Spring 2016

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112 Venice lued to computer screens on an upper floor of a downtown Fort Lauderdale high-rise, more than three dozen artists and software developers toil in a vast workspace created by their employer, Mad Studios, a full-service creative ad agency. Founded in 2001, it is a business that has morphed from a print ad shop into a full-fledged developer of apps, websites, interactive videos and graphics. Casual dress, hockey tables, dodge balls, a vaulted ceiling and worktables with hewn surfaces combine to fuel a collaborative process. The office space is cool and quirky, but effective from a business culture point of view, says founder and owner Marc Aptakin. He's an artist-turned-entrepreneur who sees value in technologies developed in-house. "I always say I prefer to die by my own hand than somebody else's, and that is the philosophy we've taken," he says. "I know this isn't the smartest thing to say from a business standpoint, but we don't always look at it from a monetary view. Sometimes we look to just try to solve problems for ourselves." Made by their own hands or not, consumers and businesses alike are hungry for technologies to make their lives easier. So, it follows that technology developers are devising myriad ways for consumers to better identify retail products to buy, access medical records, communicate with one another, or even order coffee. For his self-funded Mad Studios, Aptakin formed a division called Mad Dev to develop homegrown technologies. He hired Chris Stegner, a serial startup founder and former technology vice president at Weston-based, to be a full partner, joining Mad Dev founding partner Olivier Beuzelin, a mobile apps and biometrics specialist. "We've just always identified opportunities for growth even if they didn't necessarily make sense [for] a creative agency," Aptakin says. "That's how we got into the technology side a little early." Mad Dev fashioned its own software developed by Beuzelin to measure ad response rates, operates its own fulfillment business for customers, and recently developed a customized, augmented reality greeting card to help the industry deflect the rise of e-cards. Early feedback on the cards has been favorable, Aptakin says, though, "It hasn't been out long enough to say it's a success." Amid the high-octane evolution of South Florida's burgeoning technology industry, small established firms such as Mad Studios are sometimes overlooked in the media crush that focuses on young first-time entrepreneurs South Florida has emerged as a tech hub and a startup ecosystem. Here, we delve into how our sunny landscape has become a hotbed for palm trees and ocean breezes—and mobile apps and motherboards. BY DAVID LYONS Technically SpeakinG G OFFICE SPACE The Mad Studios office in downtown Fort Lauderdale is an open-concept space with vaulted ceilings and communal work areas. Photo by James argyroPoulos; oPPosite Page: Photo by Nick lyoNs

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