Making Start-Up Funding Mission-Possible on the Space Coast
By Lyle Smith
To describe Mark Mohler as a man on a mission is to underestimate both the man and the mission.
It only takes a few short minutes to recognize this fact sitting across from him at a café just around the corner from his office, where he’s welcomed by name as a regular and they extend the same warm courtesy to his guest. He’s detailed and specific in both his questions and his answers and clearly has more than one narrative playing out inside his head at the same time.
In fact, Mohler is a man on many missions and what you find speaking to him at any length is many of his missions are passionate endeavors envisioned by others. Endeavors boosted into reality – or success – in whole or in part by Mohler’s efforts.
Mohler is an attorney with Corridor Legal headquartered in downtown Melbourne, but a quick bit of research turns his name up in relation to a long list of businesses, start-up efforts and organizations devoted to driving start-up ideas, particularly technical ideas, into reality.
Launchpad40, Wellspring, Sprigster, TrepHub, Startup Spacecoast, FracTEL – each of these projects have his inimitable fingerprints all over them. These are efforts all designed to help bring disruptive technical ideas and the dreams of their creators to fruition.
A Center for Tech Talent
“It’s all about invention with a clear commercial value,” Mohler says.
The example he cites is one of the companies that developed the fingerprint identification technology that Apple computer made famous with its iPhone 5 release. Unfortunately, the tremendously successful technology was initially developed with an eye toward securing expensive laptop computers at a time when netbooks were driving prices on laptop computing ever lower. Apple noticed the capability as adding an unmistakable value to mobile computing and lo and behold, one Space Coast company hit the big time. But who heard about it?
“It’s happened several times here along the Space Coast,” Mohler said. “But we tend not to celebrate it.”
Why, one might ask? Mohler likes to note that we along the Space Coast, especially since the latest evolution, or devolution of the space program, has the highest percentage of technical talent in the country outside of Silicon Valley in California. But all of that talent is anchored after the scale-down of the space program in the culture of the defense and aerospace industries run by huge multinational corporations.
“And these companies often have a deep-set culture of secrecy,” he says. “They’re not sure how to deal with this generation of younger engineers who also want to do their own thing.”
Some large companies like GE, he says, are in favor of encouraging this sort of development among their employees, while others he says are unsure when it comes to letting go of the control of their most talented employees.
Adding Up Entrepreneurially
Clearly passionate about encouraging and protecting the technical and creative minds striving to break free of the traditional big technology business track, it’s ironic that he seems unable to acknowledge himself as one of those same minds.
Mohler’s background is as a talented attorney at an Am Law 100 firm on the standard partner track. Somewhere along the line, however, he found himself rethinking the traditional role of the attorney and law firm in the life cycle of a modern technical business.
He worked in mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures, transactions and other areas taking businesses public, introducing IPOs and generally moving businesses forward in highly successful paths, but he began rethinking his own role as it pertained to the evolving world in which we live. And that is where two and two made four for him.
It was at this time he began working with so-called double bottom line businesses. That is, businesses that by nature, pay attention to the financial bottom line and the bottom line regarding responsibility to the community, country and even environment. Clean Energy companies are a prime example of the type of client he was after.
While the work was ideal, the opportunities were limited. The large, white-shoe law firm he was working for understood one business billing model and failed to see the value in working with technical companies, particularly start-ups that couldn’t afford the standard hourly rate.
Seeing and Seizing Opportunity
Mohler, on the other hand, saw an opportunity. If he and his firm could cut hourly rates to a sustainable level for this sort of business and get involved at a deeper, more fundamental level with each business, they would make it not only sustainable, but scalable.
“It’s lean law,” as he describes the idea. “Reduce overhead, adopt lower cost, scalable technology solutions, align with clients specifically, these are the things that would make the most difference that larger firms would be unable or unwilling to do.”
In short, he’s adopted a lean approach to doing business much like that of the start-ups he represents. Fewer people, with larger skill sets, doing more, better.
The result is the creation of an approach to law virtually designed for start-up and early-stage businesses. From a business/client perspective, the legal expenses are exponentially smaller, the personal attention is greater and the approach is tailored to specific conditions. And thanks to the nature of Mohler’s clientele, they find themselves connected to some of the biggest, savviest investors throughout the state of Florida.
In just a few minutes of chatting with Mark Mohler, the relaxed-casual facade fades away and he turns into the other side of who he is – a man who’s worked with very large, very powerful people and corporations, but one who not only wants to win, he wants to contribute to the good of the world.
For instance, when asked what attracts him to the start-ups and why is it he spends so much time listening and learning from the technical creatives, he says smiling, “I just enjoy that stuff.”
And, frankly, that is the thing that makes the difference. Not just making the right connection, but making sure that connection connects properly to the joy and passion of the business.
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