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5 takeaways from Jeff Vinik’s keynote kicking off Dreamit-Bisnow’s Innovation Summit

Margie Manning

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Startup Alley at Dreamit-Bisnow's Innovation Summit

The Tampa Bay area has an opportunity to lead the nation in health, real estate and security technology, according to Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik.

“When I think about the Tampa Bay region, we have a real opportunity to be a leader in these verticals,” Vinik said in kicking off the Dreamit-Bisnow Innovation Summit Tuesday in Tampa.

Steve Barsh, managing partner, Dreamit

The two-day summit at the Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel is designed to highlight the latest thinking in healthtech, urbantech and securetech, said Steve Barsh, managing partner of Dreamit Ventures, a 10-year-old venture fund that has invested in more than 300 startups.

Vinik is one of four partners in Dreamit, which has made Tampa one of its key stops for the young companies in its intensive 14-week program to introduce startups to potential customers and investors.

Jeff Vinik

The Tampa area is at a moment when innovation is taking off, said  Vinik, who outlined his vision for how technology can change the Tampa Bay area during his keynote address. Here are five takeaways from his talk.

Embarc Collective, a 33,000-square-foot hub for innovation that Vinik is backing in downtown Tampa, will provide a place for collaboration. “It is critical that when we look at the growth of the Tampa Bay region, that we take this to another level and provide forums and coaching and capital and customers for startups and founders here.”

Water Street Tampa, the $3 billion mixed-used district being developed by Vinik and Cascade Investment’s Strategic Property Partners, expects to be on the leading edge of the smart city initiative. “For example, we are bringing a company in that is going to be technologically connected in every way . They will be able to work with you on your smart phone – what do you want to do, where do you want to go, at what time, where should we park — all that communication will be done seamlessly.”

Attracting capital from Florida investors requires education. “Many of the wealthy people who are here, who moved here or retired here,  have made money in real estate or their own companies. Venture capital, startup, risk is s a new concept to them, so there’s an education process,” Vinik said. “If you think about successful venture organizations, if seven or eight companies don’t make it and two or three are successful, you are doing pretty well and that’s an education process.”

Branding and marketing for the area needs to be improved. “Tourism is a huge industry, it is vital, but the state is not just about tourism. It’s about opportunity for business and young people,” Vinik said. The median age in in Hillsborough County is 36, two years younger than the median age across the United States, he said.

Workforce training is vital and businesses need to step up their game. Vinik cited a recent conversation with Tech Data Corp. (NASDAQ: TECD), an IT distributor in Clearwater and the largest company in Florida based on revenue. “Tech Data educates their own. They gets kids out of college and they put them through school at Tech Data. We’ve got to work with companies like that,” he said.

The Tampa Bay area has the elements to create a strong tech ecosystem, it just takes some basic blocking and tackling to grow it, Vinik said.

“If you are in the southeast United States and you are a startup, you have to come to Tampa because we’re going to give you more help than anywhere else in this part of  the country. Eventually that builds on itself.  It’s an investment as a region we have to make because others are making it, and we will get left behind.”

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