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Startup City: Where creativity and innovation commingle

Michelle Waite



Ian Annase, Co-Founder and CEO of tech startup Zing Drone Delivery with Lauren Tarpley, Co-Founder and CMO stand with their drones in front of one of many murals honoring the city’s imaginative spirit. Photo by Michelle Waite.

My father was an artist. In his early career, he put food on the table working as the Creative Director of a large advertising agency in Pittsburgh. Later, he channeled that creative energy into a myriad of entrepreneurial endeavors. 

My mother is an aficionado of innovation. She loves purposeful gadgets and, to this day, I often learn from her about the next great tool to make life more efficient. She bought one of the first Macintosh computers in the ’80s long before the “intosh” was removed to become the Mac that we know today.

The combination of this artist and innovator was a beautiful thing. Sadly, a few years after we moved to Florida, at the very young age of 44, my father was killed in a car accident. Despite their relatively short time together, this duo created and ran businesses, designed and built (with their own hands) two homes, worked on countless design projects together and nurtured a loving family of four.

It’s a common misconception that creativity is an exclusive skillset of the artist or performer. My father was creative, but not exclusively because he was an artist. My mother does not consider herself creative, but I respectfully disagree. I believe that creativity or a creative way of thinking is one of the most important building blocks for building a family, a business, a community, a movement, an invention, and yes, a great startup company.

The Creative Spirit of St. Petersburg

In the previous article in this series, the question was posed: how can we create an environment that nurtures and excels the rate of continuous improvement and innovation, while keeping the core essence and goodness of who we are? 

At its core, St. Pete is a creative community. It proudly boasts over 500 murals, numerous sculptures, installations, art museums and galleries. Through well supported organizations like the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance and others, St. Pete has made a serious investment in its local arts organizations, artists and creative businesses. Frankly, it’s a big part of why I moved here.

So, why is it important that our community also builds innovative startups? Scalable startups are the engines that drive economic growth and job creation in many markets around the world. Startups solve problems. They fill needs. They create jobs and keep the economy running. When built in an ethical way, they make our lives better. 

The question remains: How does a creative ecosystem and startup innovation coexist and thrive? But first, a little background on the creative process.

The Evolution of the Creative Process

In the book The Art of Thought, Graham Wallace first developed a model for the creative process which consisted of four main stages of creativity.

Many versions of the same or similar have emerged since that time, including the concept and practice of Design Thinking which has been an integral part of product innovations for tech companies and other businesses in more recent years. IDEO, based in Silicon Valley, has become the go-to global design company for helping people think like designers to transform the way their organizations develop products, services, processes and strategy.

Locally, the Innovation Labs at the Dalí Museum also incorporate design thinking into their offerings. They combine Dalí’s art, philosophy and methods with state-of-the-art research on creativity, creative problem solving and organizational management to offer programs that jumpstart creativity and improve innovation outcomes.

According to Kimberly Macuare, the Co-Director of the Innovation Labs, leveraging tools like Design Thinking and the FourSight Thinking Profile has enabled companies who participate in their programs to see their own gaps as an organization within the creative process and to implement strategies for better innovation. 

“Businesses are incredibly creative,” explains Macuare,”however, they don’t necessarily think of themselves as being creative. Artists have always understood themselves to be creative. It is good to look at them and model them.” 

There is a misconception in our culture that artists simply sit around and get inspired by some sort of muse as they create their great masterpieces. Inspiration is a part of it, but in reality, it is an iterative process. Macuare explains, “Those masterworks were two-year projects that started with ideas and sketches that went through all kinds of practice canvases.” 

This is exactly where the startup world intersects with creativity. The idea of trying something, seeing what happens, learning from it, and then adapting or pivoting is key in the world of startups. Entrepreneurs who can master this practice are much more likely to succeed.

A startup story of creativity, iteration and innovation

Still in the early stage, Zing Drone Delivery knows well the need for and value of iteration and creativity. Ian Annase, currently based in Sarasota, is the CEO leading the mission to use technological innovation to make resources more accessible and environmentally friendly through drone delivery. Lauren Tarpley, who heads up marketing for Zing, lives and works in St. Pete. 

Together with the rest of the team, they have experienced firsthand the need to stay nimble in this promising new category of drone delivery. Having pivoted a few times in their business model, they are now working directly with restaurants to test the concept of home food delivery. Think “uber eats with drones” which can reduce the time to delivery significantly.

With their pilot licensing in place and partnerships with Airspace Link, they are working to get approval with the St. Petersburg Beach government in order to officially launch operations for delivery from restaurants there across the water into Tierra Verde, reducing delivery travel time from 30 minutes down to five minutes or less.

“In 2018, seeing how stable drones had become and how far they could fly, I felt like the technology was getting there,” states Annase. “The pathway for drone delivery is now here in the United States, we just need to go through it.” With more acceptance to the concept of drone delivery, especially post-Covid, their biggest challenge now is the ability to broaden their scope in urban markets and the time it takes to get the certification to do so. 

Left-brained Annase and right-brained Tarpley are a great team. Designing the product is just one example. Says Tarpley, “I’m amazed at the creativity of this development team. There is such a level of creating and innovation when you don’t have a prior example.” This includes the design of the Zing winch product, which autonomously lowers the packages. 

Annase agrees. “The hook system [for the winch], I am the most proud of.  We had to make a system where it would drop packages with no one underneath. It was a lot of iteration. We would create one and go through so many iterations to get to a point where it was usable.”

Whether it’s design, operations or strategy, this team approaches it all with the same level of creativity, design thinking and iterative processes to get to where they need to be. “When building a company, when you first start and make something you think is really great,” says Annase, “people will criticize it, make fun of it. Many people won’t get past that stage of criticism and just quit. You have to go through those iterations and have people criticize. It takes resiliency. If you don’t, you’ll never get to the stage of the company where something is actually going to work.”

I have a feeling that Dalí just might agree.

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. Follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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  1. Avatar

    john collins

    April 14, 2022at9:03 am

    Terrific article and quite wonderful to read that our arts and cultural community is one of the reasons you moved here. I so appreciate that you recognize and value the symbiotic relationships among arts, tech, and community.

  2. Avatar

    Michelle Waite

    April 25, 2022at8:00 pm

    Thanks John! St. Pete is a special place for sure!

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