Often overlooked amid the booming tourism and construction industries in Sarasota County is the fact that we also are a growing tech hub — from bigger, established players such as Voalte and Clickbooth to a nexus of biotech firms such as Aso and CAE Healthcare. But we also have other less visible high-tech players.
Some of those under-the-radar companies are breaking out from their early stages.
Here are three Sarasota-based examples.
• Hoyt Architecture Lab Inc. and Imerza are quietly transforming both the design and the sales of high-end residential buildings and large-scale master plans using architectural designs integrated into virtual-reality technology.
Gary Hoyt, CEO of HAL and Imerza, along with partner Dorian Vee, who is chief technology officer of both companies, started HAL about five years ago, and Imerza shortly thereafter, to help architects and planners better envision what they were creating. That was followed by angel funding to create a real-time VR sales-center platform for major national developers. The companies have maintained a strong relationship with the Ringling School of Art and Design and have employed several of its graduates.
The companies are now also doing large-scale planning and conceptual work in VR, including traffic modeling systems for roundabouts, diverging diamonds, light-rail lines and so on.
The technology allows HAL and Imerza to show everything from large-scale master plans all the way down to specific details such as electrical outlets in an individual unit. “Everything is spatial. There are coordinates for each element. Everything is in the model,” Hoyt said.
This provided the pleasant surprise of greatly improving communications between developers and government agencies because both sides can use the same product. “This is transformational for the design and development industry,” Hoyt said.
The market agrees. HAL and Imerza employ about 25 people, about evenly split. That is twice the number of staff they had last year, and Hoyt expects to double the employee count again in the next year.
• Codeware is a software company that develops programs that help with the complicated engineering involved in designing and maintaining pressure vessels and heat exchangers that meet stringent American Society of Mechanical Engineers compliance codes. Those codes cover pressurized systems the same way that building codes ensure that those structures are safe.
Codeware has quietly been around for decades but recently has grown rapidly because of the need for companies to upgrade aging infrastructure and because the shale-driven petrochemical boom is bringing more refining capacity online.
“We created a software system to design equipment to these codes and standards,” said Les Bildy, president of Codeware. “We automate a lot of the tedious, time-consuming calculations required by the code. Most jurisdictions around the world require adherence to these safety standards.”
Bildy says Codeware has about 40 percent more employees than it did two years ago, with 41 employees — 29 in Sarasota and 12 in Austin, Texas. The growth has forced it to build a new $8 million facility in Palmer Ranch that will accommodate 60 employees.
Codeware looked into expanding in Austin but decided to do it in Sarasota County. “The EDC was right there to assist us in introducing us to the right people and right programs,” Bildy said.
• Rewired Solutions is a human resources technology company targeting large and growing companies that are looking to hire in volume for similar jobs. Rewired’s patent-pending, data-driven software creates a virtual archetype employee who is successful at the company today — based on dozens of traits — which the company calls a hero persona.
The idea is that once this hero persona is created, the software then builds “look-alike” audiences on social media and targets the best candidates to match them to the company’s needs.
“Everything we do is driven by the data already residing in these companies,” said Tim Hearon, founder and CEO. "It’s like a look in the mirror for them and a logical way for them to build on the foundation of their existing successes."
Rewired began a little more than three years ago and is working with some of the largest employers in the world, including Walmart and CVS, doubling its revenue from last year. A new contract with global management company Accenture is taking Rewired international, including to Italy, France, Romania, Japan, Ireland and Spain.
As these tech firms sell their services globally, they take with them the unexpected story of Sarasota County as an emerging hub for innovative companies — a story the county's Economic Development Corp. loves to share.
We are committed to doing all we can to help grow this emerging sector. Contact me if you know of a low-visibility tech company that we might want to put on our radar.
Contact Mark Huey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, at firstname.lastname@example.org. EDC is the public/private partnership leading economic diversification efforts by working with community and regional partners.