The Tampa Bay Area's growing innovation culture may not be as well known as those in some other cities, but it has the talent, ideas and raw materials to succeed like none other, says Tampa Bay Lightning Owner Jeff Vinik.
“It’s up to us in this community to work together...to really achieve that vision,” he says. “We are at the tip of the iceberg, but we have all the potential of the world.”
Vinik spoke at a community gathering organized by the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator
(FIBA), which drew some 300 to Tampa’s Bryan Glazer Family JCC June 22.
A part owner of Strategic Property Partners, Vinik has been doing his part to get the word out about Tampa Bay’s attractive lifestyle, warm winters, affordable pricing and business development opportunities.
“I love living here,” he told the group. “The quality of life is superb.”
Vinik has been shining the spotlight on Tampa Bay with his hockey team and SPP’s $3 billion, 10-year development plan for 53 acres on downtown Tampa’s waterfront, which can be showcased during the 2021 Super Bowl.
Connecting Tampa Bay
“We can showcase what’s going on downtown and what’s going on in this community as a whole,” he says.
Additionally, the New York City-based business development program, Dreamit, is partnering with Vinik in its first-ever UrbanTech accelerator program, which is being held in Tampa Bay. The program, which starts in September, will work with some eight to 10 companies offering technological solutions for real estate, city infrastructure and urban living.
“We want to multiply that by four next year and another four the year after,” he says.
With his hockey and real estate endeavors “in great shape,” Vinik says he has time for the innovation startup community that can have an impact, from Tampa Bay to Orlando.
There should no excuses for avoiding transportation issues and how innovation can be part of the solutions, he says. People need multiple modes of transportation to get to jobs, the supermarket and the doctors.
“The kids who are graduating from USF and UF and other schools around here, they don’t want to leave,” he continues. “Sometimes they can’t find the job opportunities.”
Tampa Bay needs to keep its “best and brightest people,” he asserts.
Vinik had praise for the startup community. “You know what else is a secret here? There are a lot of startup companies,” Vinik told the gathering. “I can’t tell you how many great ideas that we see. It is hard to be discerning.”
He suggested a master list, with startup companies. capital providers, potential customers, mentors, lawyers, accountants and medical doctors. “We’re loaded with successful retirees that are willing to help. We need to list them,” he says.
One of the first steps is organizing on a regional basis. “Hopefully we’ll get underway in not too long,” he says.
During a panel discussion Moez Limayem, dean of the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business
, urged the community to agree upon a brand. “We have to learn how to tell our stories. ... Innovation (and entrepreneurship) is a team sport,” he says. “It’s like clapping. You cannot clap with one hand.”
Limayem also made a point of mentioning he has lived with his family on four continents. “Tampa is by far the best place we’ve ever been to,” he asserts. “We’re going to stay.”
Innovation Fusion at FIBA
The event was called Innovation Fusion, A FIBA Collaborative Exchange, and it drew community leaders to speak, participate in a panel discussion, listen, and network. Among them were Tampa Police Chief Eric Ward, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman, Mike Bisk, CEO of Bisk Education; Dave Henderson, an investor with Henderson Family Office; Lisa Sanders, representing the U.S. Special Operations Command; and Marc Blumenthal, CEO of Florida Funders.
The program included presentations by eight innovative Israeli businesses who have gone through FIBA’s business development program, but who will continue to work with the organization for two years. The businesses represent Israeli innovation in a variety of fields involving the beverage industry, fitness, agriculture, gamma radiation, drones, cybersecurity, the help desk and information technology.
David Sachs, Co-Founder and CEO of the Israeli firm Tomobox
, used the occasion to announce his company is opening its U.S. headquarters in Tampa. Asked afterwards why the company chose Tampa, he says, “Our markets are service-oriented call centers. Tampa is the capital of call centers. We believe the call center can use our technology.”
Tomobox relies on artificial intelligence to quickly resolve issues and assist with upselling.
After the program, FIBA Executive Director Jack Ross said the “very ecclectic audience” represented what FIBA does, which is business development and community engagement. “It creates a synergy,” he says.
FIBA’s goal is to help Israeli businesses adjust to U.S. culture. “Our name is a bit of a misnomer,” he adds. “We’re not a traditional early state startup accelerator.”