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Lutgert College of Business in the News

This is the text and photo from a story in the Fort Myers News-Press of November 18, 2013. Dr. Kauanui is on board of Fusion Pointe.

Naples organization will give entrepreneurs funding and mentoring

Scott Relf, Fusion Pointe vice president, and Sandra Kauanui, board member, talk during the kickoff event held for Fusion Pointe on Monday. / photos by ANDREA RUMBAUGH/THE NEWS-PRESS

Scott Relf stood in front of entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders to discuss his past trials and successes as an entrepreneur in Southwest Florida.

Many of his trials were based around a reoccurring theme: Relf could not find a lot of the funding, advice and support he needed locally, so he went outside of the area for these resources. His business, Zave Networks, found great success with Google buying it in 2011, but Relf said it would have been helpful to have more resources in Southwest Florida.

So, as vice president of Fusion Pointe, Relf is working to make these resources available. He was the keynote speaker Monday night for the about 120 people who attended Fusion Pointe's kickoff event.

"There are a lot of people - just waiting here to be a part of someone's success," he said of Southwest Florida.

Fusion Pointe - created as a replacement for Gulf Coast Venture Forum - is a nonprofit focused on encouraging, accelerating and expanding the local innovation economy by helping entrepreneurs turn their ideas into investor-ready companies. Deborah Johnson, administrator at Fusion Pointe, said this venture development organization will be different than its predecessor.

Gulf Coast Venture Forum funded entrepreneurs through a group of SEC accredited investors who'd listen to pitches. Because it was a forum, investors would have to come forward individually or in groups to fund the different ideas. Johnson said this wasn't happening as much during the past few years.

Fusion Pointe will raise its own fund for seed investment, and it will give about $150,000 to each early seed stage entrepreneur once the fund is raised. If these entrepreneurs exit the program and see growth from their ideas, money will go back into Fusion Pointe to be invested in another entrepreneur - making it an evergreen fund.

Fusion Pointe will also provide mentoring and networking, and these services will begin immediately. The organization's goal is to open its doors and start funding during the second quarter of 2014. It is looking to fund two to four entrepeneurs during its first year.

But its larger goal, Johnson said, is to help local entrepreneurs create local jobs, and to move other entrepreneurs into the Southwest Florida area.

"We want to build regional jobs, regional companies," she said. "That's really the goal of all this."

To help achieve this, Fusion Pointe has created a formal relationship with Cleveland-based JumpStart Inc. JumpStart, which has invested $29 million in 76 companies, will provide back-office assistance, such as marketing and mentoring, until Fusion Pointe can get its office set up here. JumpStart's experience will also assist Fusion Pointe.

"It helps us get up and running more effectively and fully," Johnson said.

David Diamond, president and co-founder of DeAngelis Diamond Construction Inc., is a board member for Fusion Pointe. He said this new organization will be much broader than Gulf Coast Venture Forum.

"We're really excited about it because it's a better way of doing it," he said.

With Gulf Coast Venture Forum, he said people had to be a member to participate. But Fusion Pointe will engage with more people and organizations, including the government, colleges and universities, investors and startups.

"This is a way of developing the whole infrastructure here in Southwest Florida for entrepreneurship," he said.

Brian Benson, 27, of Naples, works for Insurance Management Consultants and runs his startup on the side. He attended the event partly because of his connection with IMC NextGen, a speaker series with Insurance Management Consultants, and partly for his startup. Benson said his takeaway was about the opportunity in Southwest Florida.

"There's a massive opportunity for anybody or everybody who's looking to start a company," he said.

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