News Column

Workers-turned-entrepreneurs Creating Jobs

Aug 27, 2012

Marcia Heroux Pounds

Entrepreneur

Several South Florida workers who climbed the ranks of big technology companies have become entrepreneurs and are now creating jobs in the region.

Two former workers from Motorola and one with IBM are affiliated with Enterprise Development Corp., an incubator for technology startups at the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University.

The entrepreneurs say their transition from corporate life to company owner has been both challenging and rewarding. While they know technology, they've needed help with marketing, financing and networking to build their businesses.

While the road to entrepreneurship was chosen by one technology worker, it became a means of financial survival for two others.

Brian Garr, founder of LinguaSys, was laid off from his job leading speech recognition technology at IBM in Boca Raton. It was 2009, and he was 55.

"It was rough for a while. Even with years of experience, I could not get an interview anywhere," said Garr, now 57. "I decided I was never going to get another job and the only option I had was to create one."

The transition to entrepreneur also was challenging for former Motorola engineer Edwin Hernandez, 36, founder of Engla Communications at the incubator.

After working for Motorola for seven years, Hernandez said he lost his job over a patent dispute. The company, which is now Google's Motorola Mobility, declined to comment.

"I was looking for a job for a year and a half," said Hernandez, who has now moved on to developing a different technology.

Engineer Gonzalo Labarca, 48, chose to leave Motorola in 2006 because he no longer felt challenged.

But his decade at Motorola in South Florida was well spent, he said. "I learned a lot...I have three or four patents on behalf of Motorola," he said.

After Garr left IBM, he consulted with an Australian voice-recognition technology company. He founded LinguaSys in 2010 to bring that technology to the U.S. market.

Today, LinguaSys provides automated language translation software for business, and is working on new uses through text messaging and Twitter. The company has nine employees on four continents.

"We had first product out the door by May of 2010 and our first customer by July 2010," he said.

Garr credits IBM with teaching him how write a business plan and make effective presentations to investors. "Being an executive with IBM is like getting an MBA," he said.

And Garr has since gotten business referrals from his former employer. "IBM has been very helpful to us as we've grown," he said.

"I love what I do even more than I did before. I get up at 4 a.m., and I'm excited to start the day," Garr said.

After leaving Motorola, Hernandez decided that starting a business was his best option. His father dug into his retirement savings to help start Egla Communications. The company offers a product called Mediamplify, a "one-stop shop" for streaming music and other media.

"Thanks to my parents' support, now the company is making some money. I'm hopeful I'll be able to pay them back with interest," said Hernandez, who grew up in Honduras and came to the U.S. as a graduate student.

Egla Communications employs two people and is seeking a full-time developer. Hernandez said the incubator is helping him with financing, marketing and other aspects of the business.

"The incubator helps you meet the right people.... Just walking down the hall you run into guy who has already done an IPO [initial public offering] or sold three million copies of an iPhone app," he said.

Former Motorola engineer Labarca has launched a mobile app company and has been consulting with the incubator. The idea for his product came to him when he was driving one day.

"I was driving down 826, the Palmetto, and I saw a billboard for a concert by Jethro Tull. But I didn't see the date," he said.

Labarca decided to write an app to capture the billboard and founded a company called Lazo System.

Today, his Lazo application for smartphones is operating in Palm Beach County and is getting ready to launch in New York City. Consumers who use the app also have the option of multimedia engagement.

"You can go to the website, or share an ad on Facebook and say, 'look at the cool billboard.' " he said.

Larbarca said he learned from Motorola about developing a quality product.

"You have only one chance for the consumer to use your product the first time, and you have to make sure the user experience is really good," he said.



Source: (c)2012 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.). Distributed by MCT Information Services


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