Tampa Bay WaVe moves into new downtown digs

For the local tech community, there are few names as well known as Tampa Bay WaVe. Now, the growing WaVe has settled into a new location in the third floor space at 500 E. Kennedy Blvd. 

The “by entrepreneur, for entrepreneur” venture centre, tech accelerator, and coworking space has helped create 107 companies and 424 jobs in the local region, Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman told guests at WaVe’s grand opening on October 16.

“Economic development is where it’s happening -- technology is where it’s happening,” Murman said during the event. “We need the startups -- we need to help them become bigger and better.”

Tampa Bay WaVe President Linda Olson reminded event attendees “three years ago, we were still a zero-budget, all volunteer organization.” 

“Boy, have we come a long way,” Olson said. “I’m so excited to see where we’re going to be three years from now.”

Commissioner Murman praised WaVe’s role in bolstering the local tech community.

“We see this as the place where our Steve Jobs is going to be found,” Murman said.

County, City, Community: Invested in Tampa’s tech future

“This is a big milestone not only for the Tampa Bay WaVe, but also for our community,” WaVe Board Chairman Mark Swanson said during the ribbon cutting ceremony. 

Swanson likened the event to a graduation ceremony, noting, “It takes a village to raise a startup.”

Recruiting companies and helping support growing companies are important aspects of economic development, Swanson says, but “one of the biggest things I’m excited about is how our community has embraced entrepreneurship and innovation as what I call the ‘third leg’ of the stool of economic development. We are growing companies today by helping our startups -- helping new companies start new services.”

Mentorship and feedback from members of the local tech community are crucial components to helping startups grow, Swanson says.

Tony DiBenedetto, co-Founder of local tech company Tribridge and a long-time Tampa Bay WaVe supporter, spoke about Tampa’s status as a tech community and the importance of local support during the grand opening.

“Tribridge has 650 employees, and we started as a tech startup here,” DiBenedetto said. “This community lifted our company off the ground from startup.”

The City of Tampa is a first-time investor in Tampa Bay WaVe, and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn credits early investors in the local technology community, like Chuck Sykes, for recognizing that “keeping intellectual capital in the Tampa Bay area is dependent upon creating the jobs of the future.”

Taxpayers “need to know that [their money] is being spent wisely and not being wasted on frivolous things,” Buckhorn explained during the ribbon cutting ceremony. “I’m not an easy sell. I’m all about ROI.”

“What we are doing here is creating the jobs of the future,” Buckhorn said. 

Build, Launch and Grow: WaVe’s mission to create change

Tampa Bay WaVe has brought $14.2 million in outside capital into the local marketplace, Murman said. “Those are outstanding numbers.”

WaVe was created in 2008 and, with USF as a grant partner, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit won a $1 million U.S. Department of Commerce i6 Challenge grant in September 2012.

That grant helped create the FirstWaVe Venture Center inside Rivergate Tower, a co-working space for local entrepreneurs; it also helped develop WaVe’s Accelerator program, which helps startup businesses succeed.

In spring 2015, the USF-Tampa Bay WaVe partnership announced that it had earned a second i6 Challenge grant, for $500,000, from the 2014 Regional Innovation Strategies program.

In August 2015, WaVe was selected as a recipient of a $50,000 Growth Accelerator Fund Grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). This grant will help WaVe grow support for startups led by women, veterans or other underserved populations.

The SBA presented WaVe with the $50,000 check during the grand opening ribbon cutting ceremony. 

Along with the SBA funds, TriBridge donated $30,000 to Tampa Bay WaVe; Sykes Enterprises donated $25,000; and Florida Blue, who in 2014 partnered with WaVe accelerator company HealthBox, donated $15,000.

“This is what makes jobs now. It’s not even just about the future,” DiBenedetto said. “We are a tech community. We don’t have to wait.”

Opening doors for startups in Tampa Bay’s tech space

The Tampa Bay WaVe grand opening included ‘chair yoga,’ lunch, an interactive exercise break, tours of the new space, CitySleekers car washes, a FirstWaVe company showcase and product demo, and the product launch of FirstWaVe company iTrekkers.

The event was “bustling, warm, welcoming - and crowded!” says Kiki Schirr, Fittr chief marketing technologist and co-founder. “I couldn't believe how many people attended.”

Fittr, a company whose mobile application helps users track fitness goals, is in the accelerator program at WaVe.

“The new space is much more flexible, and will be better suited to the varied needs of startups in the community,” Schirr says. “Plus, they'll be opening a coffee shop on the fourth floor, which will be very nice!”

WaVe’s new space, on the third floor of the building at 500 E. Kennedy Blvd, is owned by the McIntyre Thanasides law firm. It is slightly smaller than their former offices, but longtime WaVe Round Table member Chris Sanfilippo prefers the new offices.

“We’re still downtown, still in the mix of everything,” Sanfilippo says.

Plus, a new break room with a kitchen area, where coworkers and WaVe members can score snacks and unlimited coffee for $5 a month, helps to create a community vibe that the former offices lacked.
“It brings everyone closer together, whereas before, we didn’t have the watering hole to gather. Now we have that, and we’re all kind of together, we’re bouncing ideas off each other,” Sanfilippo says. “Some of the best ideas or recommendations I get come from just chatting with someone while making a cup of coffee.”

For example, Sanfilippo says, his company doesn’t focus on development; but at WaVe, “There are usually half a dozen people around who can help you and point you in the right direction.”

Rank KO, Sanfilippo’s self-funded reputation management company, moved into the former WaVe offices in January 2015. At the new digs, there are two windows, a glass wall, and room to grow. With four full time employees and one part time, Rank KO is currently hiring for a full-time writer.

Along with limitless cups of coffee and a community vibe, working at WaVe means being part of a “pretty positive environment. You get a lot of constructive criticism going on,” Sanfilippo says. “That’s probably one of the biggest takeaways I’ve gotten working at the WaVe. Getting feedback and advice from others who have walked in similar paths is pretty huge.”

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

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