April 16, 2018

Two startups share top honors at VenturePitch at Babcock Ranch

By: Vicki Parsons - IT

Casey Logan, CLOGAN@NEWS-PRESS.COMPublished 11:57 a.m. ET April 13, 2018 | Updated 3:42 p.m. ET April 13, 2018

Shift Coffee Bar serves nitrogen-infused cold brew

“The Price is Right” would have been proud.

It was a night of showcases, with Southwest Florida’s budding startup community the top draw, with nearly 40 businesses on display and a room Thursday evening filled with entrepreneurs, angel investors and supporters.

The second showcase: Babcock Ranch, the solar town taking shape in Charlotte County and the setting for the seventh VenturePitch SWFL, a “Shark Tank”-style event in which leaders of startup companies deliver their best pitches to a panel of judges and an audience.

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Part of the Babcock showcase was The Hatchery, a co-working space and site of the business expo, as well as Lee Health’s new health and wellness center, site of the pitch event.

Forty-two startups applied to pitch, an event record, but only the “final four” got the chance to pitch, with the others invited to participate in the expo beforehand to showcase their startups.

The VenturePitch SWFL series is part of the Tamiami Angel Funds’ and Adrenaline Venture Fund’s joint initiative to build a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem from Sarasota to Naples.

Presenting companies must be in the pre-revenue stage or within the first few months of producing revenues, in business less than two years, have a scalable business model and have not already raised more than $1 million.

The health and wellness center served as a perfect backdrop because all four startup leaders who pitched Thursday night are in the health and wellness sector.

stabiized steps stabiliizers sign
Stabilized Steps was one of the winners at Thursday’s VenturePitch at Babcock Ranch. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)

Those four: top winners Stabilized Steps (Naples) and Envision Solutions (Bonita Springs), as well as secondary winner Ambutrak (Sebring) and Accugentix (Naples).

A total of $60,000 in equity investments was at stake at the region’s “live pitch event,” as it is touted.

“We think it’s time to find the hundreds and thousands of entrepreneurs and lift them up in this community,” said David Dunn-Rankin, president of Sun Coast Media Group, which put up $50,000.

As co-winners, Stabilized Steps and Envision Solutions each got $25,000 in equity investment, while the local host award went to Ambutrak, with an equity prize of $10,000.

Another showcase: three of the four who pitched have a connection to Florida Gulf Coast University.

Tim Cartwright, chair of Tamiami Angel Funds and managing partner of Adrenaline Venture Fund, said this event is important because there’s a need to diversify the region’s economy to include innovative industries beyond construction, tourism and agriculture.

“When you look at small businesses, that’s where creation happens,” he said. “That’s what we need to focus on in Southwest Florida.”

a woman speaking on a stage at venturepitch
Stephanie Gomez, co-founder, president and CEO of Naples-based Stabilized Steps, makes her pitch at VenturePitch at Babcock Ranch. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)

Stabilized Steps

Stephanie Gomez, co-founder and CEO of Naples-based Stabilized Steps, who went first, made perhaps the night’s most dynamic presentation.

The startup is focused on improving the lives of people with mobility issues by giving them the freedom to move with the use of patented stabilizers that attach to the bottom of medical walkers. This allows users to be stable on various terrain such as sand, gravel and snow.

“This is life changing,” said Gomez, formerly a commercial banker. “This is a great solution to be able to be outdoors safer.”

Eryk Hardwick, a residential contractor and co-founder, crafted the initial product after a disabled client asked if he knew a way he could get to the beach because his walker would sink in the sand. He decided he wanted to help more people, inventing the Stability Glider.

Hardwick and Gomez spent 18 months developing the product with Ford engineers. It sells for $130, though the price will increase to $150 based on consumer feedback.

Stabilized Steps has 16 dealers in 30 physical stores and three online stores. It has sold 160 units since launching in January, but Gomez projects $444,995 in revenue this year.

“There’s nothing like our product on the market,” she said.

One in 14 Americans has an ambulatory disability and people value independence and healthy living. With an aging population, the market will only get larger.

“We have a community that reflects our growing demographic,” she said.

Gomez, an FGCU graduate who studied finance and economics, got 20 credit cards and took money out against her house to get the company off the ground.

“So I’m all in,” she said.

Invention born out of desire to walk on beach

Envision Solutions

Andrew Maskery is CEO of Envision Solutions, which is focused on helping people see again after suffering a stroke.

“It’s like physical therapy for the eye,” he said, noting that cortical blindness affects half of stroke survivors.

a man raises his thumb on the venture pitch stage
Andrew Maskery, CEO of Envision Solutions, makes his pitch at VenturePitch at Babcock Ranch. (Photo: Casey Logan/The News-Press)

Over 60 patients have been treated in a lab, he said, with all of them showing improvement in their vision.

More people are surviving stroke, so the market is increasing.

A fee of $999 provides a six-month treatment subscription, which is prescribed like physical therapy. The home-based treatment starts with an internet download.

The technology was developed by the University of Rochester, but Maskery has exclusive use of the patent and he has $275,000 invested.

The startup does not expect to generate revenue this year. He thinks the treatment will garner FDA approval within a year, then it will take another to break even, followed by rapid sales in 2021 and 2022.


David Scheck founded Ambutrak, “the original distance tracker for rolling walkers.”

Pedometers and similar fitness devices, he said, don’t accurately measure distance traveled by walker-dependent people. The solution: a distance-measuring device for rolling walkers that can give physical therapists and caregivers instant feedback.

While there are competitors, the physical therapist student at FGCU said his product will be more accurate and easier to use.

Scheck began validating the need for such a device while in FGCU’s Runway Program last fall. Students can apply to be part of the semester-long program in which they work on the development of a business idea and design a launch plan to start their business while still earning a degree.

He plans to sell the pre-programmed device for $30 each and make $18 net profit per unit.

“It works a lot like a bicycle computer,” he said.

It’s in the prototype phase, so there are no sales yet.


Alainah Hacker, who founded Accugentix, is an FGCU student studying biology and economics who expects to graduate later this year. She is creating an automated device for the ingestion of CBD oil, which is used as a natural medicine and can be purchased from anywhere in the United States. CBD, or cannabidiol, is derived from cannabis or hemp plants.

She got $12,700 in funding from FGCU’s Runway Program.

The issue, Hacker said, is that patients have a hard time accurately measuring and dosing their oil, as the personalized calculations can be hard to figure.

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“The solution is a dosage system,” she said. “We’re going to help patients save money.”

The system will include a dosage dropper, cartridges of oil and an app.

The target customer suffers from anxiety, but may not see a doctor for treatment.

“We want to help these patients live a better life,” she said.

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