video conferencing and it has seen incredible efficiency. “It’s been a game changer,” he said. “I’m usually the type that would rather get on the road and drive to 30 or 40 minutes to meet you in person than to  jump on video but I have seen the fruits of embracing video conferencing.”

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | I.T. Solutions of South Florida & Deana Pizzo

Read Time 4 Minutes

Business: A managed service provider specializing in solving IT and business challenges for small to medium size businesses.

HQ: Lake Worth

Year founded: 2004

Founders: Deana Pizzo (CEO) and Jason Pizzo (CIO)

No. of employees: 16

Website: www.itsolutions247.com

 

 

I.T. Solutions of South Florida  has racked up a lot of industry and community awards. But the one CEO Deana Pizzo is most proud of is being honored as a Best Place to Work by the South Florida Business Journal last year.

“That was a really big deal to me. Best Places to Work means that you have the right people in the right seat on the bus. They like what they’re doing,” Pizzo said about her Lake Worth-based company. And it’s her people, she says, that drive her business forward while keeping the businesses of her customers running smoothly.

Pizzo started I.T. Solutions of South Florida with her husband, Jason, in 2004 in their living room, and they evolved the company over the years into a Managed Service Provider overseeing the networks of dozens of small and mid-sized companies. Services of the certified woman-owned small business include managing everything from cloud services to local servers to phones to copiers and more. “We do a lot of 24-month technology road mapping with our clients” so there are no surprises, she said, along with ongoing consulting and educational training.

Clients include SunFest, Roger Dean Chevrolet Stadium, United States Polo Association and United States Polo Global Licensing, among others. I.T. Solutions of South Florida manages networks in some unusual places, too.  “We are part of the Porsche North America racing team,” Pizzo said. “One single race car has seven servers, which is surprising to a lot of people.”

Feeding South Florida in Fort Lauderdale, the third-largest food bank in the country, is also an I.T. Solutions of South Florida client. For Nonprofits First, I.T. Solutions of South Florida not only supports its network but also teaches classes for the nonprofit’s clients on everything from cybersecurity education to how to use Microsoft Teams – big requests during the pandemic.

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE

What sets her company apart from the competition, Pizzo says, is a people-first mission and approach.

“When you grow your team with great people, the client’s come,” she said.  “We hire for personality and sharpen the tech. You can teach tech but you can’t teach personality,”

To find the best people skills, I.T. Solutions of South Florida doesn’t even talk about the tech with job applicants until the end of the second interview. “The very first interaction with us is a video submission. Can they talk to people and make eye contact? … And then we test the tech,” Pizzo said.

It’s working. I.T. Solutions of South Florida has had very low turnover, Pizzo said. “I can count my turnover in 17 years on one hand. I have people that been with me 10 years.”

‘NO GEEK SPEAK’

I.T. Solutions of South Florida’ 16-person team is nearly half are women, very unusual in tech. The ways the team goes about treating customers differently starts with no geek speak, Pizzo said.

“We do not do that. We want plain old conversation. Nobody wants to be talked down to, which my industry is full of.”

Once new team members are on board, they get an education plan. “We get them certifications and they’re part of their onboarding as part of their first year. They are doing ongoing technical training — sharpening the sword is very important.”

Since 2016, I.T. Solutions of South Florida has been on South Florida Business Journal’s fastest growing companies list. With COVID-19 in the picture, growth is down a bit this year, but growth will still be in the double digits, thanks to getting an early start following its disaster recovery plan, Pizzo said. “We actually are getting ready to hire two more people by the end of the year.”

I.T. Solutions of South Florida went 100% virtual early in the crisis and then worked quickly to get its customers — about 1,700 people — virtual in a period of two weeks. “We were prepared and had a plan. And that’s something that we do with our clients. Every year we sit and we revisit their disaster recovery plan. I don’t think anybody could have planned for this but having those plans in place was a huge help in helping all of our clients get all of their employees remote.”

 

COMMUNITY FOCUS

Pizzo is active in the community. She was selected for the Palm Beach Tech Association’s Board of Directors this year, a position she is very excited to hold. “I love the mission of creating a tech hub in the South Florida region — it is very needed. I’m excited for what they’re doing and I want to help them be better at what they do.”

Pizzo also serves on the Board of Governors for Leadership Palm Beach County, is a member of the Board of Directors for Nonprofits First and is a corporate member of the BDB and a Corporate Trustee in the Palm Beach North Chamber of Commerce.

In her new role on Palm Beach Tech’s board, Pizzo says she is looking forward to listening to the community, finding out what the demands are and helping Palm Beach Tech meet those needs. She also has some of her own ideas.

“We need our college graduates to stay here. We need to lure college graduates to this area. We need to become that tech hub. Joe [Russo] has definitely made some waves, and we are moving towards that.”

 

Shown at top of post: I.T. Solutions of South Florida’ co-founders, Deana (CEO) and Jason Pizzo (CIO), at a Leadership Palm Beach County event. Photos provided by I.T. Solutions of South Florida.

By Nancy Dahlberg

Member Spotlight | Exepron & John Thompson

Read Time 3 Minutes

Business: Exepron combines a powerful systems architecture and a simple user interface with embedded intelligence to deliver an advanced CCPM software solution capable of handling any size project.

Headquarters: Palm Beach Gardens

Co-founders: John Thompson (COO) and Daniel Walsh (CEO)

Employees: team of 7 plus contractors around the world

Website: www.exepron.com

 

In 2010, sitting in a pizza rodizio in Brazil, John Thompson and Daniel Walsh sketched out their plans – yes, on a napkin — for a cloud-based project management company.

“Planning is easy, execution is hard. We said we could provide sophisticated predictive project management capability,” recalled Thompson. “That’s what we set out to do.”

Fast forward to 2020 and their venture, Exepron (which comes from Execution Project Network), is one of Palm Beach County’s newest technology companies and offers a predictive project management and scheduling solution for enterprises. It relocated its headquarters to Palm Beach Gardens earlier this year.

THE BACKSTORY

Thompson explained what sets Exepron apart from competitors.

In project management environments, 60% on-time delivery rates seem to be accepted as the norm and on-budget rates are even lower that that. That just seemed wrong to Exepron’s co-founders. As a consultant, Thompson worked for many years with the Goldratt Institute, founded by one of the gurus of business management, Eli Goldratt. Goldratt, a physicist, also authored The Goal, required reading in many business schools. Walsh, a former Navy Captain, was also a project management consultant before founding Exepron and is a follower of Goldratt’s principals.

In developing Exepron (V1.0 launched in 2012), “we identified all the fault lines and addressed them and we did two things. We kept the complexity and the intelligence behind the curtain for the average user and we also simplified the interface,” Thompson said.

A project management interface that is easy to use and very intuitive leads to wide adoption throughout a company, he said.  “It’s like driving a sophisticated car. You just know how to turn it on, put it into gear and drive. You don’t know how the engine works, you don’t care, and that is the approach we took developing Exepron.”

And about that 60% on-time rate in the industry? Exepron clients experience a 90% or more on-time and on-budget operation, Thompson said. “Ship building, aircraft maintenance, repair maintenance environments, engineering, construction, large custom fabrication – those are the environments which Exepron thrives.”

A PREDICTIVE SOLUTION, TOO

In 2016, Exepron began moving into business intelligence, which helps guide and prioritize the decision-making processes. The tool is moving from a sophisticated multi-project management environment into a decision application, Thompson said.

Today, Exepron can handle over 100,000 tasks in one project and can also schedule over a thousand projects in one portfolio. It predicts the resource requirements well into the future. “As you add more work, it will tell you where your limitations are starting to emerge in the future in terms of resources,” Thompson said.

Tools that claim to be project management tools are often just cool-looking task lists with no governance rules or oversight capability, he said. “We provide the governance, the guidance and the critical intelligence that you really need to be successful.”

Exepron’s customers include BAE Systems, Thomas-Sea, Charles River Labs in healthcare, and  Danfoss, which has nine factories globally, and others in 15 countries. In 2018, Exepron won the President’s Export Award.

WHY PALM BEACH COUNTY?

To support its growth, Exepron couldn’t find the talent it needed in Louisiana and began to hire contractors around the world. But the company wanted to begin consolidating in one location where there was more access to talent and chose Palm Beach Gardens as its new HQ.

Since its relocation in February, the company has recruited four employees – full stack and front end developers – and plans more hiring locally. Exepron employs seven here and still has contractors around the world.

“Our perception is there are enough resources in the area to support our growth,” said Thompson. “Also, the environment is so desirable.”

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Member Spotlight | Crown Castle
Member Spotlight | DSS
Member Spotlight | Steve Edwards & Premier Virtual
Member Spotlight | Andrew Parry & Office Depot
Member Spotlight | Streann
Member Spotlight | Signature Consultants
Member Spotlight | Gravity IT
Member Spotlight | OutPLEX
Member Spotlight | CITY Furniture
Member Spotlight | PATHOS
Member Spotlight | Alice Figuerola & The SilverLogic
Member Spotlight | CAI
Member Spotlight | 2TON & Ryan Boylston
Member Spotlight | I.T. Solutions of South Florida & Deana Pizzo
Member Spotlight | Exepron & John Thompson