Tampa Bay Wave’s new chairman, Brian Deming, wants to strengthen the ties between established corporations and the startup technology companies that are members of Wave.
One way to do that is for corporations to fund accelerator programs with a specific industry focus, Deming said.
Deeper and broader corporate involvement will be a 2020 priority for Wave, a nonprofit that houses and services technology startups, said Deming and Linda Olson, Wave’s president and CEO., as they discussed the state of the local startup community in an interview with the St. Pete Catalyst.
Deming is co-founder and former president of Tribridge, a Tampa-based software and cloud services company bought by DXC Technology in 2017. He succeeds veteran banker and former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink as Wave’s board chair.
He has been on the Wave board for about a year, but he’s known Olson for more than two decades. They worked together at Arthur Anderson in Tampa in the 1990s, where Olson was hired by another Tribridge co-founder, Tony DiBenedetto. DiBenedetto was one of Wave’s first board chairs, and Deming stayed connected to Wave through Tribridge, mentoring companies.
“I’m energized by the entrepreneurs you get to be around here in the office or at any of our events. The sheer energy of the entrepreneurs and the startups is infectious. I love doing that. We have a passionate board that is very involved in what is going on here too, so if I can help drive the passion of the board in the right direction to help the entrepreneurs, to me it’s the right thing to do,” Deming said.
Wave historically has done a great job of getting corporate involvement from a philanthropic perspective, Deming said. But established companies also can learn from young firms, and Wave is working on ways to strengthen those connections.
“If there’s a particular part of the tech industry that says we want to drive innovation, we can help them build a cohort, like we’ve done with Nielsen Foundation driving tech diversity,” Deming said. “If there’s another part of the tech world that says we want to drive this type of business — whether it’s cyber or something around sports or whatever it is — we can help them drive innovation in their own company. So when they make an investment, they’re not just doing it out of the goodness of their heart. They can get something back out of it in terms of building innovation in their organization, and driving innovation in their industry at large.”
Wave is talking with several companies about funding specific cohorts and expects to announce at least one of them early next year.
Corporate engagement also involves established companies doing business with startups, Olson said.
“Early stage investment capital is still a challenge locally. If we can help these companies get customer capital, it could reduce their need for investment capital, or give them more time, or actually put them in a place where they are more attractive to some of our investors,” she said.
Some companies that started in the Tampa-St. Pete area have left to go to other communities.
“You know how we get them to stay here? Make sure they know they can do business here,” Olson said. “They have customers here, they can find talent here … What we’re trying to do is build connections between the startup community and the business community here so that we increase their odds of staying here.”
It’s a two-way street, Olson said.
“Anecdotally, several companies have said there’s benefit to having the senior management team get more exposure to startups and the innovative thinking they bring to problem-solving. Even if their solution isn’t something my company needs, the way they’ve solved the problem could help my team drive their innovative thinking,” she said.
The “aha moment” for Deming was understanding how deeper corporate engagement could be a win-win.
“They could do well for the ecosystem and also do well for what they need in their own business. Both of those make the CEOs of those organizations more excited about writing a check and volunteering the time for their teams to get involved and connected and around those cohorts of startups, because it drives innovation in their own company,” Deming said. “I don’t think there’s any company out there that wouldn’t tell you innovation is at the top of their list of things they need to do if they want to survive.”
While there are still funding and other challenges, both Deming and Olson said there’s been a lot of progress in the local startup ecosystem.
More about that in an upcoming news story.