Tech titans nurture South Florida's digital dreams
Apr 16, 2012 (Sun Sentinel - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The names may not be familiar, but you or someone you know has probably used the technology they've brought into our lives: the Apple Powerbook, university Blackboard software and tele-conferencing program Go To Meeting.
John Sculley, Dan Cane and Ed Iacobucci are among a handful of technology geniuses who are making South Florida home and investing in the region's companies, building new enterprises and nurturing other tech entrepreneurs.
"South Florida's biggest problem has been a PR problem. But there has been an underground movement of entrepreneurship," said Cane, inventor of the Blackboard technology.
The goal once was to make South Florida a Silicon Valley, said Jane Teague, executive director of Enterprise Development Corp. in Boca Raton. "But we've come to the realization that we're not going to succeed at that. We have to figure out what our own strengths are and play to them," she said.
Those strengths -- the beach and the year-round sunshine -- are drawing or keeping some of the tech industry's brightest.
"People just want to be here," Teague said.
South Florida has nearly 25,000 technology businesses, as of 2010, the latest figures available, says the South Florida Technology Alliance. Florida ranks fifth in technology employment, after California, Texas, New York and Virginia, according to TechAmerica Foundation's Cyberstates report.
Gone are the days when a tech entrepreneur had to be in Silicon Valley to succeed, said Chris Fleck, vice president for solutions development at Fort Lauderdale-based Citrix Systems.
"They don't need an office. They can work anywhere," he said.
Among the technology entrepreneurs who have joined forces in South Florida:
Sculley ran Apple when the Macintosh and Powerbook debuted. He was lured into that job from Pepsico by Steve Jobs, with whom he later had a much-publicized falling out.
Now, Sculley, 62, lives in Palm Beach and works as a venture capitalist, investing in young companies he expects to succeed.
He's advising two Boca Raton entrepreneurs: John Duffy, founder of 3Cinteractive, and Dan Gittleman of Open Peak. In a recent interview, Sculley said he is at 3Cinteractive offices at least once a week. "I've been there to watch [Duffy] take 3C from a small company to one of the coolest companies around, not just Florida," he said.
By the time he was 36, Duffy had made $100 million from the sale of his first tech company, Internet Billing Co., an Internet-based payment processing company.
Ten years later, he's founder and CEO of 3Cinteractive, a Boca Raton-based mobile solutions provider and working with entrepreneurs through the Launch Pad Entrepreneurship Program at University of Miami.
3Cinteractive is expected to generate revenue of more than $40.5 million in 2012. The company employs more than 100 workers and expects to hire an additional 50 this year. Clients include Disney, Walgreens and Best Buy.
He made his mark as an entrepreneur with StorageApps, which was acquired in 2001 by Hewlett Packard Co. for $350 million in stock. The company used virtualization technology to manage storage networks.
Now 45, Gittleman's new venture is Open Peak, a Boca Raton-based company that creates devices that allows customers to remotely manage customer devices and applications.
He invented the first enterprise eLearning system, the flagship Blackboard software, which manages online class material for universities. Cane helped take Blackboard public in 2004 and the Washington, D.C., company has grown to more than $530 million in revenue.
Cane grew up in Lake Worth and wanted his family to enjoy the South Florida lifestyle. So he moved back home and founded a new venture, Modernizing Medicine, an electronic medical records software company.
The company employs 70 and is growing, moving this month into the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Modernizing Medicine had $1.8 million in sales in 2011 and is "on track to do $8 million to $10 million this year," said Cane, 35.
The ex-IBMer founded Citrix Systems, a Fortune 500 company with 1,400 employees in Fort Lauderdale. Today, Iacobucci is working on a new venture, VirtualWorks, to deal with all of the data from the many office and virtual devices that companies use. The Boca Raton company has hired 27 people and plans to be at 40 by mid-year.
Iacobucci, 58, also advises other local ventures including Zee Aganovic of Hi-Conversion in Boca Raton.
Originally from Bosnia, Aganovic moved to South Florida in 1993 because he wanted his children to grow up in a "small town neighborhood" like he did.
Since then, Aganovic took two companies from startup to sale: CyLex Systems was acquired by copier giant Ricoh, and Apptimum, purchased by Microsoft.
At 55, his latest venture is HiConversion, which develops e-commerce technology. Customers include Tommy Brands, Uggs Australia, Adidas, Rockport and Hugo Boss.
Staff writer Justine Griffin contributed to this report.
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