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Some Miami entrepreneurs find fertile ground in Gainesville for growing startups

By Chris Moran

Jared Perlman and Ben Erez began planning their venture in Miami but are building it in Gainesville.

Their startup Shwrüm (pronounced “showroom”) provides a tool for salespeople who work boutique floors to electronically amass histories on their customers and to send them photos of new merchandise to prompt them to come back to the store. The idea is to replace the cumbersome binders salespeople now use. Shwrüm’s product is about to debut in boutiques on Washington Avenue and Lincoln Road as well as in stores in Boston, New York and Chicago.

PerlmanScreen Shot 2013-10-28 at 9.56.10 AM - Copy
Ben Erez (2)Perlman (pictured at left), from Miami, and Erez (right), from Jupiter, met as undergraduates at the University of Florida.  After graduation Erez found work in California and Perlman went off to grad school. That lasted until January, when Erez quit his job, Perlman withdrew from school, and they moved into the Florida Innovation Hub at UF to start Shwrüm.

Perlman has come back to Miami to find customers.

Like other South Floridians who carry the seeds of innovation north with them, they’re finding UF and Gainesville have increasingly fertile soil to grow their ideas, regardless of where the customers are.

“The incubator takes care of a lot of the noise associated with starting a company and let's us focus on what really matters -- creating a great product, finding new customers and, most importantly, having fun in the process,” said Erez, Shwrüm’s CEO.

Matt Herbolich (JPEG) (2)Matthew Herbolich has a master’s degree from the University of Miami and a condo near campus, but he, too, has joined a team of entrepreneurs in UF’s Hub to build their idea into a company. TruVitals has developed a prototype of a handheld device to take vital signs from patients – human or animal – without ever having to touch them. Think Dr. McCoy waving his tricorder in the sick bay on the Enterprise.

“Being in the Hub puts us in a neighborhood of experts. UF’s Office of Technology Licensing is just downstairs from us, and they’ve introduced us to potential investors and customers,” Herbolich said.

You don’t have to be in the Hub to launch a startup in Gainesville, of course. TJ Villamil, who was student body president at Gulliver Prep before becoming student government president at UF, graduated in the spring and has launched his coffee company Gulejo elsewhere in Gainesville.

TJshot (1)He’s the son Tony and Marielena Villamil of the Washington Economics Group (Tony Villamil is also business dean at St. Thomas University), so perhaps he went up to UF with an entrepreneurial pedigree. He’s still in Gainesville because of the blossoming startup community and because his co-founders are UF alums who also stayed past graduation. The concept is to run a coffee company that reinvests some of its profits in the communities that grow the product. Gulejo plans to help fund a UF medical student mission to Nicaragua this month, for example.

He also supports fellow entrepreneurs.

“We consider our coffee "startup fuel" we serve to startups in Gainesville right now. We want to be to startups what Gatorade is to athletes and what Red Bull is to extreme sports,” Villamil said.

Gulejo has also launched the Floridapreneur weekly podcast and plans to highlight some Miami-based entrepreneurs in coming months. 

The Hub has contributed to the creation of 250 jobs and attracted more than $10 million in private investment in the 20 months following its opening. It has more than two dozen startup tenants. It is one of the only incubators in the nation to house a leading university technology-transfer office (fourth among universities nationally in spinning off companies from UF-developed technologies). The Hub also houses UF Tech Connect and the Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research to help nurture high-tech companies.

The Hub even has a farm system for pre-startups. In the Hatchery, aspiring entrepreneurs fine-tune their ideas for technology-based businesses until they’re ready to turn them into companies. They have access to Hub-provided seminars, networking, and an experienced entrepreneur who serves as a mentor-in-residence.

“Ideas come from everywhere – Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach, you name it,” said Jane Muir, the Hub’s director. “What we do at the Hub is help turn those ideas into products, businesses and jobs.”

Chris Moran is director of communications for University Relations at the University of Florida. 

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