June 2024 Southwest Florida Business Today

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Disaster Services

In this issue, we discuss hurricanes and other kinds of potential disasters business owners may face.

Edison Awards

See the 4-page center pullout inside for more details about the conference. Other Edison Awards stories appear throughout this edition. Photos for the entire event by Alyssa Ringler. All photography is copyright of the Edison Awards.

Get Southwest Florida’s business news and information mailed straight to your mailbox each month. Start your subscription to Southwest Florida Business Today.® Call (239) 573-9732.

FloridaCommerce announces

Southwest Florida labor force up

FloridaCommerce announced the Southwest Florida labor force increased by 6,287 over the year in March. The Fort Myers area labor force grew by 2,773 over the year in March, a 0.7% increase, and the Naples area labor force increased by 3,514 over the year, a 1.8% increase. The Naples area had a 3.1% unemployment rate in March 2024, a 0.6-point increase over


The 2024 Edison Awards announced the Gold, Silver and Bronze winners, as well as the Edison Achievement Awards honorees, at the gala held at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center in Fort Myers. Pictured above are 2024 Horizon Council Chair Guido Minaya (left) and 2024 Horizon Foundation Chair Mark Stevens, welcoming 450 guests to the 37th annual Edison Awards event.

Experiencing Earthlight — as ‘given’ by the Edison Awards

Special to SWFBT

Submitted by Karen P. Moore, Publisher

Dr. Sian Proctor is one five inductees into the 2024 Lewis Latimer Fellows. The Edison Awards introduced this accelerator program in 2022 for black innovators with the passion and dedication to innovation that Lewis Latimer represented. Latimer was the inventor of the modern-day air conditioning concept and he also worked for many years alongside Thomas Edison, contributing in many ways to Edison’s innovations.

“In 2021, I wrote a poem called ‘Space To Inspire.’ And

because of that poem, I won a contest, and that got me that ultimate dream, that ‘golden ticket’ to space. One of the most unique moments in my life was when I took the SpaceX Dragon capsule into space and I became the first Black woman to pilot a spaceship,” she said.

Proctor is a geoscience professor with Maricopa Community College in Arizona. She was the mission pilot for SpaceX Inspiration 4, the first all-civilian orbital mission. She is the first female and African American woman to be a commercial astronaut spaceship pilot. She uses her love of human spaceflight EDISON See page 4

Guadalupe Center celebrates Tutor Corps Class of 2024

From Florida Gulf Coast University to the Ivy League, dozens of high school graduates from Immokalee are poised to begin their higher education journeys. Guadalupe Center’s Tutor Corps Class of 2024 can count on millions of dollars in financial support from community supporters, college partnerships and their own hard work.

The 31 Tutor Corps graduates col-


the year. Fort Myers area unemployment rate was 3.4% in March, up 0.4 point over the year.

Additionally, the Fort Myers area’s private sector employment grew by 1,800 jobs (up 0.7%) over the year in March 2024. The Fort Myers area industries gaining the most jobs over the year were construction, increasing by 2,400 jobs, and government, increasing by 1,600 jobs.

The Naples area private sector em-

lectively earned $4.3 million in scholarship and grant offers to attend institutions such as Florida Gulf Coast University, the University of Florida, Columbia, Northeastern and Stanford; one graduate is enlisting in the U.S. Marines Corps.

Since 2004, every Tutor Corps student has completed high school and been accepted to college, with 94% ul-

ployment increased by 3,600 jobs (up 2.3%) over the year in March 2024.

The Naples area industries gaining the most jobs over the year were construction, increasing by 800 jobs; and leisure and hospitality, increasing by 800 jobs.

Florida’s private sector job growth rate continues to outpace the nation.

Florida’s private sector job growth rate increased by 2.1% (up 179,800 jobs) over the year in March, faster than the LABOR See page 6

timately earning a college degree.

“This is my favorite night of the year,” said Guadalupe Center President and CEO Dawn Montecalvo. “As each student crosses the stage, it’s our future going by. Tutor Corps is not just a scholarship program.”

Tutor Corps students work as tutors with younger students attending

TUTOR See page 18

 SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan Accommodation Option

While a SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) is not forgivable, business owners can quickly and easily find out if they are eligible for a Hardship Accommodation by calling (800) 659-2955 or by signing into their account and going to the Hardship Accommodation link for more information.

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Takeaways from Lee County’s Business Continuity Workshop

Special to SWFBT

Presented by the Lee County Horizon Council’s Business Issues Committee, and moderated by Committee Chair Gary Tasman, this first-ever event drew small business owners from throughout the region.

Ray Sandelli, Lee County Commissioner

“We talk about process. We talk about paperwork. The bottom line is the impact on people, whether it’s on us individually, our families, our community. And I think you see in the worst of times, the best in people. So the lesson learned for me is that leadership is really all around us. Sometimes we won’t recognize it. Sometimes it just takes a lot to bring it out.

Doc Ford’s celebrates anniversary for Fort Myers Beach location

Doc Ford’s Rum Bar & Grille on Fort Myers Beach is celebrating its 15th anniversary of business. Beloved for its Caribbean Rim flavors, fresh seafood and a vibrant beach atmosphere, Doc Ford’s opened on the island in April 2009, the second location of the Sanibel restaurant.

“We are honored to serve the Fort Myers Beach community for 15 years and appreciate the ongoing support of residents and visitors,” said Joe Harrity, a partner with HM Restaurant Group, the parent company of Doc Ford’s and the neighboring Dixie Fish Company. “Our customers know Doc Ford’s is synonymous with great food, incredible hospitality and a wonderful dining experience.”

Overlooking Estero Bay and the island’s fishing fleet, the restaurant offers indoor and outdoor seating, live music and a quintessential beach town vibe. Diners arrive by car and by boat.

The opening of the Fort Myers location 15 years ago marked the beginning of growth for Doc Ford’s. Established on Sanibel in 2003, the restaurant has expanded from its original location to three others: Fort Myers Beach and two in St. Petersburg.

The anniversary is particularly poignant following the impact of Hurricane Ian. Storm surge reached 18 feet inside the Fort Myers Beach restaurant, destroying the bottom outdoor level and causing significant damage to the upper story. Extensive renovations replaced drywall, flooring, windows and the building’s roof. Doc Ford’s on Fort Myers Beach reopened in July 2023.

“It took us nearly a year to rebuild and we recognize there are so many others who are still facing the grim reality,” Harrity said. “Our regular customers have returned, and we are very grateful for the ongoing patronage of this community.”

Award-winning Doc Ford’s offers food with a balance of flavors inspired by the Caribbean Rim. Known for its sauces, spices, passion and signature Yucatan shrimp served daily, it’s highly regarded by locals and visitors alike as a spectacular seafood restaurant.

Philanthropy and community outreach are engrained in HM Restaurant Group’s company philosophy. Proceeds from specialty cocktails at Doc Ford’s raise money for children’s hospitals and water quality issues. HM Restaurant Group also supports local nonprofits dedicated to conservation, community and the environment.

The “Ding” Darling Doc Ford’s Tarpon Tournament has raised nearly $1.2 million for Sanibel’s J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge since 2012.

“But we’re all so connected and it’s at times like these that you realize how effective that connection can be because we need to connect both locally and with the state. And you have to get everybody aligned because now we’re dealing with things like FEMA, a federal agency, and we’re going through a hard lesson learned there.”

Celeste Fournier, Lee County Emergency Management

“The whole thing that we do is we’re conductors, like John Williams with the Boston Pops. We don’t have all the resources in Emergency Management. We have partners, so our coordination is working with the representatives of our partners and coordinating that response and recovery.

“We’re still in post-Ian recovery today. Recovery begins as we work our way out of the activation period. Then we go into mitigation: we’re doing that now. And usually disaster influences mitigation because it also frees up more funding for projects that we’ve identified, that the community has identified, as things that will make the next incident less impactful. And that’s the whole goal.”

John Gardner, Lee County Insurance Agency

“Business insurance, it’s one of those things that people either don’t understand or hope they never need and don’t want to buy anyway. Perhaps most importantly, years ago I had a customer say these prophetic words, ‘Your insurance policy is only as good as your agent.’


Collier County emergency director urges preparedness ahead of hurricane season

Shock, awe or denial, we have all heard the recent predictions for the 2024 Hurricane Season. All of us felt the impact of previous storms to one degree or another. We know friends, neighbors and fellow Floridians across the state whose lives were changed by one hurricane or another — and in some cases, two in recent memory.

In my eyes, one very common thread in all these events and impacts has been the level to which we businesses prepared in advance. Those who wait and those who fail to take personal responsibility by carrying out simple yet essential preparatory steps suffer immensely. The effort you, your family and your business take to be ready for a storm make an exponential difference in the post-storm recovery you experience. Resources, information and checklists are everywhere – take advantage of our libraries, smartphones, home computers and community workshops. All you need to do is invest some time and effort to be ready.

The Board of County Commissioners in Collier County takes its storm preparation seriously. Highlights of this effort with many of our partners include:

• Expanding our acquisition of portable and fixed generators for wastewater lift stations.

• Re-building beach berms to help reduce the velocity of storm surge, constantly improving stormwater run-off and catchment systems to manage rainfall and reduce localized flooding.

• Installing generators and backup battery systems at critical communication nodes to ensure public safety and general government operations operate efficiently on two-way radio and data networks.

• Remodeling the Emergency Services Center to include an on-site Logistical Support Center to stock and improve the distribution efforts of postdisaster supplies and essential commodities.

• Engaging services of the Community Foun-

dation of Collier County to serve as our community financial donations management team to provide rapid delivery of immediate needs funding for families and organizations. Your donation will be managed by a professional, accredited philanthropic organization without charge.

• Working year-round to refine mass notification systems to get fast-breaking emergency information to you. Be sure to register at AlertCollier.com.

• Expanding our real-time mapping capability with over 56 partner agencies in our Emergency Operations Center to improve the efficiency of our emergency response efforts.

• Adding three state-funded weather observation stations accessible online, providing emergency responders with real-time observations in August.

• Refining our business processes to expedite FEMA funding to the County to help ensure financial resources for a secondary event.

• Expanding the inventory of on-call contractors should specialized assistance be needed.

• Adding additional towable re-fueling resources for emergency vehicles.

The County’s Department of Public Safety and Emergency Management Division constantly works with local governmental bodies and constitutional officers to help them find ways to ensure our best efforts when Mother Nature is working against us.

Now, back to “you.” Here is your to-do list.

• Do your homework. Go to Collierem.org and read the preparedness information and tips.

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Businesses need to prepare for hurricanes too

One of the costliest natural disasters in U.S. history, Hurricane Ian, caused significant structural damage across Southwest Florida – even as thousands of commercial buildings emerged relatively unscathed.

Sunshine Ace Hardware was among a small group of businesses that reopened their doors the day after Ian made landfall, but many businesses that sustained no damage kept their doors closed.


Public service announcements before and during hurricane season focus on homeowners, expressing the importance of building a hurricane supply kit, installing hurricane shutters, knowing evacuation zones and creating a Plan B based on various scenarios. There is no equivalent PSA for businesses.

With forecasters predicting another active hurricane season in 2024, local businesses should address these four potential roadblocks to reopening after a storm:

● Employee communications: It’s important to know where employees live, if they’re staying in town and what challenges they may experience in returning to work. Employees also should know their employer’s ex-


pectations about returning to work after a hurricane. Status messages can be sent via text and email and also posted online.

● Power: Generators: Generators cannot compensate for the total loss of an electric grid, but in times of crisis, generators can power enough lighting to be safe and some fans to provide comfort. Supermarkets and restaurants that rely on refrigeration may need additional, more powerful generators. Businesses also should maintain a fuel supply to last several days.

● Sales transactions: In the aftermath of a hurricane, retail businesses often face significant operational challenges, including the loss of power and internet connectivity. This disruption critically hampers their ability to process electronic payments, which are essential for maintaining sales during recovery periods. However, retail businesses can circumvent this issue by using backup credit card machines


and artistic style to bring her Earthlight experience “down to Earth.”

“So in the spaceship, we have this giant window called The Cupola that we could slide up into and look down at our planet,” she said.

“While looking out that window, I came to this realization that the Earth has a high reflectivity. I want you to think about this. We know about sunlight, we know about moonlight. Think about when a full moon is rising, and you walk outside and you’re bathed in moonlight. Think about the way moonlight makes you feel and the history humanity has had with moonlight.

Annelese Johnson


P.O. Box 152299 Cape Coral, FL 33915-2299 News: 239-573-9731

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“Now imagine you’re in low Earth orbit floating in space, looking at our planet, and you’re bathed in Earthlight. None of us have ever heard that word before--but Earthlight is the most beautiful light that exists.

“And for me, I’m suddenly having

that operate on independent cellular networks, such as LTE and 5G. This solution ensures that credit card transactions can still be processed efficiently and securely, aiding in business continuity despite severe conditions.

● Supplies: Some of the same items in household hurricane kits also are essential for businesses. Bottled water, non-perishable foods, batteryoperated fans, flashlights or lanterns, a portable radio and power banks to charge electronic devices are essential. Cordless drills also are important because hurricane shutter installers may be unable to respond for several days.

Southwest Florida experienced the worst of what Mother Nature can throw our way with Hurricane Ian, but quick recovery by businesses translated into a quick recovery for the community. Now is the time to prepare your home and business for the next tropical storm or hurricane.

Michael Wynn is president of Sunshine Ace Hardware, which operates 15 hardware, paint and gift stores, as well as Ace Handyman Services of Southwest Florida. For store locations and operating hours, visit SunshineAce.com.

this realization that we are all united by Earthlight. When we look at the world around us, we call this sunlight—but really it’s Earthlight.

“As soon as sunlight hits our planet, our planet transforms that sunlight into the beautiful colors in the world around us. So we’re constantly living in this medium of Earthlight. And for me, that has been the biggest story of my life: Earthlight is the most beautiful light there is.”

Proctor’s description of Earthlight perfectly sets the tone for the Edison Awards. Each year, those of us lucky enough to experience this “global gathering of geniuses,” as Edison Awards applications judge and fellow Floridian Ruth Buchanan so aptly put it, are experiencing Earthlight in its full glory. Each year, the Edison Awards brings the world together, right here in Fort Myers, to experience an Earthlight of innovation that bathes us all in the power, beauty—and global unity—of innovation.


Before disaster strikes, ask agent these questions

We’ve seen too many property owners have issues with their insurance providers after a disaster hit due to being uninformed. In my line of business as a public insurance adjuster, I want to make sure property owners know what types of questions they should be asking their agents. Hopefully, the following will help new homeowners and seasoned residents when securing their next policy. At Day Adjusting & Consulting, we’ve been answering numerous questions lately about insurance coverage and wanted to share our suggested “5 questions” to ask your property insurance agent.

Does the policy have a “right of repair” clause? This means anytime there is damage to your property, the insurance company has the right to select their own general contractor to do the work on your home regardless of how many bad reviews the GC has; make sure you have control.

Does the policy have “appraisal” and if so, do both parties have to agree or just one party? When an insurance claim is disputed, there are alternative resolution tools in some policies. This allows you to stay out of litigation and demand the insurance company send a certified appraiser while you select your own certified appraiser to determine the value of your loss rather than two attorneys.

Does the policy have at least 25% ordinance and law (O&L)? Example, if you have older windows and one breaks, your insurance company owes for the same style window. If you have O&L for code upgrades, the insurance company would be responsible for the window to be brought to code. Code versus builder-grade makes a huge difference.

What is your deductible? Typically, you’ll have two deductibles in your policy. One for hurricane/named storm and one for everything else. Make sure you know your deductible amount, and if you believe it’s too high, speak with your agent about how to change it before a storm happens.

Do you have proper coverage for your pool enclosure and other structures? Other structures are listed as coverage B in your insurance policy. Make sure you have enough coverage for any fencing, gazebo, or detached garage on your property. For pool enclosures, most policies, but not all, exclude coverage and need a separate endorsement to have any kind of coverage after a storm. Speak with your agent to confirm you have pool enclosure coverage. We suggest at least $20,000 in coverage.

Blake Day is President/Owner of Day Adjusting & Consulting. He’s known as an expert in his industry and has been interviewed for numerous TV news programs and print articles. Contact (765) 729-0838 or blake@dayadjusting.com. Visit DayAdjusting.com.

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Advanced Hurricane Technology introduces hybrid shutters, boosts storm education DISASTER PREPAREDNESS

Advanced Hurricane Technology announced the launch of its latest innovation, the Dual Shield Hybrid Shutters. This patent-pending product combines the lightweight, breathable benefits of screen shutters with the robust, impact-resistant properties of aluminum roll-down shutters.

The Dual Shield Hybrid Shutters are designed to offer superior protection without compromising comfort. The integration of screen and aluminum materials allows for limited airflow and natural light, while still providing a high impact rating capable of withstanding the most severe weather conditions anticipated under the newly proposed Category 6 hurricane designation.

“Here at AHT, we are constantly striving to not only meet but exceed the building codes of Florida,” said Jaime Zabala Jr., AHT president and former NASA engineer. “Our new Dual Shield design is a testament to our commitment to innovation and safety in the hurricane protection market.”

The Dual Shield Hybrid Shutters are currently undergoing Florida Building Code approval processes and will soon be available for market trials.

The family has also sought new ways to raise awareness of storm preparations.

In a significant move to boost Southwest Florida’s resilience to hurricanes, the Zabala family unveiled the AHT Education and Advocacy Fund. This non-profit entity is set to embark on a mission of promoting hurricane preparedness, education and facilitating community recovery efforts.

With a deep-rooted commitment to their community as both residents and business owners, the Zabala family’s initiative aims to harness that industry acumen to foster public engagement and education on hurricane-related challenges.


national rate of 1.7%. Florida employers have added jobs in 45 of the last 47 months since May 2020. In March, the education and health services sector gained the most jobs among all major industries,


• Have that conversation with family and business colleagues. What steps must we take today to start our preparedness?

• Do you have a “to-do” list? What items will you buy to build your food and storm supplies over the next few weeks? June 1-14 and Aug. 24Sept. 6 are the State of Florida’s hurricane supply sales tax holidays.

• Have you reviewed your insurance, which is your first line of defense? Do you have all your important papers, cash or documents on your

The children’s book, “Rosie and the Hurricane,” was co-authored by an AHT owner.

A cornerstone project for the Fund in its inaugural year is the promotion of the children’s book, “Rosie and the Hurricane,” co-authored by an AHT owner. This initiative is designed to equip children and their guardians with the knowledge and tools necessary to confront the anxieties associated with hurricanes, through a lens of understanding and readiness. The organization’s goal is to facilitate widespread distribution of the book across grades K-2 within the Lee County School System, and potentially beyond.

Moreover, recognizing the critical phase of post-hurricane recovery, the Zabala family is committed to deploying their industry expertise in aiding recovery operations, particularly focusing on hurricane protection measures.

Under the leadership of President Fernanda Ferrell-Zabala and Vice President Olga Zabala, the AHT Education and Advocacy Fund is calling on the community to support their mission through donations, marking the beginning of a collective journey towards a more resilient Southwest Florida.

“We invite the community to join us in building a more resilient Southwest Florida,” said Fernanda Ferrell-Zabala. “Together, we can make a difference.”

adding 12,500 jobs (up 0.8%) from the previous month, followed by construction, adding 3,600 jobs (up 0.6%). The national unemployment rate was 3.8% for March 2024, 0.6 percentage point higher than Florida’s rate of 3.2%. Florida’s unemployment rate has been lower than the national rate for 41 consecutive months.

phone so you can contact your insurance agent?

• Do you have a communication plan? Remember, text messages will likely be transmitted when cellular circuits are busy.

• Did you register at AlertCollier.com? Did you download the Collier 311 app?

Remember, we all will work as a team to recover and restore our community. Be patient and try to be part of the solution, not the problem. Help your neighbors when you can!

Dan Summers is the director of Collier County Emergency Management. Contact dansummers@ colliergov.net.


PillBot robot and then talked about the field of micro-robotic telemedicine.

Edison Awards 2023: Where are they now?

Endiatx was thrilled to appear in Southwest Florida Business Today and win the prestigious “Game Changer” Edison Award in 2023. It’s been an exciting journey since then. PillBot, the single-use motorized robot poised to simplify the endoscopy process by turning hundreds of millions of GI doctor visits into telemedicine calls, has garnered much attention. The swallowable capsule has a sci-fi allure that, when combined with the fact that patients stay awake and don’t need any drugs or a hospital visit, makes it a welcome alternative to traditional upper endoscopy.

At the recent TED and Amazon MARS (“Machine Learning, Automation, Robotics, and Space”) global conferences, Endiatx co-founders Drs. Alex Luebke and Vivek Kumbhari captivated audiences. They swallowed a robot on stage, described the impactful field of micro-robotic telemedicine it heralds and cemented PillBot into the engineering and medical zeitgeist.

PillBot is now in clinical trials, and the Hayward CA company has expanded to a team of about 25. As it undertakes full-scale pivotal trials at the Mayo Clinic later in 2024 and awaits late 2025 clearance of the MVP PillBot, the company will already begin designing PillBot 2.0 with AI-automated movement to efficiently map the stomach. The entire Endiatx team is now nose-to-thegrindstone incorporating updated optics into the current revision of PillBot that will equip the device with visual resolution competitive with traditional endoscopes.

Endiatx has been extremely capital-efficient, having fueled more than five years of development with only about $6M total raised. But because PillBot injects “deep tech” into “med tech,” and its big-stage demonstrations are so compelling, it’s drawn the attention of major venture capital firms. Now lining up its Series A financing, Endiatx seeks ideal investment partners who share a vision of democratized healthcare based on high-tech telemedicine.

Endiatx will continue to appear at shows across the US and world, and sincerely hopes to return to the Edison Awards. Endiatx CEO Torrey Smith and CBO Chris Green wish to thank SWFBT for kindly interviewing them and helping bring to the world the life-saving technology the Endiatx team has strived to build.

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At a recent conference, Endiatx co-founders Dr. Vivek Kumbhari (left) and Dr. Alex Luebke each swallowed the

Connecting with an innovative SWFL company EDISON AWARDS

Special to SWFBT

Arthrex, headquartered in Naples, is a global medical device manufacturer and leader in multispecialty minimally invasive surgical innovation, scientific research and medical education, specializing in orthopedics. With a corporate mission of “Helping Surgeons Treat Their Patients Better®,” Arthrex has pioneered in the field of arthroscopy and develops more than 1000 innovative products and procedures each year.

Southwest Florida is home to many innovators on many levels and in many industries: it is an honor to “shine the spotlight” on the innovative accomplishments of these leaders and achievers, such as Reinhold Schmieding and his team at Arthrex.

The company has been recognized for innovation on a global level by the Edison Awards several times and in several categories over the past four years. I recently had the opportunity to connect with Dennis O’Keefe, Vice President of Communications.

When and how did Arthrex first become aware of the Edison Awards?

Arthrex’s involvement with the Edison Awards dates back to 2021 when President and Founder Reinhold Schmieding received the prestigious Achievement Award for his leadership and accomplishments over the course of his more than 40-year career, joining the ranks of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, for receiving this distinguished recognition. For its innovative efforts, Arthrex received three Gold Awards in 2021, and a Bronze Medal in 2022. Most recently, at the 2024 awards, Arthrex received both a Silver and Gold Medal.

The Arthrex team is all smiles after winning both a Gold and Silver Medal at the 2024 Edison Awards for the company’s innovations. They are pictured here with the Gold Medal Award.

What do you think is the biggest potential impact the Edison Awards will have locally?

The Edison Awards has helped to bring international attention to Southwest Florida to let the world know that there are career opportunities in surgical technology, scientific research, manufacturing and medical education, as Arthrex’s global headquarters and main manufacturing facility are both located in Collier County.

How has participation in and recognition from the Edison Awards impacted Arthrex?

Arthrex appreciates being recognized by the scientific community for our contributions to moving innovation forward, as distinguished by the Edison Awards through the years. Above all, it is meaningful to recognize the value that our technology brings to health care professionals and the patients they treat.



BBB launches Scam Survival Toolkit

The Better Business Bureau Serving West Florida marked the new “National Scam Survivor Day” by launching an online resource aimed at helping people who have been impacted by scams. On May 9, BBB recognized the brave men and women who are coming forward to report scams, tell their stories and help others avoid being impacted. BBB plans to recognize the date on the second Thursday in May each year going forward.

“We know the stigma around scam victimization reduces reporting, which increases risk,” said Karen Nalven, president and CEO of BBB Serving West Florida. “BBB is offering a new Scam Survival Toolkit on our website to help people who are affected by a scam, helping them gain peace of mind and work toward their recovery.”

The Scam Survival Toolkit connects people with the information they need to restore their financial, mental and emotional well-being. The toolkit provides tailored guidance and resources based on a person’s specific situation, including steps that should take to stop any further financial impact and guidance for restoring their long-term financial and emotional wellbeing. Users will also be connected to the BBB Scam Prevention Guide to provide them with the knowledge they need to spot future scam attempts.

Both online tools are available on BBB Scam Tracker, BBB’s online scam prevention and reporting tool.

Better Business Bureau Serving West Florida provides business profiles on companies within its 11-county service area. These counties include Charlotte, Collier, Lee. Hernando, Pasco, Pinellas, Hillsborough, Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee and Desoto counties.

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Innovating isn’t for everyone EDISON AWARDS

Every April, the world’s most inspired thinkers, innovators and inventors flock to Southwest Florida for the Edison Awards, with winners – the best of the best – receiving honors at its annual ceremony in Fort Myers.

Innovation is what moves the world forward. It touches every aspect of our lives and makes the world a better place to live. We see innovation around us every day: in healthcare, where AI will soon help doctors deliver a diagnosis faster; in energy, where advancements in battery storage technologies are speeding the transition to clean energy; and in education, where virtual reality and augmented reality give students critical skill building opportunities.

But innovation is hard; it’s not for the faint of heart. Actualizing a great idea can be a rough ride. It requires determination, passion and a dogged faith in your idea to help you persevere through setbacks. You need an outright stubbornness to keep pushing forward and enough tenacity to welcome the disappointments and failures you will meet along the way. Learn to treat them like old friends because each has an important lesson to share.

When venturing out to create something new, there is no roadmap to follow. In the early 2000s, we believed that clean energy and working with nature, rather than against it, could set a new global standard for the future of development. No one thought it was possible. Close advisors told me I was crazy. But I believed in the vision and the dream. In 2006, that wild dream became a reality with the purchase of Babcock Ranch.

As I look at all the impressive innovations honored at this year’s awards program, I want to reflect on three pillars that I be-

lieve are the roadmap to success:

1. Be true to your passions and stay the course: I am convinced that an unrelenting commitment to the original vision for Babcock Ranch and never compromising on our core principles are the reasons we are successful. You can stay true to yourself, be thoughtful about how you execute and still run a successful and profitable business.

2. Don’t be afraid to fail: To future innovators, if you are going to do something unprecedented, be prepared for rejection. We are measured by how we handle adversity. In today’s world, too many people are afraid to fail. The lessons we learn from rejection and failure are what teach us how to succeed.

3. Live unoffended: I seek out constructive criticism and realize it is a path to personal growth. It’s a gift to receive feedback from people you respect. When it comes to doing the right thing, focus on how to succeed at making this world a healthier, cleaner, safer and more reliable place.

Congratulations, Edison Award recipients. You are the very spirit of what makes this world so remarkable.

Syd Kitson is chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners, a real estate company specializing in the creation and development of environmentally responsible, sustainable master-planned communities and commercial properties. Contact (941) 235-6901.


Pandemic, hurricane launch workfrom-home security concerns

COVID-19 and Hurricane Ian impacted our region in different manners, but both calamities forced businesses to adapt on the fly. In doing so, companies of all sizes recognized the technological tools at their disposal, one of which was the ability for many employees to work remotely.

WFH Research’s comprehensive Survey of Working Arrangements and Attitudes found 41% of Americans work remotely either some or all the time. A separate study from Buffer found 98% of employees want to work remotely at least some of the time.

Not all industries are conducive to remote work, but workplace trends indicate many businesses are heading in that direction. Businesses need to be cautious – not about losing connections with their employees but rather the data security risks associated with remote work.

Businesses with remote employees should implement these seven requirements to safeguard technology and data:

Written policy: Employees should read and sign technology and social media policies outlining what they can, and cannot, do on and off the clock. One clause should prohibit an employee’s family members from using company devices.

Company-issued equipment: Businesses should invest in company-issued computers, tablets and cell phones with antivirus programs. This limits potential exposure to viruses and malware if employees use their own hardware and software. This may be costly up front, but the cost of a data breach is significantly higher.

VPN usage: Discourage employees from using public Wi-Fi. If they do connect to the internet through an airport or coffee shop, employees should use a VPN to encrypt data. That prevents hackers from accessing information.

Multi-factor authentication: It’s a pain to wait for one-time codes via text or email to log in, but requiring secondary confirmation of identity ensures it’s an employee – not a hacker – logging into the system.

Update passwords: Change passwords every 30 to 60 days

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Invention, innovation celebrated once again in Fort Myers

For the fourth consecutive year in Fort Myers, the 2024 Edison Awards injected optimism and opportunity into the regional economy by showcasing global innovations and innovators who are making the world a better place.

Three days of activities kicked off by introducing the 2024 Latimer Fellows at the first annual Superhero night, held at the Lee County Black Historical Society. More than 200 attendees dressed up as their favorite superhero where they listened to an interactive panel with Academy Award nominee Shameik Moore discussing his role as Miles Morales in the Spider-Verse, along with astronaut and teacher Sian Proctor sharing her outer space adventures and the power of Earthlight in our lives. The 2023 and 2024 Latimer Fellows were present to share and inspire the audience that “even the impossible is possible” through hard work and STEAM education.

Edison Awards Day was held at the Luminary Hotel and showcased Edison Award winning exhibits, including Axiom, a holographic zoo from Australia, Pilotcar, an autonomous golf cart from Naples, Shrimpbox, an AI biotech modular aquaculture system, and many MedTech game changers including Arthrex’s MIS Fibertak Achilles SpeedBridge System and a Robotic Cane from Glidance, a Seattle-based company. Festivities concluded with a concert by the Ben Allen Band.

The Edison Award events brought together

Both “Thomas Edison” and “Lewis Latimer” were among the attendees of the Edison Awards opening night reception, hosted on the grounds of the Edison & Ford Winter Estates in Fort Myers.

more than 450 of the smartest global innovators representing over 20 different countries. Edison Achievement Award honorees Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, and Dr. Laurie Leshin, director of NASA JPL, were among the es-


Lee County is honored to be the host of the Edison Awards and celebrate the numerous innovators and entrepreneurs from around the globe who contribute to technical leadership and modernization.

teemed guests. The Meet the Innovators Forum featured panels with the innovation leaders from Cargill, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Florida Power and Light, Babcock Ranch, Sabic, Black & Veatch, ASU and Northwestern. Discussions led by Astronaut Leland Melvin explored topics, including the Future of AI and Robotics, sustainable materials, space exploration and monitoring sea levels in the region. Attendees were encouraged to learn three new things and explore potential partnerships by networking with three new contacts.

The 2024 Edison Award winners were announced at the Gala reception which was hosted by Comedian Chuck Nice who delivered a riveting performance with science- and innovation-themed comedy that helped the audience appreciate that real innovation is hard work. One of the highlights of the evening was the announcement of the Innovation Walk, powered by the Edison Awards and supported through a partnership with the CRA, with more information to come on this amazing community experience.

The Edison Awards have become a welcomed and celebrated annual event in Fort Myers. This year’s ceremony was a thrilling showcase that not only celebrated progress but also inspired the SWFL business community to continue pushing the boundaries further. This prestigious event highlights the value that innovation brings to our region, driving economic growth, fostering collaboration, and positioning Fort Myers and Southwest Florida as a hub for transformative ideas. Save the date for the 2025 Edison Awards on April 2-3, 2025.

JUNE 2024 Southwest Florida BUSINESS TODAY ® Page 9
www.LeeCountyBusiness.com 239-533-6800 EDO@LeeGov.com


Above: (l-r) Bill Johnson, Dorian Zwierewicz and Guido Minaya catch up with each other at the reception.

Left top: Frank Bonafilia welcomes guests to the opening night of the Edison Awards. Left bottom: (l-r) Mellone Long, Diana Giraldo and Lisa Edison (yes, she is related to Thomas Edison!) enjoy this opening event.. Below: Two drummers provide musical entertainment at the opening event.

The AI Panel was a fascinating executive and legal overview of everything Artificial Intelligence, with comments from leaders in this arena, across different industries, all with different perspectives.



The 37th annual Edison Awards gala was held at the Caloosa Sound Convention Center & Amphitheatre in downtown Fort Myers. Right: Gwynne Shotwell, president and COO of SpaceX, is presented with the Edison Achievement Award by Stephen Carr, a professor emeritus at Northwestern University. Below right: Multi-Edison Award recipient team members joyously display their wins. Below center: City of Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson addresses attendees, inviting them to enjoy Fort Myers and the surrounding county. Below left: (l-r) Lucienne Pears, Carmichael Roberts, Mete Timur, Aysegul Timur and Reinhold Schmeiding. Left: Gordon Knox and LaShaun Collier share the vision of the Innovation Walk planned for downtown Fort Myers and powered by the Edison Awards that builds upon the legacy of innovation in Lee County.

Event Photos courtesy of Alyssa Ringler. All photography is copyright of the

The Edison Awards is an annual competition honoring excellence in new product and service development, marketing, human-centered design and innovation.

Above: Moderator of “The Future Of The

with panel-



a quadriplegic and an amazing man, demonstrates the incredible capabilities of Gold Medal Winner NAQI’s innovation—neural earbuds featuring NAQI’s invisible user interface— that allows Smith to lead a meaningful and productive life.


Top Left: Lee County Commissioner Ray Sandelli visits with an attendee. Middle Left: Powered by Florida Power & Light, 35 Mules provides earlystage startups with subject-matter expertise, advanced technology solutions, business services and Fortune 200 corporate and technology leaders. Bottom Left: With a location in Fort Myers, Addman Engineering is pushing the boundaries of innovation in additive manufacturing, polymer 3D printing, injection molding, CNC machining and post-processing. Bottom Right: PilotCar Electric Vehicles has an assembly facility in Fort Myers. This year, in partnership with Carteav and Imecar, the company won a Bronze Medal for its Autonomous Electric Cart. Middle Right: Samantha Johnson, founder and CEO of Tatum Electronics, talks with an attendee. The company is a disability services and support organization that won a Gold Medal this year for its customizable, anthropomorphic robot that will translate written text into tactile signs so the deaf/blind can access media whenever they want. Top Right: An attendee explores the fun side of the exhibits.


Above: (l-r) 2024 Fellows Sidney McLaurin and Tiffany Griffin, Senior Advisor Carmichael Roberts, Co-Founder Frank Bonafilia, Fellow Sian Proctor, Co-Founder Jon Cropper, Fellows Adrian Burrell and John Pasmore. Right top: 2023 Fellow Soton Rosanwo shares her insights. Right bottom: (l-r) Jon Cropper and Carmichael Roberts ask each Fellow about their vision and goals Below: The 2024 Fellows enjoy a light moment.

Page 10 Southwest Florida BUSINESS TODAY ® JUNE 2024 JUNE 2024 Southwest Florida BUSINESS TODAY ® Page 11
Grid” Panel, Lucienne Pears, shares a light moment ist Hardin. Left: Smith, Edison Awards.


Fort Myers welcomes genius to town

Thomas A. Alva said, “There is only one Fort Myers and 90 million people will find it out.” Fort Myers, once the winter retreat of Edison, Henry Ford and Harry Firestone, is no longer a sleepy little town on the Caloosahatchee. Current counts estimate the population of the city at approximately 98,000 with the metropolitan Fort Myers area approaching 1 million.

Not only does Fort Myers serve as the county seat for Lee County, but it is home to the Lee County School District, Edison Ford Winters Estates, IMAG History and Science Center, Lee County Black History Society and Southwest Florida Museum of History. It will soon witness the opening of Suncoast Beverages’ new state-of-the art 1 millionsquare-foot distribution center.

Fort Myers is on fire. It’s no wonder that Fort Myers is frequently rated as one of the fastest growing areas, one of the best places to retire, up and coming city for financial prosperity, and is ranked 8th out of the top 25 emerging small cities. We are the biggest small city around. It’s no wonder that 78 people a day are relocating to the Fort Myers area. Fort Myers, filled with potential and opportunity, is poised for some really great things.

The City of Fort Myers is proud to host the annual Edison Awards, a monumental gathering of some of the world’s

most inspired thinkers, innovators and inventors across many industries. The Edison Awards went one step further and created a program aimed to foster a passion for innovation among our students in this community, allowing them the opportunity to experience firsthand award-winning inventions.

Someday, our own inspired and driven children will conceive and develop the next ingenious concept that will improve all our lives. I cannot wait to see this program grow each year, as we must challenge, motivate and support our students so that they can dare to dream the next big idea.

Keep your eye on Fort Myers and Southwest Florida. Great things are coming. The 2025 Edison Awards promises to be big and better than ever. I look forward to seeing you there.

Kevin Anderson is the Mayor of Fort Myers. Contact (239) 321-7020 or mayoranderson@cityftmyers.com.

Inspired by Lewis Latimer’s legacy

What truly inspires me about the Edison Awards is the impact that each invention has on the world and the inclusive nature of the Edison Awards community. These innovations are not just creations; they are solutions to real-world problems and catalysts for positive change. Individuals of diverse backgrounds, cultures and geographic locations are united by a shared passion for honoring remarkable innovations.

The Edison Awards and the Lewis Latimer Fellowship, which honors the Black American inventor who worked side-byside with Thomas Edison for many years, serve as a reminder that greatness knows no boundaries and that innovation thrives on diversity, equity and inclusion.

I first connected with the Edison Awards when I was in my junior year at Dunbar High School. I was involved in the STEM program there. It’s an amazing program and provides opportunities such as attending the Edison Awards. I spent a full day at Babcock Ranch and got to tour the solar-powered town and its sustainable environment. I remember being amazed at the amount of knowledge presented at the various panels and how innovative and brilliant all the inventions were. It was then that I truly realized just how exceptional the Edison Awards were and I wanted to see how I could connect with them more closely, especially on behalf of our Southwest Florida community.


Dare to Dream

Being an intern today for the Edison Awards and the Lewis Latimer Fellowship has been a remarkable experience. I enjoy working with such a collaborative team where everyone is committed to developing each other for the better. From Day One, my input has been valued and implemented, and that means so much to me.

Overall, working for the Edison Awards and the Lewis Latimer Fellowship has been a journey of discovery, inspiration and collaboration. It is a reminder that innovation is a collective goal fueled by passion, creativity and a shared commitment to overall growth. As I continue on this journey, I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of a community—both globally through the Edison Awards and locally within the Southwest Florida region—that is dedicated to recognizing, honoring and fostering innovation.

Kenise Jackson is a marketing student. She works in the mental health and STEM industry. Contact nisejackson515@gmail. com.

The City of Fort Myers is proud to host the Edison Awards, a monumental gathering of some of the world’s most inspired thinkers, innovators, and inventors across many industries. Edison Awards went one step further and created a program aimed to foster a passion for innovaaon among our students in this community, allowing them the opportunity to experience firsthand award-winning invenaons. Someday, our own inspired and driven children will concei conceive and develop the next ingenious concept that will improve all of our lives. I cannot wait to see this program grow each year, as we must challenge, moavate and SUPPORT our students so that they can dare to dream the next big idea!

Mayor Kevin Anderson CITY OF FORT MYERS

Page 12 Southwest Florida BUSINESS TODAY ® JUNE 2024

Fowler Construction aids regional revival post-Ian

As Construction Managers specializing in marinas, restaurants and hospitality in Florida, Fowler responded to Hurricane Ian’s severe impacts, particularly in Lee County. Leveraging 56 years of expertise, the team quickly stabilized and began restoring properties across affected areas, including Cayo Costa, Captiva and Fort Myers Beach, while navigating changing regulations to expedite client recovery.

Upper Captiva and Cayo Costa: Mainstays Restaurant on Upper Captiva is set to reopen after mechanical and structural repairs, along with a significant refresh. Nearby, Cayo Costa State Park will also reopen soon with updated infrastructure, bathhouses, offices and ranger residences. Dock permits are pending.

Sanibel and Captiva: Three recently completed and four in-progress projects at Tween Waters Inn fared well and served to host emergency crews immediately after causeway access was restored. Unfortunately, Beachview Cottages, West Wind Inn Resort and Castaways Resort, with almost 400 units all on Sanibel, have been completely demolished and are in design and permitting to rebuild.

Fort Myers Beach – Ground Zero: Wahoo Willy’s, completed hours before Hurricane Ian, was the first to reopen post-storm. Mr. Waves Island Bar stands as last approved before FEMA changes went into effect.

Fowler is now pioneering The Whale Restaurant and Bar’s reconstruction, marking the first new commercial build post-Ian on Fort Myers Beach.

Cape Coral and North Fort Myers: The Cape Coral Yacht Basin was destroyed, but The Boathouse Restaurant reopened within months following extensive repairs. In North Fort Myers, Fowler established a triage boatyard in two weeks for salvaged vessels. The site is developing into Safe Harbor’s Port Phoenix Marina, featuring cutting-edge technologies and services, targeting a late 2025 completion.

Matlacha and Alva: Fowler devoted considerable resources to assist local rebuilds, stepping in where “restoration” companies failed by conducting unnecessary demolitions.

As Southwest Florida rebuilds post-Hurricane Ian, Fowler Construction and Development is dedicated to enhancing the region’s infrastructure and recreational facilities, ensuring resilient and improved community spaces.

Sanibel Captiva Trust Company hosts grand opening for new office on Sanibel

The Sanibel Captiva Trust Company marked another milestone in Sanibel Island’s recovery from Hurricane Ian with the opening of its new office on the island.

Founder and Chairman S. Albert D. Hanser, Sanibel President Jeffrey A. Muddell and their team welcomed more than 200 clients, colleagues and community leaders to the newly designed building on Periwinkle Way on April 11.

Construction started in 2022, but was put on hold due to Hurricane Ian. Reno-

vation work resumed in late 2023.

Architect Joyce Owens, owner of Architecture Joyce Owens and Studio AJO, provided interior design work for the new office. She also was responsible for designs at the firm’s recently completed Fort Myers office at Bell Tower.

With over a dozen private offices, an expansive conference room, kitchen and functional outdoor space at the Sanibel location, the Trust Company has ample room for growth as well as space to host client events.

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FloridaMakes official provides an insider’s view

Special to SWFBT

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Ruth Buchanan, Business Development Director for FloridaMakes, the statewide manufacturers association, about her experience this year as an Edison Awards application judge. Of course, she could not reveal any details of the confidential process.

How did you become aware of the Edison Awards? How did your name come up for consideration as an entry applications judge?

I was introduced to the Edison Awards while I was still working for Lee County Economic Development Office. At the time, John Talmage, the Director, and other influential community members lobbied to bring this prestigious awards program to Lee County. We were excited at the prospect of being the host community to the international awards program which recognizes innovation across many exciting industries. The Fort Myers connection to Thomas Edison’s life and winter estate was not lost on us.

I have since moved on but have always been rooting for this annual event from a distance. I do not know how my name came up as a potential applications judge. In late 2023 I received an

invitation to consider becoming a judge. Despite it being a hectic time of year, that was all the nudge I needed to volunteer my time for two reasons. I wanted to articulate my longstanding support in a more direct fashion, and I was curious about the “behind-the-scenes”— especially since nominations come from around the world.

What was your favorite part of the overall experience as an applications judge?

The joy of learning, reading about such cool inventions and solutions from across the globe. I was floored by the science, technology and innovation behind each submittal. In my line of work, engaging with innovative thinkers, products and solutions is a daily occurrence but the level to which these companies are applying their inventions was both exhilarating and inspiring.

What did you learn from this experience?

That overall, despite the many challenges faced by humankind today, science and innovation will always find a

way to make life easier and safer. To ensure our schoolchildren drink safe water from those ubiquitous school fountains. To advance health diagnostics for difficult to detect diseases. To leverage advanced technologies in aviation and UAV to keep flying safe or improve building inspections and maintenance. Perhaps my personal favorite, a contraption that allows the hearing-challenged to experience sound and music in a whole new way.

I came out of the experience inspired and hopeful and grateful that by honoring excellence in new service and product development, the Edison Awards is indeed helping pave the way for a brighter future.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I was so pleased to be a part of an event of this caliber. This experience was so different from any other experience I have had in my career. The composition of the finalists was amazing. It is truly a global gathering of geniuses.

Congratulations to the entire Southwest Florida team for having had the vision to bring this global innovation awards event to Fort Myers. Their perseverance and hard work are noteworthy, and I hope to continue to support them #swflstrong, especially regarding the Edison Awards.


Lee County’s spring training teams report strong attendance

More than 245,000 fans attended Major League Baseball spring training games this year at Lee County Parks & Recreation’s JetBlue Park and Hammond Stadium at Lee Health Sports Complex. The Florida Sports Foundation announced spring training attendance for the 2024 season.

The Boston Red Sox reported total attendance of 129,801 at JetBlue. The Minnesota Twins drew 115,882 fans to the Lee Health Sports Complex, despite having one rainout. Both teams ranked in the top four of the 15 Florida Grapefruit League teams in total attendance.

Statewide, about 1.4 million fans attended 226 spring training games, for an average of 6,319 per game, over the course of 32 days, according to the foundation.

The 2024 Florida Spring Training attendance figure accounts for all games between Major League teams played in the state. Attendance is compiled daily by the Florida Sports Foundation, the State of Florida’s sports promotion and development organization and is verified by each team.

Lee County Sports Development and Lee County Parks & Recreation play an integral role in supporting spring training efforts. The Lee County Visitor & Convention Bureau assists as well. The county’s tourist tax covers the debt service (bond payment) and major maintenance on the stadiums.

When disaster hits and you have to talk with the media

My wish for you is that you never have to speak to the media unless you actually want to. Whether you choose to address the media or disaster strikes and you must speak to the media due to a crisis ranging from a hurricane to an active shooter situation, here are three key points to consider. Know who is your interviewer, how to come across and the best ways to respond to questions

Know who your interviewer is: Ask for their name, organization, phone number, email, type of interview such as live or recorded, who they report to, what they plan to ask, story angle and when and where your interview will be shared. Let them know you will be recording the interview – important these days especially if your

words are taken out of context. How to come across: Dress conservatively. Avoid wearing all black or all white. If in studio, avoid royal blue or lime. Don’t wear sunglasses during an interview – let your eyes be seen. Don’t wear anything distracting. (Unless fashion happens to be a focus, which is not the case in a crisis.)

Best ways to respond to questions: Repeat the question asked verbatim if you want to respond to the question posed. If not, restate the question as you see

fit and then provide the answer. Never repeat the question using the interviewer’s negative buzz words; repeat the question as you feel, it should have been stated in the first place, then answer the question that you have posed. Keep in mind you want to control the interviewer, not the other way around.

Remember, the audience isn’t only the media. The audience includes your stockholders, employees, family, friends and enemies.

Linda Blackman is an author, global trainer, consultant, award-winning broadcast journalist and a Certified Speaking Professional. Contact MoreInfo@LindaBlackman.com or (239) 7771776. Visit SignatureSpeaking.com.

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Unlocking AI for enhanced cybersecurity solutions

Cybersecurity is undergoing a paradigm shift, transitioning from threat reaction to threat prediction and prevention. This change is set to be foundational to the industry, moving it toward security solutions that are more proactive than ever before.

The incorporation of Artificial Intelligence into cybersecurity provides capabilities to detect and respond to active threats in real-time. AI is also able to learn from these threats and identify vulnerabilities in systems before they are exploited. These abilities drastically reduce the time taken to identify and mitigate current and potential security breaches.

Predictive security measures are already a longstanding aspect of modern cybersecurity practices. However, even the best human-based techniques are unable to catch all potential vulnerabilities in systems of ever-growing complexity and size. AI is the next evolution in the cybersecurity arms race.

AI’s superhuman skill in pattern recognition and mass data processing allows it to sift through vast amounts of data and pinpoint threats that may go unnoticed by human analysts. Whether detecting network intrusions or analyzing system behaviors to uncover vulnerabilities or malware, AI has a critical role to play. The need for AI in cybersecurity becomes even more pressing as cybercriminals increasingly adopt AI for their own malicious purposes.

However, the integration of AI into cybersecurity methods and protocols presents its own set of challenges. Biases hidden within the black box of deep learning models have the potential to create a new set of blind spots that may be challenging to detect and correct. If an AI system is trained on data that predominantly features attacks from a specific geographic region, it may develop a bias that leads to a higher rate of false positives or false negatives when analyzing threats from other regions.

Additionally, AI may have difficulty grasping the human motivations underlying certain cyberattacks, such as political, ideological or personal factors that

drive attackers. This limitation may negatively impact AI’s predictive capabilities, as it may not be able to anticipate attacks that deviate from purely technical or financial motivations. Overcoming these obstacles requires an effort that combines the enormous power of AI with the social awareness and technical expertise of human cybersecurity and machine learning professionals.

Already we are seeing AI cybersecurity tools hit the market, including NVIDIA’s Morpheus framework and IBM’s Security QRadar suite. Incorporating AI into cybersecurity is not merely about improving security posture, it is an essential step in protecting our digital environment from sophisticated threats. The future is here, and the industry is undergoing a rapid change to adapt.

The incorporation of AI into cybersecurity solutions represents a major leap forward in addressing the constantly evolving cyber threat landscape. AI’s predictive capabilities enable organizations to proactively protect their networks and data from unauthorized access and exploitation. As the industry increasingly adopts AI-driven solutions, collaboration between AI experts and cybersecurity professionals is essential for developing robust, transparent and responsible AI systems. Only through this collaborative approach can the full potential of AI be realized in creating a more secure digital environment for all.

Angel Vossough, CEO and co-founder of BetterAI, leads the creation of innovative AI solutions like BetterMed and VinoVoss, a semantic search and recommendation system creating a virtual wine sommelier. Contact info@betterai.io or (650) 397-1446. Learn more at BetterAI.io.


looms for property owners to file defect claims

Florida homeowners face shortened deadlines and more stringent requirements for holding builders and developers accountable for construction defects. The new law (SB 360) was pushed by developers, contractors and insurance companies. It shortens the timeline for owners to file defect claims — these defects may take years to become apparent. The new law could also potentially start the clock for defect pursuit even before an owner takes possession.

Owners need to understand the implications and limitations of the new law. They have until July 1, 2024, to file claims under the older, more owner-friendly law. James C. Prichard, Ball Janik’s Managing Partner, works with owners to hold builders and developers accountable for construction defects that can lead to thousands of dollars in repairs.


and include a combination of letters, numbers and symbols, or even an entire sentence. Strong passwords are at least 12 characters with upper and lowercase letters. Never write down passwords; instead, use a verified password records app.

Update software: Apple, Microsoft and other tech companies invest billions into security and issue frequent security updates and patches. Download updates when prompted.

Protect digital paperwork: Confidential files and documents in the office are often stored in locked cabinets and securely disposed in a shredder. Digital files need the same level of security and should be properly stored or deleted. Whether employees are down the hallway or across the country, digital security is critically important to protect data and your business.

John Joyce is an owner of CRS Technology Consultants, a Cape Coral-based IT company founded in 1988. Visit CRSTC.com or call (239) 542-8450.

Page 16 Southwest Florida BUSINESS TODAY ® JUNE 2024


When to self-insure (and when not to)

As Southwest Florida homeowners continue bouncing back from the widespread impact of Hurricane Ian, the impact of spiraling property insurance rates on household budgets is hard to ignore.

At roughly $6,000 a year on average, Florida’s typical homeowner insurance rates are now the highest in the country –between three and four times the national average, and in many cases three and four times what those same homeowners were paying a few short years ago.

That hefty hike has many toying with the idea of “going bare,” or self-insuring their homes. While the national rate for going bare is about 12%, here in Florida, it’s closer to 15% to 20%.

In some cases, the numbers are unimaginably high. We’re seeing reports of insurance premiums for multi-milliondollar homes in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example, a homeowner on Florida’s East Coast was billed $121,000 annually in 2023, a 13-fold increase over four years.

Before going bare, my top question for homeowners experiencing a rise in their property insurance is, “why aren’t you shopping around?”

We shop for cars, houses, groceries and gas to get the best deal. Why are we not shopping for insurance? If you get a notice your homeowner’s insurance is increasing $200 per month, challenge the company and tell them you’re going to find a better deal. In many situations, the company will lower the rate if it means keeping a loyal, long-term customer.

If you can’t find a better price, you may consider going bare. But bear in mind self-insuring a home (especially here in Southwest Florida, with an elevated risk of severe weather) is not without risk, and depending on your circumstances may not even be a viable option.

Who can afford to go bare?

For those with an outstanding mortgage, banks require property insurance coverage as a condition of the loan. Homeowners who have paid fully for their homes, though, have the option to go bare if they’d like to forego homeowner insurance. In Florida, where 44% of homeowners paid for their homes in cash, that’s a significant cohort.

If you live in an area that is at risk for floods, such as Fort Myers Beach, there’s a good chance your mortgage holder will also require wind and flood insurance. If you rent out your property on VRBO or Airbnb or have frequent visitors, homeowner’s insurance is recommended, as it provides liability protection if someone gets injured on your property and

chooses to take legal action. If your lender winds up purchasing lender-placed or force-placed insurance, the premiums will typically be higher than what you find on the open market.

As more cash buyers choose to go bare, I hear a recurring sentiment: unhappy with how insurance companies paid out for postIan repairs, property owners prefer to put their own money aside each month to create, in essence, their own self-insurance.

Should you go bare?

Self-insurance is not as golden as it may seem. The biggest risk for Floridians is that without insurance, a catastrophic storm could cause more damage costs than the non-insured homeowner can afford to pay out-of-pocket. For Southwest Floridians who live in a region prone to disasters, you should consider your track record with storms. Are you in a flood zone? How did your home fare during Hurricanes Irma, Ian and Charley?

Sure, self-insurance can save you a lot now, but what about the future? Do you have the funds necessary to repair a severely damaged home? All risks considered, more Floridians are willing to accept financial responsibility in exchange for drastically rising rates and high deductibles.

Everyone’s circumstances differ. The choice for owners of a mortgagefree mobile home passed down through generations will likely be different than for the owners of a multi-million-dollar penthouse on Gulf Shore Drive who retired early after selling a tech company.

Before deciding to forego homeowner’s insurance, make sure to consult a financial advisor, accountant and real estate agent. At Call it Closed International Realty, we have a mortgage services division that offers competitive loans in each of the 50 states. The program is affiliated with Brighton Bank, a financial institution that offers conventional mortgages as well as FHA and VA loans.

Aprile Osborne, Call It Closed International Realty co-founder, has been a licensed agent in Southwest Florida for almost 20 years. Contact (239) 2208607 or aprile@callitclosed.com. Visit aprileosborne.callitclosed.com.

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Florida SBDC at FGCU honors entrepreneurs at annual awards

The Florida Small Business Development Center at Florida Gulf Coast University announced the winners of the 2024 Distinguished Entrepreneur Awards.

This event recognizes exceptional Southwest Florida businesses and their entrepreneurial leaders.

Distinguished Entrepreneur Award

This year’s top honor, the Distinguished Entrepreneur Award, was presented to Deanna Wallin, founder of Naples Soap Company. Wallin’s commitment to high-quality, natural products and exceptional customer service


Guadalupe Center’s After-School Program for students in grades K-2, earning money to help pay college costs.

“They have always pushed me to keep going, to never give up, to be my best inside and outside the classroom,” said Geraldi Sanabria, who plans to study nursing at Roberts Wesleyan College. “Guadalupe Center has supported my family and me through every step of the way.”

Sanabria served as class speaker when the nonprofit celebrated its Class of 2024 at an April 26 commencement ceremony at Vineyards Country Club, with parents, mentors, community partners and staff assembled to recognize the seniors’ impressive accomplishments: accrued Guadalupe Center Scholarship Funding: $426,000; total scholarships and grants: $4.3 million; average GPA: 4.14; percent graduating high school:

has propelled her company to become a renowned skincare brand.

Emerging Business Award

Dr. Jenny Cavanaugh of smiLee Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics earned the Emerging Business Award for her rapidly growing practice that provides innovative and child-focused dental care.

Servant Leader Award

Erika Donalds, founder of OptimaEd, received recognition for her educational services company specializing in assisting students and families navigate complex education systems.

100%; students earning college credit: 30 of 31; first-generation college students: 29 of 31.

Tutors Corps students will pursue majors in computer science, education, biochemistry, biology, business, psychology, accounting, health care administration, civil and mechanical engineering, forensic science, nursing and economics.

Some are electing to stay close to home, attending FGCU or Florida SouthWestern State College, while others will attend Florida State University, the University of South Florida and other public and private institutions within Florida. Several Tutor Corps students will enroll at some of the out-of-state institutions that have formal partnerships with Guadalupe Center. For Stephanie MendozaMoreno, the dinner took place days before her deadline to select from her top three choices: Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania and Northwestern University. The winner? UPenn.

Donalds’ expertise and focus on inclusivity have made her company an invaluable community resource.

The event also featured two additional awards:

• SBA Award for State of Florida Minority Business Owner of the Year: Janelle Miley of Global Strategies for her impactful contributions to international trade consulting.

• William O. Webb Award: Chelsey Katz of Blind Date Fishing for her unique business model and dedication to promoting ethical and sustainable fishing practices.


“I define business insurance like a salad bar. You get to pick what you want and put that on your plate but you don’t get to eat any of it till later. And that’s when you realize with your insurance policy that you didn’t get everything you wanted on your plate.

“I’ve got 30 years’ experience and been all over the country helping other agents after disasters. And there is nothing that compares to you being that person. I lost everything in Hurricane Ian. I lost my business, my house, my rental properties. Fortunately, I had insurance to cover most of that. I finally got my FEMA flood settlement check 555 days after the storm. For those that are still fighting, stay persistent and you will eventually get it.”

Dorian Zwierewicz, Small Business Development Center at FGCU

“Florida is one of the few states in the country that has a disaster loan for small businesses. It’s called the Small Business

“The 2024 Distinguished Entrepreneur Award winners showcase the exceptional spirit of entrepreneurship within Southwest Florida,” said Dorian Zwierewicz, regional director of the Florida SBDC at FGCU.

“Their innovation, resilience, and dedication to their communities set a benchmark for small business excellence.”

The award ceremony was a vibrant celebration of the thriving business sector in the region and provided inspiration and networking opportunities for attendees.

Emergency Bridge Loan and it offers 0% interest for one year.

“That can literally be the life or the death of a small business because if you run out of cash, that’s very scary. If you use it properly, this loan is literally like a friend borrowing money during tough times. A SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) is very important too because oftentimes people think recovery will happen quicker than it actually does. And once the loan application deadline passes, it’s too late.

“It is okay to get approved for a loan and say no. But what we don’t want is for a business owner to be too scared to apply and then close their business a year later: we definitely don’t want that because small business is the lifeblood of America.”

In order to keep your business, your “lifeblood,” pumping, learn from your own Hurricane Ian experiences so you and your business are more secure, you know your “salad bar choices” better and you will be even more resilient next time around. Because we know there will be a next time around.


Page 18 Southwest Florida BUSINESS TODAY ® JUNE 2024
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JUNE 2024 Southwest Florida BUSINESS TODAY ® Page 19

As the co-founders and leaders of the oldest locally owned and managed community bank in Lee County, Robbie and Geoffrey Roepstorff, along with the entire team, applaud innovation. Like Thomas Edison said, “There is always a better way... Find it.”

Now celebrating the bank’s 27th year in business, Edison National Bank/Bank of the Islands is dedicated to expertly blending tradition and innovation with a personal approach to remarkable banking services.

Page 20 Southwest Florida BUSINESS TODAY ® JUNE 2024
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