Whether in the heart of San Francisco or 40 miles down the road in Silicon Valley, the Bay Area has long been the iconic setting for entrepreneurs to pursue their dreams.
And Warrington alumni are a major part of this innovative landscape. From budding entrepreneurs to seasoned executives, the College’s graduates are making significant impacts in a global epicenter of entrepreneurship.
Discover how these bold Business Gators are thriving!
Whether building a company from the ground up or drastically changing its mission, Jeff Gold knows far too well the roller coaster that is leading a new venture.
“When you’re the CEO of an early-stage company,” said Gold (MBA ’78), “every day could be your best day or your worst day—and the difference can be separated by 20 minutes.”
Fortunately, Gold’s best days far outnumber his worst, and his vision and resourcefulness have propelled him to elite status in medicine—most especially the interventional cardiology field.
Gold’s entrepreneurial journey began in Miami at Cordis Corporation—which develops and manufactures products for patients with vascular diseases— where he had a successful 18-year career. His high point was co-founding Cordis Endovascular Systems, a subsidiary focusing on interventional neuroradiology, in 1993. Cordis was sold to Johnson & Johnson in 1996, and Cordis Endovascular is one of only two remaining Cordis entities still part of J&J today.
“At that time, I’d never done a startup, and neither had most of Cordis management,” Gold said. “We did some things wrong, underestimated time and costs, and got a dose of reality. But the fundamentals were there—there was nothing wrong with what we built.”
After Cordis Endovascular, it was on to Silicon Valley.
“There are startups on every corner,” Gold said. “It’s a highly entrepreneurial, risk-tolerant environment. If you fail, it’s not a kiss of death. If you fail twice, it’s still not. Just don’t fail for the same reason.”
He held executive positions at three medical technology companies—with a five-year stretch as a partner in a venture firm in between—before taking on his newest assignment as CEO of myoscience, which has developed a Focused Cold Therapy™ that treats conditions involving nerves.
Gold’s time at myoscience was supposed to be brief—he agreed to run the company’s pain management business for about a year. But a few weeks after arriving, a strategic deal for myoscience fell through. Shortly after that, the CEO resigned and Gold was appointed to his position.
Gold made immediate changes. He diverted the company away from the beauty business—where the therapy was used to stop wrinkles—to focus on the peripheral pain management opportunity, virtually cut the company in half and integrated manufacturing. The result has been 40 to 50 percent quarter-over-quarter revenue growth and a complete turnaround path for the company.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
For Ethan Bloch, that adage rings extraordinarily true.
Seven years ago, Bloch (BSBA ’08) was broke and desperate after being laid off from his marketing job. To make ends meet, he offered his marketing services as a consultant.
Bloch’s tactics were successful, and his vision to provide small businesses the necessary marketing tools to thrive in the digital age caught the attention of angel investors in the Bay Area. With $1 million in funding, Bloch co-founded Flowtown in January 2009. Demandforce purchased Flowtown for $4.5 million about three years later.
“Flowtown had to work,” said Bloch, 30. “I was broke, and my back was up against the wall. But Flowtown had a lot of the right ideas and was on the right trends.”
Bloch’s newest venture is Digit, a personal finance app that automatically transfers small amounts of money from your checking account to a Digit account.
Digit derived from young Americans’ inability to save money. Adults under the age of 35 have a negative 2% savings rate, according to a 2014 report by Moody’s Analytics.
“For me, finance comes very naturally, but that’s not true for most people,” Bloch said. “There’s an anxiety associated with it. Money impacts everybody on the planet, yet there’s this huge asymmetry of information.”
Digit takes the thinking out of saving—and it’s working. Digit users have saved more than $36 million since its launch in February, according to Bloch.
Bloch’s love of finance was groomed at Warrington, which was not on his radar. In fact, Bloch said he didn’t want to go to college at all. But a heart-to-heart with his father and the chance to escape Baltimore for sunny Florida convinced him to give college a shot. It’s a decision that has helped him become an innovator in one of the world’s most innovative places on Earth.
“I’m 30 years old, and society has organized itself in such a way that people have given me $14 million to try and create something that’s in my head,” Bloch said. “That’s the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. There’s no place in the world like it.”
Alex Sunnarborg (BSBA ’13) and his business partners worked tirelessly to get their startup off the ground in St. Petersburg. But the more they learned about the opportunities for entrepreneurs in the Bay Area, the more they thought that’s where they needed to be.
So they did what dedicated entrepreneurs do.
Said Sunnarborg: “We all booked one-way tickets.”
Their belief in their product—and in each other—has led them to San Francisco where they hope to take advantage of the growing Bitcoin industry with their financial app, Lawnmower.
Lawnmower rounds up a user’s purchases to the nearest dollar, and converts the difference into Bitcoin, a form of digital currency that although not widely used, has shown positive growth. Sunnarborg, 24, and fellow UF alumni Pieter Gorsira and Patrick Archambeau, are hoping to capitalize on that growth.
Unlike some fly-by-night apps, Sunnarborg and his team took their time developing Lawnmower.
“When you’re dealing with people’s money, you have to be more careful, and the product needs to be more polished,” Sunnarborg said. “Disasters with financial apps are much worse than with social apps. It’s that balance of releasing a viable product as soon as you can to beat the competition, but not putting out a half-baked financial app that may put people at risk.”
Lawnmower launched in April, about three months after the trio moved to San Francisco. Sunnarborg said their acceptance into Boost VC, a local startup accelerator aided their venture. The Lawnmower team spent three months in Boost VC along with 25 other companies whose products were also Bitcoin-related, allowing for some healthy collaboration.
Sunnarborg said he’s pleased with the app’s performance thus far. Lawnmower has been downloaded about 8,000 times and is supported in 18,000 banking locations. He’s thrilled with his decision to launch Lawnmower in the Bay Area.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world to own your own company,” Sunnarborg said. “Living here, you feel this full freedom in creativity.”
Ryan Delk personifies one of the most important traits of an entrepreneur: Taking risks.
As a sophomore at UF, Delk could have found an internship with any number of tech companies in the Bay Area—a logical approach to kickstart his entrepreneurial career. Instead he spent three months in Kenya and helped raise a $10 million fund.
As a junior, he was courted by Square, Inc.—a fast-growing company based in San Francisco that provides small businesses convenient ways to accept credit card payments among other transactions—for a full-time position. Instead, he became Employee No. 1 at a startup.
His rationale was simple.
“I was young,” said Delk, a Resource Economics major who minored in Entrepreneurship at UF. “If things didn’t work out, it would be easier to bounce back. It’s really important to have the capacity to take risks. I think it carries a lot more weight in the entrepreneurship and business world when you’re building something from scratch.”
Those gambles have paid off handsomely. Delk, 24, is the Head of Business Development and Growth at Gumroad, an online destination where artists, musicians and authors can sell their digital creations directly to users. What started with three employees working from a San Francisco apartment in 2012 has turned into a growing enterprise thanks in large part to Delk’s efforts. He has spearheaded partnerships with some of the biggest names in media, including Sony, Random House, Universal Pictures and Warner Bros, allowing Gumroad to currently host about 150,000 digital works.
Delk, an active member of the Bay Area’s entrepreneurship community who serves on the advisory boards of five companies, said Warrington’s experiential learning environment had a major impact on him.
“It helped close the loop between the theoretical—all the papers I was writing—to the things that apply in the real world,” Delk said. “It allowed you to take everything you learned and do something with it. That’s very powerful.”