What Tampa Bay needs to grow its innovation economy • St Pete Catalyst

A growing talent pool and a larger capital base have made the Tampa Bay area a better place for tech startups.

But the region still has a way to go to reach its full potential, said Linda Olson, president and CEO of Tampa Bay Wave, a nonprofit that serves and hosts growing businesses.

“If we really want to be one of those poles that really compete nationally for talent and capital, we have to think bigger. Much bigger, in terms of the hundreds of millions of dollars going to startups each year. I don’t think we’re even near that point right now, ”Olson said at an innovation roundtable in Florida.

About 200 people attended the conference, one of the first local events of Global Entrepreneurship Week, an international celebration of start-ups and their founders.

Business and civic leaders have strived to nurture startups, especially those in the tech sector, in the Tampa Bay area, as they bring in highly skilled, well-paying jobs that help grow the business. local economy.

Funding for startups has improved dramatically in recent years, said Marc Blumenthal, partner of Florida Funders, a hybrid of a venture capital fund and crowdfunding platform. He is also a co-founder of Synapse, an organization formed to help entrepreneurs and investors make connections.

“There was a time when it was difficult to find capital,” said Blumenthal. “Now there is no limit on how much capital is here for a good business … There is no reason today that a deal cannot be funded in Florida and we even have found that some of the money coming from outside Florida no longer requires them to leave. “

He cited two Florida donor-backed companies – Homee, a Tampa company with an on-demand property maintenance app, and Peerfit, a digital health company in Tampa – who said no to investors who wanted as companies move, “and the money has come somehow.”

Florida Funders have done an incredible job, Olson said, and other similar groups have increased their financial support for startups. But only a fraction of the region’s accredited investors – someone who is financially sophisticated, has high net worth, and can deal with securities not registered with financial authorities – support local businesses.

“If you look at I-4 from Tampa to Orlando, there are 128,000 households that meet this criteria and less than 100 are participating in the ecosystem as investors,” said Olson. “So there is room for improvement. “

She said she was not advocating throwing money at bad companies.

“We need to expand the market. We want to have more startups worthy of capital and we want more capital to flow, because when the region gets to the point where we can talk about Tampa Bay as being a place where hundreds of millions of dollars are invested in start-ups. , then you’re going to experience exponential growth in terms of attracting more capital, talent, and startups. “

Workers attracted to startups look for opportunities beyond a single company, said Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, the Jeff Vinik-backed initiative to uplift the startup community.

“The more we can create the density of opportunity, not only can we attract people here, but we are able to retain people because they know they don’t have to stay with an organization for the duration of their time. career, ”Shenoy mentioned. “They know they can spend a few years with one organization and then move to another organization that is still in the same region. The key is whether we have enough opportunity density to keep people here. “

The region has been more successful in retaining young people after graduation from college and attracting others with the necessary skills, said Michelle Bauer, COO of the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp.

“20 years ago people were eager to leave,” she said. “Nothing was happening here, there was no city center, there was no atmosphere, there was no zipper. Today, we have become an importer of talent from other markets.

One of the panelists, Tammy Charles, is a young professional who has remained in the region. Charles, an entrepreneur and recent University of Tampa graduate, recognized the region’s collaborative culture.

“We have something so powerful, so unique,” ​​Charles said. “I saw myself growing in my career, thanks to the mentors, the people who invested in me, and because of that, I stayed. I have such a good network that I will not let go.

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