The Sunshine Economy: Nine Figure Deals In Regional Tech Industry
The companies Ron Antevy and Rodrigo Griesi help run are very different. One is homegrown, the other was exported to South Florida from Brazil. One has about 200 people on its local payroll. The other has one local employee, but is part of the global gig-economy -- working with freelancers all over the world. One company is more than 20 years old. The other started only five years ago.
But both technology companies sold in the past several months for nine figures -- at least $100 million. The deals represent the regional technology industry as it works to grow and mature.
Neither Antevy or Griesi were looking to sell their companies. They weren't even looking for investors to take over big parts of their companies. But both found themselves fielding buyout offers, giving them an exit.
While both companies sold, they're also sticking around.
Antevy and his brother Jon built e-Builder from an idea in 1995 into a national construction services software company. Its project management technology has been used in building projects for Facebook, the University of Southern California and the Chicago Transit Authority.
"We joke around that if our business was in Silicon Valley, or in New York or one of those places, I don't think we would have survived," says Antevy.
Griesi is part of a Brazilian team behind Decora, a technology design company that produces images of products for online retailers. If you’ve shopped for sinks at Home Depot or furniture at Target, you’ve probably seen their computer generated images. You may have thought they were photographs. They’re not. Griesi come to Boca Raton to open the company's U.S. operations in 2015.
"In the U.S. there's huge competition and Silicon Valley is the high league. And then there's the second level," Griesi says. "There's a bunch of other cities that compete for the second level. And South Florida is down there."
Decora sold for $100 million. E-Builder was purchased for $500 million. Both represent substantial price tags in the regional tech industry. And both Griesi and Antevy stayed with their companies.
"If our business was in Silicon Valley...I don't think we would have survived." - e-Builder CEO Ron Antevy
When Antevy and his brother decided to look for outside investors for their company, based in Plantation, he says 70 different investment firms were interested in giving them money. He narrowed the list down to 25 and received 23 offers in return. That kind of interest "really put us in the driver's seat."
Eventually, the brothers came around to the idea of selling the company. In February, they closed the deal with Trimble, a publicly-traded construction technology firm based in Silicon Valley.
It was a Saturday night when the brothers received the final paperwork. "Jon was having a birthday party for his wife," Antevy says. "We both got our Docusign ;information on our phones at his wife's party."
After building a tech-based company in South Florida for the past two decades, Antevy thinks the local technology industry is taking root. "We've actually hired people from Silicon Valley who have relocated to South Florida." That includes leadership Antevy says he had to import to help scale-up e-Builder.
"We're going to grow the ecosystem even more. If we bring some of this talent here, I think those folks are the ones who end up starting companies. It just builds on itself."
Rodrigo Griesi had a few opportunities to move to the U.S. from his native Brazil over the years as a serial entrepreneur. But nothing happened until 2015. By then, he had been working for three years on a business that grew out of an incubator in Florianopolis, Brazil.
"It was a natural decision to point our compass here." - Decora U.S. Director Rodrigo Griesi
"We call it Silicon Island in Brazil," he says.
Decora's first try at creating a business didn’t work. It found its niche in marrying technology and design -- tapping into a global freelance workforce of designers using C-G-I, computer generated images. They produce product images for online retailers. Decora provides the technology processes to create the images and platform connecting designers with work -- similar to how Uber connects drivers with riders.
"In terms of e-commerce, the U.S. is 10-times larger than Brazil so it was a natural decision to point our compass here."
In 2015, a consulting firm in Pompano Beach had a contract with Brazil to bring 50 small companies to South Florida. More than 2,400 applied and Decora was one of the 50 chosen. It landed at the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where Griesi maintains an office today.
Griesi says it gave them "a last name."
"When we started showing our product, if we said, 'We're a company from Brazil,' your mind doesn't click. But if you say 'We're in the research park of a university' then trust comes easier."
Decora is not a major employer in its home country of Brazil or its U.S. base in Boca. It has just one person in South Florida. But it’s $100 million buyout by online content and marketing firm CreativeDrive earlier this year represents the second biggest deal for a technology company in Brazil.
"If you go to Florianopolis, Decora is a huge example of success down there," he said. "We were the startup that started from scratch. It was nothing. It was just an idea that came to an execution."