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Central Florida Tech fund invests in 7th startup. Here’s what’s next.

Posted on: September 20th, 2021 by Kirenaga Partners

When venture capital firm Kirenaga Inc. prepped the launch of its Central Florida Tech fund nearly two years ago, some investors asked the same question. 

The investors kicked their money into the fund, primarily focused on early-stage investments in tech companies between the Gulf Coast and Space Coast, but they were curious if they would get their money back if Kirenaga failed to find enough investable firms, Kirenaga Partner Jim Thomas told Orlando Inno. “I said ‘Are you kidding me?’”

Instead of struggling to find companies, the fund is going strong. The Central Florida Tech Fund announced July 25 it made its seventh startup investment, and sixth in Florida, into Gainesville-based Mattrix Technologies Inc. The rollout of the fund was delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic, but it since has moved quickly: Millions of dollars were invested into seven companies in less than a year. 

That’s just the start for the fund. Kirenaga plans to raise $100 million and invest in 15-20 startups over three years. In fact, Kirenaga is seriously eyeing six more companies to invest in the near future, Thomas said. 

Space balloons, drone tech and more

In addition to Mattrix, Central Florida Tech fund’s investments include: 

  • Censys Technologies Corp.: Daytona Beach-based firm enabling drones to fly faster and further 
  • ecoSPEARS Inc.: Altamonte Springs-based company with tech that removes contaminants from soil and water
  • Phenix: Chicago-based firm with real-time video streaming technology 
  • Space Perspective Inc.: Based at Kennedy Space Center, the company will send tourists to the edge of the atmosphere in a balloon capsule.
  • StemRad Inc.: Headquartered in Tampa and Israel, the firm makes personal protective equipment to protect against radiation. 
  • Violet Defense LLC: Orlando-based developer of ultraviolet light-based disinfection systems (Company CEO Terrance Berland also is a Kirenaga managing partner) 

These investments are important because the money can help the companies grow, creating jobs and innovative solutions and technologies in the process. For example, ecoSPEARS expects to grow its staff from 15 people to 40 or more by the end of 2022 as a result of its growth, Executive Vice President Ian Doromal previously told OBJ.

Plus, Thomas said the deal highlights the Central Florida Tech Fund’s thesis: There are investable, scalable tech firms in Florida but a lack of early-stage capital. “Florida and Central Florida are the most undercapitalized places in the country that also have the most opportunities.” 

Last quarter, venture capital activity in metro Orlando lagged behind other regional metros, according to data from PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association. Local companies raised $84.3 million in the second quarter, compared to $990 million in Atlanta, $831 million in Miami, $251 million in Charlotte and $239 million in Nashville. Orlando did surpass the $25 million invested in Tampa companies. 

Priming the pump 

However, venture capital deals are up in all of Central Florida’s metros as 2021 is on pace to be a record year for nationwide startup investments, according to PitchBook and the National Venture Capital Association. From second-quarter 2020 to second-quarter 2021, venture capital investment is up 103% to $84.3 million in Orlando, up 2,000% to $10.6 million in Melbourne and up from zero to $9.8 million in Daytona Beach. 

More big startup investments may be on the way to the region, said Ben Patz, managing partner of Orlando-based venture capital firm DeepWork Capital LLC. Central Florida is home to plenty of investable technology, but it takes time and money to build toward a larger, more plentiful investment scene, he said. “It’s like priming a pump.”

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