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Tech-centric unconference contributes to progress for Tampa Bay as next tech hub






BarCamp Tampa Bay is the unconference to top all tech conferences. 

That’s why hundreds of tech enthusiasts gathered at the University of South Florida College of Business on October 1 for the 9th annual BarCamp to learn about emerging entrepreneurial ventures and the latest technology innovations.

Why is it an “unconference,” you ask? Well, other than being set aside as a day to gather, BarCamp Tampa Bay starts out completely unscripted. The schedule is filled up by attendees first thing in the morning as people gather and start considering options. 

What may sound like a chaotic situation is actually a unique opportunity for programmers, developers, entrepreneurs, web designers, marketers and freelancers to share their industry knowledge about a tech-related topic, project or idea in an innovative, flexible environment.

So nearly 800 people show up on a Saturday for BarCamp’s grassroots workshops, panels and sessions with topics ranging from how to do user research like Google and how to reach “those darn millennials” to connecting rain to the internet and helping geeks find love.

BarCamp Tampa Bay is a “great way for people to learn about tech and it costs them absolutely nothing to be here,” says Joy Randels, board member of TechNova, a volunteer-run nonprofit organization that hosts BarCamp and Ignite Tampa Bay.

“Pretty much any kind of tech education that you want to get, you can get at almost any level at BarCamp,” says Randels. “We have everything from 8- to 9-year-olds speaking who are coders today doing development to people who have two Masters degrees and PhDs, talking about everything from software development to robotics to social media.”

There was no shortage of tech-based topics during the  recent sessions, with each one providing a wealth of knowledge for either the seasoned IT professional or someone who is trying to get a better grasp of all the recent technological developments.

Tampa Bay’s potential to grow as a tech community

Local business leaders often say that Tampa Bay is becoming the next big tech hub. Many also emphasize the importance of strengthening the region’s tech scene by embracing technological innovations that further the region’s momentum and create more tech opportunities.

Tampa Bay has to continue building products that solve a problem, says Ken Evans, a serial entrepreneur and TechNova board member.

“Tampa Bay is slowly, but surely making progress. We need to focus on building products,” says Evans. “That's why BarCamp is so important because it's based on the people who are actually building new things.”

According to Randels, over 100 startups have been formed because of BarCamp’s networking and recruitment opportunities. Companies of all sizes used BarCamp’s hashtag of #BCTPA on Twitter to announce that they are hiring and interviewing people at the unconference.

BarCamp volunteers are proud to be connecting people to tech opportunities in the Tampa Bay area and helping make the region’s entrepreneurship ecosystem “a reality for the next generation of entrepreneurs,” says Randels.

Is Tampa Bay the next Silicon Valley?

Events like Gasparilla Interactive Festival and organizations like Tampa Bay WaVE are helping to foster community among the region’s tech companies. Add in local developments, such as Tampa International Airport getting nonstop flights to San Francisco earlier this year, and Tampa Bay’s potential to become the next global tech hub outside of Silicon Valley is on many entrepreneurs’ minds.

Tampa Bay native, software engineer and tech entrepreneur Kevin Mircovich recently moved from Silicon Valley back to Tampa. Mircovich worked for a Silicon Valley-based software company called EasyPost before moving back to Tampa to work for Bank of the Ozarks.

Mircovich has attended BarCamp in the past and also attended this year’s unconference.

“I feel like I'm in Silicon Valley now,” says Mircovich. “BarCamp has a lot of engagement, talking and people coming out from the tech community.”

Mircovich explains that he thinks Tampa Bay doesn’t need to be a Silicon Valley clone.

“We're very unique. I'm not crazy about Tampa Bay being a Silicon Valley’’ because among the advantages here “is being a really open and collaborative community,” says Mircovich. “It's tight-knit. Tampa Bay is a large region, but it's also a small community. I like the way the Tampa Bay tech community is now. As far as growth, events like BarCamp help build up the community.”

Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial and tech scene moving forward

While Tampa Bay has made a lot of progress in becoming a stronger entrepreneurial community that embraces the latest innovations, some say that the region has to unlock more of its potential.

“For an area to really thrive as an entrepreneurial ecosystem, you have to be building products. It's not about the products that people are buying,” says Evans. “Tampa Bay is a great area for consuming technology products, but not necessarily making technology products. That's what makes the difference between a tech hub and a city.”

Evans also emphasizes that the Tampa Bay region has to continue reaching new milestones to keep moving forward.

“Growing a tech ecosystem is a marathon, not a sprint,” says Evans. “It's not about hitting a home run. It's about hitting a lot of singles and getting on base. It's about making sure that if entrepreneurs have a good idea, that they don't just sit on it and never tell anybody.”

Technology is an essential building block for growing innovative, influential cities. Tampa Bay has to embrace technology if it truly wants to be a tech hub, says Randels.

“Tech is the future for everyone, not just here. If we choose not to embrace tech and we choose to only focus on tourism, we'll lose. We'll be laggards,” says Randels. “The future of everything we do has technology involved in it.”

Read more articles by Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy.

Zebrina Edgerton-Maloy is a freelance multimedia journalist based in Tampa. She earned her BA in Journalism from Washington and Lee University in May 2016. Zebrina is also a social media specialist and content writer for startup companies and small businesses. She helps build their brand through social media management and creates their brand story through content writing. She is constantly motivated by Tampa Bay's entrepreneurial spirit. Zebrina is dedicated to share entrepreneurs' stories of grit, passion and innovation. Learn more at her website and follow her on Instagram or Twitter @zebrinaemaloy.
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