How should the region define a successful entrepreneur? If it is one who builds and then enjoys a successful exit from their company, then reinvests their resources and acumen back into their community, facilitating new businesses and mentoring less experienced entrepreneurs, then Tim Reynolds is the poster child. He is the founder and owner of Wild Manta in Palm Bay, a hub that has hosted 10,000 events, such as seminars, business meetings, expos, product launches and other learning events. The main focus of Wild Manta is a business generator that grew out of Reynold’s desire to serve the community in a way that builds long-term value and relationships, while building the local economy by helping to bring creative ideas and products to market. As Reynolds put it, to build the area into an export economy.
Roots Technology & Business
Though I moved here in the fourth grade, I consider myself a Florida native. We settled in Apopka, which at that time strongly focused on agriculture and foliage. Honestly, I was a computer geek before anyone coined the phrase. In front of the Radio Shack in the mall they had a TRS-80 computer. I would go there, this was in the 8th or 9th grade and write software, knowing that at the end of the day it would be gone. In high school they actually had a computer lab, where I was able to develop the skill. I even wrote a game that placed at a programming contest. At the same time, I was keenly interested in business. Through high school and college, I worked in retail and managed the garden shop in the summer and the toy department in the winter at, this will date me, Montgomery Ward. I worked my way up to being a buyer and my department was the most successful in the chain. Because of that interest in business, I started out as a business major when I went to UCF, but I looked at the starting salaries of business versus computer science majors and made the switch.
The Entrepreneurial Journey Begins
After graduation I went to work for Harris, where I was able to learn under some really experienced software engineers. They taught me the discipline of engineering, in other words how to build something reliable that stands the tests of time. Harris recognized my business acumen, coupled with technical know-how I had and I was able to quickly advance. Then I became involved in a spinoff called Terion. We were seeded with Harris technology and engineers, but after the initial support we were on our own. We raised our own capital and managed the company. We started with just two and at the peak there were about one hundred; eventually it was sold to GE.
What I learned then, that I apply now, is though an engineer or a team of engineers have a brilliant product, that doesn’t translate into business success. Successful businesses have to have a full assortment of skills, from business management to market analysis and marketing; the typical inventor doesn’t think along those lines.
Dot Com Opportunity and EXIT
At Terion I was director of engineering and realized that was not where I wanted to spend my career. The next venture was Soneticon in 1998. We saw opportunity to provide the engineering expertise for people who understood the market potential for a particular product, but couldn’t build it. We were working with companies like Delco Electronics along with a host of smaller companies. We would build their products, mesh it to a business plan, from early Internet provider equipment to wireless.
I wish I could say I saw it coming, but right before the dot com bust we started moving more of our business into the government sector. Up until that time private industry was so robust and opportunistic there wasn’t a need. We thought it would be an addition to our business, instead the commercial completely went away, then 9-11 happened and the defense side continued to grow. What the government saw in us was the agility of a commercial company, because we had such extensive experience in making products. We were on the INC. 500 Fastest Growing Private Companies list, almost 688 percent five-year growth. We saw another downturn cycle coming, along with a consolidation wave, so we began to look for an acquirer, which turned out to be DRS Technologies in 2009. I stayed on for two years to assist in the transition.
Launching a Dream
My family had a plan for what we initially called the Knowledge Exchange for several years, even before we sold Soneticon. We realized there wasn’t a readily accessible facility where someone could hold seminars or just have a business meeting. If you needed that kind of space you were using Denney’s or Barnes and Noble or trying to get space from the city, which was really cumbersome. Also we realized some businesses, because of the downturn, wouldn’t be able to afford space, unless we helped to provide it. Our facility wasn’t office space, but set up with conference and seminar rooms, so businesses could meet with investors, team members, in a very creative environment.
Our primary purpose though was to teach our children, who were then 12, 14 and 16 years old, how to run a business. When my business was selling to the government, that wasn’t really ‘family friendly,’ my kids couldn’t go to my office. I wanted them to learn to be leaders and that means learning to interact with the full spectrum of people, young/old, happy/cantankerous. I wanted a way to involve them.
When we started looking for property, initially we thought of lease space, but the market was so flat it was cheaper to build. By the time our facility was built, my kids weren’t passive observers, they knew more about site selection, architecture and design, building contractors and cost analysis than most business people.
To continue their education, the Knowledge Exchange grew into Wild Manta. We continue to offer the facility for businesses to use, but my background and passion was in product development and that is where I wanted to take the family business. We began to offer an array of services which can take an idea, do the due diligence on it, determine if the person with the idea or product has knowledge in that field. Then build a prototype and provide all the services growing businesses need from design, to manufacturing, to intellectual property, to accounting services, capitalization and marketing, by building a network of locally based subject experts.
People can pay us for one or all of the steps in the development process or we can work with them for a percentage of the company’s sales over an extended period of time. We don’t dilute their equity by taking a part of the ownership and we are highly motivated to ensure the company succeeds long term, where it has to succeed, in the marketplace.
I would be remiss if I did not point out that there are team members that are not family members. My wife and family are intricately involved, but we have 12 employees and work with dozens of other small businesses in the area, which provide services and expertise. It takes every last one to make it happen.