Scott Faris Helping to Create High Tech Entrepreneurs
Scott Faris is one of those rare entrepreneurs that can see the future and unite various talent and resource pools necessary to bring that future about. Committed to finding new ways to fight disease, he believes Orlando is evolving into a major technology center.
In the future, according to Faris, tiny robotic antibodies could track and kill viruses that now resist treatment. Sound far-fetched? Think about how many miracles technology has created: smartphones, laser surgery, GPS and computers that will soon be smarter than humans.
Working with two professors at the University of Florida, Faris’ newest venture could revolutionize medicine through technology. Vaccines would no longer have to be made from weakened viruses that work by stimulating a person’s immune system. Manmade antibodies could track and kill viruses that have been resistant to other treatments.
The odd thing is that the UF professors were working on lighting when Faris saw a greater potential in their research. “It isn’t easy to make a weakened form of the virus,” Faris said adding. “Most of what I deal in is accidental discoveries.”
He believes nanotechnology will spawn a massive industry. “My career has been built around either purposely or accidentally looking at parallel and adjacent applications where it would have more value,” Faris stated.
Far From a Scientist
Since moving to Central Florida in 1989, 48-year-old Faris has started more than 20 technology companies and has worked hard to bring more technology development to Orlando. He is chairman of the board of directors of the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission and sits on the boards of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council and Orlando Inc. He also is a founding board member of the Central Florida Technology Forum.
Many scientists and economic developers lament that Central Florida cannot attract a critical mass of investment capital to make the area a technology hub. Faris believes such an elevated status is on the horizon as investors are learning how to stimulate the potential resident in the environment. With several colleges turning out well-trained engineers and scientists, Faris believes Central Florida has assets similar to Silicon Valley, Boston and New York.
“You have to grow that,” he said. Married with two teenagers, Faris plans to remain in Orlando. “My goal is to be on the I-4 corridor.”
For all his success in building technology businesses, Faris isn’t a scientist. His talent lies in organization and in bringing together investors and inventors. “I’m a finance guy,” he said.
As a student intern at Penn State, where he earned a master’s degree, he started his career by roaming the halls to find the professors who had projects with commercial potential. His financial savvy helped guide the scientists in a direction that could produce a valuable and marketable product, often suggesting a new direction for their research. “That’s the key,” he explained. “You have to recognize when to pivot. Then, you have to bring the directors, the investors and researchers along in the new direction.”
Projects in the Oven
One of his recent projects, Planar Energy Devices, Inc., developed technology that will be used to improve batteries by shrinking their size and increasing their power capacity. Faris sold it to a group of investors with more resources to develop the project. Despite the sale, he still is involved with several companies with projects in development.
One those companies, MicroVapor Devices, LLC, will develop and manufacture a new generation of aerosol medical and consumer devices for drug delivery. Medicines for respiratory illnesses will be administered more efficiently with this technology and the small portable devices will work as easily as an asthma inhaler. “We’ll be able to really change the way patients with respiratory diseases manage their medicines and give them access to a wider range of medicines,” Faris said.
While U.S. companies have moved many operations to Asia, he urges manufacturers to locate in the U.S., and more specifically in Central Florida. “The process of manufacturing a complex device or product gives scientists the opportunity to uncover new products,” he believes. Plus, the present cost difference in labor, energy, transportation and robotics makes the U.S. more competitive for manufacturers. Faris is working with the Metro Orlando EDC to promote Orlando as a technology center, a facet of the economy he believes could soon rival entertainment and theme park revenue.
Investment, Technology and Organization
Faris’ office on Fairbanks Avenue in Winter Park could help him lure more investment to Orlando. The stylish building seems like a residence and Faris’ second-floor office has a beautiful view, with French doors that open onto a patio with a broad view of a lake, a sight most technology companies don’t enjoy. “It’s the nicest office I’ve ever had,” he revealed. “Usually, my office window has looked out over an industrial area.”
There are three sides to a successful tech company – investment, technology and the business organization. Faris said that success often requires creating a unique company that takes care of each facet. “Truly disruptive technologies tend to require their own organization,” he explained. “At the end of the day it’s really about how you make money out of it.”
During the creation of more than 20 technology startups, he estimates his batting average has been .300 to .400, a respectable success rate for a risky industry. “I tend to gravitate toward the projects that have a higher risk and a higher return profile,” he said.