Five months into his latest role as director of the highly-anticipated Fintech Center at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, Michael D. Wiemer is still brimming with excitement.
There are good reasons for Wiemer to exude enthusiasm for the future of the Fintech Center at the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance, which operates under the USF Muma College of Business. At an event celebrating its opening in April, just two months after school officials appointed Wiemer to the position, Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton bestowed a “transformational” $14 million gift to help the facility become a “hub of excellence” in financial technology education.
More recently, the center ended the month of June by showcasing the 16 startups that comprised the Tampa Bay Wave and USF’s inaugural Fintech|X Accelerator cohort, which it houses.
“It’s thrilling because it represents so much about St. Pete and Tampa Bay, but also about the future of business,” said Wiemer of the financial support.
“And then the other part is the accelerator program that was really, for all intents and purposes, probably our first big project for the center.”
Wiemer credited Linda Olson, CEO of the Tampa Bay Wave, and her “remarkable team” for their partnership in creating the program. He said the accelerator exemplifies what USF’s leadership hopes to accomplish at the center and called it a privilege and an honor to serve as the facility’s director.
Wiemer noted the support of an “amazing community” surrounding the center and called the collaboration between an R1 research-intensive university and a leader in tech innovation like the Tampa Bay Wave – and many other partners – “unparalleled.”
“It says a lot about Tampa Bay,” he added. “And so, we’re very excited and honored.”
The director bases his opinion of the center, its partners and the region on a wealth of experience. Wiemer is a C-level executive with over two decades worth of progressive leadership in business education. He called his background unique due to the global aspect.
Before his new role, Wiemer served as chief officer of the Americas for AACSB International. In a release, USF called the organization the world’s preeminent accreditor and largest association of business schools.
AACSB, said Wiemer, accredited the Muma business school along with those from places like Harvard, Stanford and Wharton. He said his previous work allowed him to witness “really amazing innovations” from global leaders and business education universities worldwide.
“So, bringing those insights into the leadership of the center – I think I have some things to contribute,” said Wiemer.
He added that with the $14 million gift and the brain power, intellectual capacity and human capital at USF, he intends to build the center into a global leader in fintech education, research and innovation.
“And perhaps most importantly, fintech business and economic development,” said Wiemer. “These spaces are really representative of the bleeding edge of change for education.
“One of the things we embrace, and something I believe in strongly and that I’ve worked with quite a bit in the past, is how do you help university’s business schools engage in very meaningful and valuable ways with the business community?”
Wiemer said those high-touch, deep partnerships benefit the companies and the school by capitalizing on the “currency of curriculum,” as local executives learn from the program while the university trains future industry leaders.
Fintech, said Wiemer, is already touching almost every aspect of people’s lives. He said it is transforming traditional industries like banking, financial services and insurance, and the topic receives significant national attention.
However, he called the embrace of fintech across the region “uniquely tremendous.” Wiemer noted Mayor Ken Welch’s enthusiasm for the center, along with private sector support from the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation and Joe Hamilton, publisher of the Catalyst.
“I think it has meant a lot because USF is now becoming a hub for these conversations for this education,” said Wiemer. “And I’ll tell you, at this point in my career, it is such a privilege – and almost like entering the Autobahn with fintech accelerator lanes.
“These conversations, they’re full of amazing, inspiring leaders, great ideas – and we’re all working together to advance it.”
Wiemer said he is objectively pleased with the success of the first Fintech|X Accelerator cohort, especially with the diversity embodied by the 16 founders. Five startups were from Israel, England, Saudi Arabia and Germany, respectively, and all but one were headquartered outside of Florida.
Three of the founders were women, and the cohort also featured military veterans, minorities and members of the LBGTQ community. Wiemer said many of the startups have already entered into discussions with venture capital firms for funding.
Moving forward, Wiemer said he wants to increase the diversity of the program’s cohorts even further and intensify engagement with the surrounding business community.
“Many expressed interest in setting up their new shop here in St. Pete and Tampa Bay,” he added. “So, that’s a nice additional element of value and building ecosystem.”
Lastly, Wiemer said he plans to grow student involvement in the accelerator. He called students experiencing the “wonderful process” of fledgling companies becoming more competitive and focused a tremendous learning opportunity.
He wants students to observe and talk to the founders as part of their education at USF and believes that knowledge will help them become “amazing entrepreneurs, or intrapreneurs, in their own right.”
Wiemer said it is a privilege for USF to call Tampa Bay home, as the region has an unparalleled entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem. He called it a competitive advantage over other areas and one reason why major companies in the space – like ARK Invest – have relocated to the region.
“So, for us as a public university, we’re able to really fulfill our mission by supporting the community, engaging and creating value,” said Wiemer. “We’re honored, privileged and excited for the 10, 20, 30 – 100 years of doing this work here in Tampa Bay.”