By Marcia Heroux Pounds / Sun Sentinel
Angel investor Thomas Buchar sees a little bit of Texas in South Florida.
"This reminds me of Austin in the 1990s," Buchar said Wednesday. All it will take for the region to take off as a technology hub is for a local startup to make a big return for investors, he said.
The former Chicago resident is planting roots in Fort Lauderdale and is looking for new companies in the life sciences and financial technology to invest in. He attended the SUP-X startup expo at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale.
The two-day event linked entrepreneurs and investors from South Florida, the Northeast and Canada.
To inspire the budding entrepreneurs, SUP-X featured Ultimate Software's vice president for strategic alliances Jim Jensen as keynote speaker.
"You've got to have a vision," said Jensen, who has worked for 21 years at Weston-based Ultimate Software, founded by CEO Scott Scherr. He said startups should come up with one to three words that say what their company is all about.
For Ultimate Software, that message has been "people first," supporting Scherr's philosophy that if the company treated its employees well, that would lead to customer satisfaction and robust sales. Fortune magazine recently named Ultimate Software the No. 1 technology workplace in the nation, and the company reached $618 million in annual revenues.
Jensen said another key to Ultimate Software's success has been getting feedback from customers to improve its products.
Customer feedback also has been key to entrepreneur Amanda Anthony, who founded FlyInStyle, which connects consumers with shopping and dining options at airports. She recently changed her business model from a consumer app to marketing directly to retailers and brand marketers in airports. "We listened to the market," Anthony said.
Aaron Itzkowitz, founder of Jinglz in Boynton Beach, said he saw the need for digital advertisers to get a better return for their advertising buck. Jinglz has developed a digital ad platform that helps ensure that a video ad will be watched by pausing when the viewer looks away. If the video is watched completely, the consumer is rewarded with an entry in a daily jackpot to win a cash prize.
Investor Joel Gold said he's investing in Jinglz and raising additional funds because Itzkowitz and his associates are hard working and have a great idea.
"We don't invest in companies. We invest in people," he said.
Two South Florida companies were in the final five Wednesday afternoon in the SUP-X startup competition offering about $50K in prizes.
Coral Springs data firm BDEX, which collects data to help retailers target customers, and Wellington-based EnergyBionics, which makes a mobile-device charging watch, pitched their businesses to investors and experts.
EnergyBionics was the third place winner, taking home $10,000. Apellix of Jacksonville and Torch of Chattanooga, Tenn., were the winner and runner up.