Congratulations to the Florida Companies to Watch Winners for 2017

A typical Florida Companies to Watch class is comprised of businesses who collectively gross over $450 million in annual revenue, add more than 350 new jobs per year, average a 30% increase in earnings and experience almost 20% growth in employees annually. They represent great companies from throughout the state of Florida. Meet five of our new winning companies!

Pete Wilking, founder of A1A Solar Contracting, Inc., is an accidental entrepreneur. “I hadn’t thought much about entrepreneurship until my 40s,” he said. “I wanted to stay in solar and there weren’t very many good solar jobs in North Florida in 2010 so I made myself a solar job by creating a solar installation company.”

A1A Solar Contracting is a specialty contracting company that designs and installs solar electric power plants and back-up energy storage systems for the commercial and residential marketplace. “Ten years ago, when I got into this industry, the level of quality of contracting in terms of workmanship and customer service was pretty low so I came in with fresh eyes to the industry thinking we can do a lot better,” Wilking explained. “I established a standard of how we do business based on how I would want a system installed in my house or business. So far, it seems well received.”

Wilking is proud of the company and team for being recognized as a Florida Companies to Watch. “It’s a huge honor,” he said. “We focus all our effort on ensuring we have the highest quality systems out there. We pride ourselves on workmanship and not taking any shortcuts and making it easy for our customers. This is important as these are 30-plus-year power plants so it has to be done right the first time. Being recognized for this is a big feather in our hat giving the team at A1A Solar one more thing to be proud of.”

Wilking’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is that “You’ve got to understand the dynamics of the business you’re going into thoroughly,” he said. “Understand the end product you want your customers to experience and reverse engineer it from there. Stick to your principles, surround yourself with great people and empower them. Lastly, make it a goal to have your customers brag about your company.”

Ken Bond, co-founder of AdRizer, built a platform of publishing technology tools to aid his own digital publishing efforts and soon realized the tools were the most valuable aspect of his business so he pivoted the company to focus on making those tools available to other digital publishers. “My business partner and I started doing this on the side from my kitchen table,” he said. “We were promoting our own websites using tools we built to do that and soon we realized we are not publishers. We are good at technology and our tools were great for tier 1 publishers who create tons of digital content. It was at that point we decided to put them in the hands of big nationally-known publications.”

AdRizer provides an analytics platform that allows digital publishers to understand where they are profitable. The platform monitors advertising spends used to promote content and determines how much revenue is generated by that ad spend. “We are a first mover in the space and we’ve been doing this for three years so there’s really no direct competition right now but it is coming,” Bond explained. “We stay ahead by continuing to innovate and make our tools better so when the competition comes, we are as far ahead as possible.”

Bond is proud the company has been honored as a GrowFL Florida Companies to Watch, saying “it’s a huge accomplishment. Starting from the kitchen table to being recognized as a growing company in Florida is a great accomplishment, and we are looking forward to continuing that growth and receiving recognition on a national level.”

Bond’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to be ready to act as a jack of all trades. “The challenges are very divers so you must be diverse enough to handle them all,” he said. “I never thought I’d deal with hiring problems or culture obstacles or writing an employee handbook. I got into it thinking I’m an entrepreneur; I’m going to make money because I know how and let’s do great things. But as the business has grown, challenges have widened in scope and there are now many more topics than when I first got into it.”

Suzanne Fulford, founder of Dixie Belle Paint Company, which was named a GrowFL Company To Watch in 2017, launched her company with no investors, loans or partners in 2014 and generated just under $2 million in revenue for 2016. Fulford attributes the company’s tremendous growth to several key factors converging at once. “I saw a trend and filled a gap in a niche market,” she said. “Because I knew a lot about my market, I could target exactly where I needed to be on price and colors and selection. I knew what was lacking. A myriad of things fell into place.”

It all started because Fulford was not happy with the high prices of the quality paint that she wanted to use to paint furniture for resale. “I experimented with my own formulations and came up with something comparable if not better,” she explained. “I could also use my own colors. I realized pretty quickly there was a large hole in the market for better pricing. I set out to fill that gap.”

Now Dixie Belle Paint Company manufactures and sells chalk mineral paint used mostly for home décor. Users don’t need to sand or prime when they paint furniture, fabrics, concrete, metal, glass, or many other materials. “We have better prices and selection than our competitors,” Fulford said. “Our colors are more Americana, bold and bright. We have a lot of complementing products that go with our paint from glazes, to clear coat and wax to metallic additives that give paint a weathered look.”

Fulford’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to be open to ideas and proceed conservatively. “Know your market,” she said. “Proceed as cost effectively as you can. Everything I got, I bought off Craigslist and did as cheaply as possible because I didn’t want the pressure of having to turn a large profit because I owed money. Know your product and don’t overextend yourself.”

Fulford is grateful for the recognition as a GrowFL Florida Company To Watch and credits her team for the award. “We are so honored and excited,” she said. “We feel very blessed and fortunate to have reached this level of recognition, and would not be here if it wasn’t for the outstanding team here at DBP.”

Michael Wright, founder of RedTeam Software, worked in the aerospace, consulting and construction industries before launching RedTeam as the result of a problem he solved for his own commercial construction firm. “When I was new to the construction industry, I performed extensive research and found there were a lot of inefficiencies and opportunities to optimize the workflows of project management in particular,” he said. “I was quite surprised at the lack of well-designed solutions in the marketplace. I used the best of what was available, but was never was satisfied, which lead us to building our own. That was more than 20 years ago. The impact to the company was transformational. In 2006, we felt the platform was robust enough to spin off as a separate business.”

RedTeam Software provides project management and construction accounting tools for commercial general contractors in US and Canada. “A significant differentiator is that RedTeam was designed and built from the ground up by general contractors,” Wright explained. “Our customers also appreciate that RedTeam provides construction accounting and project management tools in a single cloud-based platform solution.”

Wright appreciates the recognition and notoriety that comes from being named a Florida Companies to Watch. :It’s definitely nice to be recognized for the work that has been done over the years and years of effort in an environment as challenging as construction,” he said. “Construction is a high stress, all-encompassing profession chosen by our customers. We like knowing that we do make a difference for them, not just for the success of their businesses, but from the success of their lives. I know we’re doing things right when our customers connect with us on a personal level, sharing stories of their own friends and family experiences. In the world of business, our firm is described as “software as a service,” but we prefer to think of ourselves more simply as “people serving people. It gives us more clarity of purpose.”

Wright’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to read anything by Jason Jennings. “Be realistic about how much you can handle,” he said. “It’s going to be a marathon. Some entrepreneurs start running full sprints because they overestimate their capacity to continue sprinting for a long time. Many fail because they’re stretched too thin for too long. You have to be practical about what you can handle as a person.”

CLICK HERE to view the full list of 2017 Florida Companies to Watch Winners