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 “A lot of people think of Florida for the alligators, the weather, Disney, vacations. But it really is a host and a hotbed for innovation.”Brian Kornfeld, President and Founder of Synapse

To make innovation happen, to enable it to create tangible new solutions and successful startup businesses, it takes more than just a village. According to Synapse Florida - a Tampa Bay nonprofit dedicated to helping transform Florida from the Sunshine State to the Startup State - it takes a concerted effort to prod engagement, collaboration and action into an energized and dynamic entrepreneurial ecosystem. Their recent Synapse 2020 event in Tampa’s Amalie Arena gathered 7,300 attendees over 2 days with 330 innovative speakers in 127 entrepreneurial sessions and 324 exhibitors including startup companies, universities, local/state government economic development officers, VC investors, business accelerators/incubators, non-profits and cross-industry business leaders. The goal was to bring the region’s business building community together to have meaningful dialogues, brainstorm, be inspired, and learn from a curated cross-section of speakers and panelists on the latest innovations, creative efforts and unique entrepreneurial support initiatives happening across all industries.

Other areas of the country looking to foster innovation and drive substantive economic development should pay very close attention to the community framework being developed and nurtured here in Tampa Bay. Entrepreneurs and startup leaders across the country looking for resources and multi-faceted support should pay close attention too.

The overall vision of Synapse is to be an all-encompassing, interactive, and flexible catalyst for exposing, facilitating and engaging the disparate and specialized resources available to entrepreneurs throughout the region and the state. By creating a centralized hub, they can provide the community the opportunity to be exposed to innovative partners, new ideas, opportunities, solve problems, come together and have a place to find what they need and share what they have. As they see it, innovation is a team sport and they want their hub to help create economies centered around innovation.


Here are a few spotlights to give you a better sense of the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial community event and some of the ecosystem support leaders and entrepreneurs:

Business Innovation support organizations

Florida Funders – a team of serial entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and experienced angel investors that conduct a rigorous vetting process to uncover future superstars of the tech world. With a proven track record of successful exits and a shared passion for growing the next generation of Florida tech companies, they have the connections, resources and experience to support entrepreneurs and generate serious returns for serious investors. Their venture fund was recently named the top VC fund for the Sunshine State, according to CB Insights.-  Marc Blumenthal, General Partner

TampaBay Wave – a nationally recognized accelerator program that supports over 150 tech startups and 250 tech entrepreneurs to build, launch, and grow their businesses into successful ventures. – Linda Olson, President & CEO

Embarc Collective - helps Tampa Bay’s startup talent build bold, scalable, thriving companies through their staff of executive advisors and function-specific experts. They deliver individualized support to startups inside their newly launched state-of-the-art 32,000 square foot collaboration facility in downtown Tampa. - Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO

Blockspaces - a blockchain product development studio designed to inspire innovators to rethink business and build processes for a digital world based on trust and cooperation. They support entrepreneurs and established businesses on the creation and growth of successful products and services that utilize blockchain technology. – Gabe Higgins, Co-Founder

Florida-Israel Business Accelerators – an atypical business accelerator that connects Israel’s most high-potential tech startups to the partners, investors, and advisors they need to launch successfully in the US. Their community model exposes all of Tampa Bay to Israel’s most renowned commodity — disruptive and life-changing technological innovations. - Rachel Marks Feinman, Executive Director

High Tech Connect – a connector organization whose mission is to bridge the technology community through bringing together organizations big and small with those working in the industry. By hosting monthly events, they allow for community to be nurtured from students trying to find their career-path, to seasoned investors looking for the next big thing. High Tech Connect aims to bring informative content to all attendees and sponsors of their events. - Zac Duffy, Co-Founder

Morgan Hill – a unique, boutique business consulting firm designed for Private Equity, Family Offices, and Growth-Stage Companies seeking to maximize results through operational engineering to build better businesses. They have built out a repeatable Path to Value process and playbook that gives tech companies a roadmap to go from Discovery to Scale and an unrivaled execution team comprised of serial entrepreneurs and seasoned operators that have built and scaled software, hardware, and technology-enabled companies throughout their careers. – Jim Barnish, Managing Partner

The Futures School – a multifaceted and transdisciplinary learning platform on how to unlock a futurist mindset through what is termed strategic foresight and one of its most common tools, scenario planning. They provide a proven process to strategically think about and prototype the future.


Entrepreneurs/Startups (from a financial services perspective)

Defynance - the first fintech company to refinance existing student loans using a smart income share agreement (ISA) that is debt-free, always has affordable payments, and also provides a cash return through their ISA Refinancing Fund which diversifies investor portfolios with a low volatility, high return, and social impact-driven investment opportunity. - Farrukh Siddiqui, Founder, President & CEO

iPaladin – their Digital Family Office platform is a blockchain technology solution for advisors to complex private wealth management. It surfaces the DNA of the family’s decisions, plans, contracts and agreements, making is easier to scale growth and realize organizational and governance efficiencies, without compromising accuracy, accessibility or security. – Jill Creager, CEO & Founder

Chatfortress – provides a free website cyber risk assessment for small businesses, like small-to-mid sized advisory firms, to gain the Hacker’s view of your Cybersecurity Risk and then provides a specific blueprint to reduce risk. It is billed as the world’s first automated phishing, prevention, detection and response platform combining humans and machine intelligence with machine learning. – Benjamin Bressington, Chief Technology Officer

Inzata – offers powerful end-to-end big data analytics software that combines data enrichment AI, data modeling AI, and Business Intelligence, all in one platform for integrating, exploring, and analyzing data of any kind, from any source, at massive scale. It simplifies big data for any sized business providing advanced analytics and real-time use cases that can drive business innovation. -  

TruCHAT – continuing the trend of the democratization of marketing technology tools from huge enterprises to small businesses, this marketing tech company offers a ready-to-go AI-based chatbots platform for increased website and client engagement. - Steve Sunshine, Vice President of Marketing & Sales


TampaBay’s Synapse 2020 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 all business leaders and financial services 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 continuing an article series and deeper dive on “Mapping Your Local Entrepreneurial Ecosystem”. I will be profiling the vital components of Tampa Bay and other entrepreneurial ecosystems, a deeper dive into the strategic roles different constituent groups play, and the types of support needed that you can provide to assist your local entrepreneurs and help build the economic development and wealth creation of your community. Looking forward to sharing this journey with you.


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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