Innovators show up, show out at Synapse Summit

For Tampa tech startup BŪP, Synapse Summit 2024, the late February showcase of Florida’s innovation economy at Amalie Arena, was a birthday party and a testament to the company’s growth.

BŪP, pronounced “boop,” initially launched a few years back at Synapse. The company, which offers digital business cards and AI-powered lead nurturing solutions to professionals and sales teams, was an exhibitor in 2022 and 2023. This year, BŪP returned as the event’s networking app sponsor. The thousands of innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and techies who attended Synapse each received a BŪP Band, a digital business card bracelet that let them share their contact information and professional bio with just a tap or “boop” of someone’s smartphone.

A few years, ago Tampa tech firm BUP launched at the Synapse Summit. This year, the growing company was the event's networking app sponsor.“Everyone here is booping,” says founder and CEO Martika Brianne Jones.

Jones says BŪP’s AI-powered networking solution is an initial touchpoint for businesses so sales professionals and other staff are not bogged down in business cards or consumed sending emails. From there, the “human connection” can close a deal.   

Jones, who in late February won the University of Tampa Lowth Entrepreneurship Center Alumni's Young Entrepreneur Award, says the exposure and connections from Synapse are key ingredients for the growth of BŪP and other startups.

“It’s absolutely crucial,” she says. “The first two years we got visibility. I feel like a lot of the people who got to see us in our nascent stage got to see that growth. So coming back is just a testimony to what being in this environment can do and the people who supported us.”

An innovation showcase

This year’s Synapse Summit drew approximately 150 exhibitors - a mix of startups, established companies, universities, nonprofits and businesses that offer professional services to the tech industry. Their booths and tables filled the arena floor and spread through the concourse. There were robots, a space bus and even a cellist playing an instrument made with a 3D printer.

“It all started during the pandemic,” says Alfred James, a professional musician from the Philadelphia area and founder of Forte3D, which makes the world’s first carbon fiber 3D-printed cello.

James is a record producer and the leader of a cello-driven acoustic rock band, the Alfred James Band. When COVID-19 brought the band’s touring to a screeching halt, James pondered his next move.

“Basically, I had some time on my hands,” he recalls. “I’d never printed anything or done anything with design or engineering.”

But James did have a chemistry background and felt 3D printing technology had reached the point where it could produce a musical instrument. He also wanted to make the cello more accessible and affordable for aspiring musicians. Cellos used by world-class musicians can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, James says, and a good instrument for a serious student musician can cost $10,000 to $15,000. 

“There’s a tremendous barrier of entry to find instruments - violins, violas, cellos, basses,” James says. “They’re just violently expensive to find one made well that you can actually play. I thought maybe I could 3D print this and design it to a point where it’s inexpensive, relatively speaking, and sounds great. Almost three years later, we have  sold 180 worldwide, my second violin prototype is already made and we have world-famous cellists out playing them.”Arnold James of Forte3D with one of the company's carbon fiber 3D printed cellos.

The world-famous Yo-Yo Ma has a cello on order, James says. He says Forte3D cellos typically retail for $3,000, with discounts available for schools, including more substantial discounts for schools in underprivileged communities.

While James is based in Pennsylvania, he has a marketing partnership with Roy Kirchner, CEO of the Ultimate 3D Printing Store in Odessa. That partnership brought him to the Synapse Summit, where his cello consistently attracted a curious crowd.

Using technology to improve mental health

Cope Notes, a Tampa-based company that offers a subscription-based digital mental health support system, also celebrated its birthday at Synapse Summit. 

During the February 28th event, founder and CEO Johnny Crowder says the company launched six years ago to the day. Crowder says he started Cope Notes to help others deal with the type of mental health struggles he's faced most of his life.

“I grew up with severe mental illness,” he says. “I’ve been in treatment basically my whole life. When I went to school and studied psychology and learned about how the brain changes, I wanted to build something that could help the brain change.”

Cope Notes sends randomly timed daily text messages “that interrupt negative thought patterns and train the brain to think healthier thoughts,” Crowder says. 

Those positive messages include psychology facts, journaling prompts and exercises designed to reduce stress, anxiety and depression and build emotional intelligence and coping skills.

The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County are among the community partners that have agreements with Cope Notes. Recently, the Pasco County School District entered an agreement to offer the service for free to staff and students.  

“We’ve been very fortunate,” Crowder says of Cope Notes’ growth. “The first couple of years were very slow, to be honest. Mental health wasn’t that cool back in the day, although I thought it was cool. Then around COVID, people started recognizing how important mental health was.”

Technology and art

The intersection of technology and art was also on display at Synapse. 

At a booth on the Amalie concourse, Drake Arnold, a painter and mural artist, demonstrated how augmented reality brings his paintings to life.  

Drake Arnold demonstrates how augmented reality technology brings his artwork to life.“Augmented reality is gonna be a part of everything soon enough,” says Arnold, whose company is Fractal Spirit. “It makes a lot of sense for me. I’ve been developing AR since 2018, once I realized what AR is doing. Most of it uses image recognition and I’m an image creator. So I immediately recognized the potency of something like that for me and pushed into it as quickly as I could.”

Arnold was at Synapse to help out his friend Tony Krol, the CEO of CLRTY Agency, a Tampa-based creative placemaking and design firm that is one of the partners behind the annual Tampa Walls mural festival, which is scheduled for December.  

Seaweed for sustainable clothing

Soarce, an Orlando-based startup founded by four former University of Central Florida students, is focused on using seaweed to reduce the environmental impact of clothing production, which is responsible for an estimated 10 percent of the greenhouse gases released annually.

Patrick Michel, Soarce’s chief of sales and a co-founder, says they initially launched a “carbon fiber compost manufacturing company specifically for the recreational drone industry." That focus changed two years ago.

“We decided to step away from that industry because it was very niche and, at the end of the day, we were making toys,” Michel says. “We wanted to do something more impactful. We started scouring for ideas where we could put our knowledge of composites to use to make a difference.”

Extracting biopolymers from seaweed, Soarce has developed a proprietary solution called Searamic that can be used as an additive for textile manufacturing processes, an alternative leather or actual fabric, Michel says. 

In addition to reducing the environmental impact of clothing production, Michel says Searamic can also protect clothes against fading from the sun’s UV rays.

He says Soarce exceeded its goal in its pre-seed round of funding and is now looking for clothing brands to partner with on case studies to validate the effectiveness of their product.

For more information, go to Synapse SummitBŪPForte3D, Cope Notes, Fractal Spirit and Soarce.
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.