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Here’s how the local tech scene blossomed when the Startup of the Year hit Tampa.




When Linda Olson started a meet-up group for tech entrepreneurs in Tampa Bay in the mid-2000s, it was almost unqualified as a local industry.

Olson from St. Petersburg, who worked for dot-com companies in New York and Boston, said it took months to find the founders of 10 other tech startups in the region. I didn’t expect Tampa Bay to have all of Boston’s ecosystem, but the gap here was much larger than I had imagined.

Less than 15 years after Olson founded the startup hub Tampa Bay Wave, these gaps disappeared. Tampa Bay start-ups are investing hundreds of millions of venture capitals both inside and outside the region. Companies in their own country are valued at billions of dollars and are known in the tech world as unicorns.

According to Olson, we are at this very important turning point and we will truly be one of the top tech startup hubs in the country.

It’s hard to deny the status of Tampa Bay’s tech startups, but it’s in the midst of a boom. It is difficult to quantify the boom and understand how the region got here.

Tampa will be a hot topic this weekend as it hosts the 9th Annual Startup of the Year Summit, a national conference and contest that connects startups and investors across the country. More than 20 Florida companies are in the semi-finals, including at least 17 from Tampa Bay’s mental health text service CopeNotes, sustainable water company WaterCube, and wellness-focused blockchain company RB Technologies.

If local businesses can succeed in this competition, it will mean everything to the Tampa Bay region, says Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of the Tampa Entrepreneurship and Startup Acceleration Hub Emberk Collective, which hosts the event. I did. As they grow, the whole community grows.

“Member Wall” introduces more than 100 startups working at Embarc Collective at the headquarters of the Startup Innovation Hub in downtown Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]Hot sector, large investment

Jorge Brea founded the Symphonic Distribution in the Wesley Chapel in 2006. A music distribution service company has raised $ 4 million primarily from local investors to launch a Series A funding round.

At the end of last year, Symphonic finished the Series B round for $ 37 million, mostly led by Philadelphia companies.

According to Blair, there are far more opportunities to succeed in Florida and Tampa technology than before. Indeed, more capital is in the spotlight.

How long? It’s hard to say. According to Olson, Tampa Bay Wave members have invested about $ 500 million since 2013, only one-third last year. But arguably there are far more inflows.

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Richard Munassi, Accelerator Managing Director of Tampa Bay Wave, isn’t sure if the $ 1 billion mark is too far away. To be honest, we may be there right now regarding our area. We may double or triple it. Many companies are raising money here, but some are very quiet.

Related: Meet 7 Tampa Bay businessmen to watch in 2022

One of the key investments comes from Jeff Vinik, owner of Tampa Bay Lightning, who donated $ 10 million to launch Embarc in 2018. Since then, Embarc has signed more than 120 members, with big and small tech companies officeing around Water Street, from Sparkman Wharf’s financial technology companies to cybersecurity giant ReliaQuest, who will move from Harbor Island to a new office tower this fall. Was opened. ..

Embarc Collective is Tampa’s 802 E Whiting St. It is in. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Looking at the notable hubs outside Silicon Valley, accessibility is important, Shenoy said. A lot of magic can happen when the builder and the technician are in close proximity to each other. This is a big step in creating that proximity, which is challenging in areas as large as us.

Related: Phase 1 of Water Street Tampa is almost complete. The contents of Phase 2 are as follows.

Having a cluster of startups in one place is a relatively new phenomenon of Tampa, said Brian Kornfeld, co-founder of the Tampa Innovation Hub Synapse, which hosts the fifth annual summit in February. ..

I just walked down Water Street today, walking from Emberk to Colombia for lunch, and visualized what it would look like a year later, Cornfeld said. Almost every day, I want to see what’s happening there, mostly for fun, but also for business purposes. As many of these offices open, the FOMO effect will be created.

Tampa has long had a solid cybersecurity industry, thanks to the presence of the MacDill Air Force Base, home of the United States Central Command and the US Special Operations Forces. Not only did this help spawn local cybersecurity startups, but it also encouraged national and international businesses such as Rapid7 and OPSWAT to relocate to the town. Part of it was fascinated by the talent pipeline from the University of South Florida’s cybersecurity program.

According to Cornfeld, iron sharpens the spirit of iron, building these businesses together and attracting like-minded entrepreneurs. It has contributed to the local growth of financial technology services or sectors adjacent to cybersecurity such as fintech, cryptocurrencies and blockchain.

This year, Tampa Bay Wave will launch a FinTech Accelerator Program at the Muma College of Business at USF. This program and other programs are backed by well-established organizations such as Greater St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation and Enterprise Florida, which did not spend much resources on Tampa’s startup scene 10 and a half years ago. Olson said.

Since 2019, at least three area tech companies have achieved a $ 1 billion unicorn rating, a coveted symbol of the success of breakout technology. Clearwater’s cybersecurity company KnowBe4, founded in 2010, went public last year and raised $ 175 million in an initial public offering. There was a Tampa blockchain company, Pocket Network, which exceeded $ 1 billion this year.

Related: Tampa Bay’s $ 1 Billion Year: 10 Blockbuster Transactions that Defined 2021

And then there’s ReliaQuest, which was founded in 1997 and received a $ 1 billion valuation only last year. The company has more than 700 employees in eight offices around the world. Founder and CEO Brian Murphy chairs the board of directors of Embarcs, and ReliaQuest is a presentation sponsor of the Startup of the Years.

According to Murphy, I absolutely believe I’m responsible and ReliaQuest is responsible for giving back. When going around Embarc and going around these 100+ founders taking their shots … they look at ReliaQuest and say it’s possible here, possible in Florida, possible in Tampa I hope.

Ryan Schneider, Executive Advisor of Embarc Collective, speaks with David Capece, CEO of CROOW at Embarc Collective on January 11th. CROOW, a labor collaboration platform startup, will participate in the annual Startup of the Year contest in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]The next stage of growth

Hosting the Startup of the Year in Tampa should move the startup scene forward in several ways, says Shenoy and Olson.

Entrepreneurs and innovators across the country can interact with Tampa entrepreneurs, leading to partnerships that have the potential to accelerate corporate growth. Venture investors across the country can observe and meet Tampa Bay companies there to build a network, not a contest of 100 finalists.

No matter where you are in the country, see the huge number of companies growing in Tampa Bay and want them to start putting Tampa Bay on the radar for future investment, Mr. Shenoy said.

Add Munassi: I wouldn’t be surprised if millions of dollars, if not tens of millions of dollars, are flowing into local startups for the Startup of the Year.

Related: At Tampa Bay, these “best jobs” pay equally anywhere in the United States

It’s not just the size of the investment that helps the Tampa Bay startup scene continue to grow, Olson said. The type and timing of their investment. She believes that the scene needs more early-stage capital, more angel investors, and completely different funds.

It will lead to the next benchmark in Tampa Bay’s growth, the next unicorn, the next IPO, and perhaps the global tech giant launching its own company.

The spillover effect from such a deal would be enormous, Cornfeld said. He pointed out that Silicon Valley’s private equity firm acquired Tampa’s software company ConnectWise in 2019. This instantly created a millionaire from at least 70 employee shareholders.

He said it’s 70 people who can risk themselves, partner with someone else who has monetized the deal, or potentially become an investor. They help create not only wealth, but also a cycle of sustainable wealth and sustainable economic growth in the region.

Munassi said what he sees now in Tampa is reminiscent of what he saw many years ago in Texas, where he was a South by Southwest advisory board. Tampa may not be Austin yet, he said, but it gets there.

Reflecting that, he said, politics was low. And that’s exactly what you can hope for at the end of the day for any ecosystem. All these players work together to drive and work towards a single goal.




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