Sixth Synapse Summit headlines Tampa Bay Innovation Week

The annual Synapse Summitt celebration of Florida’s innovation economy hits Tampa on February 14th, a day that provides a natural theme for the event.  

“We are embracing Valentine’s Day with the theme Florida loves innovators,” says Lauren Prager, chief strategy officer for Synapse. “We are really focusing on the people who are driving innovation and growth across the state- the people who are starting new companies, expanding existing companies, bringing innovation into global enterprises, the people behind the investment groups that are leading growth across different industries. Innovators are the key to the success and we are really focusing on the people.”

Now in its sixth year, the summit is expected to draw a crowd in the range of 6,000 to Amalie Arena as the centerpiece event of the annual Tampa Bay Innovation Week. The daylong event is chockfull of sessions offering insights from thought leaders across a wide range of industries. Clean energy, teambuilding for success, AI, fintech, using tech to solve health disparities, financial planning for a recession, entrepreneurship in Florida and weathering the impacts a hurricane has on business are some of the topics.

The day’s four keynote speakers are  Ally Love, whose multi-faceted career includes roles as CEO of the Love Squad, a famous Peloton instructor, host, TEDx speaker and writer; Steve Case, AOL co-founder and chairman and CEO of Revolution; Cathie Wood, the chief executive officer and chief investment officer at St. Petersburg-based ARK Investments; and Phoebe Cade Miles, the co-founder of the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention.

“We intentionally are featuring speakers who bring very different experiences and perspectives to the community,” Prager says. “We ourselves are a very diverse community of innovators. Some of us are in particular tech fields and industries, but innovation transcends technology, and we wanted our keynote speakers to reflect that.”

Prager says Love, the first keynote speaker of the day, is a perfect fit for the Valentine’s Day theme of the event- for reasons beyond the obvious connection of her last name.

“She focuses on inspiration, authenticity and community,” Prager says. “As I mentioned, our theme is Florida loves innovators. When you think about what an innovator needs to accomplish his or her vision, it’s a community. It’s a team. There are cheerleaders that you need, who work with you, work for you, are your mentors, your family. And you need that community to keep you going. Florida has that in abundance all over the state. When we thought about a person whose enthusiasm for community, whose drive is really inspirational, so much so that she can connect with people from behind the screen of an exercise bike, she was really that person. It was also beautiful that her name was Love. It seemed like the stars aligned.”

Prager points out that Case previously visited Florida in May 2019 on one of his Revolution bus tours.

“Florida was really on the cusp then,” she says. “The growth that we have seen since 2019 has really just been exponential.”

While the theme of the day is love and community, there’s also some good old-fashioned competition mixed in. The annual Synapse Innovation Awards will feature presentations from 10 finalists out of a field of more than 200 applicants. Three innovative Florida companies at different stages of growth will split a total of $75,000 in prizes.  A pitch competition sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank is a new addition this year, with three early-stage founders vying for a $150,000 prize.

Beyond the Synapse Summitt, a week of events spotlights local companies, organizations and innovators. On February 15th, Omi Bell, the founder and CEO of Black Girl Ventures Foundation, a platform that funds tech-enabled businesses founded by Black and brown and women, speaks at Embarc Collective in a talk presented by The Mainframe. On February 16th, Tampa Bay Wave has an official ribbon-cutting for its new Venture Center. Disrupt the Streets, a Disrupt the Bay event focused on inspiring a new generation of philanthropists, is at Thunder Alley outside Amalie Arena on February 18th.

Innovation Week got started on Thursday, February 9th with a kickoff party that Prager says is a perfect example of the spirit of collaboration the Synapse Summitt and the week are all about.

“We’ve created an environment where there’s true collaboration and coordination,” she says. “All you have to do is look at the fact that the opening party for Tampa Bay Innovation Week is co-hosted by four nonprofits - Synpase, Tampa Bay Wave, Tampa Bay tech and Embarc. That’s pretty phenomenal and really a statement of how our community now really comes together to collaborate and that rising tide is lifting all ships.”

For more information and event schedules, go to Synapse Summitt 2023 and Tampa Bay Innovation Week
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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.