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What the Rise of the Rest means for talent in Tampa Bay

Megan Holmes

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Rest of the Rest Pitch Companies.

If Steve Case, Jeff Vinik, eight startup founders and the hundreds of startup enthusiasts that packed ConnectWise’s Tampa office on Wednesday evening have anything to say about it, the days of Tampa Bay brain drain are numbered.

For decades, and particularly following the Great Recession, the conventional wisdom for young, bright entrepreneurs and tech-savvy workers had been that finding success meant leaving Tampa Bay for larger tech hubs like Boston, Atlanta, New York or Silicon Valley.

That narrative is changing, and it’s changing fast, thanks to pioneering founders born and raised in Tampa Bay – and those flocking here from larger, more competitive cities throughout the country.

This week, Tampa Bay became the 41st tech ecosystem highlighted on Steve Case’s Rise of the Rest Tour. Launched in 2014, the Rise of the Rest has highlighted cities outside of the traditional tech hubs – Boston, New York City, and Silicon Valley. Cities like Minneapolis, Buffalo, Albuquerque, New Orleans, and St. Louis have been among those spotlighted by the Rise of the Rest. On Wednesday, Tampa Bay took its turn.

“You don’t need to be in Silicon Valley, you don’t need to be in New York City necessarily, with communications the way they are today,” said Tampa Bay Lightning owner and billionaire investor Jeff Vinik at Wednesday’s Rise of the Rest main event. “With the internet, with technology, that can develop anywhere, that can take off anywhere.”

That’s good news for Tampa Bay, who showcased eight of its best and brightest startups headquartered locally at the Rise of the Rest’s main event.

Four of those eight startup founders were educated right here in Tampa Bay, at the University of South Florida.

The winner of the $100,000 Rise of the Rest pitch prize, Immertec’s Erik Malteis, studied accounting and economics at USF. Pocket Network’s Michael O’Rourke majored in international studies. The Natural Nipple’s Lauren Wright studied nursing at USF, and following her training to become a nurse practitioner returned for her PhD in Psychoneuroimmunology. She is currently a graduate research assistant at USF.

Finally, St. Petersburg’s very first Entrepreneur in Residence, Reuben Pressman, studied entrepreneurship and leadership at USF St. Petersburg.

It’s the success of innovative companies like these, Vinik said, born and bred in Tampa Bay that will define the Tampa Bay tech ecosystem, and be the “contagion” that ignites the region to keep talent local and draw those who have moved away back home.

Vinik recalled speaking to a class at an all-boys Jesuit high school in Tampa a few months ago. “How are you going to define success here?” they asked. “In 10 years, how many of you are living and working in Tampa Bay?” he asked. “That’s how we are going to measure success.”

Tampa Bay’s tech ecosystem has already shown serious promise in the last few years. “We often talk about this emerging community that we have, but we have so much to be be proud of already,” said Linda Olson, CEO of startup incubator Tampa Bay Wave.

In 2017, Tampa-based pharmacy benefits firm myMatrixx was acquired by Express Scripts for $250 million. That same year, DXC Technology Co. acquired Tampa-based Tribridge Holdings LLC for $152 million. Earlier this year, Connectwise announced its pending acquisition by Thoma Bravo, LLC, a private equity investment firm.

“I think the number I heard was 70 new millionaires for Tampa Bay,” said Olson. “It’s only the tip of the iceberg, folks.”

According to Case, these big exits propel whole ecosystems forward.

“We see it in a bunch of cities, when some of these companies are acquired or go public and there are huge exits, suddenly people say, ‘Oh, we can do it.'”

“Nobody thought anybody could run a four-minute mile until somebody did – and then a bunch of people did. Nobody thought anybody could climb to the top of Mount Everest until somebody did – and then a bunch of people did.”

Rise of the Rest Pitch Event

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Revolution's Steve Case sat down with Tampa's Jeff Vinik, moderated by Axios' Kim Hart.

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