Tampa Bay Wave celebrates 10 years of nurturing tech startups and a promising future

Tampa Bay has developed a reputation as a magnet for tech companies over the last decade. Tampa Bay Wave has been there from the start. 

So, ten years after the nonprofit tech accelerator and startup support organization launched its first cohort, Tampa Bay Wave gathered with its community of tech founders and regional partners during Tampa Bay Innovation Week to reflect on a decade of accomplishments and look ahead to a promising future.

 With the help of the University of South Florida and a $1 million federal grant, Tampa Bay Wave launched its first accelerator program in early 2013 out of offices at the Sykes Building, now Rivergate Tower. Ten years later, Tampa Bay Wave celebrates its anniversary while settling into new offices in the WeWork building, 501 E. Kennedy Blvd.

“We had a vision for a regional economy that was going to be full of tech startups growing and creating high-wage jobs,” Tampa Bay Wave President and CEO Linda Olson says during an office ribbon cutting and anniversary celebration on February 16th. “But we also had a vision for this innovation ecosystem to be inclusive from the ground up, where we can provide opportunities and pathways for everyone in our community.”

The numbers show the success. Over the last 10 years, Tampa Bay Wave has run 29 accelerator cohorts with 460 startups that collectively have raised over $700 million in investment capital and created more than 4,200 jobs, Olson says.

But the numbers don’t tell the whole story, she adds. There’s also the best-in-class reputation for the accelerator programs and Tampa Bay Wave’s network of mentors and investors, Olson says. In 2018, that reputation and track record led the Nielsen Foundation to fund a TechDiversity accelerator program that would reach beyond Tampa Bay to bring in startups from around the country and the world.

Since then, Tampa Bay Wave has worked with startups from Europe, Asia, Central and South America, Australia and, through a partnership with the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, several fintech and cyber tech firms from Israel.

“We are attracting world-class startups to Tampa Bay to be in our programs,” Olson says. “We have been doing that for several years. But why would we do that? Because when we can attract those world-class companies to come here, and by the way, many of them end up staying, we’re also helping the region attract world-class resources for startups. I would put our mentor network and our investor network up against any program in the country right now.”

The goal, she says, is to attract companies that do not just start in Tampa Bay, but stay and grow here. 

Looking ahead, Tampa Bay Wave is using federal funding to expand its programs and impact. A $2 million grant from the United States Economic Development Administration’s Build to Scale program and a required $2 million local match will nurture startups and promote regional collaboration in the key tech sectors of cybersecurity, fintech and health tech, funding nine 90-day accelerator cohorts over a three-year period. U.S. Rep Kathy Castor’s office also secured $500,000 in funding for a Latin Tech accelerator that Tampa Bay Wave will run in partnership with the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce.    

At the February 16th event, Castor says in a Tampa community largely built on Latin entrepreneurship, the new accelerator program will help solve a funding gap Latin-owned startups now face.

During his comments, fintech industry leader and current Tampa Bay Wave Chair Santo Cannone credits Olson as a driving force in the growth of Tampa Bay Wave and the region’s tech sector.

“There are a lot of founders, a lot of folks who started their own companies, in this group here,” Cannone says. “And you know it takes some vision to do that, but you also know it takes some determination and some endurance to do that. And the fact that we’re standing here now 10 years into this project has a lot to do with this lady’s endurance and her determination.”

For more information, go to Tampa Bay Wave.
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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.