Axium Healthcare Pharmacy CEO
Having taken Axium Healthcare Pharmacy from a buyout he orchestrated in 2006, to selling the company to Kroger a few years ago, there are not many in Central Florida that understand both sides of the capital equation better than Mark Montgomery. While still leading Axium, which has become Kroger’s fastest growing business unit, Montgomery is continuing to stimulate the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and helping shape the future of Central Florida as the Chair of the Central Florida Partnership’s Sources of Capital Task Force.
EW: How has Axium faired since the Kroger buyout?
MM: We’ve more than doubled in size and it has been a lot of fun helping to design the healthcare strategy for Kroger as they are moving forward; both organizations have benefitted greatly. The culture of the two companies has so much synergy, plus we were able to keep our name and our team in place. In addition they are very supportive of our role as strong advocates for Central Florida.
EW: Explain and bring us up to date on the work of the Capital Task Force?
MM: Our mission statement is to build a hub of capital and management investment across the capital continuum around Orlando. The level of engagement and the collection of individuals has been remarkable. We are banding together groups that have been successful singularly and now there is open dialogue, without barriers, to develop a plan for increasing capital availability.
Our team includes people like Jason Rottenberg, who is a true venture capitalist; Rollins College is involved through Tom McEvoy and UCF with Blaire Martin of Florida Angel Nexus and Tom O’Neal. Rob Panepinto is a great entrepreneur and civic contributor, along with Rick Walsh and Rick Wassel. Also bankers like Ken LaRoe and an amazing hidden jewel, Diana LaTour, who was one of the early leaders in Silicon Valley. It really is a dream team.
EW: How did you go about forming your plan?
MM: We commissioned studies of various places that we saw were ahead of us in this area, like Silicon Valley, Austin, Las Vegas and Cleveland. Each brought their own interesting aspects of this capital issue. Cleveland has a remarkable story considering where they came from. Of course, Silicon Valley ruins almost all the metrics, because they so skewed the data we didn’t initially include them, but now we have found a way to include them in our metrics.
EW: What stood out the most to you about these regions?
MM: We tried to make comparisons like the university based opportunities in Austin with UT or as Silicon Valley has with Stanford and what we have here. Though we are years behind, we have the foundations to facilitate growth.
We also looked at local assets that have created sectors like NASA and Kennedy Space Center, the modeling, simulation and training operations in East Orlando. If you look at Las Vegas’ Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos or Michael Dell in Austin, both were very wealthy individuals that wanted to mentor their region. We want to consolidate our efforts and create a playbook for doing the same thing here. Where it has succeeded, there is some level of organization and individual drivers that guided the growth of capital in those regions.
Also, we have success stories, we just haven’t heard them; so we also want to bring together the success stories of entrepreneurs in our community, which we can share locally and nationally. In addition, we want to encourage those successful individuals to take a mentoring role in the startup and scaling community.
EW: What is the biggest change you have seen since the Task Force was launched?
MM: We first started interviewing people for it two years ago; it is remarkable how the energy level and focus on this issue has increased. We want to start by getting a plan in place to possibly create a statewide capital and mentoring program that will change the landscape in 10 years.
EW: With the exception of maybe California or Texas, Florida has to have the largest base of real estate entrepreneurs and successes in the country. Do you see this group shifting their attention towards this type of investment?
MM: Our market doesn’t have a lot of sophistication when it comes to venture investment, so part of our challenge is to educate investors on the opportunities this type of vehicle has. This is why this is the “start” of something; it is a change and that takes time. There is also a civic engagement component. People can play that part by investing; they can do it by mentoring, as a lawyer or accountant or business executive.
This was one of the first things we recognized – the local investment community is unfamiliar with this type of investment and it is very fragmented. As we have progressed, there is a sense of common cause that has emerged.
EW: There are some Michael Dell and Tony Hsieh types in this area, they just didn’t make their millions or billions in technology. Do you see these more senior leaders engaging in this effort?
MM: The real question: Is the momentum right and is the message right that would attract these types of business leaders? We are committed to having a plan in place by the end of this year that will draw these individuals in and we can go to them and ask: “Does this make sense?” or “Would you be willing to sit on the board of one of these promising companies to share your experience?” You simply have to ask.
EW: Explain the strategy.
MM: Educating investors, finding those “Meta Mentors” who are willing to invest their experience in the early stage businesses. Ken LaRoe commented to me, “We can’t be all things to all people, we have to build on our strengths and grow.” He’s right, but neither do we want Silicon Valley stealing our intellectual assets.
One of the first things we are focusing on is that the “A” deals are going to happen, they will find capital. It is the “B” deals that need to get done, but can’t get done, because we can’t get the right funding. That is what we want to focus on. I think a mechanism will come out of this that strong deals that can and should be funded, will be funded. We are dialed in on that.
EW: What are the differentiators?
MM: We have brought enough diversity in our leadership that is united by recent successes and multiple successes, to begin setting the stage for a cultural change. Diana LaTour was right in the middle of the Silicon Valley phenomena and she said, “Leaders there were expected, it was part of the ethos of their civic duty, to be part of a mentoring network. It was a cultural thing.” We have to change the culture from being fractured and siloed, to “We are only going to be as good as we can build this mentoring network.” We need 100 voices celebrating and sharing the story.
EW: With Florida as a retirement destination, is there opportunity with these retirees?
MM: Absolutely, they are all around us, but we don’t know they are right next door, both as mentors and as investors.