Evolucia CEO resigns; Lakewood Ranch company to lay off staff

Mel Interiano was hired by Evolucia in 2012

cschelle@bradenton.comApril 5, 2014 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Evolucia's chief executive officer Mel Interiano has resigned from the Lakewood Ranch LED lighting company, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Friday.

The beleaguered company is battling losses and a worthless stock as the firm tried to grow its business internationally this past year. It has parted ways with its top employees and other staff as well.

Evolucia co-founder Craig Hall told the Herald on Friday that the company is in a "transition period."

"We are working right now to bring on a new CEO for the company," Hall said in a telephone interview. "We have a core team of employees that are here."

The company had 43 employes at its peak under Interiano and will move forward with 10 employees for the time being, Hall said, and a new CEO could be named within the next two weeks.

The company's filing states that Interiano's departure was not over a disagreement or violation of policies, but Hall keyed in on Interiano's performance.

"Under his tenure, sales never materialized like he believed they would," Hall said. Other employees at the top are being reviewed and it is possible either vice president of global marketing Paul Montesino or vice president of sales Rick Racey could continue with the company, Hall added.

"We need a management team that has the ability and knowledge base and the drive to move the company forward," Hall said. "I

think the leader at the top is critical."

Roseann Wentworth, formerly Evolucia's director of investor relations and corporate communications, left the company six weeks ago. Wentworth declined comment for this report. Last week, an employee posted on the company's Facebook page that quarterly conference calls would be canceled and the next filing would be on April 15.

Evolucia has not contacted CareerSource Suncoast, the region's job agency, about layoffs, according to a spokeswoman for the agency, and no layoff notices had been filed with the state as of Friday afternoon. After speaking with the Herald, Hall said he would make sure his human resources department will reach out to CareerSource to help employees who lost their job.

Will it survive?

At Evolucia's Lakewood Ranch headquarters on Friday, there were no signs of the once-promising LED lighting technology company.

No signs announce the company's name, and the doors were locked with nobody visible inside. No cars were in the parking lot, save for a DHL driver attempting to deliver a package at Evolucia, 7040 Professional Parkway E. The company's website, Evolucia.com, is stripped of information.

But Hall insists the company is not dead, and it is not leaving Lakewood Ranch. Its landlord Fred Starling is also an investor and partner, he said.

"He's behind the company," Hall said. "We're remaining there."

The company has to stay unless it wants to pay back money to Sarasota County.

Evolucia received a grant from Sarasota County Government when the business was called Sunovia Energy Technologies, providing for $100,000 in three installments to help with a lease of a county-owned building on Cattlemen Road. Evolucia had relocated there from Manatee County and changed its name in 2012.

The company moved again for a six-year lease at 7040 Professional Parkway, and the agreement with Sarasota County states that if Evolucia fails to maintain its business in Sarasota County through April 14, 2015, it will be required to repay the county $50,000, according to county documents. During the move, the company announced at the time that it would grow from 20 employees to adding 68 employees over three years.

Evolucia's global operations will be able to continue, according to the SEC filing Friday.

"The company presently has adequate staff to maintain its operations including the assembling and shipping of its products," according to the filing. "The company intends for the reduction in workforce to be temporary although it cannot provide any guarantees that these employees will be engaged again in the future, which such engagement will be based on need."

Financial issues

The company's stock plunged into a virtually worthless territory Friday, reaching a low of $0.0027 on NASDAQ before closing at $0.003. The stock, under symbol ILED, peaked at 3 cents over the last year.

Interiano was hired in 2012 when he claimed he could turn around the company after posting million-dollar losses each quarter. Evolucia's annual report has not been filed with the SEC yet, as the company asked federal regulators for more time to file.

The LED market is growing 50 to 100 percent per year, and Evolucia has failed to stay pace with the market, Hall said. In 2011, Evolucia had $3 million in revenue.

"If we had stayed pace with the market, we'd be somewhere between $9 million to $12 million right now," Hall said. "That hasn't happened. I think the team is addressing those issues of why it's not happening now."

Evolucia's name has appeared in court documents, too, tied to the May 2013 eviction of Interiano and his wife from a home at 7350 Periwinkle Drive in Sarasota. Sunovia Energy Technologies and Evolucia were also listed as defendants on the eviction. Interiano did not return requests for comment by deadline Friday.

Evolucia's headquarters have remained a work in progress, as well, including a promised state-of-the-art light testing lab. Leaders Electronics of Taiwan has invested millions of dollars into the facility, and Hall said that Evolucia is talking to Leaders to complete "some of those things that have started but never brought to fruition."

Evolucia announced in February it was awarded a patent for a special LED light that uses multiple mounting angles to aim light at a targeted area and continues to win awards for its technology.

A year before his eviction, Interiano released a year-in-review of the company and his performance, which included forming Evolucia Australia to serve Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Rim, and closed on more than $20 million in contracts for Evolucia products, which included a $11 million deal for European rights with a Polish company.

In September, Evolucia also announced a partnership with one of the company's investors Mariano Rivera, for a special LED-embedded baseball that honored the retired New York Yankee pitcher's career and former Boston Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez was also an investor in the company.

The company lost $3.4 million in the third quarter of 2013, according to SEC filings.

Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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