By JOSHUA GONZALEZ
In a city where theme parks often dominate the headlines, Orlando proves to be a complex city with far more than meets the eye. The Orlando Economic partnership's branding campaign, "You Don't Know the Half of It," captures the spirit of the current state of Orlando as a multi-faceted city full of pride and hunger for innovation. With a burgeoning healthcare entrepreneurship scene that grows by the day, Orlando continues to develop and make its mark as a prominent metropolitan area.
Orlando has begun to present itself as an on-trend area for entrepreneurs with the openings of coworking spaces such as Starter Studio, Catalyst, and the newly opened Industrious Office. As it stands, Orlando recently ranked #4 in the nation for high-growth healthcare startups and #22 in new startup creation, according to the Kauffman Foundation. Forbes also listed Orlando as the 3rd-ranked city for future job growth, 4th fastest growing city in 2018, and a top 10 city for minority entrepreneurs.
In addition to the modeling and simulation capital of the world, Orlando is quickly establishing a reputation as a fantastic place for healthcare companies. With an array of hospitals sprinkled throughout the region and the creation of Lake Nona's Medical City, which Forbes magazine once named as "the next great American city" - the healthcare industry is thriving in Orlando. The proximity of large players in healthcare help provide a foundation to the healthcare startups that are beginning to make waves. Large institutions such as the University of Central Florida and Florida Hospital offer incubator and innovation labs to help further transformational ideas and startups.
"Florida is one of the premier states for university technologies ready for commercialization," said Joe Condon, president and CEO of Auxadyne, a company utilizing auxetic foam for prosthetic and medical device applications. "I think Florida is fruitful, with a tremendous amount of resources available and folks willing to help. Obviously, the entrepreneur and the startup team need to do most of the heavy lifting but there are lots of resources around to help connect entrepreneurs with investors."
NEXUS, a local network of investors, is one of those resources. Joe Condon says the group offered help, guidance, and facilitated introductions that helped his startup grow. Organizations like these keep the heart of entrepreneurship alive in Central Florida.
Blaire Martin, co-founder and CEO of NEXUS set out to fill some of the gaps between entrepreneurs and accredited investors by establishing an angel investing network. "We've founded multiple funds and use crowdfunding platforms to fill that early stage capital gap of seed through series A," said Martin, who describes the NEXUS brand as promoting "the idea of what's driving innovation and showcasing the deal flow here to get investors writing checks." NEXUS has gone on to help fund 68 companies, 8 of which have been healthcare related.
According to the PitchBook-NVCA venture monitor, Orlando startups have managed to attract more than $20.99 million in venture capital during the first quarter of 2018. "I think there is a cultural operating model in Florida for young tech companies that is more down to earth than you would get in California," said John Cooper, a 25-year investing veteran who resides in both Florida and California.
Orlando has also emerged as a tech hub. The fintech company, Fattmerchant, Inc., recently raised $10.5 million in venture funding, prompting a discussion on how to keep startups born in Orlando within the city.
To ensure that great startups stay in the area, proper networks and infrastructure for entrepreneurs have to consistently be nurtured at the grassroots level. Entrepreneurs need to be enabled and given opportunities to have conversations with business leaders, executives, and investors about innovating and moving the needle on some of the biggest problems in healthcare and tech.
Kelli Murray, who co-founded the largest innovation group in the SouthEast known as Health Innovators, curates events and develops ways to fuse the different factions in healthcare to get leaders into a room conversing about problems and solutions. Just last month, a Health Innovator's event featured Daryl Tol, president and CEO of Florida Hospital System, who discussed the issues and challenges in healthcare from his vantage point with a group of 150 local entrepreneurs and startups. "We engage leaders like Daryl Tol because they know that transformation cannot happen in a silo," said Murray who is CEO of MedSpeaks, an inclusive platform that establishes innovation powered social communities. She added, "To help Orlando (and cities like it) prosper and build a reputation for pioneering health and wellness, we have taken action to create a community-centric hub that raises awareness and builds bridges of trust between entrepreneurs, startups, and healthcare stakeholders."
By giving a platform to forward-thinking pioneers, we can begin to see what's holding us back, what's possible, and what's the way forward. The beauty of genuine communication is that it algorithmically leads to reframing; viewing problems with a different mental model. To that end, breaking down barriers between stakeholders is key to advancing healthcare and Orlando together.
Many entrepreneurs and investors in Orlando may find themselves asking where their tribe is. Where are the innovators, the dreamers who are hungry for change? With Orlando's current trajectory, the answer is not very far at all.