Michael Crown of FracTEL
Throughout Brevard County, a strong startup community has been quietly emerging for several years. In places such as the Melbourne Makerspace, Wild Manta and Groundswell, startup founders are afforded the opportunity to exchange ideas, deal with issues and make plans to drive their companies forward. For a county that has a proud history of launching innovative products, facilitating the growth of new companies is a logical path forward.
At the center of this thriving ecosystem are a loosely affiliated group of veteran entrepreneurs and subject matter experts that freely share their wealth of knowledge. One such entrepreneur is Michael Crown of FracTEL, an Indialantic based telecommunications company.
The Entrepreneurial Spirit
Crown became involved in the startup community through his work with a number of businesses over the years. When asked what drew him to startups, Crown noted the entrepreneurial spirit of the individuals, the creative environment, and the opportunity to help businesses avoid the many pitfalls of entrepreneurship. While an entrepreneur may have a great idea, the process of turning that idea into a sustainable business is challenging. For Crown the process starts with the staff an owner assembles, and being open to improvement through advice from others.
The advice accessible to start-up companies is bountiful on the Space Coast. For many of the Brevard business owners that have enjoyed success in the county and beyond, there is a strong desire to contribute something back. Crown notes the emphasis on helping local businesses as part of what makes the area’s start-up community so successful.
“I think there have been some successful businesses come out of Brevard County, and a lot of those people have invested energy into the community to foster the environment here,” Crown said. “We’ve seen that with Trephub, Groundswell and even organizations like the Melbourne Chamber and Space Coast EDC. Founders Forum has also put a new emphasis on early-stage businesses.”
The Moonshot Series
An example of start-ups working with established professionals was seen with the Moonshot Innovation Series, presented by Groundswell and the EDC. Companies building a disruptive hardware or software product pitched their concept and Groundswell mentors selected 12 candidates to receive individualized mentor support over a three month period. Crown was able to follow the series and saw the evolution of the companies during the process.
“When I had the opportunity, I sat in on those pitches as they evolved and I noticed that there were several companies who, by the time they were done, were completely transformed from the idea they had at the beginning, and I’m sure that was a direct result of having worked with an experienced business person and being willing to listen and make changes,” Crown said.
New Technology for New Businesses
Crown is actively listening to the start-up community now as he begins to launch a new product. FracTEL’s cloud-based business phone systems have always provided mobility and many other features targeted at emerging businesses, and Crown indicates that they are making a big investment in additional technology to assist start-up companies.
A new platform called FoneStorm is being developed specifically to facilitate innovation. In addition to a full-stack communications API, FoneStorm provides an easy to use visual programming environment and one-click deployment of applications. The system encourages ideation, rapid prototyping and agile development, with the goal of quickly and easily validating customer value and user experiences. The result is better products and faster go-to-market.
FoneStorm includes modules for integrating Marketing Automation, Social Media, and Office Productivity, among others. FracTEL has also worked with local startup Droplit.io to include support for Internet of Things (IoT) — another great example of innovation synergy.
“FracTEL makes communication tools for businesses and they wanted to bring support for connected IoT products into their service. We integrated our IoT control platform and we’re going to market together with the solution. The team is great — responsive, talented, forward thinking, and truly entrepreneurial — a perfect cultural fit with Droplit,” said Preston Tesvich, COO, Droplit.
As a FoneStorm test case, in less than a day the FracTEL team was able to prototype an application that fixes the almost universally despised call-in number and PIN experience of the conventional conference call. The resulting application, which they call Skrum, allows a meeting organizer to simply include the Skrum email (firstname.lastname@example.org) as an attendee when sending a standard calendar invite for the call. When it’s time for the meeting, Skrum automatically calls the participants and adds them to the conference. Crown says, “People saw what we built and said ‘That would make my life easier. I want it!’, so we decided to develop Skrum into a product.” Investor interest in Skrum is high, and spinning out a separate company is being considered.
“I think the idea to create this platform was, to a great extent, inspired by being exposed to all these new and exciting ideas, and recognizing this need and desire to make it easier for people to make these ideas real,” Crown said. “We’ve seen a lot of great innovation, and I felt that if we could help an entrepreneur get a product to the point where they can quickly demonstrate what it does and how it works, they might be able to generate more excitement for their project and potentially get funding for it. This platform we’re building will definitely help with that.”
Through partnerships with ambitious new businesses, FracTEL has listened to the needs of entrepreneurs as they develop their companies. The start-up community’s creative, nurturing environment is not only a place where new companies emerge and scale, but it’s also an opportunity for the telecommunication leader to identify new products that can help those companies reach their goals.
“We’ve built products that have been inspired by the entrepreneurial spirit and were designed to support that. We’re hoping more good ideas will come along and we’ll be able to help build some neat stuff.”
“People saw what we built and said ‘That would make my life easier. I want it!’”
– Michael Crown