I’ve always been fascinated with bridges – both the physical and metaphorical type.
As you may have read in one of my previous articles, I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Many know Pittsburgh for its history of great sports franchises, a ketchup legacy from HJ Heinz, and its most recognized nickname – “The Steel City.”
What is not as well known is that Pittsburgh has another nickname -“The City of Bridges.” There is a lot of debate over whether, as some claim, Pittsburgh has more bridges than any other city in the world. Regardless, there are a LOT of bridges. Without bridges, the Pittsburgh region would be a series of fragmented valleys, hillsides, river plains and isolated communities. It is an important part of the fabric and success of the city and for those that live there.
Physical bridges are a critical component of national and local economies, as they play a necessary role in moving goods from one place to another and providing customers with access to businesses.
Without our four major bridges in Tampa Bay including the Courtney Campbell, the Howard Frankland, the Gandy and the Sunshine Skyway, traveling between the Florida peninsula and the Pinellas peninsula would be extremely inconvenient. The work commute from my home in St. Pete to the Florida Funders offices in Tampa, for example, would be mostly unfeasible.
Just as important is the metaphorical use of building bridges. A bridge between people allows for the sharing of ideas, developing common goals and executing collaboratively, where the sum of the parts is always better than working individually.
I believe bridge building across a region, as well as within a company, is critical to the success of a tech startup community.
A strong tech business needs bridge builders
In a previous article, I touched on the importance of a welcoming community for attracting startups and talent to the region. Taking this one step further – once a nascent tech community (or startup) graduates to a more mature one, as Tampa Bay and Miami have been experiencing more recently, it is important that the silos are obliterated.
When companies, organizations, or communities do not communicate with, understand, or work well with other parts, it hurts everyone involved. The value of knocking down these silos cannot be underestimated.
When the proper goals are identified and aligned with everyone rowing in the same direction, the finish line for that race becomes that much closer. I’ve witnessed both sides of this equation in business and community. In the end, it comes down to alignment and the right incentives.
Setting effective alignment and incentives requires bridge builders. These are the people in the organization who see the bigger picture, understand the gaps and have the ability to bring people or technology, for that matter, together toward a common goal.
A local founder sees bridge building at the core of his business
When Osama Sabbah grew up in Jerusalem, a region of ongoing turmoil and unrest, he learned important lessons that have stayed with him for life. “When you grow up in an atmosphere like that, you always want to create connections and peace for others,” explains Sabbah. “I’ve always had that leadership within me, where I wanted to build bridges more than anything else.”
Sabbah is a natural bridge builder. When he moved the headquarters for his company XPRO to St. Pete recently, one of the first things he did was host a happy hour for investors and other local startups in the region. When he reached out for advice about an opening board meeting speech, a close friend simply told him to “just be you – a person who loves building community, getting groups together, enriching that and growing it, then connecting it and building out the entire network.”
This skill has served him well over his life. At the age of 17, Sabbah moved to the U.S. to study on a full scholarship. The first decade of his working life after graduating from college was as a consultant helping to build centers of excellence for several Fortune 500 companies including IBM, Pfizer, Hershey, T-Mobile and Walmart.
Growing up and through his consulting role, he lived and worked all over the U.S. and in different parts of the world. This is where he honed his skills in translating and aligning diverse groups of people on the same goal.
It was a project at Walmart, however, for which he was the lead, that propelled his career forward and inspired his entrepreneurial endeavors. His team was able to automate a supply chain system (from years to seconds) and save them over $100M.
This experience inspired him to create his own vision for bringing to life solutions that the market needed. “I wanted to create a company or companies that could build those bridges across platforms,” says Sabbah. After finding investment partners while living in Colorado, he was able to launch three companies – a retail analytics company that was later sold, a facial recognition advertising platform that shut down due to Covid, and XPRO for supplier enablement.
XPRO is a cloud-based solution for automating the relationship between the buyer and the supplier. Sabbah explains further, “We automate the entire process from onboarding suppliers, to verifying suppliers, to generating revenue by identifying duplicate and erroneous payments, all the way through payments.”
The company currently has 15 enterprise accounts already using their solution. His vision, however, is to provide solutions that let every size company participate, get value and grow their business to that enterprise level. Today’s competitors in this space, according to Sabbah, are large, cumbersome and expensive to onboard and use. His company has recently hired a Director of Business Development and Sr VP of Growth who will expand their sales team and build bridges throughout Florida.
Like many tech startups, XPRO has big plans to become the next unicorn in this space. Underlying all of this, of course, will be a continued focus on bridge building at Sabbah’s company and in the community. “As I continue to mature in a country like the U.S., and start to see more of the divisions happening – even recently in the past five to seven years – that has just doubled down on the actual dream that I want to do.”
Startup City will continue to explore topics on what it takes to have a thriving startup ecosystem on a bi-weekly basis through stories and thoughts of local residents.
Michelle Waite is the VP of Marketing at Florida Funders, a locally-based venture capital firm and angel investor network who enables tech startups to thrive through monetary and business-intellectual capital. She has invested in, co-founded and worked for tech startups for the last 10 years. She counts herself lucky everyday to work for and alongside some pretty amazing entrepreneurs. You can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.