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"No matter how large or small an area or region, there exists the beginnings of local/regional entrepreneurial ecosystems. They need to be supported." - Bill Hortz


In TampaBay last week there was a summoning. The Synapse 2019 Summit  - orchestrated by a regional nonprofit to accelerate innovation and business opportunities in Florida - called forth startup companies, universities, local government economic development officers, accelerators, VC investors and cross-industry business leaders to make a few very important points:

1.) The Summit put a bright spotlight on and showcased the depth and breadth of the entrepreneurial ecosystem of the region - the business building infrastructure and support that, on aggregate, is available to create growth and prosperity in TampaBay.

2.) The Summit acted as a catalyst to incite more dialogue, collaboration and working partnerships by starting to connect and promote a greater adoption of the growing entrepreneurial resources readily available in the region and throughout the state.

With over 5,500 attendees, 350 exhibiters, 300 speakers and 80 breakout sessions, the immediate net effect of this gathering was palpable. There seemed to be a unique energy pervading the Amalie Arena (that didn’t emanate from the loud speakers). It was a tangible vibration which actually was the pulse of the excitement of the participants, of the sound of possibility in the act of transitioning into actual probability. Entrepreneurs with ideas and startup companies across all industries, experience levels, throughout TampaBay (and the rest of Florida) were embraced, encouraged and invited to launch, accelerate, and partner with the State of Florida, local government, universities, accelerators, venture capitalists, and businesses of all sizes.

The message was clear. There is a growing strategic alignment of resources now committed to transforming Florida from the Sunshine State to the Start-up State. This recently united collaboration of formidable entrepreneurial resources are determined to position TampaBay on the map to challenge other entrepreneurial and innovation centers like Silicon Valley, Austin, Boulder and New York City. The Synapse Summit even created their own hashtag #HereLivesInnovation as part of their strategy of creating a new mindset of connectivity and purpose.

TampaBay’s Synapse 2019 Summit is an important case study that perfectly illustrates why the new business operating environment for all industries today is one of an accelerating rate of change. Hopefully it also builds awareness for financial services leaders and advisors that everywhere in this country, no matter how large or small an area or region, there exists the beginnings of local/regional entrepreneurial ecosystems. They need to be supported; not just with money, but with investments of time, mentoring and sharing/building of community networks.

To that end, I will be starting an article series and deeper dive on “Mapping Your Local Entrepreneurial Ecosystem”. I will be profiling the vital components of TampaBay and other entrepreneurial ecosystems, the strategic roles different constituent groups play, and the types of support needed and that you can provide to assist your local entrepreneurs and help build the economic development of your community. Looking forward to sharing this journey with you…

Here are a few highlights to give you a better sense of the community event and some of the ecosystem support leaders:

Marc Blumenthal, Synapse co-founder and partner of Florida Funders, opening remarks:

“Two years ago a group of leaders from around the region sat in a meeting room and asked how we can change the narrative. How can we stop being an exporter of talent and companies. At that time it was not uncommon to hear that there just wasn’t the talent, the capital, or the early adopter customers here in Florida and if you really wanted to scale your company, you needed to move to Austin, Boulder, Silicon Valley or New York City. Synapse Florida was conceived that day to facilitate that change – to turn the Sunshine State into the Startup State. Let the world know that this one of the best places on earth to build a company, a career and a quality of life. We want our best and our brightest to stay here and for others to come here.

Until Synapse, there had been no solution to the problem of our fragmented communities and our siloed industries. Synapse has laid down the framework for our success, for rapid growth in Florida’s innovation communities. This event is just one piece of the puzzle… Part of the challenge is that we have not done a good job in publicizing and celebrating what we already have achieved. We have major successes in Florida almost daily and only a few of us tend to know much about it. Even one of our keynote presenters today, Magic Leap, is only known to a small group of people. Yet they have received over $2billion in venture capital to revolutionize the world of augmented reality here in Florida.”

Jeff Vinik, partner of Strategic Property Partners, Embarc Collective and owner of Tampa Bay Lightning, on the importance of being an active part of the entrepreneurial support ecosystem in Tampa Bay:

 "It is important to know that this lift of our region is about doing this as a community. Nobody can do this alone. …Our first question is: How can we help you?  How can we collaborate? What can we do to work together to make this better for all of us? That’s the spirit in which we go into this….We must never forget that our true north is supporting the great Founders, and his or her staffs, and the businesses developing in this area. This is all about great people starting great ideas and companies. They may pivot, they may change direction, but it’s about supporting them, giving them the ecosystem, the resources, the experience, finding them talent, financial help, introducing them to customers, whatever it may be. That is our job here, in terms of making these Founders, we support, successful. Thank you for being part of this mission!”

Tampa Bay Wave’s Post-Accelerator Demo Day at Synapse 20019:

Tampa Bay Wave - a nationally recognized accelerator program that provides co-working space, mentorship and guidance to tech entrepreneurs to build, launch, and grow their businesses into successful ventures – organized a Demo Day for their post-accelerator program cohorts to pitch their companies to accredited investors. The seven companies represented a combined $14M in trailing 12-month revenue, 96 employees, and were founded an average of 3.5 years ago. They represent some high growth Tech verticals including HealthTech, AdTech, and VR. Companies included:

  • DirectMail2.0 is a cloud-based marketing platform that applies technology to track, enhance and report on traditional direct mail campaign.
  • Sanvis Health empowers caregivers to consistently deliver outstanding care for seniors while increasing staff productivity and operational efficiency.
  • MarTec360 is an integrated solutions company that connects clients’ business and marketing data for D2C, B2C/B2B, brands, retailers, e-tailers, and distributors.
  • Immertec is 3D software that creates scalable VR training programs in real-time that leverages companies’ existing training programs.
  • iSOCRATES helps business leaders address the complex problems inherent in marketing and media automation.
  • ComplyUp is a cloud platform that simplifies the process of demonstrating regulatory compliance.
  • Parkway Parking connects consumers with low-cost airport, cruise port & event parking reservations.


Jim Barnish , General Partner, Morgan Hill Partners (startup management consulting) talks to David Jolly on News Talk Florida (excerpts):

Morgan Hill is an innovative business partner that works with early stage technology companies, industry agnostic, but focused on high growth companies from early seed stage through Series B or C, in an area that companies usually have a very hard time in getting investment. Often times these are pre-revenue startups all the way to level B or C level (usually upwards of $20 million in funding) as they start to approach getting high growth and starting to see attraction of new customers and retention of those customers.

For us it all starts with a data-driven assessment, everything we do is data-driven and assessment based. Oftentimes we re-invest a portion of our fees back into the companies that looks like some sort of either an equity or debt stake which aligns us more as a partnership with these early stage companies, but we ourselves do not take leadership positions within the company, aside from perhaps helping them from a co-CEO or an executive level position….For us it’s a little bit different than the way other investors may look at it. We are looking for really passionate founders that have great products, a product-market fit, but may have gaps on the operational side, may have gaps on the execution side, and so we help provide fractional executive expertise, help provide a path to funding, a path to growth, an overall roadmap to building, deterministically, a high growth company.”

Other Highlights of the two-day event included:

  • Virtual reality demo experiences featuring Magic Leap One, developed by Magic Leap, a Fort Lauderdale-based spatial computing co.
  • Exploring how local universities act as an innovation and talent pipeline for entrepreneurs.
  • Presentation of Synapse Challenges - crowdsourcing solutions for organizations to solve real-world problems & create new opportunities.
  • Accredited investor sessions.
  • Panel discussions led by entrepreneurs, educators, and investors.
  • Pitch Madness - an NCAA tournament-style competition at which eight qualifying startups went head-to-head to win investment capital. Billed as a new way to pitch a startup.
  • Programming for military veterans looking to transition into civilian careers.


The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We position our members with the necessary ongoing innovation resources and best practices to drive and facilitate their next-generation growth, differentiation and unique community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors - Pershing, Voya Financial, Ultimus Fund Solutions, Fidelity, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines). For more information click here.


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