Tampa losing flashy start-up tech company to California
TAMPA - One of Tampa's hotter start-up companies, TourWrist, is flying the coop and moving to the technology capital of the planet, San Francisco. "We would have preferred to stay in Tampa," said founder Charles Armstrong, but the company has started attracting interest from venture capitalists and will likely complete a first round of funding within six weeks. TourWrist was something of a technology offspring of the Tampa advertising and branding firm Spark, through its Spark Labs project and it developed a smart phone and tablet app that lets users view 360-degree photos on their phone. By using the phone's compass and motion sensor, users can physically spin themselves up, down, left and right and seemingly peer through their device into another place in the world.The name plays on the word "tourist" and using ones "wrist" to spin around. For instance, auto makers have been using the app to display the interior of their cars, and real estate agents and hoteliers have been using it to display their properties. TourWrist only went live on the Apple system in the spring of last year, but became one of Apple's most popular apps, with more than 20,000 downloads a week. Only last June, TourWrist won awards at the Tampa Bay Technology Forum's coolTECH event for local technology projects. Other companies are getting into the 360-degree game as well, and automaker Nissan recently launched a similar app to show the interior of their cars. TourWrist had only a handful of employees, but the symbolism of their departure is a bitter pill for Tampa with only a small silver lining, say executives here who have been trying to build more of a technology community. "TourWrist is a win for Tampa and demonstrates that we have the means to incubate hot companies and prepare them for Silicon Valley's venture scene," said Brent Britton, an attorney at Gray Robinson and advisor to TourWrist. "It's unfortunate TourWrist could not get funded here. We'll miss the jobs they would have created." Britton noted that technology investing takes skill and a tolerance for risk, and there's a common sentiment that "Tampa's early stage investors wouldn't know a hot startup if it bit them on the rotary phone they use to dial up their AOL account. But I think we can change that." Tampa Bay has plenty of wealthy investors, said George Gordon, chairman and chief executive of the energy software company Enporion and past chairman of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum. "A lot of those people made their wealth in real estate or manufacturing and not so much tech," Gordon said. "And people like to invest in things they know and understand and where they can add value." San Francisco is flush with technology billionaires, Gordon notes, and successful early stage or "angel" investors in technology visit companies they support monthly, if not more often, "and they don't want to live on airplanes to get there."
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