Startup Week to focus on creating tech community connections in Tampa Bay

The theme of Tampa Bay Startup Week 2016 is a simple one: Make connections. If one can develop contacts or network with new faces in between sessions on beer judging or small business bootstrapping, even better.

For five days in early February, entrepreneurs and small business owners will come together from around the city and across the state to promote, support and attend the second annual Tampa Bay Startup Week.

Startup Week is an annual celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation that takes place in cities like Denver and Portland throughout the world each year. February 8-12, 2016 marks the second year that event sponsors Chase and Techstar have selected Tampa Bay as a host of Startup Week networking events, which can range from structured panels to demonstrations of ''playable cities.'’

Tampa Bay Startup Week events are organized around wide-ranging fields from fashion and design to veteran entrepreneurs and kids who code. Events will take place primarily in downtown Tampa, with 13 distinct tracts (events structured around a common theme) available to any number of interested attendees.

“We want to encourage everyone in the community to attend at least one event,” says Ryan Sullivan, a Startup Week track captain. “We hope that people get engaged with the growing culture in Tampa Bay.”
Startup Week, speakers and social networking
During the first annual event in 2015, Sullivan told 83 Degrees, the week’s events yielded 18.9M impressions for Startup Week social media accounts, Over 2,000 attendees were present at the 70 Tampa Bay Startup Week events. This year, there are closer to 80 events.
Tampa Bay Startup Week 2016 tracks include:
  • Craft beer
  • Design
  • Development
  • Education
  • Entrepreneurial concepts
  • #Everythinglocal
  • Fashion
  • Health and fitness
  • Internet of things
  • Maker
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Sound
  • Veteran entrepreneurs 
“We feel that our track events show diversity in the community, from art and food to social media and startups,” says Sullivan, who has served as organizer of previous Startup Week and Startup Weekend events.
Track captains are pulled from local businesses, entrepreneurs like LilyPad Solutions founder Eric Rabinovitz, who will run the craft beer track, Sullivan and Nicholas Catania of the Never Have I Ever Tampa blog, who are leading the #‎everythinglocal track; and Songbird Agency’s Jonah Story, who will run the health and fitness segments.

Speakers were also selected from the founders and partners of local Tampa Bay area small businesses, as well as entrepreneurs and thought leaders from innovative national companies like IBM and Microsoft.
The speaker’s list includes well-known local names such as Nancy Vaughn of White Book Agency; Marie Crane of Rhonda Shear Intimates; Angela Don of Rapchat; Alfred Goldberg of Absolute Mobile Solutions; Desiree Noisette of Cerulean Blu; Roberto Torres of Black & Denim and The Blind Tiger; and Billy Mays III.
Marquee meetups throughout the week include the “Women in Tech Community Conversation”; a Community All Star panel focused on the theme of making connections; the “Take the ‘Being Strapped’ out of Bootstrapping'' conversation; and a thought leadership panel on “Decoding the Internet of Things.”
Starting up an entrepreneurial community
Besides the #everythinglocal track, which highlights innovative small businesses and local community members, Sullivan says that the NHIE team is most excited about the 1776 Challenge Cup, which will take place during Tampa Bay Startup Week. Regional winners of the 1776 Challenge will have the opportunity to go on to compete for prize money and awards at the national level.
“It is a great testament to the community development to have 20 local startups pitching in this regional competition,” Sullivan says.
Indeed, Startup Week events aim to highlight the existing startup companies and growing businesses already in the region.
Most Startup Week activities are spread out across Tampa and St. Petersburg and all are free to attend. Peers and industry professionals will come together with college students and would-be small business owners to mix and mingle over free drinks and snacks, which are supplied by event sponsors and promotional partners.

Hillsborough County's EDI2 fund, along with other sponsors, helps to keep the event free.
District 3 Arts & Events, 802-812 E. Whiting St in downtown Tampa, will serve as Chase’s basecamp during Tampa Bay Startup Week, hosting many of the week’s events. The tech-driven meetup will kick off at basecamp with a 6 p.m. opening ceremony on February 8; a closing ceremony and party will be held at 6 p.m. on Feb. 12 at the Rialto Theatre, 1617 N. Franklin St. in Tampa.
Check out the Tampa Bay Startup Week blog to learn more about upcoming speakers and track leaders during the five-day long event.
To learn more about Tampa Bay Startup Week, click here. Register to attend any of the free events by clicking here.
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Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.