If you want proof that Tampa Bay’s tech and startup scene is in full swing, there were over 3,500 reasons at the Synapse Innovation Summit.

That’s the approximate number of attendees who filled the Amalie Arena on March 28-29, 2018 for the two-day event. From venture capitalists and successful founders to newly launched start-ups and college students, the event attracted attendees from a variety of industries and points of their career -- and that was the point.  

The founders of the Innovation Summit wanted to bring “together innovators from all industries and stages of development to connect technology, regionally-based innovation, and entrepreneurial ecosystems throughout Florida.” They wanted to get all of the Bay’s bright, forward-thinking, tech and entrepreneurial minds in one place so they could share ideas, network, and find ways to work together to build an even stronger community of innovation.  

Where We're Going

Talk of future was a focal point of the Innovation Summit. Breakout sessions and main stage speakers examined emerging trends, new technology, advancements in business, and inspired looks at what is to come in the area.    

Jeff Vinik, Owner of Tampa Bay Lightning and Founder of Strategic Property Partners, the real estate company behind the $3 billion Water Street Tampa redevelopment project (which will feature a new innovation hub) opened the event with a promising look at Tampa’s future.    

“The entrepreneurial ecosystem is ours for the taking. There is no leader in Florida in terms of this ecosystem. Arguably, Atlanta has some strength and Raleigh-Durham, but I have no doubt that if we put our minds to it, together, in 5 to 10 years from now we will be the leader in Florida, if not the leader in the Southeast in terms of startup activity,” Vinik said.    

Vinik, along with Mayors from both sides of the bridge, Bob Buckhorn from Tampa and Rick Kriseman from St. Petersburg, highlighted the potential of the area and discussed the importance of both attracting and retaining top talent to grow the innovation community around the Bay.  

Where We Are

While the future was a primary topic of conversation, the current state of the region’s innovation was also highlighted at the Innovation Summit.  

More than 250 local companies filled two floors of the Amalie Arena with exhibit halls that offered an exciting look at what is already happening in the area. Hubs organized more than a dozen different industries ranging from fintech, healthcare, and telecommunications to blockchain, urban tech, and robotics.  

The exhibit showcased exciting established businesses that are already achieving high levels of success in the area -- such as to ConnectWise, a software company that employs hundreds of employees in Tampa. Younger companies also had an opportunity to make introductions to the area -- like Knack , a peer tutoring platform and app that was recently chosen to compete as one of only 20 companies worldwide to pitch at the Challenge Cup Global Finals.  

Knack had the opportunity to practice their pitch at the Innovation Summit as they were one of the nine startups that participated in the Tampa Bay WaVE featured pitch session (among them was 813area.com's parent company, MyArea Network). Other companies had opportunities to present their big ideas during 90-second pitches to investors, and there were more events that helped startups form and grow. Cash prizes were awarded through a multi-day Hackathon and Social Entrepreneur Pitch Competition.  

How We're Going to Get Ahead

From the Chief Innovation Officer at IMB to a college student taking a day away from class to get advice on how to turn his idea to a reality -- the Innovation Summit was what the organizers wanted. It was a day of introductions and innovative content, ideas, and tools designed to help startup founders, entrepreneurs, investors, incubators, students, and research institutions work together to create more innovation in the Tampa area.  

“From this day forward we will be known as a great place to build a tech company, a great place that welcomes and encourages entrepreneurs and innovators,” said Marc Blumenthal, organizer and co-founder of Synapse.  

Connections made at the Synapse Innovation Summit (which is a scientific term for sharing connections -- it means the point at which a nervous impulse passes from one neuron to another) didn’t end when the doors closed -- and that was also the point.      

Organizers intended this meeting of the minds to be just the beginning of the connections that will form between top talent in the Tampa Bay area. They used the Innovation Summit as an opportunity to introduce their new online platform, a digital network that connects tech, business, and startup talent at every level.  

The Synapse Platform is part social network, part resource center, and part innovation hub. It brings to life Synapse’s overall mission which is to be “an all-encompassing, interactive, and flexible methodology for building, facilitating, and exposing the Entrepreneurial Ecosystem of Florida.”  

Event organizers and many of the speakers and attendees believe that Tampa has the potential to grow into one of the country's best tech cities, and the Synapse team built their platform to centralize the efforts and help make that goal a reality.

If you missed the 55 break-out sessions, 200 speakers, or 257 exhibitors at this year’s Innovation Summit, you’ll have a chance to get involved in 2019. The Synapse team announced that a 2019 event will take place next March. And, you can register for their new platform at app.synapsefl.com.