The Catalyst went behind the scenes with Tampa Bay Wave’s Tech Diversity Accelerator on a walking tour of St. Pete’s start-up business scene this week. The Tech Diversity program is one of the first accelerators in the country specifically created for women, minority, veteran and/or LGBT-owned businesses. The organization behind it all, Tampa Bay Wave, has gathered 10 companies from around the country – spanning from New York City to Dallas, Austin, Atlanta and cities throughout Florida. Four of the companies are from Tampa Bay. Read about them in our previous coverage here.
While the accelerator has spent the majority of its time across the Bay in Tampa, on Thursday the cohort got the opportunity to experience St. Pete’s start-up scene firsthand. In collaboration with the St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation, the group was invited on a walking tour of the city, led by none other than the EDC’s President and CEO, J.P. Dubuque.
The tour departed from St. Pete City Hall after a special visit with Mayor Rick Kriseman. The Mayor spoke with the group at length, answering their questions about co-working space, cost of living, schools and thriving business sectors in St. Pete.
The Mayor highlighted St. Pete’s third consecutive perfect score on the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Municipal Equality Index, as well as the staff he has chosen to run his administration.
“If you look at my upper management staff, the majority are minority,” said Kriseman. “And I think that’s the way it has to be.”
Kriseman also zeroed in on the unique collaborative environment that makes St. Pete’s business community so special. Where he says that even businesses who might compete for customers and capital work together.
“There is truly an environment of collaboration here,” said Kriseman. “It’s really cool. I think that is an environment that first off, I don’t think it exists everywhere, and secondly bodes really well for us.”
Kriseman stuck around for a group picture and a few selfies, before the group departed for the main event – the walking tour of the city.
The first stop after departing city hall was Presence, a start-up higher education software company located just off the artsy 600 block of Central Avenue.
The group was greeted by Presence’s CEO, Reuben Pressman, sporting a Presence t-shirt, shorts and bare feet. Pressman welcomed the group into the two-story office and spoke about the entrepreneurial ecosystem in St. Pete.
At one point, a gong rang out throughout the office. “Oh, that means we closed a sale,” Pressman laughed. All the while, Pressman casually stood in tree pose, balanced on one planted foot with the other propped on his thigh.
One story of St. Pete collaboration was literally written on the walls. The painted logo of another company was covered with a small sheet of printer paper adorned with Presence’s logo. Not long before, Presence had been subletting a portion of its office space to Intrinio, another local financial technology (or FinTech) start-up.
Pressman riffed a bit on how the companies help one another, despite both being start-ups in a competitive investment environment. “Intrinio is a financial company. They’re a bunch of CPAs and financial nerds,” he said, smiling.
“I hate finance so whenever I’m like, ‘I need to revamp this, I don’t know how this works’ I go over to Joey [Co-Founder of Intrinio], who is a whiz at that stuff and he takes care of it.
“And when they’re like ‘Hey we have this sales issue’ and we’re a sales and marketing machine over here, and we say, ‘Hey try this.’ As we’ve each needed things, we’ve built a network.” When asked how a new entrepreneur can tap into that network, Pressman was clear that there’s enough room for everyone. “You’ve got me,” he said, as he offered his business card.
Next stop: Intrinio’s new office. Just as the group entered, the finishing touches were being made on the installation of Intrinio’s new sign, featuring its rebranded logo. The group met with co-founders Rachel Carpenter and Joey French, who moved Intrinio to St. Pete from Chicago just after its founding.
“We would have gotten lost in Chicago,” said Carpenter. “Down here you can tell – there’s this palpable energy that things are really starting to take off. We have a unique ‘bay area’ mentality down here, and there’s this hidden gem of a start-up world, and the energy’s there. People want to see it succeed.”
“As a CPA, taxes were a big draw,” noted French. “When LeBron [James] moved to Miami and they were showing how he made like 20 percent more in Miami than New York, that was one of the inspirations behind it all,” he laughed.
The final stops showed the entrepreneurs some potential spaces they could work, if they chose to move their businesses to St. Pete. They were wowed with panoramic views of Tampa Bay at Priatek Plaza, Grade A office space for a blooming company.
The group also got a chance to see Rising Tide Innovation Center – a brand new, state-of-the-art co-working space in downtown St. Pete. Run by lawyers, this space includes an hour of legal help per month to each of its members – a helpful resource to tech entrepreneurs on the rise.
Finally, the cohort finished their tour at Station House, St. Pete’s original co-working space, a beautifully renovated historic fire station, where they prepared for a packed house at the first-ever Pitch Night in St. Pete. The event was standing-room-only.
“I had some familiarity with St. Pete before this,” said Shuchi Vyas, CEO of GuestBox based out of Austin. Vyas’ sister lives in Tampa.
Vyas had the chance to visit St. Pete’s Creative Mornings, a national program that she frequented in New York City. “I really appreciated the energy that St. Pete’s creative scene has – it’s so much more than a getaway – the city is really fostering a community of collaboration.”
“My experience was so piecemeal before – and now the parallels between Austin and St. Pete are really coming to light. St. Pete is such a hidden gem.”
Josh Rabinowitz, CEO of Dallas-based Articulate Labs, noticed the early-Austin vibe as well. “I lived in Austin for about 10 years – St. Pete reminds me of Austin when I first moved there – now Austin has changed a lot and lost the vibe that St. Pete has right now.”
Rabinowitz was particularly impressed by the team at the St. Pete EDC. “I was really specifically impressed with J.P. Dubuque,” he said. “He was engaging, fun and genuinely interested not just in the potential benefits to St. Pete but also in seeing our companies succeed. That’s important – to not just feel like a number or a win to somebody.”