Believe it! UrbanTech accelerator program attracts global attention for Tampa

Tampa has a shot at becoming the main technology hub for the southeastern United States, predicts Andrew Ackerman, Managing Director of Dreamit, a top-10 ranked global accelerator and venture capital firm in New York City. 

“When you look at the whole Southeast, ...  What is the tech hub?” asks Ackerman, who visited the Tampa Bay Area in June to recruit businesses for Dreamit’s new UrbanTech accelerator program. “There is no undisputed leader. Tampa really has the opportunity to be that leader.”

Fueling his analysis are plans by Strategic Property Partners to build a $3 billion, 53-acre development on downtown's southern waterfront over the next 10 years. SPP, a joint venture of Cascade Investment LLC, and Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, creates a unique opportunity to build in state-of-the-art technology from the ground up. That smart-city technology relies on sensors and data to enhance services.

“The idea that Jeff Vinik’s organization, SPP, is behind this thing, and they’re going to open up their network of developers to be introduced to the startups, that’s a big deal,” Ackerman says.

Ackerman believes SPP’s project is one of the largest developments in North America. “Clearly, it’s the biggest privately led project,” he says.

For a business development program like Dreamit that wants to focus on urban technology, or technology that facilitates the rebuilding of cities, Tampa is a natural match. “Look at all those cranes out there. That’s why Tampa,” he says.

For a business development program like Dreamit that wants to focus on urban technology, or technology that facilitates the rebuilding of cities, Tampa is a natural match. “Look at all those cranes out there. That’s why Tampa.”
Dreamit initally became interested in Tampa through one of its program alumni, long-time Gainesville resident Bharani Rajakumar, who urges Florida to retain its own talent by keeping “up and coming” entrepreneurs, he says. 

Rajakumar connected with Vinik, who had the vision to grow Tampa. “Bharani introduced Jeff’s organization to us and the rest is history,” Ackerman says.

“Hopefully this is the beginning of a much bigger thing,” he adds, calling the endeavor a “long-term play.”

Ackerman made his remarks in a recent interview with 83 Degrees Media.

Dreamit announced in May it was partnering with Vinik in an UrbanTech accelerator program starting in September. It will work for 14 weeks with companies who have technology solutions in real estate, city infrastructure and urban living. There is no cost to participate; Dreamit will have the opportunity to profit through an investment in the company.

Despite afternoon rains that slowed traffic, Dreamit drew some 120 to The Attic Cafe in downtown Tampa for its first in-person meeting here about its new UrbanTech accelerator program. Ackerman, who gave an overview of the program June 14, had been expecting 10 or 20. “It was a pleasant surprise,” he says. “It was pretty short notice.”

Exploring opportunities in Tampa

Ackerman spent “two very full days” in Tampa recruiting businesses and touring. Tampa impressed him as “a city on the rise,” he says. “Very literally as well as metaphorically speaking.”

“In general, everyone I met with was warm and open-armed,” he adds. “There could have been some defensiveness.”

The Urban Tech Meetup, hosted by Tampa Bay WaVE downtown, drew a number of people interested in learning about or applying to the program. Tom Coffin of SimplyReliableAmong them was Tom Coffin, President and CEO of the St. Petersburg-based SimplyReliable, which helps subcontractors be more efficient. 

Coffin says his company is planning to apply. “The most important thing for us is finding the right funding partner. We’re looking for a funding partner that can provide mentoring, not just money,” he explains.

He finds the program exciting for Tampa Bay. “It’s started to bring an interest in ... SAS [software as a service] companies. It’s going to bring talent to Tampa Bay, more people writing code,” he asserts.

Maurice Allen, President and CEO of Allen’s Entertainment Group, was exploring the possibilities. “I don’t know if it applies to my business,” he said afterward.

As a Tampa native, he was hopeful the program would include Tampa companies. 

“I thought the event was excellent. The energy in the room was very high,” he says, “and people were very engaged with the possibility of making Tampa a better community, which is my heartbeat.”

Giant market for urban tech

Marc Blumenthal, CEO of Florida Funders, a company that connects early-stage Florida businesses with accredited investors, says the Tampa Bay communities are “giant markets” for urban technology.

“It’s exciting to see somebody that’s laser-beam focused on something that we know can work,” he says.

Others in the group represented business networks, like Jack Ross, Executive Director of the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, a business development organization. 

“We have a broad network of contacts in Israel. Among those are accelerators and incubators,” he says. “... If there’s a synergy, if there’s a desire, it would be our hope to be able to complement their effort.”

Dreamit typically works with companies 2- to 3-years-old that have 12 to 200 plus customers, seven to 15 employees and their own office. “We’re still interested in the early-stage guys. More often than not, we play the long game,” he says.

Companies have until June 23 to sign up for Dreamit's UrbanTech accelerator program. Eight to 10 companies will be chosen to participate. 

Ackerman didn’t disclose the number of applicants so far, but says it was “tracking pretty nicely” for the first-time venture, just slightly under another more established health program.

Tampa businesses won’t be given preferential treatment. “I don’t grade on a curve. It’s the same process,” he says. “I don’t care where you’re located.”

Dreamit has been looking at the urban tech area for awhile. “It is ready by our criteria. It’s going to be some work,” Ackerman says.

Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. 
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