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Space-themed hackathon has come a long way since 2014 debut

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It would be tough for Kunal Patel to have known what he had started when the Indiegalactic Space Jam started in 2014.

But perhaps it was a sign when he walked into the hallway to take a phone call and saw a game developer’s makeshift recording studio.

He had a microphone up to another developer, who was playing the French horn.

“It sounded like John Williams was creating a film score,” Patel recalled. “It was impressive to see the effort and willingness to do big things. That stuck with me.”

Seven years after that episode, Patel is preparing for the next Indiegalactic Space Jam, which starts on Friday night at Orlando Science Center.

Patel spoke with Orlando Tech News in advance of the event, which will kick off an ambitious series of events.

TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE HERE: www.eventbrite.com/e/indie-galactic-space-jam-2021-tickets-164372321037

Q: You’re set to host this event on Friday and, like in past years, you have NASA professionals buying into what you’re trying to build. How important is that?

A: It’s extremely important. You need the professionals within the industry to share the real-world challenges they are facing. They can also validate that game developers are building something both scientifically accurate and that will solve or visualize problems. In turn, we hope space professionals walk away impressed by the group.

Q: What can the developers who attend get out of NASA’s buy in, if anything/

A: They gain an understanding of space and a problem set to solve for. Meanwhile, the space professionals leave feeling amazed. They are seeing and playing with something fun, interactive and visualized, potentially billions of dollars or decades before it’s done in real life.

Q: What’s it like when you see this event you started really grow into something useful and respected?

A: I feel very proud. Eighty percent of success is just showing up, really. But when the people that show up are bad asses, the potential for impact is great. There are businesses, people and industries that don’t know what’s right under their nose.

Q: How do game developers benefit here?

A: As a game developer, you may only have a narrow view of your skillset as entertainment experiences. But those same skills can be used to solve a problem for 10 other industries.

Q: What is it about game developers that makes this kind of event successful?

A: They truly are a special breed. They are great problem solvers that make this feel easier and faster. Rapid prototyping, iteration, that’s in a game developer’s DNA. When you bring that into other fields like space, it’s amazing the leaps that are made in one weekend. The space industry is used to long waits but you can get to 80 percent of a goal very fast with 3D games and simulations.

Orlando’s OneRail raises $9 million to leverage huge growth

An Orlando tech company that early this summer expanded its operations into an 18,000-square-foot facility now has more money to put toward filling that office.

OneRail, which provides delivery services of all kinds for so-called “last mile” deliveries, announced that it had raised $9 million in a Series A investment round led by Ironspring Ventures.

OneRail partners with major carriers like Lyft, DoorDash and Frayt to secure delivery sources and ship bought products to their end destination.

Ty Findley, managing partner of Ironspring Ventures, a first-time investor in the company which led the round, said e-commerce’s explosion in recent years has made companise like OneRail more critical.

“Final-mile logistics has only become more critical to shippers as they face even further enhanced e-commerce customer experience expectations,” he said in a release

In the release, Findley, who will join OneRail’s board of directors, said OneRail had experienced 10 times year-over-year revenue growth.

OneRail managed to grow during the coronavirus pandemic, as it pushed more peopel to work from home and lit a charge into delivery services of all kinds.

The company has at its disposal a fleet of 7.5 million drivers across 200 major U.S. cities.

Its platform offers a smart-matching service between end customers and businesses selling goods or services.

“We are very thankful for the show of faith that Ironspring Ventures and our valued investors have placed in us as we continue to execute upon our vision of transforming final mile logistics,” OneRail Founder and CEO Bill Catania said in the release. “This next chapter is all about scale — and the infrastructure needed to execute a true omnichannel strategy.”

Among the seven firms to join the investment round, five were returning investors.

The company plans to expand its digital platform along with its customer success team.

OneRail, which in June reported a workforce of 65 people, is now at 80, with a goal of surpassing 100 by the end of the year.

Gaingels joined Ironspring Ventures as new investors in the round. The company’s current investors, including Chicago Ventures, Bullpen Capital, Las Olas Venture Capital, CreativeCo Capital and Alpine Meridian Ventures, all participated in the round.

SeedFundersOrlando invests in Space Coast healthtech firm

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An Orlando investment firm has poured nearly $200,000 into a health technology company from the Space Coast.

SeedFundersOrlando announced Monday that it had invested in Melbourne’s Kalogon, which was founded by aerospace engineers and has developed smart seating technology for those who stay seated for extended periods of time.

Seedfunders operations in Miami and St. Petersburg also participated in the round.

“The impact of pressure sores is preventable,” said Tim Balz, founder and CEO of Kalogon, while noting that the industry hasn’t advanced its technology in decades in a press release. “Our goal is nothing less than to improve the quality of life of millions of people and we are grateful for SeedFundersOrlando and their support of the mission.”

The company’s Smart Cushion is already in use at rehab centers and veterans’ hospitals in Tampa and around Central Florida.

The $195,000 from SeedFundersOrlando into Kalogon will help it grow its product, which electronically adjusts itself every few minutes to lessen pressure on the tailbone.

SeedFundersOrlando has invested in eight businesses since its creation in the third quarter of 2019.

Included among those are Blue Halo Biomedical in Winter Park and both ViewStub and Miventure in Orlando.

“Tim and his team are aerospace engineers that have brought the ‘Silicon Valley startup ethos’ to Florida and have demonstrated the ability to innovate and rapidly execute,” SeedFundersOrlando CEO Dennis Pape said in the release. “Their product addresses a growing and critical health issue for older Americans and promises to make a difference in the world. We are thrilled to help them do so.”

UCF programming team heading to world finals

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Don’t get UCF sophomore computer science major Daniel West wrong.

He’s excited for his upcoming internship with the social media giant Facebook. How could he not be?

But when you dive headfirst into University of Central Florida’s successful competitive programming team, these kinds of opportunities are almost expected, he said.

“The things we do in the contest are very similar to what you would see in a technical interview,” he said. “It’s, ‘Work through this problem. Write a program that solves this.’ Recruiters look for people at these competitions.”

UCF’s programming team, of which West is a part, has advanced to the world finals of the 2021 International Collegiate Programming Contest.

The team finished 19th in the North American competition earlier this month.

About 12 years ago, UCF launched a lab on campus specifically for computer science and the programming team.

That has helped develop the program into one of the top in the country.

UCF has finished in the top 10 of the World Finals six times.

The competition charges teams with solving six real-world examples of problems faced by businesses.

It’s a combination of logic, strategy and endurance.

For instance, a team might be asked to develop a schedule for landing airplanes on a specified number of runways with the goal being maximizing the gap between landings.

“It’s really fun to work with a group of students who want to do well,” said Glenn Martin, who is entering his 27th year at UCF. “It’s great to see them grow.”

Along with West’s Facebook internship, other students are on their way to Microsoft, Google and Amazon.

Martin credits that at least partially to how UCF’s program has grown over the years.

“A lot of the companies, they don’t necessarily need you to get the right answer to a problem,” he said. “They want to see your process. If they see a good process, they go, “Wow, this person can think through a problem.’”

“It’s not some super secret: it’s about the culture,” he said. “Today’s success started back (in the early 1980s) because from the beginning we developed a good team culture, where people want to do well and collaborate well.”

The team members do get paid, which West says allows them to focus on learning new things rather than have to worry about not studying on a work night.

West first encountered the competitive programming scene while at Timber Creek High School in Orlando.

The team was his main extracurricular activity.

Before then, he did not have any experience in the activity.

“That early exposure roped me into this concept of using computers to tackle fun problems,” he said.

“I enjoy the problem-solving aspect of this,” said West, who wants to work in software engineering. “It’s something I have a knack for and it helps with the degree I’m pursuing.”

West is quick to point out that the coaches and his teammates, seniors Sharon Barak and junior Seba Villalobos, played as big a role as he did in pushing the team into the tournament.

“It would be a pretty lame team if it were just us three,” he said. “There is a big sense of pride and we are all proud to represent UCF.”

Pink Lotus officially launches child-safety device

An Orlando tech startup that already had been having a good month announced an official launch this week.

Officials with Pink Lotus Technologies’ device, which provides safety information to first responders, had previously announced integration with a widely used 911 system.
The formal launch has been a long time coming, CEO Maryann Kilgallon said.

“No child should ever die because of a tragic incident like being left in hot car or because of wandering from his or her parents,” said Kilgallon, who pursued the business after seeing a report about a child’s death in a hot car about four years ago. ““It’s been a substantial journey to get to this point, but we know this is a solution to prevent someone’s avoidable death.”

As she launched her company, Orlando Tech News caught up with her to learn more about her journey and what’s next for the company.

What’s it like to have this launch, after you put so much into it?

It is a great feeling, As I Iook back, it is incredible at what I have been through, the good and bad experiences on this journey are too long to list. As I tell my story, it is very emotional for me. People said this is a very hard space and “maybe you should re-think it.” But I was not going to let the naysayers get in the way of my determination. It’s too damn important. This technology is going to save lives everywhere and that has been my north star always.

How difficult has development been?

I did not have a tech background so it was very challenging. I had to learn how apps are developed, the manufacturing process, how hardware components function. I have become a student of tech and had to learn every step of the development chain. I am still learning.

What launched you into entrepreneurship with Pink Lotus and the POMM device?

I saw how a little boy in Orlando had died while in the hands of a caregiver. It was a terrible death. When I heard the details, I was so upset that I went to bed in tears. I could not sleep and kept wondering how this could happen in the age of technology we live in. I started to think about solutions that might have saved his life. The very next day I started doing research to see what options were available and did not see anything that I thought was good enough, so I invented POMM, which stands for “Peace Of Mind Monitor.”

What lessons have you learned as a startup founder that you hope will help you push this community and product forward? 

Startup founders need capital to launch. Founders are a very special group of individuals. Most do not have wealthy families to go to, to ask for seed money. In today’s world, anyone can invest in a startup. Our pre-seed round is still open. There are crowdfunding platforms out there. As for the device, I tell people I meet all the time that children face tragedy every day, especially when in the care of others. POMM is an insurance policy for your loved ones.

What’s are your thoughts on the support from Orlando’s tech community? What does it get right and what can it do better?

Orlando still has a lot of work to do. I look at Tampa and Miami and see headlines all the time about their ecosystem. I wonder why don’t we mirror their playbook? Obviously, they get it. They have invested in the startup community with real dollars. I think Orlando wants to help but sometimes they take too long to support new ideas. In the meantime, the startups end up seeking outside help, whether it’s funding or joining accelerators.

Programs that Kilgallon cited as potential boosters to the startup community include the UCF Business Incubator, the Orange County Cluster Initiative with the Florida High Tech Corridor and Project Orlando.

Orlando Red Roof Inn helps Brazilian hotel tech firm launch product

The Red Roof Inn on International Drive has become one of the large hotel chain’s first to adopt self-check-in kiosks for guests to bypass front-desk interactions.

The business helped the Brazilian company Brisa, which has a small team located in Central Florida and is located in the UCF Business Incubator, launch its U.S. presence.

CEO Paulo Toledo said that smaller to medium-sized hotels, along with mom-and-pop operations, had been slow to jump into the virtual check-in game.

“We understood from studying the market that the hospitality industry would be a major focus to start with,” he said. “Some of these companies are still in the initial stage of digital customization.”

Toledo has been in Central Florida for the last six years, he said.

Brisa is a contractor that has worked on products for hotels, educational firms and large mobile phone companies like LG, doing software testing.

Although the company had penetrated the market into large companies with its Latin American presence, doing so in the U.S. proved problematic.

So, Toledo said, the company has started to work with smaller businesses, hoping to prove its value.

The trick for Toledo has been to convince smaller hotel chains and operations that this kind of automation is needed, a task made easier during the coronavirus pandemic.

“When it arrived, we made another push,” he said. “It was about the need those companies had to assure social distancing and safer conditions for their guests to be safe.”

Brisa’s kiosk allow hotel guests to check in on devices that are similar to airport kiosks.

The company has a white-label product that it provides for hotels and other clients.

“In our experience, the hotel industry is very diverse,” he said. “On the one hand, you have big hotel chains that have more automation. On the other hand, you have a lot of mom-and-pops with very little automation.”

“There is a huge opportunity in the market for introducing technology and automation in those organizations,” he said. “But we also see some barriers. This industry was hit very hard by the pandemic.”

Surprising result led to drug-detection startup IDEM Systems

Orlando has a startup scene that has been consistently on the rise. One way to get over any sort of obstacle is attention.

In “Friday’s Featured Startup,” Orlando Tech News puts the spotlight on a young company in Central Florida that has either made news lately or is an up-and-comer that the community should pay attention to. The format will change but the goal will not: we highlight what is going on around town and build a narrative that showcases entrepreneurs here.

How can you be featured? Be a young(ish) tech company, headquartered in Central Florida – more specifically the Orlando metro region. Let’s connect and feature your company. The goal is to make this a weekly offering so please reach out.

This week, we feature David Nash and IDEM Systems

  • Note: Answers edited for clarity

What is IDEM Systems?

IDEM spun out of UCF, revolving around technology invented by cofounders, Dr. Richard Blair. Our hardware and software will streamline the drug intelligence collection process for law enforcement, which will allow them to adequately combat the U.S. drug epidemic.

How did you first connect with Blair?

I worked for him as a researcher throughout my undergrad, grad school and post-doctoral years at UCF. The original idea for the tech came out of the chemistry lab.

What was the thought behind IDEM?

Initially, the idea was to help crime labs develop more efficient screening methods to quickly identify certain drugs they had trouble dealing with – specifically a drug known as BZP. Richard developed this method to help his crime lab friend out, and it worked better than expected. Not only did it work to screen for BZP, but it worked for cocaine, PCP and many other drugs.

When was the “aha” moment?

A few years ago, a Central Florida police department put a man in jail for three months because his Krispy Kreme donut glaze tested positive for meth when a police officer did a roadside drug test on a suspicious substance in his vehicle. There are many stories like this involving soap, chocolate, cotton candy, sugar, tea leaves and even air testing positive for a drug. Those wrongfully arrested have sued the municipal or county government and ended up getting settlements from their cases, settlements technically funded by local taxpayers. Richard’s idea evolved into a product that would minimize the wrongful arrests based on false positives police drug tests and prevent taxpayers from having to foot the bill for government litigation-related expenses stemming from these kinds of cases.

When did you get involved?

In the early 2010s as an undergraduate research intern and later a graduate researcher in chemistry. We were funded by the Department of Justice in 2012 to carry out fundamental research on the drug testing method and implementing it into a field device for police. Richard and I would always discuss commercializing the tech and having me run the company, but I never really thought of that to be a realistic outcome until 2015.

Why will this product succeed?

Law enforcement cannot be effective in drug interdiction if they are always two steps or more behind new drug trends. Because our technology leverages modern technology such as a handheld electronic device, mobile apps, the cloud and machine learning, police will be able to accurately test for a drug’s identity at the crime scene and compile that drug test result with past data to obtain valuable drug intelligence all within minutes instead of the months it currently takes. Faster drug intelligence will allow for quicker police responses to community drug threats and ultimately help get illicit drugs out of our communities and away from vulnerable citizens.

On Orlando’s tech scene: “I came out of the academic tech community at UCF, and I’ve noticed that there was always a disconnect between the UCF startup community and the Orlando startup and investor community. One thing (VentureScaleUp) provided was exposure to that Orlando startup and investor network. It’s awesome to be able to learn from mentors that have already been in my shoes and found success with past ventures and bounce ideas off of peers that are currently in my shoes.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: IDEM Systems has landed $1.3 million in grants from the National Science Foundation through UCF’s I-Corps program. Nash appeared at VentureScaleUp’s demo day this summer to showcase what it had learned through its accelerator program.

Orlando’s Shoflo acquired by top event management tech firm

An Orlando-based event streaming firm has been acquired by one of the leading companies in the industry.

Officials with Shoflo confirmed the acquisition of the company by Cvent, which had been written about in media last month, in a blog post recently.

Shoflo CEO and Founder Stephen Bowles did not share many details of the deal in the blog post, instead focusing on what the transaction would mean for the company moving forward.

Shoflo began as one of the first companies to go through Orlando’s Starter Studio accelerator in 2013 and has since grown to employ 30 people around the world.

Like many event-streaming companies, Shoflo saw a surge in virtual events because of the coronavirus pandemic, a year Bowles called “transformative for both our industry and Shoflo.”

“As we saw in-person events come to a halt and virtual events take off, the Shoflo team did what we have been doing from the beginning … we leaned into the problem and believed in the power of innovation as the way through,” he wrote.

“To maximize live engagement with audiences and drive ROI, event planners and marketers need to reimagine the production levels of their events,” Cvent VP of product development McNeel Keenan said. “By adding Shoflo’s suite of products and expertise, we expand the capabilities of our attendee engagement solutions for virtual and hybrid events. We’re thrilled to bring Shoflo into the Cvent family.”

Cvent employs more than 4,000 people worldwide and has managed nearly 5 million events since its 1999 debut, according to data on its website.

Iron Galaxy’s family friendly policies shaped by Orlando mother

Alicia Cano’s first pregnancy six years ago did not go as smoothly as she would have liked.

Complications caused by a rare condition known as HELLP made the process especially difficult, with the life-threatening condition characterized by blood pressure spikes, potential seizures and liver rupture.

Thankfully, the staff at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies helped pull her through.

“It’s got a not-zero mortality rate for both baby and mom,” the 37-year-old recalled in a recent interview. “I was knocked out for a week at the hospital.”

But as Cano dealt with physical complications, her experience also helped mold what became the first parental leave policy at her employer, Iron Galaxy Studios.

They asked what I thought and then came out with a policy that pretty much matched up with what i said

Alicia Cano, Iron Galaxy Studios

The Chicago-based video game development company, which has about 95 of its 220 employees in Orlando, offers 13 weeks of paid leave for a birthing parent and five weeks for non-birthing parents. Iron Galaxy’s website shows that the company is hiring for 14 positions in Orlando.

Because of her complications, Cano said she needed all of them.

“They asked how much time I thought I’d need,” she said. “They asked what I thought and then came out with a policy that pretty much matched up what I said.”

A 2017 study by the International Game Developers Association found that 22 percent of the industry is women.

Those numbers practically mirror Iron Galaxy’s workforce.

As more women have made their way into the industry, businesses have introduced and expanded policies related to parental leave.

Alicia Cano has worked on ports of large video games like Batman: Arkham Knight for Iron Galaxy Studios.

“Understanding your employees, their needs and what benefits are relevant to them is key to creating programs and policies with real impact,” Iron Galaxy Co-CEO Chelsea Blasko said. “When Alicia became our first employee to give birth, we needed to re-evaluate what we had been offering for parents.”

The result was the more robust parental leave policy, Blasko said.

Cano’s husband, Stephen, also works at Iron Galaxy and was given three weeks off during Alicia’s first pregnancy.

“I don’t know what we would have done if I had to burn my own (paid time off),” said Stephen, 36. “It was great to stay home and support her. They were flexible.”

Stephen and Alicia’s path in the video game industry have been similar.

Both studied computer engineering at University of Florida before pursuing advanced degrees at UCF’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy.

Alicia has served in several positions at Iron Galaxy for the last eight years, having done work on titles like Scribblenauts Remix, Batman: Arkham Knight, Diablo 3 and Overwatch.

Stephen, meanwhile, has been a programmer on 14 titles while at Iron Galaxy during the last nine years.

“You work with some of the most passionate people you’ll ever meet,” Alicia said. “Everyone is here because they love games at some level or they love making games.”

Alicia Cano has taken her situation and created something that has been beneficial to the entire office.

The Orlando studio became the first to create a women’s group that serves as sort of a support and advice gathering for parents at Iron Galaxy’s studios.

“I wanted to meet people in my office and I’m awkward so instead of asking people like a normal person, we made a women’s group,” said Cano, who at the time was the only woman engineer in Orlando.

“You work with some of the most passionate people you’ll ever meet” at Iron Galaxy.

The group meets once a month and has a loose membership, with the voluntary meetings drawing about 10 people or so.

Her leadership role in that group has also drawn questions from expectant fathers.

The parents group rose in its importance during the coronavirus pandemic

“We’d hop on and say, ‘What are you doing? Have you heard this? What are the numbers for kids?’” she said.

Stephen and Alicia had to navigate the closing of their daycare, juggling schedules and working from home.

“Basically, one of us had to be a parent and one of us had to be working,” Stephen said. “It was great that Iron Galaxy was super understanding. They knew that everybody was suddenly trying to figure out a new lifestyle.”

“People throw around the word family and it’s a really tight group,” Alicia added.

It helps that the company has traditionally kept its Orlando workforce smaller. However, even with recent surges in hiring, Alicia says that atmosphere has been maintained.

“They really take this idea of building a sustainable company where we can make games with our friends is the tagline and they keep to it,” Alicia said. “I absolutely love it and can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Orlando’s Pink Lotus Tech lands crucial partnership

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An Orlando technology company that provides safety information to first responders has connected with a 911 system that greatly expands its reach just in time for a run of preorders.

Officials with Pink Lotus Technologies announced that its POMM safety band now integrates with RapidSOS, which has a platform that connects 350 million devices to 5,000 emergency communications centers.

The POMM band is a smartwatch-like wearable that monitors children’s vital signs constantly, providing parents with data on their child’s temperature, heart rate, location and other information.

On Saturday, Pink Lotus CEO and founder Maryann Kilgallon announced on LinkedIn that the device was available for preorders at her company’s website.

“The mission of POMM is to help protect children everywhere and the best way to do that is give our paramedics, police and firefighters as much data as possible before they arrive on the scene,” Kilgallon said of the partnership in a press release. “This can only be done using the incredible technology established by RapidSOS and we’re so thankful to have a partnership with RapidSOS.”

Kilgallon launched Pink Lotus Technologies nearly four years ago.

RapidSOS has created a robust network of first responder-related agencies to speed up response time, leading to potentially life-saving processes.

Orlando Tech News