Panama City Beach, FL – June 23, 2016 – TechFarms celebrated the grand opening of its tech incubator today and attracted more than 175 attendees. The group consisted of business leaders, investors, potential entrepreneurs and others interested in touring the facilities and seeing the new products under development. The Panama City Beach Chamber of Commerce was on hand to perform the ribbon cutting ceremonies. Although the incubator officially opened in early 2015, the facilities have been under construction since then as new offices, prototyping labs, and a separate metal/woodworking facility have been added. TechFarms currently occupies two 5,000 sq.-ft. buildings and is planning to add additional space in 2017.
TechFarms is a privately funded, for-profit tech incubator whose mission is to help expand Northwest Florida’s private sector technology industry. The Company offers both individual memberships for those who enjoy collaborating with others with similar interests, as well as business memberships for startups anxious to pursue their new product ideas. Startups are provided with all the ingredients necessary to help them grow faster than they could otherwise on their own. As they grow, they will in turn help attract other tech skilled employees and businesses to the region. To facilitate this organic growth, the Company provides office space, equipment, and prototyping facilities while connecting entrepreneurs to area resources, mentors and sources of funding. Free coffee and access to fast optical fiber-powered Wi-Fi are also included.
Steve Millaway, founder of TechFarms, opened the commencement with an address to current problems in workforce development; he noted, “In past years, many larger established tech and manufacturing companies have considered relocating to Northwest Florida, but our shortage of skilled workers ultimately forced them to relocate elsewhere.” He added, “TechFarms’ mission is to help create more private sector technology companies for our area, and as we grow our workforce organically, our region will naturally become more attractive to outside firms.” Given that the majority of job growth in the U.S. comes from small businesses, the companies TechFarms is helping to create are expected to spur significant local and regional economic growth in the years to come.
At the grand opening guests were introduced to the TechFarms’ team, resident entrepreneurs, and mentors from Gulf Coast State College, the Business Innovation Center, and the Small Business Development Center. Gulf Coast State College president, John Holdnak, and other college representatives were on-hand to express their continuing support for the region’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem. TechFarms and GCSC routinely collaborate to help student entrepreneurs find like-minded mentors and potential business partners. GCSC’s Advanced Technology Center provides students and entrepreneurs with state-of-the-art classrooms and access to world-class prototyping facilities. Jose Lopez-Baquero, Assistant Professor for GCSC’s new Unmanned Vehicle Systems degree programs, displayed a collection of high-tech drones and underwater ROV’s and discussed the College’s new partnership with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
TechFarms also works closely with FSU-Panama City by providing electrical engineering and computer science students with the opportunity to work on challenging projects with other highly experienced engineers at TechFarms. Graduates from both GCSC and FSU-PC will now have more choices for local employment than they’ve had in the past. Providing graduates with more options for local employment means that many will be able to stay closer to their friends and family, and in doing so, will help to further grow our local tech ecosystem. TechFarms is expanding its reach to work with other colleges in NW Florida, including the University of West Florida in Pensacola.
Twelve startup companies demonstrated their new products and prototypes. Tenant companies that showcased products and services developed at the incubator, include:
A-List Accounting. A-List Accounting educates and delivers a personal accounting experience with clients in Panama City Beach and surrounding areas. Laura Nelson, Operations Manager at TechFarms and founder of A-List Accounting, moved her team into TechFarms in January of 2015 while the facility was still under construction. The Company provides bookkeeping, payroll, tax, consultation and training in QuickBooks and Xero accounting, as well as other support services for TechFarms’ tenants and area businesses.
Branch Networks. The startup is an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that specializes in providing high-speed Internet service and IT consulting services to Northwest Florida businesses. Founders Steve Millaway and Nick Casassa launched Branch Networks in early 2016, and together have more than 25 years’ experience designing, installing and maintaining wireless Internet networks. The Company’s specialty, providing ultra fast and highly reliable Wi-Fi to condos, apartments and hotels, is accomplished by installing new next-generation wireless equipment powered by an ultra fast fiber optic connection to the Internet. Branch Networks uses state-of-the-art network monitoring tools to monitor network performance and has local customer support staff. The Company also provides on-site IT consulting to help businesses install local area networks, computers & servers, VoIP phone systems, video surveillance systems, etc.
Flytronics and Liquid Motion Lights. In 2013, founders Jeff Elkins and Ben Merrell were first to introduce to the new hydroflight sport known as Flyboarding to Northwest Florida when the two pioneers began performing demonstration flights in Panama City Beach and Destin. Their fascination with the new sport led them to form several new companies that focus on products that help take the sport to a higher level. Flytronics designs and manufactures handheld wireless remote control devices that allow flyers to remotely control the Jet Ski’s throttle, thereby eliminating the need for a Jet Ski driver. Flytronics first product, the F4 Flight Controller, enables flyers to precisely and safely control their altitude during performances. Liquid Motion Lights builds unique waterproof LED suits and other LED-powered products that enable spectacular nighttime performances. In addition to running two new startups, Jeff and Ben routinely perform in hydroflight competitions and showcases worldwide.
Hive Technologies. Founder Rick Hurst began his career as a project manager and software engineer for the local medical startup, iSirona. When ISirona was acquired in 2014, Rick decided to build on his expertise and create his own startup, Hive Technologies. The Company was TechFarms’ second tenant and for the past year has been developing two product offerings: Healthy Hive, a beehive monitoring sensor coupled with management software, and Hive Hospitality, a housekeeping management app for hospitals and hotels. Rick and his team are hopeful that Healthy Hive will provide researchers and scientists with actionable data from honey bee hives that can be used to help find the cause and solution to the Colony Collapse Syndrome, or “CCD” – the term given to the unexplained decimation of honey bee populations worldwide.
Mine Survival Inc. (MSI). As TechFarms’ first graduate, MSI is growing quickly. Cofounders Rob Moran and David Cowgill leveraged their extensive experience with underwater life support technology to develop a Closed-Circuit Escape Respirator “CCER” for land use. The wearable device supplies up to two and a half hours of oxygen to miners, firefighters, military personnel and just about anyone that finds themselves in an environment filled with smoke, chemicals or other toxic contaminants. MSI’s patented rebreather device will initially be sold to coal miners who have long needed better and more reliable emergency breathing equipment. The Company has received over $700,000 in funding to date and expects to begin shipping its first products later this year.
Starter Plant. Entrepreneur Pei Li Li founded Starter Plant in early 2016. Pei Li previously worked as a software engineer in Panama City Beach for over ten years before deciding to use her skills to pursue her own business venture. Starter Plant is an online retailer of flowering perennials and ships nationally to gardeners who would not otherwise be able to buy these rare species locally.
Other companies that work closely with TechFarms also presented their products and services at the event. These include Product Makers, a contract product design and engineering firm, Reach3D Medical, a developer of an innovative and highly promising 3-D medical endoscope system, Verigo, developer of a miniature Bluetooth-enabled, cloud-based data logger for cold chain monitoring applications such as produce delivery, and Rethink Hobbies, a TechFarms’ STEM outreach partner who uses Remote Control “RC” cars, drones and boats to actively engage and educate both youth and adults.
TechFarms also demonstrated a STEM program known as SeaPerch, a submersible unmanned vehicle system that students build and subsequently compete with one another at a local, regional and national level. The SeaPerch devices demonstrated at the event were built at TechFarms by a group of local high school students. TechFarms is an Authorized SeaPerch Engineering Center and plans to continue its efforts towards educating and engaging students in exciting STEM fields in hopes that they will pursue STEM careers.
TechFarms is pleased to offer its facilities and services to the Northwest Florida communities and is excited to be a part of the effort to grow the region’s tech economy.