Entrepreneurs Head Into A Naples Version Of ‘Shark Tank’

By Laura Layden
Naples Daily News, Fla.

NAPLES, Fla. — The pitches?

–A “game changer” for the entertainment industry.

–A simpler way for manufacturers to deal with sweeping regulatory changes for hazardous products.

–An ad-supported service targeting U.S. immigrants, offering them free international calls and a new way to send money back home.

The pitches were made to a “Shark Tank”-style investment group in Naples as representatives from three Florida businesses presented their ideas on Thursday in a big, brightly-lit boardroom at IberiaBank, in hopes of getting a bite on their requests for capital. Access to the private board room on the sixth floor requires the swipe of a security card.

Before the monthly meeting started, Tim Cartwright, the fund’s chairman, said, “We are the sharks. They are the minnows and we’re going to see if we can take a bite out of them.”

The entrepreneurs asking for money don’t get their answers right away, as they do on the hit TV show “Shark Tank.” The investment group won’t decide until Monday whether to even consider the latest requests.

The companies presenting this month are looking for millions to expand their businesses. They hoped a chunk of that money would come from the Tamiami Angel Fund, or T2, whose investors are mostly from Naples and Sarasota. It’s one of the largest funds of its kind in the state, with .
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25 million in commitments from its investors.

The fund is a follow-up to the Tamiami Angel Fund I, which involved many of the same investors. Before the latest round of pitches, the two funds had made 14 investments in nine companies, after receiving more than 1,300 applications and hearing more than 60 presentations from their top picks.

Rather than pitching their ideas to five multimillionaires, as they would on “Shark Tank,” the prospects on Thursday appeared before less-known wealthy investors, a little over a dozen of them sitting around the boardroom table. Some of the investors dressed in golf shirts and shorts, while others dressed in suits and ties.

Other members, who couldn’t be at the meeting, will watch a recording of the presentations before casting their votes over the next few days. The investors — a little over 40 of them — are diverse in age and have varied backgrounds, with expertise in a variety of industries, including agriculture, information technology and manufacturing. A few members are serial entrepreneurs, having started many businesses of their own.

One of this month’s presentations came from a start-up named Showpitch. It was described as a “cameo” appearance, which means the business is not far enough along for the fund to make an investment in it. In other words, it’s not making any money.

Showpitch, a website and online service founded in February 2012 to help entertainers get noticed, actually got its start in Naples. It has since moved to Miami.

JP Fatta, the company’s founder and CEO, explained the concept, saying it would be a game changer for the entertainment industry, connecting talent, fans and the industry in one place, designed for a digital world where there’s a hunger for original content.

The site, which has yet to officially launch and is still in beta testing, would be marketed as “the place where discovery happens,” where artists can build their brands and get discovered by studios, networks, talent agencies, fans and other celebrities.

“It’s the only complete ecosystem that takes you from content to consumption,” Fatta said.

He had just seven minutes to make his presentation. Based on the positive feedback from investors, Fatta may be invited back to make a more detailed presentation in a few months, once his company starts making money.

The other two presenters got 15 minutes a piece to make their pitches, followed by a question-and-answer session with investors.

In a passionate pitch, Enrique Baiz, founder and CEO of Papatel, described his technology aimed at immigrants moving to the U.S. and Canada. His company, based in Sunny Isles Beach on Florida’s east coast, offers immigrants free international long distance services and a new way to send money, through goods and services, back home. Through partnerships with retailers in emerging countries, the company can deliver everything from groceries to a refrigerator to an immigrant’s family in another country.
His patented technology opens up a way for advertisers to target a growing population of immigrants from Asia, Latin America and Europe.

“Immigrants that come here, they bus tables. They mow. That’s why they’re highly coveted. Everybody wants them because they have cash,” Baiz said.

The last presentation came from Julie MacGregor, the CEO of Global Safety Management in Tampa. Her company offers a management solution for manufacturers, distributors and others requiring safety documentation for hazardous chemicals in products. The company’s software solution, she said, makes it easier for businesses to comply with new global reporting standards. It gives clients a way to manage the hundreds and sometimes thousands of Safety Data Sheets they must have on hand on their phone or computer, instead of stacking them up in huge binders.

“We’re bringing them into the 21st Century,” she said. Without the required safety sheets, companies can face hefty fines by the government.

While investors seemed to like all the proposals, the first was too early to fund and the pitch by Global Safety Management was met with caution. Papatel emerged as the best prospect, in part because of its team’s past successes, including two successful ventures that made them and their investors a lot of money when they sold.

Bud Stoddard, one of the angel fund’s investors who started six companies over 30 years, said he loved Baiz’s enthusiasm, so he voted to move his funding request ahead.

“I loved him,” he said. “I loved his business model.”

Joe Benaroya, who retired from IBM after 36 years, said while he had reservations about MacGregor’s pitch, he still voted to move it forward, believing it has potential, though her presentation could have been better and left him with unanswered questions.

The T2 is still accepting new investors. Some new investors attended their first meeting Thursday, with a few guests sitting in on the presentations, who were considering joining in on the fund. So far, the fund has invested $850,000 in several companies, none of which have failed.

Investors must be accredited, with $1 million of net worth, excluding their primary home, or with an average adjusted gross income of $200,000 the past two years, and the same earnings expected in the current year.

Cartwright, the fund’s chairman, said he expects the fund to grow before it closes in March.

“I’m thinking $4 million is probably in reach,” he said. “Maybe we’ll reach our stretch goal of $5 million.”

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