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Innovation summit goes fully virtual, offers free admission

Brian Hartz

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The 2019 Synapse Summit main stage. The event has moved entirely online for its 2021 edition.

The Synapse Summit, an annual networking and education event for Florida’s innovation and tech community that usually packs Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa, has gone fully virtual for its 2021 edition, set for March 8-11, and will offer free general admission tickets.

Synapse Florida CEO Brian Kornfeld, speaking with the Catalyst, said it was an easy decision to change the event’s business model.

“We know there are a lot of barriers and that cost is really hard on a lot of people right now,” he said. “We know that a lot of people are struggling and we don’t want price to be a reason that people can’t be a part of this, that they can’t be a part of a community, that they can’t access this content. And so we’re bringing the general admission prices down to zero. We have amazing sponsorship support and people who truly believe in the mission and what we’re doing, and they understand the purpose of it.”

Synapse Florida founder and President Brian Kornfeld.

Synapse Florida is a nonprofit but Kornfeld, who founded the organization only a few years ago, in 2018, considers it a startup just like any other and so he identifies with entrepreneurs who are facing tough decisions and lack of support and connections amid the pandemic. That’s why Synapse Florida has introduced for this year’s summit — which is headlined by Daymond John, star of Shark Tank and the founder and CEO of clothing brand FUBU — an online “matchmaking” service to foster virtual connections.

“We’ve contracted with a software company that utilizes artificial intelligence to help create networking and introductions,” he said. “So that way, when you go on and say, ‘I’m interested in blockchain and investing in blockchain and hiring in blockchain,’ then it’ll say, ‘Hey, you should meet this person and you should meet this person. Here’s some meeting times that they’re available.’”

The matchmaking service, known as Brella, opens weeks before the summit, Kornfeld added, so participants can plan to maximize the benefits they receive from participation. It’s also meant to soften the blow of not being able to meet in person.

“It’s something we learned from other conferences,” Kornfeld said. “We knew this was a missing piece of the puzzle … we can’t walk around the arena and get that introduction; you can’t just bump into someone you haven’t seen in two years. Now we can find a way to digitize it and make their name pop up.”

Brella is available to participants who pay $49 for a general admission “plus” ticket, as well as those who pay $149 for VIP admission.

“Each one of those tiers gets other added benefits to it,” Kornfeld said, “but if you want to show up and watch one or two sessions, by all means, get a free ticket; it’s there for you. We want as many people as possible. We’re encouraging people to do two things: Sign up and show up. Taking a free ticket and not using it doesn’t help — try to attend at least one session.”

About 300 companies are expected to be represented at the Synapse Summit, and Kornfeld said the event is on track to draw 8,000 attendees. The impressive lineup of presenters should prove to be enticing. In addition to John, speakers will include Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Trulieve CEO Kim Rivers, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, A-LIGN CEO Scott Price, Florida Funders Managing Partner Tom Wallace, Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin, Orlando Magic Senior Vice President Jay Riola and Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris.

“We are so excited for Daymond,” Kornfeld said. “He’s best known for ‘Shark Tank,’ but if you actually read and do research about him, he’s overcome dyslexia to do what he’s done. He had his first job when he was 10 years old. He’s massive into branding and such a branding guru — what he did to build FUBU from the ground up, it’s an amazing story.”

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