Monthly Archives: October 2018

10.19.2018

Moving back to Tampa was definitely the right decision

For the past two years, I worked at Pack Health, a healthcare startup in Birmingham, Alabama. In that time, I did the work of a UX designer, software developer, data analyst, voice-over artist (someone had to do it), and engineering manager. I don’t know if there’s any substitute for that type of hands-on, learn-as-you-go experience — what better option is there for someone with a generalist’s skillset and a desire to create?

I was fortunate to have that opportunity thanks to the Venture for America fellowship, which diverts young grads away from cities like New York or San Francisco to work for and learn from experienced entrepreneurs in cities with a growing community of startups. One of the many things I learned as a Fellow is that we should strive to create opportunities for ourselves and others. That’s a core part of VFA’s value proposition: young talent acquires hands-on startup experience, and growing entrepreneurial ecosystems acquire more of the raw material of innovation.

Although living and working in Birmingham was a valuable experience, I could never shake a desire to return to Tampa and do the same thing here. I was born and raised in Tampa, so why shouldn’t I contribute to it? Every time I came back to visit, I’d see how the region, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem, continued to grow. Even though I came down every few months, there was always something new; it felt like I was watching a time-lapse video of buildings and businesses springing up out of the ground.

Last December, as my wife and I drove down I-75 to see our families for Christmas, we began to talk about the possibility of moving back. We didn’t have anything lined up here, but we could probably work remote and freelance if need be. Despite that uncertainty, our confidence increased as we made our way south. By the time we passed Ocala, our minds were made up. We moved back three months later, in March.

I thought my contribution to the entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Tampa would be the same contribution I made in Birmingham — showing up, working hard to help grow a startup, and sharing what I learned. I’m happy to say that as the third team member at Embarc Collective, I now have the opportunity to help make Tampa/St. Petersburg a prime destination for diverse startup talent to make an impact.

It’s a big goal to work towards, and there’s a lot that goes into making it happen. At Embarc Collective, a core part of my job is to measure our impact and build a common language to discuss our progress (those of you who know me realize how much of a dream job this is). As part of that effort, our community survey asked members of the entrepreneurial ecosystem what their biggest challenges are and what resources they think would have the most impact. I’m currently digging into those responses, and while there’s a lot of room for improvement in our region, there’s also a lot to be optimistic about.

If you’re interested in those results, or if you’re generally interested in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tampa, you should sign up for updates here. Stay tuned!

10.12.2018

I Moved to Tampa Bay to Build the Startup Community, Here’s Why

I am fortunate to have called two of the largest startup ecosystems my home, San Francisco and New York City. Spending the last 3+ years building and supporting the entrepreneurial community in these cities, I have been exposed to and worked with some of the most successful entrepreneurs and investors, innovative thinkers, and engaging events that encourage disruption.

Yet if we met over the past two years, I have probably shared my career goal with you — building the startup community in Tampa Bay, FL.

Historically founders needed to relocate to major tech hubs to launch companies, sacrificing an exorbitant cost of living for access to high-caliber networks, contagious entrepreneurial energy, and the promise of venture capital funding. If you wanted your startup to succeed, you needed to be in the thick of it.

But the narrative is changing. It’s clear that this is the beginning of a new era for entrepreneurship across the U.S. — high-growth companies can now start and scale anywhere, not just in a few coastal cities, and organizations like Rise of the Rest, LaunchTN, and Engage Ventures are backing up this thinking.

Folks are actually seeking these options for reasons like tax breaks, lower employee wages, intellectual diversity, and an increase in the overall quality of life (such as in Salt Lake City and the Midwest). It’s no surprise that the San Francisco Bay area reported a net loss of people for these reasons between 2016 and 2017.

This shift in thinking is taking over Tampa Bay, too. Over the past several years I’ve watched the community rally around the city’s bubbling growth — from the $3B investment to develop Water Street Tampa by Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investments, to the launch of Dreamit’s Urban & Secure Tech Accelerator, the 3,000+person Synapse Innovation Summit, the Tampa Bay Wave’s TechDiversity Accelerator powered by the Nielsen Foundation, and the growth of Tampa Bay Startup Week powered by TechStars (where GaryVee keynoted this year).

Why would I care so much about Tampa Bay?

It’s home. Born and raised in the Tampa Bay area, building the local startup community means an opportunity to create impact on a much deeper, more personal level.

With the momentum taking place, we are at a pivotal moment in time for Tampa Bay to step up to the plate and become a leader in the Southeast region for entrepreneurial growth. I am all-in on helping the local changemakers unlock the city’s potential for retaining, harvesting, and attracting entrepreneurial talent through supporting startups with what they need most — a community to belong to, workshops and education, customer introductions, and access to investment opportunities.

I am thrilled for the opportunity to work alongside Lakshmi Shenoy, the newly appointed CEO of Embarc Collective, and former VP of Partnerships at Chicago’s 1871. On this team, I will lead the charge on building our programming and partnership strategy to support the growth of local tech companies and encourage new startups to plant roots in Tampa.

If you are a startup interested in emerging startup ecosystems, have ties to Tampa, or suggestions on organizations to partner with, drop me a line, I’d love to chat.

PS — this serves as your personal invitation to come visit us in Tampa Bay! We have sunshine, award-winning beaches, three professional sports teams, 50+ craft breweries, + a growing community of entrepreneurs ready to change the world.

10.10.2018

An Open Letter to the Tampa Bay Startup Community

I moved to Tampa Bay 8 months ago, recruited by Jeff Vinik to lead the innovation hub, now known as Embarc Collective: A physical location that will make Tampa Bay a prime destination for diverse startup talent to make an impact — professionally and personally.

Thank you for being a great partner to our team as we launch Embarc Collective. I’ve sought out your input along this journey, so know that your feedback has guided the way that we are building the organization.

Why are we so focused on startup talent? As you know, start-up talent is made up of entrepreneurial people with big ideas, tremendous drive, and courage. Over the course of their careers, as they may move from startup teams to corporations and back again, they make a positive impact. Startup talent includes founders such as Samyr Qureshi from Knack, who connects employers and prospective talent via college tutoring services. And it includes Michael O’Rourke from Pokt, who is building the infrastructure so that financial transactions can be made via the blockchain. It is the team at the Suncoast Developers Guild, led by Toni Warren and Jason Perry, who filled a market gap and built a program to train coding talent when a prior player in the region left the market. We are lucky to have many strong entrepreneurs in Tampa Bay. We need to create opportunities and reasons for them to stay and need to welcome more inspiring entrepreneurs to join our region.

Why do we need a physical hub? J.K. Rowling said, “We are as strong as we are united.” A physical hub brings people and resources together in one place so that we can put Tampa Bay on the map for its startup potential. While we have a robust network of startups here, we can do a better job to help Tampa Bay become nationally and internationally known as a great place to start and grow a business.

Why Embarc Collective? As many of you have experienced, starting a new venture is akin to embarking on a voyage. The voyage is filled with ups and downs, but we sail on, we make progress, we move forward. Since arriving in Tampa Bay, I’ve been impressed by the courage and drive of the founders who have embarked on their own voyages.

To help make it a successful voyage for an entrepreneur– it takes all of us, the collective of Tampa Bay. The collective is a community of startup teams, invested supporters and the residents of Tampa Bay at large who are all focused on helping the founder and his or her team be successful.

How can we help you? Feel free to reach out to me directly at lakshmi@embarccollective.com.

We look forward to joining the effort to support the Tampa Bay startup community.

Here to help,
Lakshmi

Stay up to date with our progress by subscribing to updates here, and following along with our journey on:

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10.07.2018

24-Hours in Tampa-St. Pete

If you’re a startup considering checking out the Tampa Bay Area, you’ve come to the right place.

Scratch the surface of this waterfront region and you’ll find a thriving, homegrown foodie scene with over 60 craft breweries, a shop local mentality that favors farmers markets and unique boutiques, and a buzz of startup activity — all with a southern hospitality twist.

Here’s our guide to getting the most out of your 24-hour stay.

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Arrive at Tampa International Airport: Welcome to Tampa Bay! Tampa International Airport handled 19,624,284 passengers in 2017, making it the 29th busiest airport by passenger movements in North America. It’s in the midst of a $1B expansion and update that will showcase local Tampa Bay eateries across each terminal (try Ducky’s in Airside A, Ulele in Airside C, Columbia Cafe in Airside E, or Cigar City Taproom in Airside F).

For transit, utilize Lyft, Uber, or a cab service.

Morning Coffee: Stop by Oxford Exchange (OE) for a coffee from Buddy Brew or tea from TeBella. OE is a Tampa staple and serves as a unique gathering place for brunch, shopping (featuring a bookstore, Warby Parker and Aesop pop-ups), and the Commerce Club co-working space. Every Friday morning, OE hosts “Cafe Con,” a community forum highlighting leaders in government affairs, education, and arts, among others.

For transit, utilize Lyft, Uber, the Downtowner — a free local ridesharing app.

Walking Tour of Downtown Tampa: Discover the diverse aspects of Downtown Tampa via a guided walking tour and gain a comprehensive understanding of Tampa’s startups, corporations, history, and culture. Downtown, you’ll spot 10+ cranes in the air at any given time, likely related to the $3B Water Street Tampa project, which is turning 50-acres of waterfront property into a WELL-certified neighborhood. You’ll kick off at Embarc Collective, the collaboration, community, and events space currently under construction, set to open in 2019. Take our walking tour here.

For transit, utilize Lyft, Uber, the Downtowner — a free local ridesharing app.

Lunch in Tampa Heights: Once known as the TECO streetcar warehouse, the Armature Works structure played a significant role for the City of Tampa as the repair and storage facility for the Tampa Electric Street and Railway Company dating back to 1910. Also new to the area is The Hall on Franklin, a collective eatery featuring the top local chefs and mixologists. Whether you’re meeting an entrepreneur, key customer, or stakeholder, enjoy lunch in one of Tampa’s trending food hall destinations.

For transit, utilize the Cross Bay Ferry or Lyft or Uber to drive to St. Petersburg.

Tour of Stationhouse: Get a feel for the entrepreneurial community on the other side of the Bay by visiting Stationhouse St. Pete. The building, established in 1911, is an electric repurposed train station that serves as co-work space for over 150 small businesses in the community. Schedule your tour here.

For transit, walk to Beach Drive.

Dinner at Sunset: Dine on the sidewalk at Birch & Vine in downtown St. Peter just in time to watch the sun set. Directly across from Beach Drive, you’ll find St. Pete’s beautiful city parks and waterfront. And before you go, head up to the restaurant’s rooftop bar for a bird’s-eye view of downtown.

For transit, walk throughout Downtown St Petersburg.

Enjoy Local Live Music: St Pete is known for its multitude of live music venues. Stroll by the Ale & Witch, Ringside Cafe, The Hideaway, and Jannus Landing (known as the oldest concert venue in Florida) to see who’s playing, or check the schedule here.

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STAY:

EAT & DRINK:

SHOP:

DO:

TRANSPORTATION:

  • Uber
  • Lyft
  • The Downtowner
  • Coast Bike
  • Pirate Water Taxi
  • Cross-Bay Ferry