As a boy growing up on the Southside of St. Peterburg, Pat Mack never imagined he would one day become the owner of a successful tech business.
Following over two decades in the Navy, Mack founded PVM in 2011 while living in San Diego. PVM is a software engineering company focused on solving problems through data, often in the security and defense industries. What started as a one-man consulting firm quickly grew, and Mack recently relocated his company to his childhood home.
PVM, now based in the new Maritime and Defense Technology Hub in the city’s Innovation District, boasts around 50 employees and expects to grow by 40% this year. Mack is proud of the fact that his last three hires also hail from St. Petersburg – a number he expects will continue increasing. He is also intent on giving back to the city that raised him, especially its minority communities.
“For a kid like me growing up here – that’s huge,” he said. “You know, 40 years ago, that seemed like a pipe dream … and so I’m exceptionally proud of the city and the opportunity it affords folks like me.”
Mack said St. Petersburg changed significantly for the better since he grew up here in the 1970s and early ’80s. He said the city was more of a retirement community in those days, limiting opportunities across the racial divide. Growing up on the south side of Central Avenue was also a much different experience for people of color back then, he added.
Mack’s grandparents raised him, and he said they were often racially profiled and stopped by police. He said areas like Gulfport were typically off-limits at that time, and the social ills that are a part of today’s public discourse thrived in the southern city. While his grandparents had limited opportunities and resources, they taught young Pat Mack the value of hard work.
Mack’s grandmother was a maid, and his grandfather worked for the city as a mason before starting his own landscaping company.
“That was the entrepreneurial availability in our eyes,” Mack said of buying a lawnmower and hitting the streets. “When I look back at it, I never thought I’d be a business owner.”
Although his grandmother could not read or write, and his grandfather never made it past eighth grade, Mack said they owned their home and put his dad through college.
Mack said his path to launching a software engineering company began at age 9 through an unlikely source – greyhound racing.
“My dad had actually gone out to the dog track and had a fairly decent day – I think he hit a perfecta,” said Mack, with a laugh. “He knew that I wanted a computer, so he purchased my first computer, and that started a love affair with me and IT (information technology).”
After earning his master’s degree in computer science, Mack spent the last 15 years of his 24-year naval career as an officer tasked with building and purchasing software for the Navy. Specifically, software that “distills and coalesces” data to shape “really important, meaningful decisions.” When it came time to retire, he knew that was something he felt passionate about and wanted to continue.
Mack settled in San Diego and eventually launched PVM. Although Mack ran the company by himself at first, a partnership with data analytic company Palantir led to rapid growth.
“And it quickly went from a one-person company to about a 20-person company, really focused on solving that (data-driven decision making) problem for the Navy,” he said. “Then, as Palantir grew within the Department of Defense and globally, my opportunities grew with them.”
PVM now provides data analytics and data science services for several state, federal and commercial organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the FBI and global fintech company Fiserv. Mack said PVM focuses on data associated with quality of life, either through national security, economic development or health and life sciences.
“I’ve had two jobs in my lifetime – the U.S. Navy and my company,” said Mack. “And both of those careers have centered on this notion of public service.”
As PVM grew as a company, he said St. Petersburg was the furthest thing from his mind. However, everything changed when his father was diagnosed with cancer, and Mack returned to the area to take care of him around 2016.
Mack, who said that water is in his DNA, lived on his 45-foot catamaran sailboat at that time – while running his business remotely and splitting time between coasts. Following his father’s passing, he decided to plant roots in his hometown. Mack reached out to the Pinellas County Economic Development office, which referred him to Alison Barlow, executive director of the St. Pete Innovation District and the Maritime and Defense Tech Hub.
Although the Hub was nearly full at the time, save for some co-working space, Mack became enamored with the work going on in the building and knew it was the best place for PVM.
“Just the concept of having this incubator of sorts, focused on marine science and technology; it just resonated with me,” he said. “We took a tour of the building, and I was sold.”
PVM has expanded its footprint at the Hub and now occupies around a quarter of the top floor, said Mack. The company employs about 50 people and looks to add around 20 more this year, and Mack noted his director of talent acquisition is also a St. Petersburg native.
Now, he hopes to give back to the community and provide opportunities and pathways he once thought were out of his reach.
PVM partners with Amazon Web Services (AWS) through its Think Big for Small Business Program. Mack said the initiative targets minority-owned businesses and provides additional growth resources, such as free training. He is now working with leadership at St. Petersburg College to provide internships through AWS.
“And the goal is to target folks that may not have four-year degrees, but the willingness to work in the tech space,” he said. “The second part of it is I’m working with Codeboxx, another local company, and CareerSource to specifically target folks of color.”
Mack called the efforts a “long play” for him as a business owner. Once people earn their tech certifications and complete internships, he hires them as full-time employees. Mack said a Lakewood High graduate and University of South Florida student currently participates in an artificial intelligence and machine learning internship with PVM. Another engineer of color and former intern now works full-time for the company supporting the CDC program.
Mack said that far too often, he is the only person of color in a meeting or on a call – certainly among C-level executives. He hopes to change that and noted that diverse companies outperform their counterparts.
“Me hiring 100% Black people doesn’t make my company diverse,” he added.
In addition to people of color, Mack said he wants to provide tech opportunities for women, first-generation college students, and those that speak English as a second language. He believes partnerships with the city, county, Innovation District and St. Petersburg College will help accomplish that goal.
Mack said it takes a village to help people achieve success, and St. Petersburg was his village. He credited his neighbors growing up in Laurel Park, Campbell Park and Lakewood Estates for caring and helping him along the way, and now he wants to take a chance on others just as they took a chance on him.
“You just need somebody to look at you and see you for who you are – and take a chance,” said Mack. “And that’s what I want to do.”