In Tampa, Florida Chamber's inaugural tech summit showcases state of innovation

In recent years, the Tampa Bay region, and Water Street Tampa in particular, have built a national reputation for a thriving tech industry. 

Against that backdrop, Water Street was the venue of choice for the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural Florida Technology and Innovation Solution Summit, a gathering of leading-edge thinkers and industry visionaries in late August. 

“The fact that our first ever Florida Technology and Innovation Summit is sold-out, right here in Tampa, is important for the world to see,” Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson says at the event. “We tend to think regionally, but the summit put Florida on the global map as a state of innovation.”

The day-long program showcased the Sunshine State as a state of innovation, with a slate of speakers sharing advances in education, defense, biomedical, energy, artificial intelligence, robotics, healthcare and information technology.  

“Florida already has the fourth most technology jobs in the United States and our goal is to be number three by 2030,” Wilson notes at the event. “When you look at research and development, when you look at technology transfer, when you look at the over 400,000 technology jobs that we have in Florida, we have a lot going on already and most people don’t know what we are already doing. “

The summit was inspired by the Chamber’s strategic plan, “Florida 2030: The Blueprint to Secure Florida’s Future,” a document that projects a population of over 26 million and one of the most diverse populations in the world. The plan defines goals and strategies to guide public, private and civic partners as they work together to shape Florida’s economic future. Based on three years of research and input from more than 10,000 Floridians, the plan outlines a path for Florida into a top 10 global economy. 

The plan is organized around six pillars and three key aspects of Florida’s future economy. Global competitiveness relies on talent supply and education, along with innovation and economic development. The building blocks for Prosperity and high-paying jobs are infrastructure and growth leadership and business climate and competitiveness. Finally, vibrant and resilient communities focus on civic and governance systems as well as quality of life and quality places. Of those areas, the summit took a detailed look at global competitiveness.  

The keynote speaker was Dr. Ken Ford, the founder & CEO of the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition (IHMC), a Pensacola-based research institute focused on technologies that advance human capabilities. 

During his presentation, Ford shared videos documenting the progression of humanoid robots, eliciting laughter and awe from attendees, and reimagined the traditional understanding of artificial intelligence (AI) technology. 

“A better way to think of AI is ‘Amplified Intelligence,’” he says. “It’s not about replacing human cognition; it’s about extending it.” 

With a growing number of tech titans establishing roots in Florida from around the world, Tampa Bay is at the forefront of the conversation. Brad Chedister of DEFENSEWERX in Ybor City shared examples of federal opportunities for technology, business and academic institutions. Area colleges and universities are lauded for their cutting-edge research and tech developments. The lineup of tech experts and education leaders discuss blockchain tech, AI and the overall role of cultivation of innovation. 

Archie Collins, president and CEO of TECO discussed their net-zero vision for 2050. Since 2000, the energy giant has cut carbon emissions in half. As part of the effort to reach that goal, TECO is partnering with the University of South Florida to further research clean energy solutions. Collins also announced a $5 million TECO donation to the USF College of Engineering’s Clean Energy Research Center. 

Women also took center stage as leaders in the conversation. A panel discussion regarding innovation incubation featured Danielle Mousseau from Florida Power and Light Company, Lauren Slawsky Prager from Synapse and Lakshmi Shenoy from Embarc Collective. The panel spoke about creating a narrative around the innovation that exists already and fostering talent to create a density of opportunity.  

"Innovation is the result of an idea followed up by action,” Prager notes. “Innovators are all around us - in our businesses, our communities, and our families. When we give each other space to share ideas, try a new approach, and create new ventures, we support that culture of innovation that is transformative in unimaginable ways."

In addition to showcasing advances in programs, products and services, the summit also spoke to the cultivation of innovative work culture. In his presentation “The Great Resignation is Great,” Andrew Campbell, partner of Talent Transformation - Healthcare, Life Sciences & Public Sector at IBM, discussed pandemic impacts that have forced Florida's employers and talent to reimagine work. He boiled it down to three aspects that innovative employers must focus on.  

“Figure out what the plan is for hybrid work, focus on skills over degrees, and create an employee value proposition that defines why an employee would want to join your company,” Campbell says.

“In the 1300s the Renaissance followed the Black Plague, elevating people from poverty in part due to the shortage of workers,” Campbell adds. “How great would it be if the Great Resignation leads to a new renaissance, where innovation and ideas lift wages and standard of living for all? It’s an exciting time that is forcing all of us to up our game.”

For more information go to The Florida 2030 Blueprint
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Read more articles by Michele Smith.

Michele Smith is a writer based in Tampa since the ’90s. She has a degree in International Business & Fine Art from the University of Tampa and has contributed to numerous start-up ventures in the Tampa Bay area. Her writing is influenced by a local and global perspective. Topics of interest include arts leadership, business development, creativity and innovation and wellness. Michele is also the Executive Director of the nonprofit Tampa Arts Alliance.