Jordan French has the kind of resume that would make even the most high-achieving individuals feel like slackers. It also makes you wonder when — or if — he sleeps.
Beginning his career as a NASA engineer, French — an angel investor who now calls St. Petersburg home — has also worked as an attorney for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission; a public relations director for Billboard-charting musician B. Howard; and a journalist for news outlets such as the Huffington Post, TechCrunch, TheStreet and Grit Daily News, the latter of which he founded. He also founded and serves as chief marketing officer of BeeHex Inc., a startup that specializes in 3D-printed food for astronauts and was showcased at SXSW Interactive and other major tech expos in 2016.
French, however, comes off as someone who’d much rather discuss the here and now — and what’s to come — rather than past achievements. “3D-printed robots and all sorts of crazy stuff that I co-founded,” is how he sums up his CV. It’s obvious he’s done a lot of thinking over the past year about how the pandemic has affected investors and the venture capital sector.
“There’s a developing theme here,” French said. “It’s like a bomb went off that has spread everyone out all over the country, including here. Tampa/St. Pete is no small city anymore and it can compete. And people tend to vote with their feet.”
French said he moved to St. Pete because of the weather and the fact that Florida’s economy reopened much sooner than other parts of the country during the pandemic. But he also cited “clarity of thought” as another deciding factor, saying that it helps to be away from traditional VC strongholds like New York, Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Toronto.
“There are a lot of benefits to being outside the main couple of ‘rivers,’” he said. “It adds a lot of perspective. There’s just not some big advantage to being in a megacity anymore. You don’t necessarily get intel or opportunities a little bit faster, which is paramount for investing. It’s more about who you know, who you get to know and who’s upstream [from them].”
Even before the Covid-19 crisis, French added, communication tools were making it less important for tech entrepreneurs and investors to be based in certain markets. “People sort of did not care where you are, and now they really don’t care where you are,” he said. “They want to know about you and your team, your abilities to operate and execute and what’s needed from an investment standpoint. You’ve got people all over the place at this point, and I think that’s a good thing.”
French said he has yet to pursue any local investment opportunities but has his eye on several companies, particularly in the medical technology space, citing Immertec and Morphogenesis Inc. — he described the latter as “a potential juggernaut” — as a couple of examples. He’s also bullish on St. Pete-based Mother Kombucha. “They’re going to get very big if they don’t get acquired first,” he said. “There’s just a lot of cool stuff here and sometimes it just gets overlooked from an investment standpoint.”
Having founded or co-founded several companies, French said he’s learned what qualities to look for in startups that spark his interest. The “marriage” of business partners, he said, “needs to start off exceptionally well. I think that’s a point that’s not talked about too much but should be clearly articulated. The early start [of the business] can really be blessed or cursed by that marriage. And I use that term because that’s really what it is. Any number of fumbles or external issues can really hurt a team, but when things are really firing on all cylinders and everyone’s rowing in the same direction, it seems almost too easy.”