Tampa emerges as a growing tech hub, but what does that really mean?

Rising in rankings from industry leaders CompTIA and SmartAsset, Tampa is increasingly receiving national recognition as a growing tech hub. 

What’s driving that narrative?

A growing eco-system with new shared workspaces, incubators, and networking events where techies and entrepreneurs are able to connect with each other and investors. Job opportunities on the rise at local startups and established companies. A more supportive overall environment designed to encourage prosperity.

Over the last decade, the Tampa Bay Area has transitioned into a place that helps technology startup companies succeed, making it possible for them to show up on the national radar. Capital sources across the country have begun referring to Tampa as a top emerging market. 

Canadian technology education company CodeBoxx is relocating its headquarters to St. Petersburg in hopes to be a catalyst in the area that they envision as the next major tech hub. They’ll provide a 16-week training program for anyone looking to get into software development; the goal being to decrease the shortage of tech workers and provide a wide range of tech talent as more local companies grow and others move to the area. 

Jody Haneke, CEO of Haneke Design (Investor Tampa EDC, Member of TBT CEO Council), predicts that Tampa will see big tech relocations as well as its own startups becoming household brand names, as the market continues to grow and thrive.

“I think we continue to focus on the community aspects of Tampa that are so endearing. Pivoting from beaches and sunshine and focusing on our thriving downtown and urban living has been key in my opinion,” Haneke says. “We need an entire ecosystem here to recruit talent and companies. To get the best talent, we need to show folks that we have multiple work opportunities in tech that include well-funded startups and larger, more established companies.”

Local entrepreneurs agree.

“It’s been incredible to watch the growth happen. When I was getting started, you saw very little investment around technology in Tampa,” says Entrepreneur Chon Nguyen (CEO, Newgentek/ Co-Founder and CEO, Fusionprep/Partner, Proper House Restaurant Group). “Now there are so many people doing exciting things that are homegrown, but we’re also seeing companies decide that Tampa is a great place to move or relocate. I’m glad Tampa is finally getting the love I think it deserved for so long.”

Talent drives transition 

Embarc Collective, a nonprofit organization in Tampa, is among those working to help Florida’s startup talent, offering a support model in which each company’s experience is customized around their unique priorities and challenges, offering world-class coaching, programing, and community.
 
“We are a community of builders. People who want to put in the work, contribute meaningfully, and be a part of a bigger vision,” says Allie Felix, Embarc Collective, VP Lakshmi Shenoy is Embarc Collective’s CEO.Platform. “Each week, Lakshmi Shenoy (CEO of Embarc Collective) and I speak with the huge influx of tech talent moving to Tampa Bay from cities like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, and Boston. Every transplant brings their experience, network, and (in some cases) investment capital that will make a long-term impact on our community.” 

The organization also specifically looks to help women, who are underrepresented in the tech ecosystem. In 2018, women raised less than 3% of venture capital funding, making up just 26% of the angel investor population, and comprised only 11% of decision-making roles at U.S.-based venture capital firms. In hopes of narrowing the local gender gap in tech, Embarc has created an open-source list to recognize women founders and investors in Florida. They’ve also launched a program called the Foundation Series as well has hosted the Glaring Gap Summit in the fall of 2020. 

“The most important factor to any community is talent -- the ability to find highly skilled Steve Moray, Senior VP for Economic Development at the Tampa Bay Economic Development Counciltalent and the ability to recruit and retain talent,” says Steve Moray, Senior VP for Economic Development at the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. “We have some of the best universities and colleges that are continually developing the talent employers need and we’re starting to see data that shows Tampa as a top place where people are moving.” 

Multi-billion-dollar urban lifestyle developments such as Water Street Tampa in downtown and Midtown Tampa in West Tampa are underway and keeping up with the large number of individuals relocating to the region. 

“From my conversations with people when I first started [about seven years ago], times have changed, fast forward, it’s transformed that much more. … If I had to describe it to you in terms of how it has changed; tremendously, it’s just evolutionary what we’ve seen so far,” says Jesus Vidaurri, Senior Talent Acquisition Partner at a large global tech firm based in the Tampa Bay Area. “We had big companies in the area, like Citibank and Raymond James, those staple organizations in this area, but now you have companies like Johnson and Johnson coming here, and then you started seeing a huge boom in the startup industry and ecosystem here.” 

Where do we grow from here?

Felix of Embarc says that while Tampa has made great strides in the past decade, there is still much work to be done to maintain and continue development of the local tech eco-system. 

Three next steps, she and others point out, include growing the number and density of local startups; creating more career paths with nationally competitive earning potential; and further leveraging local public figures to evangelize Tampa Bay in their national social circles.

“In my opinion, technology is where the world is heading,’’ Vidaurri says. “Regardless of whether you care or not, regardless of whether you think it affects you or not, it does.’’

The overall goal is to enhance Hillsborough County’s competitiveness in terms of business. 

“We’re collaborating with our city and county partners to foster economic opportunity for residents of underserved districts and attracting development to traditionally underserved communities,” says Moray of the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council. This collaboration, he says, ensures that the focus is on projects that will truly have a positive outcome for our local communities. 

“The brand of Tampa has changed, and we just need to keep getting the message out there,” Haneke says. 

Tampa is strong in cybersecurity, back office, and startups around the MSP  (managed service provider) space.

“Compared to other cities, I think Tampa is still young. You still have a real opportunity to get in early and make a real difference,” Nguyen says. “Florida is a great place to run a business and be an entrepreneur from a tax and cost of living standpoint, and I think people are starting to recognize that distributed work which, I think, further strengthens Tampa Bay. If you can work from anywhere, why not choose somewhere close to the beach?”
 

Read more articles by Lauren Wong.

Lauren Wong is a graduate of the University of Tampa with a degree in journalism who is freelancing while she looks for a full-time job. Originally from the Chicago area, she enjoys travel and aspires to be a travel photojournalist. During the summer of 2019, she worked for Premier Travel Media in Chicago and as a correspondent for Input Fort Wayne, another Issue Media group online magazine based in Indiana. She loves spending time outdoors camping, kayaking, and taking pictures.
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