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Catalyze 2021: Jim Barnish of Orchid Black

Margie Manning

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We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2021, and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live in what will surely be a changed – and charged – post-Covid world. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2021.

Jim Barnish, managing partner of St. Petersburg-based technology consulting firm Orchid Black, would like to see more innovative companies relocate to the Tampa-St. Pete area and grow here.

He’s approaching the issue from both a business and civic concern.

Orchid Black, previously called Morgan Hill Partners, partners with tech-forward companies to build smarter, better and game-changing businesses. “We are operators that are taking good businesses and turning them into great businesses, with the help of our team, which is usually the missing piece of the equation,” Barnish said.

Most of Orchid Black’s clients are in larger cities with bigger tech hubs, including San Francisco, Chicago and New York. Barnish would like the company to work with more businesses in the Tampa-St. Pete area.

“What I love is everything over the last couple of years has trended towards the innovation that’s happening locally in both Tampa and St. Pete. That includes improvements in education, improvements in community awareness around funding, like Seedfunders and Florida Funders and others in the community,” Barnish said. “And most of all I think that includes the community in general driving more toward innovation, whether that’s the fact that we’re the No. 1 place that millennials are moving to, or all the technology businesses and businesses in general that are looking at Florida, and Tampa-St. Pete specifically, as a new potential home.”

He cited three changes that need to occur to further grow the local tech ecosystem. One is broader national awareness.

“We’re very good at local awareness but connecting to that national coverage has been a bit of a struggle. I’m constantly reminding people that we are a city where millennials are moving to, we are a city with a lot of innovation,” Barnish said.

A second factor is funding.

“There is still a funding gap. The funds are here but the awareness and connection to the capital providers themselves is something that is a bit of a gap for many companies. And the ability to get access to those funders in San Francisco or Chicago or New York typically is a bit easier and a bit more evident,” he said. Both availability and access are starting to change, but there’s still a way to go, he said.

The third needed change is smart infrastructure growth.

“Big companies need big cities. That means everything from transportation and highway improvements all the way through the real estate projects that are underway,” Barnish said. “Tampa needs to be thought of not only as a city that can grow but a city that is growing. Part of that is the infrastructure that holds the city in place and allows it to grow so that we don’t become the next Atlanta, growing way too fast and lacking innovation areas.”

Barnish, who lives in Tampa and works in St. Petersburg, also said there’s huge opportunity for closer coordination between the two cities.

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