History mixed with the future as organizers and supporters cut the ribbon to open The Undercroft, a cybersecurity hub in Ybor City.
The 15,000-square-foot coworking/colocation space is located in the El Pasaje, also known as the Cherokee Club, the second-oldest building in Ybor.
“You are at ground zero for what Ybor was and still is,” said Major Gen. USAF (Retired) David Scott, a business owner and board member at The Undercroft.
At the height of the cigar era, Ybor City was home to 123 cigar factories employing 133,000 people who rolled cigars by hand, until they were replaced by automation.
“Innovation killed Ybor to a degree and now on the upswing, we see the tech community bringing the right people into town with the right creative juices flowing in order to establish a new signature here,” Scott said. “Cigar City to cYbor City is a neat connection to make.”
The Undercroft is a place where all types of cybersecurity practitioners can come together, with a mission to grow and strengthen the cybersecurity ecosystem, said Undercroft board member Joy Randels, a local entrepreneur, founder and chairman at Applied G2 and New Market Partners.
“There’s no other place like this anywhere in the world, where we’re bringing together cybersecurity startups and larger companies that have offices opening here because of the other resources in our community — SOCOM [United States Special Operation Command] and CENTCOM [United States Central Command], as well as probably about 35 cybersecurity companies from Hillsborough County to Sarasota County,” Randels said. “That doesn’t include all the cybersecurity practitioners out there that are offering services or work with other companies.”
The goal is not only about space but creating a guild, connecting subject matter experts with startups, industry leading technology companies and students, she said.
Adam Sheffield and Chris Machowski, co-founders, have primarily bootstrapped the effort. They also raised $14,884 through a Kickstarter campaign, exceeding their goal by 148 percent.
There are several members already working in the space, including BlackHorse Solutions Inc., Fraud Doctor LLC, Sharp Decisions Inc., Bull Horn Communications and Walker Law Firm.
Both Randels and Scott emphasized the need for cyber professionals.
“We are becoming more and more vulnerable, and a lot is done in dark places that we don’t see that can come out and slap us in the face without much warning,” Scott said. “It’s a great field to be in and very important not only to our economic well-being but our national security.”
Cyber practitioners have operated in obscurity for a couple of decades, that’s changed, and it’s changing the economic development possibilities in the area, Randels said.
“The highest paying jobs today are in cybersecurity,” she said. “By increasing that talent pool, we also increase the worth of people in this community, we give a reason for people to come here to this region.”
At the end of the day, The Undercroft will change Tampa, Randels said.
“I think there’s a little bit of irony in the fact that you’re seeing a regeneration in an area that was known for some nefarious activities of its own. There were gangs and all these other things,” she said. “In our own way, we’re putting together our own cyber gang and we’re asking everyone to join in and be part of that, on the good guy side.”