Spanx founder and CEO Sara Blakely will be the featured keynote speaker at Synapse Summit 2020, a two-day conference to highlight innovation in Florida and in the Tampa-St. Pete area.
Blakely is a Clearwater native who launched Spanx with $5,000 in savings and grew the undergarment business to a $1 billion company. She was a top choice for a Synapse keynote because she is a true innovator, said Lauren Prager, Synapse vice president for community engagement.
“We had a wish list of inspiring leaders with global name recognition who we felt could be part of celebrating innovation in Florida, and her name was at top of my list,” Prager said. “She’s a Florida native, graduated from Florida State University and was inducted in 2018 in the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame. It underscores the relevance Synapse has in celebrating innovation.”
Bringing in a high-profile woman business leader as a keynote speaker also represents a continued focus by Synapse Summit organizers on featuring female entrepreneurs. In the summit’s first year in 2018, critics said women were under-represented. That changed at the 2019 summit with several women speakers and panelists.
Blakely was working at Danka, an office supply company in St. Petersburg, when she came up with the idea for Spanx, according to Wikipedia. She cut the feet off a pair of control top pantyhose to produce what essentially was the first prototype for Spanx, which has grown into a collection of shapewear garments. She holds three U.S. patents.
“She’s a true innovator,” Prager said. “She had a problem and didn’t wait for someone to fix it. She did it herself. She built an amazing company that gives people confidence and has given back and helps others.”
In 2006 Blakely launched the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation, which has donated millions to charities around the world, focusing on charities that empower underserved women and girls. In 2013, she became the first self-made, female billionaire to sign the Melinda and Bill Gates’ and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, promising to give at least half her wealth to charity.
Blakely has been recognized by Forbes as a Global Game Changer and as one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the world.
Synapse Summit 2020 will be Feb. 11-12 at Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa. Blakely will speak on Feb. 12, said Brian Kornfeld, Synapse co-founder and president. He called Blakely’s appearance a “game-changer” for Synapse.
“We believe this is the best event to get connected to the innovation community, and we hope more people will attend, get engaged, and become a true part of innovation in Florida,” Kornfeld said.
More than 6,000 innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, and corporate partners are expected to attend the 2020 Synapse Summit, which will have more hands-on experiences and opportunities to talk to people who share common interests than the past two events.
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Synapse Summit 2019 featured more than 330 exhibitors and 300 speakers over two days at Amalie Arena, attracting 5,542 attendees. Click here for the St. Pete Catalyst’s coverage of the event earlier this year.