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Local business leaders welcome fintech entreprenuers

Mark Parker



Linda Olson, CEO of Tampa Bay Wave, noted that the nonprofit has supported over 500 startups that have raised over $800 million in capital and created more than 4,500 jobs in its first 10 years. Photos by Mark Parker.

Gert-Jan de Vreede, interim dean of the University of South Florida’s Muma College of Business, believes Tampa Bay needs a moniker that embodies the region’s transformation into a technology hub.

He noted that California has Silicon Valley, and people refer to Omaha, Nebraska, as Silicon Prairie. After dismissing Silicon Swamp and suggesting Silicon Bay, de Vreede said, “We have to think of something – because we are coming.”

“People are going to notice that the ecosystem here is the place to be,” de Vreede added. “Tonight’s event is one of those events that really lights you up.”

Tampa Bay Wave and the Muma College of Business selected 15 high-growth international fintech (financial technology) startups to participate in the second FinTech|X Accelerator program. The Sept. 21 event at USF St. Petersburg introduced the cohort to the surrounding community.

Much of the 90-day program occurs at the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance on the St. Petersburg campus. Participants will receive critical resources, mentorship, connections and guidance from industry veterans.

While the event served as the cohort’s first in-person introduction, it was also an opportunity for local business leaders to pitch the area to entrepreneurs. Linda Olson, CEO of Tampa Bay Wave, noted that the nonprofit has supported 500 startups that raised over $800 million in capital and created more than 4,500 jobs through its first 10 years.

“I’m also equally proud of the growth of the Tampa Bay tech ecosystem,” Olson said. “We’re no longer the best-kept secret in the U.S., wouldn’t you agree? Fintech is an important piece of the Tampa Bay tech ecosystem and is getting its own national recognition.”

She asked attendees to help foster the cohort’s growth. Not just for the fun and pride, Olson said, but also to support the local tech ecosystem.

She credited USF and its Colleges of Business for providing support and a home for the FinTech|X Accelerator. Olson also noted the program received a $2 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA).

Dr. Eric Eisenberg, senior vice president of university-community partnerships, returned the gratitude. He said Olson was the first to announce the EDA grant program to create national tech hubs.

Eisenberg said Olson asked if he thought federal officials would consider Tampa Bay a tech hub. “Absolutely,” he said.

“And that was the beginning of more paperwork than you can imagine,” Eisenberg added. “Tampa Bay is having a moment. We’re having a moment where things like fintech and cyber tech are really attracting people here in a very significant way.”

He said USFSP’s Fintech Center “perfectly aligns” with the university’s strategic goals. USF is officially one of North America’s leading research universities as an Association of American Universities (AAU) member.

Just 3% of four-year universities have received an invitation, and Eisenberg noted those schools receive 67% of federal funding. He believes the money will continue trickling down to USF’s fintech offerings.


Dr. Cynthia Johnson, director of Pinellas County Economic Development, said St. Petersburg offers the ideal business climate.

Dr. Cynthia Johnson, director of Pinellas County Economic Development, noted that the surrounding Innovation District is at the epicenter of the city’s tech ecosystem. She said the surrounding community – including the St. Petersburg Economic Development Council and Chamber of Commerce – “is so rich with resources” for burgeoning entrepreneurs.

Johnson said St. Pete has “B3”: Beaches, baseball and business that will continue attracting startups. She told the cohort to “come on down” when considering brick-and-mortar locations.

“This is a community that embraces you – your talent, your innovation, your activity and your individuality,” Johnson added. “We are the ideal business place, and we want to make sure all your needs are met.

“We are providing the resources you need to not only be resilient and to be innovative but to be transformative.”

Michael Wiemer, director of the Fintech Center, said the facility focuses on four pillars: Teaching, research, innovation and engagement. He has hired new faculty since the inaugural cohort to increase those efforts.

The center now offers a fintech Master of Science degree that Wiemer said would provide “cutting-edge education” to graduate students. He pledged that USF’s Colleges of Business would continue adding faculty to match the community’s support and needs.

While Wiemer said 2022’s cohort exceeded expectations, he believes the latest group will “raise the bar, our quality, our impact and engagement.”

The 15 companies participating in the 2023 FinTech|X Accelerator include:






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