The Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg was abuzz Monday as university officials announced a “transformative” $14 million gift from the school’s namesake.
Philanthropists Kate Tiedemann and Ellen Cotton, longtime supporters of USFSP, provided the $14 million donation to support the school’s new Fintech Center and help transform the School of Business and Finance into a “hub of excellence” in financial technology education. Their latest gift brings the couple’s total monetary contributions to the university to nearly $30 million.
Several city and state officials joined university and local business leaders inside a packed Lynn Kippenger Hall at the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance, one of six schools that comprise the USF Muma College of Business. While the St. Petersburg campus is home to the new Fintech Center, its students and faculty hail from all three campuses – and all will benefit from the gift. USF President Rhea Law said Tiedemann and Cotton are integral for furthering the entire university’s upward trajectory and sustaining its momentum.
“I’m not overstating it when I say they have transformed this university,” said Law. “Not just here on St. Petersburg’s campus, but throughout the entirety of ‘OneUSF.’”
House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor resident and USF alum whose district encompasses northern Pinellas County, said he was never more excited to be a part of the university as he was at that moment. Sprowls said he would “remind his good friend the governor” about Tiedemann and Cotton’s investment in the campus as another reason the state should “double down on the future of the University of South Florida.”
Sprowls said business owners and hedge fund managers are flocking to Florida and St. Petersburg, looking for an enjoyable community and a talent pipeline to breathe life and intelligence into their companies.
“What’s happening here at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg – because of Kate and Ellen and all of you and your hard work – will not only impact this campus from the students who walk through these hallways,” said Sprowls. “It is going to impact the entire City of St. Peterburg, our entire business sector and the growth, strength and prosperity of the State of Florida.”
Mayor Ken Welch, fresh off a press conference celebrating his first 100 days in office, said he sensed a feeling in the room. A feeling not just of excitement and something new on the horizon, but progress.
Welch, a USFSP alum, said embracing and nurturing innovation is paramount to diversifying St. Pete’s economy and its emergence as the Southeast’s premier tech and innovation hub. He noted that just in the last few months, the city broke ground on the ARK Innovation Center – an incubator for tech entrepreneurs sponsored by Cathie Wood and ARK Invest, also the anchor tenant.
Welch also noted the recent openings of the Innovation District’s Maritime Defense and Technology Hub just down the street, along with the Generator – USF’s new digital arts gallery in South St. Petersburg. Finally, he thanked Sprowls and other state leaders for USF receiving $75 million in funding for the Center for Environmental and Oceanographic Science.
Welch said the city’s sunshine and waterfront have long attracted visitors from around the world, and something new is taking place. Entrepreneurs, investors, students and world-class academics are now flocking to St. Petersburg, said Welch, and adding to the already rich culture and creativity in the city.
Welch concluded his remarks by stating that historically, the financial services industry often excluded communities of color and those from low-income backgrounds. He believes the new Fintech Center can act as a digital bridge for financial inclusion.
“So, let’s disrupt those historic barriers; and shape fintech to be the great equalizer for economic mobility and wealth creation for everyone,” said Welch. “We are all in this together, and I pledge my administration’s partnership in the work of building that bridge.”
Moez Limayem, dean of the USF Muma College of Business, thanked Tiedemann and Cotton “from the bottom of his heart” for helping change the lives of thousands of students for years to come. People generally think of fintech as marrying the financial and technology industries, he said, but it encompasses several other aspects of business in the 21st century.
Limayem said the center would provide education on “amazing concepts” such as blockchain technology, cryptocurrency, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and mobile payments. However, he added that fintech is also transforming the real estate, healthcare and insurance industries, among many others.
Limayem relayed that 30 years ago, most people did not have internet access. Now people cannot live without it, and he said experts predict the same future for fintech.
“And it’s all starting right here,” said Limayem. “The epicenter is St. Pete.”
He recalled giving presentations to Tiedemann and Cotton on the idea of a fintech center. The couple said they did not fully understand fintech but trusted his judgment.
“If you know Kate and Ellen, that’s a euphemism for saying, ‘here’s the money – don’t screw it up,” said Limayem. “Kate and Ellen, we promise you we’re going to really work hard on making sure you see the best in your investment for our school …”
Limayem envisions the Fintech Center as a magnet for startups and entrepreneurs from across the globe. When a founder thinks of fintech, he said they should think of St. Petersburg and the Kate Tiedemann School of Business and Finance. He noted that is already happening, as USF and Tampa Bay Wave recently unveiled the first cohort of 16 startups – many of which relocated from overseas – for the first fintech accelerator in Florida. The St. Pete campus is also home to the Fintech|X Accelerator.
He added that university leaders are serious about turning the school into a global fintech destination within five years.
“One day, I promise you, all of us will say, ‘I was there on April 18, 2022, when this all started,'” said Limayem. “It’s a great story for your kids and grandkids because today, history will be made, and the future is not in the future.”