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Tampa Bay WaVE: Diversity highlights latest tech cohort

Jonathan Truong, co-founder of Verapy, a start-up at Tampa Bay Wave's Accelerator Build program.

Sean Lux, left, and Greg Ross-Munro of Data and Sons, a start-up at Tampa Bay Wave.

Emma Wolgast, a social media intern at Tampa Bay Wave, in the company's co-working space.

Rich Heruska, interim accelerator program director, at Tampa Bay Wave.

Richard Munassi, left, talks with Tom Coffin and Anne Devlin of Simply Reliable at Tampa Bay Wave.

Chris Kafer, left, and Robert Kropp work in semi-private spaces at Tampa Bay Wave.

Jonathan Truong, co-founder of Verapy, a start-up at Tampa Bay Wave's Accelerator Build program.

Jonathan Truong has parlayed a painful lesson into an innovative new business. 

After he was injured playing tennis, Truong frequently skipped physical therapy because he found it boring and repetitive. But he learned that was a bad idea: It took his ankle two years, instead of eight months, to heal. 

Jonathan Truongo, co-founder of Verapy, a start-up at Tampa Bay Wave's Accelerator Build program.Now a senior in the entrepreneurial program at the University of Tampa, Truong is at the helm of a company to help other patients get it right. “We utilize virtual reality to create immersive games for physical therapy,” explains Truong, CEO of Verapy in Tampa. “Our goal is to make therapy a lot more fun and engaging for patients.”

Verapy’s first game targets patients who need to exercise their wrists. “It’s very simple. You are a bird. You are dropped onto an island and you’re trying to collect coins in a ring,” explains the Dallas native of Vietnamese descent.

It takes only two to three minutes to play the digital game, which is to be tested in UT athletics and local therapy clinics early this year.  

The game uses a wearable device and encourages patients to do therapy when they are supposed to. “We try to provide a more gamified version of therapy,” he says. “It’s all about making it fun and engaging.”

Sean Lux and Greg Ross-Munro followed a different path. Lux, an Army vet teaching at the University of South Florida, was looking for something new when a barroom conversation with Ross-Munro led to their new venture: Data and SonsSean Lux, left, and Greg Ross-Munro of Data and Sons, a start-up at Tampa Bay Wave.

The company enables people to buy, sell or share data. “We want to be the eBay or Etsy for data,” Lux says. 

Founded in May 2016, the service became available in November after spending the summer in beta testing.

“We’re looking to grow aggressively,” Lux says, adding they are hiring market makers or category managers to different market sectors. 

Lux brings to the business his background in academia and military discipline while Ross-Munro, who hails from Johannesburg, South Africa, brings with him a wealth of experience with coding as CEO of Tampa’s Sourcetoad, which develops custom software. Learn more about Sourcetoad here.

Meanwhile a St. Petersburg company, Simply Reliable, started by contractors, is revving up with help from a women with a Wall Street background. Key players include Tom Coffin, president and CEO, whose background is in smart-home contracting, and Anne Devlin, VP of Strategic Development. 

Richard Munassi, left, talks with Tom Coffin and Anne Devlin of Simply Reliable at Tampa Bay Wave. The company’s goal is to streamline contractors’ workloads, making their jobs easier through its cloud-based service. It offers help with change orders, proposals, invoices, purchasing, inventory and scheduling.

Devlin joined the company, founded in late 2012 by Coffin and Chief Visionary Officer Jonathan Knapp, to prepare it for capitalization. “I came on board not looking just at what we are doing today, but where we are going to be two, three years from now,” Devlin says.

They are looking to hire between five and 23 in the next year, and another 20 the following year, starting with customer service representatives, a software architect and coders.
 
“Right now we’re very much a virtual company,” Coffin says. “The intention is to grow that right here. We’re going to need to find developers, sales people.”

These three tech companies are part of the largest applicant class at Tampa Bay WaVE, a nonprofit accelerator for tech businesses. The 90-day WaVE program, which gives participants experience making pitches in different formats, is ending with an exclusive, invite-only Demo Day on Tuesday, March 6, in which companies can present to investors.

Located in the Channel District and in downtown Tampa, the WaVE is a go-to place for businesses that want to connect with other businesses to build, launch, or grow. 

The WaVE initially went through almost 100 applications to narrow the field to 13. Twelve made it through the program. The cohort has a nigh number of women, minority or veteran owned or led businesses. “We’re casting a wider and a more diverse net,” explains Rich Heruska, the WaVE’s Interim Accelerator Director.

Diversity has a positive effect on an organization’s performance, according to a 2015 study by McKinsey and Co. entitled Diversity Matters. Not only does diversity broaden the talent pool, enabling an organization to find the most qualified individuals, but it improves decision making by incorporating a variety of perspectives and ideas, the study shows. It also enhances a company’s image and increases employee satisfaction while helping to forge better relationships with customers.
     
“What we’ve done is we’ve looked at what are the top three needs of our companies,” he says. “They want capital. They want mentoring and they want connections. Everything that we do is designed to give them opportunities in those three areas.”

After the program ends, the companies can choose to stay on for help with building, launching or growing their business. “We have a pretty high retention rate,” Heruska says.

Other companies in the cohort include:

• The Lakeland-based Inzata, a data analytics platform for any kind of data, has raised more than $2 million from angel investors. It uses artificial intelligence to help users work with raw and unstructured data to obtain powerful data models, real-time analytics and visualizations.
 

180byTwo, an Alexandria, VA-company aimed at helping marketers understand their customers better, has had more than $1.5 million in sales. It was recognized as a top data company by Adexchanger.

• Anchor, an app that lets you call for a pickup at any dock, offers riders an alternative to water taxis and boat charters. Rates vary depending on the number of passengers, traveling distance, and type of boat. Anchor has gathered a number of awards including winner of the Capital Innovators Pitch Contest, an Ozark Fund Pitch Finalist, and nominee for Best of the Lake as best new business for 2017. It was founded in St. Louis, but is relocating to Tampa.

• A finalist on Startup Bus 2017, the Tampa-based Course Align helps universities create curriculum that train students in relevant skills. The company took first place at the 5th Annual Veteran Entrepreneur Training Symposium.

• The Tampa-based Preferhired is an online staffing company for jobseekers, referrers and hiring managers. The company, which pays referrers to recruit for hiring managers, was the 1776 Challenge Festival Global Finals Wildcard Winner. It also claimed first place in the Technology Track at the GAIN Shootout in Gainesville.

• The St. Petersburg-based Records Rescue helps law firms retrieve medical records for their clients and potential clients, saving time and money. The service, which is compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 and Service Organization Control, includes a secure electronic signature feature. 

RxLive is a St. Petersburg-based telehealth network of experienced clinical pharmacists who counsel patients, providers, pharmacies, employers, and others on the phone or through video chat.

SimpleShowing, a licensed real estate brokerage in Florida and Georgia, has been featured on Netlify and chosen as a presenter at Switchyard B2C Pitch, Show #19. The Atlanta-based company’s affordable rate structure helps buyers and sellers save money on real estate commissions.

• The Tampa-based Wabi Social is a dating app that relies on social networks and shared experiences to make online dating more accountable. The company was co-founded by Jason Casher and Carlos Fernandez, Chief Technology Officer, who hopes it will promote community and grow long-lasting relationships.

It derives its name from the Japanese term Wabi Sabi, a worldview that appreciates beauty even in imperfect things. “I thought [that] was a great summation of dating, in that there is beauty to be found in everyone and on many levels. We just have to take the time to see it,” Casher explains.


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Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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