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Tuesday, February 27, 2024

UF students' startup relocating to Austin

A local startup is relocating to Austin after a big win at music and media conference South by Southwest, leaving the Gainesville startup community with mixed feelings.

Feathr, founded by Aidan Augustin and Neal Ormsbee, during their time as UF engineering undergraduate students, beat about 300 startup companies from around the world to win Capital Factory’s second annual “Move Your Startup to Austin” competition.

The company, which uses a smartphone app to maximize networking opportunities for conference attendees, walked away with more than $200,000 worth of cash investment and other prizes, including funds to cover relocation costs, Augustin said.

Feathr will be surrounded by Austin’s top startups as part of Capital Factory’s incubator, which provides a cooperative office space and shared resources for up-and-coming businesses.

For the founders, both 23, the award is validation for their hard work, but they’re already looking ahead to the next step.

“It’s an exciting milestone,” Augustin said, “but we still have a lot of work to do.”

Trevor Abbott, co-founder of local startup Spin Chill, said some Gainesville entrepreneurs view the startup’s departure as disloyal to the community, which has supported Feathr since the idea took shape more than two years ago.

But he said others view the company’s recent success as an opportunity for Gainesville to shine on a national stage and showcase the town’s potential.

“When they do wildly well in Texas, they won’t be seen as an Austin startup,” said Abbott, a 21-year-old UF mechanical engineering senior. “They’ll be seen as one of us.”

Feathr was one of the first startups to set up shop in the Innovation Hub downtown, and Augustin said he attributes his company’s success to Gainesville’s startup community.

“There is nowhere in the U.S. that could’ve been better for us the past two years,” he said.

Ian Mitchell, president of the UF Entrepreneurship Club and 20-year-old international business masters student, said Florida missed an opportunity to create jobs and strengthen its conference industry by not pushing harder to draw the company to Orlando, which was on Feathr’s short list for potential future homes.

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“It is a failure on the part of the state of Florida,” he said. “There is no follow through to keep mature startups here once they start to hire employees and build revenue.”

But David Whitney, entrepreneur in residence for the UF College of Engineering, said as a private company, this move only concerns Feathr’s investors, stakeholders and customers — not the state.

“We see bright people arrive and brighter people leave, but that doesn’t mean it’s our loss,” said Whitney, also a venture capitalist. “It’s just the nature of a college town.”

[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 3/20/2014 under the headline "Startup’s moving plans ruffle feathers"]

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