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Central Florida's Startup Economy

Stacie Ruth (l) & Donna MacKenzie. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE
Stacie Ruth (l) & Donna MacKenzie. Photo: Matthew Peddie, WMFE

Steve Case, the former CEO of America Online, is on a mission to foster entrepreneurial talent across the country, in places outside of Silicon Valley.

Last week Case brought his Rise of the Rest tour to Florida- stopping in Orlando, Melbourne, Tampa and Miami. Case also hosted a startup pitch contest, with $100,000 in seed money as an incentive. The winner in Orlando was medical technology startup Aire Health.

"I'm still smiling from ear to ear," Aire Health co-founder and CEO Stacie Ruth tells Intersection.

"I spent a lot of time in preparation. It did feel pretty good there on the stage, a lot of energy coming from I think 500 people in the audience" says Ruth of making her pitch to Case.

Aire Health is producing a portable nebulizer for kids who have asthma. The nebulizer will be connected to an app to help monitor treatment.

Donna MacKenzie, the executive director of Starter Studio, which supports entrepreneurs in Central Florida, says Case's visit to the region shone a spotlight on what's being done well and what needs improvement.

"Hopefully one of the outcomes of this will be more investment in our community," says MacKenzie.

"I think the money just tends to gravitate towards the coasts, Silicon Valley, New York," she says.

"If we don't focus on creating these kinds of jobs, and focus on keeping these types of companies, there are other regions that are, and we will get left behind."

Ruth has some advice for anyone pitching a startup to an investor:  "be sure there's a business there."

"You're not testing an idea by pitching it, you're really bringing a pitch that has a validated business model, a way that you can translate what you're selling into making money, and with that money comes an impact on people or the world."