Tampa Bay native Mark Sharpe has made it his mission to change the face of his hometown. Born at MacDill Air Force Base, Sharpe worked at USSOCOM before entering the political arena as a Hillsborough County Commissioner. From day one, his focus has been on the blighted area surrounding USF - a neglected piece of the city by any standard. Now, he's laser focused on doing something about it. In 2015, Sharpe launched Tampa Innovation Alliance (now rebranded Tampa !P) alongside institutions like USF, University Community Hospital, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Busch Gardens. Their goal? To change the economic future of Tampa as a whole through the creation of an Innovation District.
Years in St. Pete
I was born at MacDill Air Force Base and went to school in Tampa. After college at Florida State, I came back to work for USSOCOM and served 10 years as a Hillsborough County Commissioner, so I’ve been here for quite a while.
Organizations involved in
I’m very involved with my organization right now, which is a 240-member organization devoted to creating an innovation district near the University of South Florida.
What gets you out of bed every day?
Events like this! I love young people, old people, and everyone in between doing things like this, wanting to change the world. I want to be a world-changer. I wanted to be a round-the-world changer. As I grew up in Tampa Bay, I felt that both St. Pete and Tampa were stodgy, stale, and that there was nothing exciting going on. I wanted to leave. Now, all of a sudden, there are all these cool events. You’ve got a place like the Station House and you’ve got young people creating all sorts of really cool products. We’re finally doing the things I knew we could do, things that they’re doing in places like Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, places like that.
Why St. Pete?
Oh, my gosh. There’s a lot. First off, let’s just talk about the infrastructure. You’ve got great universities, you’ve got great airports, you’ve got phenomenal ports. You’ve got the leadership on both sides of the Bay that really, genuinely understands the importance of supporting our local, homegrown business industry. With Tampa Bay, everyone talks about the weather. The weather is fabulous, so if you’re an outdoors person you can go out and run, swim, boat, fish, and all those things. But, if you’re going to be successful, you’re going to have to have access — access to capital, access to talent — and I think Tampa Bay is a very open community that’s really supportive of that type of thing.
What is one habit that you keep?
I run every day, that’s a habit. I try to eat healthy, but I don’t always meet that habit. That’s two, sorry!
Who are some people that influence you?
Oh my gosh. You know, I’m influenced by the young entrepreneurs. In fact, even today, I was talking with a group of entrepreneurs that were coming up with some really cool ideas involving the health care industry. They’re always just doing amazing things. The person that drove me over to this event (because I try not to drive my own car) is a young person who is really into real estate, but also understanding how to redevelop communities. I’m influenced by lots of people that you wouldn’t necessarily recognize, but are doing cool things to change the world. Then, obviously, I read the Richard Floridas, I know about the Jeff Specks. I’m always looking at the national level for those people who are talking about creating a creative environment, a creative culture, a community that is open and diverse, and really inspirational to all of its citizens.
What is one piece of insight - a book, methodology, practice - that you would share with our readers?
There are so many great books. I love reading about Robert Moses and how he built New York — what he did right and what he did wrong — and the battle between him and Jane Jacobs. I’m fascinated with individuals that are creating, again, a creative culture. There are so many authors that I have focused on. Richard Florida, that I’ve talked about, Greg LIndsay, who wrote the book Aerotropolis. I’m actually rereading Aerotropolis right now. It’s a book about how we’ll live in the future, how communities are going to be built around airports, and as we build up these high-speed railways there might be hyperloop technology at some point in the future. I think that’s going to be very exciting
What is one thing you wish you knew about your work 3 years ago?
Gosh, I think about that every day. I think it’s about understanding the process. When you want to change the world, you have to understand how the government operates and functions, all the different bureaucracies, agencies, entities, and what they do. I think you have to understand that what you see sometimes on the surface is not necessarily what’s going to occur, because you’ve gotta know how each agency works vertically. I wish I’d had a better understanding of how these institutions work.
What’s next for Tampa Bay — it’s not that we’re competing with other metros, its that we are a place that people want to live, work, and play. I think you’re going to see a relationship between the city of Tampa and the city of St. Pete, between Pinellas County and Hillsborough County (and Pasco County, for that matter) that’s going to rival some of the strongest regions in the world and make this a destination for lots of cool, young people that want to do amazing things.