Wave strives to make Tampa the ‘gold standard’ in tech hubs
Tampa Bay Wave, which started in the early days as a small meetup group of entrepreneurs and evolved into the area’s largest award-winning tech incubator, continues to be the critical backbone of the growing startup community.
Inside Tampa Bay Wave’s new 8,000-square-foot office on the sixth floor of the WeWork building in Tampa, TBW founder and CEO Linda Olson tearfully thanked the audience in the packed room for believing in a vision that over 10 years ago seemed unattainable for the once sleepy city.
“We started as a meetup group because founders needed peer support, and at some point, we got frustrated [by the lack of resources] and said, if we don’t roll up our sleeves and do something, who will?” Olson said during the Thursday ribbon-cutting ceremony for TBW’s new home, recalling TBW’s infancy in 2008.
Today, numerous co-working and incubator spaces have emerged following TBW’s inception, such as Embarc Collective in Tampa, the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, Station House and others.
However, Olson shared it wasn’t until 2013 that the Wave’s mission was fueled through a partnership with the University of South Florida to officially form an accelerator and venture center in Tampa. The partnership led to a $1 million grant from the Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration, followed by $1 million in matching funds from local businesses.
Tribridge co-founder Tony DiBenedetto, a longtime partner supporting TBW, linked Olson with key executives such as Chuck Sykes, former CEO at Tampa-based IT company Sykes Enterprises, and serial entrepreneur Steve MacDonald.
DiBenedetto praised Olson for her unwavering persistence in seeking support from tech leaders and business executives, describing Olson as “selfless” in taking a leap of faith in pursuing an ambitious endeavor.
To date, TBW has received over $14 million in funding and has worked with 460 startups, which have raised a combined $700 million and created 4,200 jobs, according to Olson.
“Individuals have incredible ideas. They just need someone to open the door a crack so they can bust through it,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said during the event, stating the region can’t overlook the inequalities in funding minority-owned startups and TBW is helping close that gap.
TBW recently landed a $2 million federal grant to boost its cyber/finance and healthtech programs. It is also working with the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce to launch the region’s first tech accelerator for Latin Americans, with the support of U.S. Representative Kathy Castor.
Tampa Bay Wave has operated 29 accelerators, recruiting participants across the U.S. and Central America.
Olson said they are preparing to run five more accelerators within the next 12 months.
“Our vision for the next 10 years is for Florida to become the next tech hub that others will envy; we will be the gold standard,” Olson said.