When ‘the beginning of the year’ hits Tampan, here’s how the local tech scene blossomed

When Linda Olsen started a technology entrepreneurs’ conference in Tampa Bay in the mid-2000s, she was not qualified for the domestic industry.

“It took me months to find 10 other tech startups in the region,” said Olson, a native of St. Petersburg who worked for dot com in New York and Boston. “I did not expect everything that Tampa Bay Boston would have ecologically, let’s say, but the gaps here are bigger than I expected.”

These gaps have disappeared in less than 15 years since Olson founded the beginner Tampa Bay Wave. Tampa Bay startups are attracting hundreds of millions of Venture Capital investments both inside and outside the region. Domestic companies are earning billions of dollars, making them the unicorn in the technology world.

“We are now at this critical juncture in terms of being one of the top technology startups in the country,” Olson said.

Tampa Bay’s technological breakthrough It is hard to imagine that the landscape is in the middle of nowhere. It is even more difficult to measure that boom and find out how the region got here.

This weekend will be the topic of much discussion as Tampa organizes the Ninth Beginning of the Year, a National Conference and a Competition for Beginners and Investors. More than two dozen Florida companies, including at least 17 of Tampa Bay, are semi-finalists – Mental Health Writing Cop Notes, Sustainable Water Company WaterCube, blockchain-based company Arbi Technology and more.

“If a local company can do well in this competition, that means everything to the Tampa Bay region,” said Lakshmi Shenoi, CEO of Tampa Enterprise and Immediate Center, which hosts the event. Because as they grow, the whole community grows.

“Member Wall” features more than 100 beginners who have worked at Embarc Collective, headquartered at a startup center in downtown Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Hot Sectors, Large Investments

George Bree founded Symphonic Distribution at Wesley Chapel in 2006. The music distribution service company took a series of fundraising rounds until 2017, mostly with $ 4 million from local investors.

At the end of last year, Symphonic closed the S Series B round with $ 37 million – mostly run by a Philadelphia company.

“There is a greater chance of technological success in Florida and Tampa than ever before. “Obviously, a lot more capital is being focused on.”

How much more? Hard to say. Tampa Bay Wave members have invested $ 500 million since 2013, Olson said, the third of which came last year alone. But there is definitely more going on.

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“I do not know if the billion-dollar mark is too far,” said Richard Munasi, managing director of Tampa Bay Wave. “In fact, we can be there right now with regard to our territory. We can double or triple it. There are many companies here that raise money, some very, very quietly. ”

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One of the key investments came from Jeff Vinnik, owner of Tampa Bay Lightning. Donates $ 10 million to launch Embarc in 2018. Two years later, the association opened a $ 3.5 billion Water Street Tampa development project for technology entrepreneurs. Since then, Embark has signed more than 120 members, and technology companies, large and small, have opened offices from financial technology companies in Sparkman Warf to cyber security giant Relia Quest. .

Embarc Collective is located at 802 E Whiteing Center in Tampa.
Embarc Collective is located at 802 E Whiteing Center in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“If you look at any famous center other than Silicon Valley, the key is close,” Shenoy said. “A lot of magic can happen when builders and technologists get close to each other.

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Brian Cornfeld, founder of the Tampa Innovation Hub Synaps, which will host its 5th Annual Conference in February, said that having a group of beginners in one place is a relatively new phenomenon in Tampa.

“Today, as I traveled from Ambark to Colombia for lunch, I went to Water Street, and I saw what it looked like a year later,” says Cornfield. “I want to take that walk almost every day, just for fun, but for business purposes and to see what’s going on there. When most offices open, FOMO is affected.

The US Central Command and the US Special Operations Command Post McDill Air Force Bass have a long history of cyber security industry in Tampa. That not only led to the creation of domestic cyber security initiatives, but also to national and international companies such as Rapid7 and OPSWAT, some of which were partially deceived by the talent pipeline from the University of South Florida cyber security program.

According to Cornfeld, “iron is a metaphor that unites these businesses and attracts like-minded entrepreneurs.” That has contributed to the environmental growth of neighboring cyber security sectors such as Financial Tech Services, or Fintech, and Crypto and Blockchain.

This year, the Tampa Bay Wave will begin its Fintech Tech program with the Muma Business College at USF. The program and others with the support of the Greater St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation and Enterprise Florida – long-established entities have not spent much of their resources on the Tampa startup for a decade. Halfway, Olsen said.

Since 2019, at least three local technology companies have hit $ 1 billion worth of Unicorn, indicating the desired technological success. A.D. Foundwater was launched in 2010 by Clearwater Cyber ​​Security Company Nobe 4, which was launched last year and raised $ 175 million in public donations. Tampa blockchain company Pocket Network hit the $ 1 billion mark this year.

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And so on. Founded in 1997, ReliaQuest is worth $ 1 billion last year alone. The company has more than 700 employees in eight offices worldwide. Founder and CEO Brian Murphy is the chairman of Embarc’s Board of Directors, and ReliaQuest is the sponsor of the year.

“I absolutely believe I have a responsibility, and ReliaQuest has a responsibility to deliver,” Murphy said. “When you walk around Embarc and meet the 100-plus founders who take the shot … I hope you look at ReliaQuest and say it’s possible here, in Florida, in Tampa.”

Ryan Schneider, Consultant of Embarc Collective, talks with David Caps, CEO of CROOW, on January 11 at Embarc Collective.  CROOW, the start of a trade union forum, competes in the annual competition in Tampa.
Ryan Schneider, Consultant of Embarc Collective, talks with David Caps, CEO of CROOW, on January 11 at Embarc Collective. CROOW, the start of a trade union forum, competes in the annual competition in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Next stages of development

In Tampa, hosting the start of the year should push the start of the show in a few ways, say Shenoy and Olson.

Entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs across the country are joining forces with their counterparts in Tampa, which could create partnerships that can accelerate the growth of companies. Venture investors from across the country will meet not only the 100 finalists but also Tampa Bay companies.

“Wherever you are in the country, I want you to see the huge companies that are growing in Tampa Bay and to put Tampa Bay on the radar for future investments,” he said.

Munasi added: “I would not be surprised if there were millions of dollars invested in regional startups at the beginning of the year, or tens of millions of dollars.

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“The size of the Tampa Bay startup is not the only investment that will keep the show growing,” Olson said. It is the type and timing of those investments. The show goes on to say, “She believes she needs a lot of capital, a lot of angelic investors, a lot of special funds – that is probably the main ingredient that will take us back to where we never looked back.”

That will lead to the next milestone in Tampa Bay’s growth – the next Unicorn, the next IPO, and perhaps the world’s largest technology giant.

According to Cornfield, the impact of such an agreement is huge. He was the founder of Silicon Valley Private Justice. In 2019, Tampa Software Company announced the acquisition of Connecticut, which has made at least 70 employees shareholders fast.

“This is a group of 70 people who could pose a threat to themselves, join a partner in the deal, or become an investor themselves,” he said. “These factors not only create wealth but also contribute to the region’s sustainable wealth and sustainable economic growth.

What Munasi is now seeing in Tampa is reminiscent of what he saw in Texas years ago, serving on the Southwest Advisory Board. Tampa may not be Austin yet, but it is getting there.

“We are reflecting on that, but with a little politics,” he said. “And at the end of the day, that’s what you want for any ecosystem. All these players are working together, driving towards a single goal, and working. ”

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