Tampa Bay Wave: Accelerating growth in the tech ecosystem

Tampa Bay’s tech ecosystem is witnessing an unprecedented surge, attracting a wave of startups and corporations eager to anchor their companies in this rapidly growing hub. At the center of this ecosystem, a community of key players is propelling the region’s tech evolution.

For more than a decade, Tampa Bay Wave has been a trailblazer through its startup support network of seasoned mentors, investors and entrepreneurs. The 501(c)3 nonprofit organization’s impact is evident in the growth and success of the companies that have gone through its accelerator programs, where its alumni startups have raised over $860 million in cumulative funding, and the Wave team is expecting it to surpass the $1 billion mark in 2024.

Dive into the story of Tampa Bay Wave, a pioneer pushing the boundaries of innovation and shaping the future of tech in Florida.

The Beginnings

After searching for a startup founder support group, Linda Olson took matters into her own hands. In 2008, her quest for a peer network ignited an entrepreneurial spark to create Tampa Bay Wave. What began as a small group of passionate founders quickly evolved into a thriving community, fueled by key milestones. Wave was awarded a $1 million U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant in 2012, in partnership with the University of South Florida, to launch an accelerator program and venture center in downtown Tampa. These foundational steps paved the way for Wave to become a linchpin that nurtures and accelerates the growth of countless tech enterprises.

“What sets the Wave apart is that we’re focused on building, accelerating and intentionally making strategic connections for startup founders, mentors and investors,” says Olson. “If you want a tech startup to move to Tampa Bay, you have to make intentional connections to people, resources and opportunities to help founders see the value of the local startup community.”

The Wave reached another pivotal moment in 2018 after partnering with The Nielsen Foundation to launch the TechDiversity Accelerator Program, which led to a strategic ecosystem expansion to work with startups beyond Florida. This marked a paradigm shift, compelling the Wave and its team to think nationally while amplifying its commitment to diversity and inclusion. This was also the moment Dr. Richard Munassi became the Wave’s Accelerator Managing Director - a move that propelled the program to new heights of success and support, says Olson.

“Dr. Munassi has been an absolute pivotal part of Wave’s success the past few years,” says Olson. “He’s brought a tremendous amount of value to each and every cohort that he has led and supported.”

With Munassi’s leadership, Wave helps startups shorten long enterprise sales cycles, makes curated investor introductions, assists foreign founders in relocating to the United States, and more.

"Startups and their founders coming through the Wave have had significant growth and traction post-program,” says Munassi. “Whether it's helping to prepare companies to fundraise and introducing them to our large (500+ member) investor network, helping them to better understand how to navigate complex sales cycles, or helping them in a myriad of ways through our extensive network of mentors both regionally and nationally, the Tampa Bay Wave offers portfolio companies support that really help them to build, launch and grow their startups and change the world.”

Success Stories

Wave’s tried-and-true formula for amplifying entrepreneurial growth lies in its secret sauce to strategically connect founders to mentorship, investors and potent resources. Tampa Bay Wave's efforts to promote diversity in entrepreneurship include the Latin Tech Accelerator launched in 2023.Its renowned accelerator programs have nurtured ambitious startups and propelled them into market leaders. Wave’s roster of accelerator programs includes TechDiversity, CyberTech|X, FinTech|X, LatinTech, HealthTech|X and the Black & Latina TechWomen Xcelerator. Wave has a never-ending list of startup stories that showcase the transformative power the Wave has on Tampa Bay’s rapidly growing tech scene.

“The companies that come out of the Wave are saving people’s lives, helping people with their mortgage, supporting breastfeeding women… keeping us all safe and protected from cybersecurity attacks, protecting your personal banking info and so much more,” says Olson. 

Black-owned tech startup Kredit Academy (formerly known as Kiddie Kredit) is a financial literacy platform designed for teens and young adults to have better access to the knowledge and tools to build stronger credit. The Miami-based startup recently raised over $1 million in a pitch competition to expand the app’s impact further. Kredit Academy’s founder Evan Leaphart is an alumnus of the 2023 FinTech|X program.

Climate-conscious startup Kind Designs uses 3D-printing technology to print Living Seawalls that mimic coral reefs and mangroves. By using technology to help protect the environment, Kind Designs’ innovative solution has attracted top-tier investors like Mark Cuban and climate tech-focused venture capital firm Anthropocene Ventures, fueling rapid expansion and tripling production capacity. CEO Anya Freeman credits Wave for helping her and her team rapidly scale when she participated in the 2023 TechDiversity program.

“We're very grateful to have participated in the Tampa Bay Wave program and to be part of their community,” says Freeman. “Tampa Bay Wave made many essential connections for us which allowed us to scale quickly in Florida.”

St. Pete-based medtech company LunaJoy is a Y-combinator-backed company that raised $2.4 million in 2023. Founded by sisters-in-law Dr. Sipra Laddha and Dr. Shama Rathi, LunaJoy provides expert mental health services for women through therapy, psychiatry and coaching. LunaJoy is an alumnus of Wave’s 2022 TechDiversity Accelerator Program.

Wave’s 2023 TechDiversity program also fueled Tempest Droneworx, a software company that creates monitoring systems that connect drones, robots and rovers to satellites, buoys and static sensors. Founder Ty Audronis was inspired to start Tempest Droneworx after wildlife destroyed his northern California childhood home in 2018. Audronis realized that the wildfire could have been prevented with real-time, three-dimensional, multi-spectral mapping.

Tempest Droneworx co-founder Dana Abramovitz and founder Ty Audronis.“Tampa Bay Wave helped better prepare us to take on investment, not just through pitch practice, like most accelerators, but helped us understand things like the different types of investment vehicles, how to prepare a pro forma financial statement or the value of a good lawyer,” says co-founder and Chief Operating Officer Dana Abramovitz. “From our experience with Tampa Bay Wave, we added two new advisory board members from connections we made in the program, which strengthens our credibility with investors and expands our reach to customers, partners and investors.”

Award-winning startup Immertec creates immersive healthcare solutions designed to empower healthcare workers with surgical training using virtual reality and immersive 2D. Immertec ended 2023 with a bang after being awarded $1.6 million from the National Institute of Health for a two-year study that is designed to improve medical training access in rural areas.

Future Frontiers: Wave’s Vision for Ecosystem Growth

With a proven track record of building, launching and growing startups, Wave’s sights are set on even bolder ambitions to position the region to become the undisputed incubator for high-growth, high-potential startups in the United States. This vision had a powerful boost in November 2023 after the Wave was awarded a $400,000 grant from EDA’s prestigious “Build to Scale” program to jumpstart the Tampa Bay Innovation Seed Fund. The $10 million seed fund marks a pivotal step in Wave’s evolution, where it can now participate in funding rounds of promising companies and ensures that the best startups stay rooted in Tampa Bay.

The fund also feeds back into the overall ecosystem as Wave collaborates with partners like Tampa Bay Ventures, DeepWork Capital and Florida Funders to begin making investments.

“The Tampa Bay Innovation Seed Fund positions the Wave to become the best source of early-stage investor deal flows in the Southeast United States,” says Olson. “If the next Google walks through our accelerator program, investing in world-class startups would go a long way to give back to Tampa Bay’s ecosystem. Our collaborative fund will help close the capital gap here in Tampa Bay.”

After nearly 16 years of supporting tech startup founders, Olson’s passion for giving people an opportunity to “build a business, be in charge of their financial future and pursue career paths they might not have otherwise had access to” is stronger than ever. 

“Our big vision is for the majority of high-quality startups to come from our backyard in Tampa Bay, so we’re continuously thinking of ways to support startups more deeply and grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem, both locally and nationwide,” says Olson. “We’re driven to continue expanding our accelerator programs with top-of-the-line assets and resources so anyone can bring their startup dream to life.”

For more information on Tampa Bay Wave and its accelerator programs, go to Tampa Bay Wave
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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.