There’s a growing opportunity to link investing in real estate and investing in startups, said Steve Case, the venture capitalist who brought Rise of the Rest to Tampa Bay.
Embarc Collective, a Jeff Vinik-backed initiative to elevate the startup community in Tampa Bay, demonstrates the power of that kind of linkage, Case said.
Case and Vinik, the owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and one of the backers of the $3 billion Water Street Tampa project, took time during the Rise of the Rest bus tour Wednesday to visit Embarc’s office, a 32,000-square-foot space under renovation in downtown Tampa. It was the first public view of the building.
When the construction work is completed, likely around the end of this year, Embarc, which last week announced its first 25 members, will have dedicated space for those young companies, as well as public event space for conversations about technology, entrepreneurship and innovation.
Projects like Embarc can play a key role in growing young companies, said Case, who created Rise the Rest to highlight startups outside of the nation’s traditional tech hub. The Tampa Bay area was the 41st community the tour has visited.
“In every city, we see opportunity not just to back the startups, but to invest in real estate that can be supportive of the startups. Spaces like this, or mixed-use spaces that make it a more attractive place to live and work, allow you to win the battle for talent so fewer people leave for better opportunities and others come back,” Case said. “The intersection between investing in startups and investing in a project like this that can be supportive of startups is not fully understood, but I think it will become more obvious over the next decade.”
Rise of the Rest has a $150 million seed fund. Investors in that fund include both Vinik and Dan Gilbert, the Quicken Loans founder who has invested heavily in downtown Detroit. That was one reason Rise of the Rest said that it would bring in new partners to make real estate investments in Rise of the Rest cities, Case said.
“Jeff is considered one of the best investors in the last half century … so when he decides to place a $3 billion bet on Tampa, not just the real estate but building out the startup community, it’s because he believes it’s a great investment opportunity. I think over the next 10 to 20 years it will prove to be,” Case said.
There’s an incredible amount of development underway in the Tampa Bay area, Vinik said, much of it driven by population growth.
“Ten years from now, there will be another 25 percent more people here than there are now. That’s 25 percent more demand for the theater, for hockey tickets, for a company’s services, for condos. It’s an incredible tailwind to have,” Vinik said. “I think Tampa to Orlando to the Space Coast — this will be the fastest-growth area of the country in the next 10, 20 years.”
Still, the area was losing too many young people when Vinik decided to back Embarc. That’s one thing he hopes changes as the organization grows.
Embarc is not an incubator or an accelerator. It’s structured more like a venture capital fund, but it’s a nonprofit and serves companies that are at an earlier stage than those that would receive institutional capital, said Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO.
The organization provides coaches for each member as well as specialist who can help with specific tasks.
“There are 64 other entrepreneurial support organizations in Tampa Bay,” Shenoy said on the Rise of the Rest bus just before the Embarc tour got underway. She said she asked, “Why do we need a 65th and what can we do differently. It came down to being hands on with start-ups so we can ensure they are successful.”
Embarc’s physical space is still very rough, with a lot of dust and scaffolding.
“We definitely got the urban gritty feel that we were trying to achieve,” Vinik said.
Vinik sees Embarc as just one part of the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“You’re seeing many other parts of it today as you go around,” Vinik said. “This isn’t about us doing the lifting. This is about us being a great partner, a great listener, working with other support organizations and founders, with everybody to make this a successful part of the Tampa Bay economic environment. It is critical that we, not just locally but nationally, have a reputation and the goods behind that reputation, in terms of coaching and successful companies to grow this, and make this a great area for companies that want to start up and innovate and do important things for the world.”