Tampa is in Florida and Florida is known for their warm weather and beaches. We could almost end this portion of the guide here, because Tampa’s geographic location can’t be discounted. However, as appealing as it is for tech startups and large companies alike to gravitate to Tampa for its weather and beaches, there has to be more to it than that, and there is. Tampa has been actively working to create an ideal culture for tech startups and companies, and it’s working. When we say Tampa, we’re not even referring to some type of small grass roots effort among entrepreneurs or small business owners. It seems like everyone’s on board. Tampa’s Mayor Bob Buckthorn said a few months ago that they’re “transitioning from an economy that was focused on construction and tourism and agriculture to an economy that is built on technology,” and a coalition of eminent Tampa software CEOs recently partnered with Tampa Bay Tech, Florida’s largest technology council, to help grow the region’s tech presence.
Council members hope to take advantage of untapped tech talent in the area and foster internship and apprenticeship programs to build a steady pipeline of qualified candidates. With large cities like Clearwater and St. Petersburg just across the bridge, and the University of Tampa and University of South Florida close by, many are hopeful there will be a fair number of new graduates and qualified candidates to fill open positions the influx of new companies is creating. A recent list of prominent, new tech companies in the area includes AutoLoop (automotive marketing software solutions), KnowBe4 (Inc. 500 company providing cyber security training), and Verifone (payment technology company processing $7.6B annual transactions). Many tech incubators and nonprofits like Tampa Bay Wave (a nonprofit supporting 150+ tech startups) and new initiatives like the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator also recently started calling Tampa Bay home, as they too see Tampa’s potential as a bourgeoning tech hub.
TIA has been described as a hidden gem by so many, but for years it was missing one key ingredient needed for optimal tech scene conditions, a direct flight from San Francisco to Tampa. In February of 2017, the last ingredient was added to the proverbial soup of optimal tech scene conditions when TIA launched its first nonstop flight from San Francisco to Tampa. This created a quick and easy route for entrepreneurs and tech business leaders to travel from Silicon Valley to Tampa, increasing its allure and convenience. It’s been a little over a year since the direct flights started and TIA has already announced exciting billion-dollar expansion projects, some of which started earlier this year. Projects include a new rental car hub, tram, and an expansion so large that TIA is projected to eventually handle 34M passengers, almost double what they handled last year.
With numerous large companies steadily streaming into Tampa Bay, one may wonder how they can get involved in the current tech scene without becoming a CEO of a large tech corporation. Fortunately, Tampa’s tech scene is lively and welcoming to all, and there are meetups geared toward every aspect of the tech industry imaginable, from tech entrepreneurship to programming, happening all throughout the week. An all-encompassing resource for weekly tech events can be found at Global Nerdy, a great site that contains not weekly, but daily events pertaining to tech. These events can range from business owner workshops and toastmaster’s meetings to SQL user groups and open mic nights at Tampa Hackerspace. The sheer number of daily events, with some days listing over 20 events, indicates just how active the tech scene in Tampa is.
Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeffrey Vinik and Bill Gate’s Cascadia fund purchased $3B in waterfront Tampa real-estate in 2016. They’re calling it the Water Street Tampa project and it’s extremely ambitious. It covers 42-acres and isn’t set to be completed until 2027. It will include hotels, restaurants, bars, retail and office spaces, and 3,500 residential units. As great as this is going to be for downtown Tampa’s atmosphere, it’s extremely exciting for Tampa’s tech scene, because the Water Street Tampa project will also house an “innovation hub.” Vinik said they’re hoping to attract high-tech companies and tech startups to the area and were inspired by a similar hub for tech entrepreneurship in Chicago called 1871. He recently hired Lakshmi Shenoy, a successful Chicago startup executive who used to work at 1871, to run the innovation hub.
The innovation hub isn’t the only exciting part of Vinik’s new venture. He also plans to launch a $50M venture capital fund and recently invested in DreamIt, a startup accelerator for health care and urban tech startups. With so much interest and funding in the Water Streep Tampa project and Vinik’s venture capital fund, interest in the area from tech startups and companies will continue to increase. Maybe Tampa really is just about 10 years behind Nashville, as Vinik recently put it.
This guide has been optimistic, highlighting immense expansion plans for Tampa’s International Airport and downtown to attract tech startups and companies. However, Tampa has a transportation problem and is almost entirely dependent on cars. This problem has to be fixed for Tampa to remain a competitive and alluring place for tech startups and companies. Perhaps Tampa’s well-known transportation problem may eventually benefit the growing tech scene. Because this problem has garnered so much attention, numerous articles just this year have been released mentioning a lot interest in tube travel for the I-4 corridor and advanced rapid transportation proposals. Tampa understands that to bring the city to the next level, it must solve this problem. Hopefully a high-tech solution that creates even greater tech interest in the area will be chosen and implemented soon.