Brent Britton: Tampa's Social Media Think Tank / Entrepreneurial Guru

He blogs, he tweets, he's LinkedIn. He'll gladly be your friend on Facebook, and if you are an entrepreneur, especially in the high-tech world, you're going to want to know Brent Britton.

It's no surprise that Britton shows up to an interview for 83 Degrees with his iPhone firmly pressed against his ear, index finger in the air apologetically motioning, "I'll just be another moment."

Finally taking a seat, it's clear Britton has a difficult time sitting still. Like a 9-year-old asked to sit for dinner while his buddies are playing kickball in the street, he knows there's good stuff happening outside his door and he wants to be part of it.  

Britton's a busy corporate attorney juggling appointments, phone calls, meetings and public appearances.  He thrives in the thick of it heading up the Emerging Business and Technology Practice group at GrayRobinson, P.A.

Britton checks his phone, "Sorry, it's the new etiquette! You constantly look at your phone even when in a conversation with somebody else," he laughs and apologizes as he slips the phone into his shirt pocket offering his undivided attention.

A self-proclaimed product of the Sesame Street generation, Britton says he was very media-exposed growing up. "You learn a lot from TV as a kid, you really do."

The first hint that Britton might have something a little more special than the average kid came in the eighth-grade.  The principal at his Bangor, ME middle school let him in on a little secret.  Britton was not just smart.  The principal said his standardized test scores were "through the roof."  

"It's funny because no one had ever told me that I was smart before, and it's amazing what that can do for you."  Britton recalls, "It changes your life, you suddenly realize you can do stuff!"

That new sense of confidence, and a long list of accomplishments later, makes Britton arguably the most sought after one-man think tank for entrepreneurs across Central Florida.  

A born story teller, Britton is funny, witty and rarely at a loss for words.  At 44, he still possesses boyish good-looks and a quick, friendly smile. People seem to genuinely like him, trust him and believe he may just hold the secret to their success. As a widely sought after speaker, this multidimensional software engineer turned lawyer routinely packs meeting rooms with those eager to hear his message.

Britton is the only graduate of the prestigious MIT Media Lab to become a lawyer.  He had begun hearing a lot of discussion about intellectual property while at the Media Lab.  Frustrated because he didn't know enough about the law to actively and intelligently participate in the discussion, Britton had a thirst to learn.

"There are tons of things you will never be able to learn in your lifetime.  You can let them frustrate you or you can go and learn about them. This intellectual property thing seemed to be in need of a bridge builder because the sides weren't communicating," says Britton.

Dotting And Comming

After obtaining his degree from the Boston University School of Law, Britton moved to San Francisco, where he co-founded one of the first dot-com law firms in 1997 focusing on intellectual property law.  

Before long, Britton's firm, Britton Silberman and Cervantez, LLP, became one of the most sought after dot com firms in the late '90s and so began his experience with entrepreneurship.  In 2000, a prominent New York City law firm acquired Britton's firm.  He moved with the practice, met his wife there, who happened to be a Tampa native, had a baby and began to feel the pull of a more balanced life.  Six years ago the family packed up and moved to Tampa.

"We came here for family, but we wouldn't have stayed here if Tampa didn't have enough to offer," Britton admits.

"Every single day someone calls me or comes into my office and says 'I have a great idea for a product or a company, what do I do next?'. We need to educate our entrepreneurs."  

In fact, Britton believes education is the key.  He started the Emerging Companies Network with the Tampa Bay Technology Forum to teach start-up business basics.  But the academy could not sustain itself as an educational tool without proper funding, so it evolved into an entrepreneurial networking group.

"What a shame it would be if a smart person with a good idea failed to execute on that idea, simply because he or she didn't have access to the basic building blocks of entrepreneurship,'' he says. "It really does take a village and we should all pitch in and try to help these people become successful."

Reinventing Best, Brightest

Britton had been accustomed to a very high-tech practice with lots of entrepreneurs and says he's been pleasantly surprised to find that technology and entrepreneurship are "both thick on the ground here in Tampa."

In fact, Britton believes this is the dawn of the entrepreneurial age as so many smart, talented people are losing their jobs and deciding to take a shot at starting their own businesses.

"I think there's a much invigorated expectation for what entrepreneurship can do to save the country, to pull us out of economic turmoil,"  he explains. "You don't need an office anymore, you need a laptop.  You can be a successful company today for a few dollars out the door and just a dedication of time."

Britton believes Tampa Bay is the perfect place to start. It's certainly been perfect for him.

"I live in South Tampa.  I'm five minutes from my house.  Tampa is a fantastic place to be in business if you also have a meaningful life that you care about living.  You can have it all."

With that, Britton smiles warmly, and jumps up announcing he must run to his next meeting.  As he starts up the escalator, his iPhone is already pressed up against his ear.

Heidi Kempf, a freelance writer, lives in South Tampa with her teenage son and daughter, and two Tibetan Terriers. She is addicted to early morning workouts, is accident prone and prefers snow skiing to waterskiing. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

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