STRENGTH IN NUMBERS: SharpSpring hires through training grant, sells for $15 million

When Rick Carlson was building SharpSpring in 2011, he connected with the local startup community – an innovative group of entrepreneurs changing Gainesville’s startup landscape. Three years later, the 25-person marketing automation company was acquired by email delivery service provider SMTP in a $5 million cash sale and $10 million earn-out based on reaching $5 million in revenue in 2015.

Carlson, SharpSpring president and founder, credits the company’s exponential growth to its involvement in CareerSource North Central Florida’s Healthcare, Biomanufacturing, Occupational & Technology Training (HBOTT) program. He first heard about the training program from other entrepreneurs in the startup community.

“HBOTT solved the ‘chicken or the egg?’ problem for SharpSpring, in terms of needing revenue to hire people but needing people to generate revenue,” Carlson said. “We were able to use HBOTT funds to get people productive and build our business.”

HBOTT provides more than $3 million in reimbursable training funds for local unemployed or underemployed workers in healthcare, bioscience, advanced manufacturing and information technology occupations often filled by foreign workers. The H1-B Technical Skills Training grant is funded through U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration, and allows employers to hire, train and retain eligible employees in permanent positions by providing reimbursement for on-the-job (OJT) training costs.

SharpSpring provides automation software for small-to-medium businesses to generate leads and convert those leads into sales. Prior to founding the marketing automation company in 2011, Carlson had a successful career working with prominent Internet security companies, including leading the AVG acquisition of Exploit Prevention Labs. In 2005, Carlson led the sale of anti-spyware company Aluria Software to Earthlink.

Certainly no stranger to building and selling companies, Carlson utilized HBOTT training funds to accelerate SharpSpring’s growth, creating new jobs faster than anticipated. “We built SharpSpring thinking there was a real possibility we could be part of a larger company or combine with another company to grow,” said Carlson.

“We found people who were unemployed through networking, excellent programmers who knew other excellent programmers,” said Carlson, crediting the growing talent pool to the networking opportunities provided through Gainesville’s integrated startup community. From marketing director and director of business development to web developers, software engineers and technical sales representatives, 20 SharpSpring employees were hired and trained through HBOTT.

“We were able to hire people, and they could get up and running and develop revenue, become productive and self-supporting,” Carlson said. “HBOTT helped us achieve goals [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”] [fusion_builder_row] [fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”] [for expansion.]” SharpSpring, now a wholly-owned subsidiary of SMTP, will continue to grow with the help of HBOTT, as they expect to train an additional seven employees before the grant ends.

244 individuals have been hired and started training at more than 15 different companies since the CareerSource NCFL HBOTT program began.

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