Groundswell Startups spawns high-tech expansion boom in south Melbourne along U.S. 1 – Florida Today

Rick Neale
| Florida Today


When Groundswell Startups opened in March 2017 inside a shuttered indoor skate park in south Melbourne, its founders spoke of someday creating a surrounding “tech village” near Riverview Park.

Thanks to a building-buying boost by Melbourne Beach venture capitalist Bud Deffebach, breakout companies are moving out of Groundswell and establishing a new science-based ecosystem along Irwin Street — despite the COVID-19 economic recession.

“We’re a startup too. The ride’s the fun,” said Deffebach, who co-founded Groundswell as Florida’s largest nonprofit high-tech incubator.

“Especially this area of south Melbourne — which has been historically ignored in many ways. There’s opportunity to create more attention and resources. That’s a net positive,” he said.

Tomahawk Robotics — which launched inside Groundswell with only three employees — has moved into a newly rebuilt 8,500-square-foot headquarters, a stone’s throw to the north. U.S. 1 motorists may notice the outdoor “drone cage” next to the building, which was a dilapidated, hurricane-damaged cabinet shop.

Tomahawk Robotics is partnering with Samsung and working with the U.K. military to develop software for universal handheld controllers for air and land-based drones on the battlefield. 

Other recent expansions outside Groundswell’s walls:

  • Alertgy, one of the original tenants, has moved into a former shuttered pawn shop between Groundswell and Tomahawk Robotics.

Alertgy officials hope to develop a sensor-equipped wristband that links with a smartphone so diabetics can monitor their blood sugar levels — without having to prick themselves with needles. 

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  • Givr Packaging — a custom box-packaging startup that uses recycled materials and partners with tree-planting organizations — has expanded next door inside the Codecraft Works building. 
  • Critical Frequency Design, which specializes in fiber optics and photonics, is moving into Tomahawk Robotic’s former home adjacent to Groundswell: a remodeled laundromat dating to 1950.

“What I see here is absolute energy and passion, and willingness to take chances. And collaboration, that’s in many ways even more meaningful. Because it’s broader. It’s cultural. And I think that it’s going to be a super-valuable asset to this area, and hopefully to people’s lives,” Deffebach said.

Deffebach owns the Groundswell, Tomahawk Robotics and Alergy buildings, in addition to a long-abandoned structure just to the south that was recently razed.

“A lot of times, companies might have some success — and then they move into some place near 95 and you never hear from them again. I was hoping that wouldn’t happen, that they would continue feeding back into the startup community,” Deffebach said.

Thirty-one tech companies are now headquartered at Groundswell, said Jarin Eisenberg, chief operations officer. Most have one to three employees.

Total membership is 156 people from 91 companies, ranging from solo freelancers and remote workers to flourishing firms featured on ABC’s “Shark Tank” and “Good Morning America.”

  • Nohbo — which secured an investment from billionaire Mark Cuban on ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2016 — has expanded shampoo-drop production at a new facility on Robert J. Conlan Boulevard in Palm Bay. 
  • SwiftPaws, a dog lure-coursing startup, provided equipment and operators for the American Kennel Club Fast CAT Invitational last month in Orlando. ESPN2 broadcast the event.
  • In October, an Amaranth Vase Co. vase designed by Groundswell engineering firm Catania Enterprises was featured on “Good Morning America.”
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“I think people in Melbourne ought to be pretty proud. Groundswell has been instrumental in taking an area that maybe wasn’t the most attractive and really turning it into a beacon for tech startups,” said Matt Summer, Tomahawk Robotics co-founder and chief technology officer.

Tomahawk Robotics moved into Groundswell in late 2018, occupying a small office.

“We were very much a legit startup: a few guys with some ideas. At that time, I think it was probably more that we had ideas about having ideas — but we didn’t know what the actual idea was,” Summer said, laughing.

“Classic thing: You throw a lot of things against the wall, and you find out what you can actually be successful at and attract customers with, and go from there,” he said.

“We were three people at the beginning. Now, we’re up to 27 heads,” he said.

SwiftPaws illustrates how Groundswell’s co-working environment promotes partnerships, said Meghan Wolfrum, founder and CEO. Her company has teamed with tenants AK3D and Heka Works for 3D printing, Givr Packaging for packaging materials, Catania Enterprises for injection-mold engineering and Rise Product Management for assembly processing.

“It’s a small world there,” Wolfrum said.

Inside a crowded 250-square-foot Groundswell office, five shared employees work in tandem staffing three pint-sized tech companies: Heka Works, AK3D and MotorCo Electric.

“That’s kind of the magic of Groundswell,” Heka Works President Christopher Marot said.

“You get a lot of smart, like-minded people. Hopefully, some magic comes out of it,” Marot said.

Rick Neale is the South Brevard Watchdog Reporter at FLORIDA TODAY. Contact Neale at 321-242-3638 or Twitter: @RickNeale1. To subscribe:

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