Startup of the Year Summit coming to Tampa’s downtown

The 2021 Startup of the Year Summit is expected to draw some 300 to 500 people to Tampa’s downtown as startups vie for up to $50,000 in funding and meet potential connections, corporate innovators, and thought leaders. 

For some, it may be their first chance to become acquainted with Tampa.

“This seemed like the right timing. You hosted the Super Bowl awhile back. Maybe this is the Super Bowl for startups,” says Frank Gruber, co-Founder and co-CEO of the Portland, Maine area-Established® and Established Ventures, Startup of the Year® Community and Awards.

Established has been working with Embarc Collective, a non-profit startup hub helping Tampa Bay area founders, on the event.

“Embarc Collective is thrilled to be hosting this year's Startup of the Year Summit in Tampa. Connecting early-stage ventures with other startups, investors, and experts is such a vital part of the entrepreneurial journey,” says Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective. “We’re excited to engage more sponsors as we gear up for the Summit in January and showcase Tampa’s amazing startup community.” 

The ninth annual summit, to be held at Embarc Collective, at 802 E. Whiting St. and other Water Street area venues, is planned January 25 through 27. It is free to attend the event.

Some 100 semi-finalists in the ReliaQuest-sponsored contest, chosen by a committee, represent a diverse group of women-, minority- and veteran-led business from all over the United States.

Among them are the Clearwater-based Cope Notes, a mental health company, and the Tampa-based Trustate, an estate administration firm.

“I’ve followed Startup of the Year ever since we launched Cope Notes, and seeing our name listed as a [semi]finalist is such a cool feeling! Mental health has been sidelined for way too long, and a lot of people think that tech is a net negative for mental health -- the fact that SOTY thought to shortlist Cope Notes just means that our company is one step closer to changing the mental health conversation in tech for the better,” says Johnny Crowder, Founder and CEO.

“We are very excited to be named a [semi]finalist in Startup of the Year and honored to be among such an amazing group of founders and innovative companies. We are also thrilled to see Startup of the Year come to Tampa, a community that has welcomed us with open arms since moving our business here in early 2021,” says Co-Founder and COO Tara Faquir. “We hope this event is an opportunity for other founders to experience the vibrant Tampa tech scene."

The top five will pitch to a selection committee including Jeff Vinik, chairman and governor of Tampa Bay Lightning; Erica Duignan of Reign Ventures; Mac Conwell of RareBreed Ventures, and others. 

Vinik, also vice chairman of Embarc Collective’s board, is among the speakers. He is expected to talk about his efforts to further develop downtown through Strategic Property Partners, among other things.

Other speakers include: 
  • Sarah Kunst, managing director of the early-stage venture capital fund Cleo Capital, founder of LA Dodgers-backed Proday, and contributing editor at the international Marie Claire Magazine; 
  • McKeever (Mac the VC) Conwell II, founder and managing partner at RareBreed Ventures, a pre-seed fund; 
  • Jenn Lim, CEO and co-founder of Delivering Happiness, a coaching and consulting company, and author of BEYOND HAPPINESS: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose and People for Growth and Impact; 
  • Blake Hall, CEO and founder of, which simplifies how individuals prove and share their identities online; and 
  • Amy Beckley PhD, CEO and founder and Proov / MFB Fertility, which helps women confirm when they have ovulated using an at-home test measuring the presence of progesterone in the urine.

At the event, the Tampa-based ReliaQuest also will be giving a People’s Choice Award.

Usually held in October, the Startup of the Year Summit was virtual last year because of COVID-19. The award went to titleholder SoLo Funds, which received an investment from Established Ventures. Finmark and Jeenie, both in the top five, also were funded.

Organizers decided to delay the event until January in anticipation of holding it in-person at a time when people would appreciate the nice Florida weather. They also are working on a hybrid, online option.

The contest was initiated in 2006 by the then Tech Cocktail or Tech Co., which was later acquired by Established.

“We’re excited to get people back together to help shine a light on some of these up-and-coming startups, help them build relationships, and see what kind of magic comes from it,” Gruber says.

Learn more or sign up for the wait list at Startup of the Year Summit.

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Read more articles by Cheryl Rogers.

Cheryl Rogers is a freelance writer and editor who enjoys writing about careers. An ebook author, she also writes Bible Camp Mystery series that shares her faith. She is publisher of New Christian Books Online Magazine and founder of the Mentor Me Career Network, a free online community, offering career consulting, coaching and career information. Now a wife and mother, Cheryl discovered her love of writing as a child when she became enthralled with Nancy Drew mysteries. She earned her bachelor's degree in Journalism and Sociology from Loyola University in New Orleans. While working at Loyola's Personnel Office, she discovered her passion for helping others find jobs. A Miami native, Cheryl moved to the Temple Terrace area in 1985 to work for the former Tampa Tribune