Technology

Watsco to launch program for tech startups

One of Miami’s biggest public companies is starting a new program to help technology startups.

Watsco, the world’s largest distributor of air conditioning and heating products that generates about $4 billion in annual revenue, is launching an accelerator. The 12-week program is built for early-stage companies focused on the B2B or home comfort industries.

“When people think of innovation in the heating and air conditioning industry they usually think slick, new thermostats or the connected home. Our scope is much broader,” said Ivan Rapin-Smith, director at Watsco Ventures. “We’re interested in any technology that can add value to a distribution business like Watsco, whether it’s internet-of-things applications, supply chain management, sales and marketing or anything that may help consumers or businesses become more comfortable, more economical or more environmental-friendly.”

Accelerator participants will reach receive initial funding of $25,000, mentoring, HVAC and distribution industry expertise, concept validation, investor connections and office space in Watsco’s Coconut Grove headquarters. Watsco Ventures will retain a small equity interest with an optional follow-up investment at the conclusion of the program, said Rapin-Smith, who was program director for Venture Hive’s accelerator and incubator for about two years and co-founded the Belgium-based accelerator Idealy. Rapin-Smith also founded two tech companies.

“An accelerator powered by a Fortune 1000 company brings strategic resources that a traditional accelerator cannot – financial capacity to invest; an opportunity to have Watsco as a first customer; scalability to hundreds of distribution locations, and potentially tens-of-thousands of end-users in the form of contractors and end-consumers,” said Rapin-Smith, who has a particular interest and expertise in B2B startups. “We invest in talented teams that bring innovation that can be scaled not just within Watsco but also within other enterprises.”

Accelerators hosted by corporations are becoming common in other cities. For instance, Fort Lauderdale-based tech company Citrix runs accelerators in several cities, but not in South Florida. Indeed, corporations and startups don’t often mix enough in South Florida – considered an important ingredient in a healthy startup ecosystem – although that is beginning to change. Kaplan announced earlier this year it will be launching an ed-tech accelerator in Fort Lauderdale, for instance. Goldman Sachs brought its 10,000 Small Businesses program here last year, in partnership with Miami Dade College; Microsoft opened its first Microsoft Innovation Center at Venture Hive in downtown Miami, and Citi is hosting ongoing Citi Fintech Meetups and hosted part of its global Citi Mobile Challenge from South Florida.

Watsco’s accelerator program is part of its Watsco Ventures division. Watsco Ventures invests in technology through three primary channels: a new fund that is beginning to make strategic investments in startups, an innovation lab for its intrapreneurs, and this new accelerator program.

The accelerator application period is May 18 to July 26. The accelerator program runs Sept. 1 through Nov. 20. Up to 10 startups will be selected for the program. For more information, go to watscoventures.com.

Follow Nancy Dahlberg on Twitter @ndahlberg.

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