To Morten Bjoern, launching a company in Miami that provides business intelligence solutions to the marine industry seemed a no-brainer, with its cruise line headquarters, world-class ports and a sea of wealthy investors. But landing the funding he needs has not been so easy.
Bjoern’s Intellocorp offers cloud-based subscription software to distill fuel optimization and other important maritime data onto an online dashboard that can be accessed anywhere, anytime. Within a month and a half of launching his products this spring, he landed a big customer, Erria A/S, a Danish operator of 43 ships that use Intellocorp’s products. He has a couple of ships in trials and is talking with other large cruise and maritime companies, as well as the Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, a potential $5 million market for him.
The maritime industry can be conservative and slow moving, but Bjoern expected that. And since he signed his first customer, arranging meetings with other target companies has been much easier.
But he never expected having so much difficulty attracting funding. He’s had more interest from investors in Brazil, Norway, San Francisco and New York than in Miami, the cruise capital of the world. “So far it is all talk,” he said of his encounters here, where he was led to believe there was interest but it went nowhere. “Show me — actions speak louder than words.”
So far Bjoern, a Danish marine engineer with an extensive industry background, has mostly self-funded development with $350,000. He needs $1.5 million more, he said, to develop Intellocorp’s third product, a vessel performance system, and add developers and marketers to his six-person staff.
“Investors here want to see an ROI [return on investment] in 12 to 24 months. They don’t understand what it’s like to be a growth company,” said Bjoern.
South Florida is teeming with bootstrapping start-ups seeking funding like Bjoern’s, and experts say developing a robust angel and venture capital network is a regional challenge that must be overcome to grow and sustain a healthy technology ecosystem.
While South Florida is home to great wealth, it’s not necessarily the kind that goes into startups. Many investors here have never invested in early-stage companies and don’t want to take the risk. And even when investments are made, it’s not necessarily “smart money,” leaders here say. Ideally, robust tech ecosystems are rich with investors that share their tech expertise as well as their wealth to get start-ups going.
Isaias Sudit is founder CEO of GridGlo, an energy-related technology start-up in Delray Beach. He is also a member and mentor with the South Florida chapter of Entrepreneur’s Organization, one of the nation’s largest chapters. For GridGlo, his fourth start-up, Sudit has so far raised $1.2 million — from a research institution in the energy space in New York.
In New York, he says, entrepreneurs can find multiple levels of funding — and multiple levels of sophisticated help. “That part is missing in Florida,” said Sudit. “It’s frustrating. I see some really good companies, and I see how much they struggle to convince the few angels we have here.”
Brian Garr knows that struggle well. In early 2010, he founded Boca Raton-based LinguaSys to develop a sophisticated language translation software service. He started with Japanese to prove it worked and then moved on to Thai.