Growth Story: Gabe Higgins of BlockSpaces
Welcome to our Growth Story series, where you’ll meet startup team members—either natives, boomerangs or transplants—in Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Gabe Higgins, Co-Founder and COO of BlockSpaces, a blockchain innovation studio that provides specialized education, development and support services to a collaborative learning community of individuals, startups, and corporate partners.
Where are you from?
I am from Clearwater, Florida. I was born in NY but we transplanted here when I was a baby. I've been here pretty much my entire life.
Tell us more about your role at BlockSpaces. What does a day in the life look like?
At BlockSpaces, my mornings usually consist of taking standup calls with our team or with teams working on our development projects. After standups, the rest of the morning is spent in business meetings. Aside from attending meetings, I spend time organizing our community events for the month. After spending time in the event planning world, I usually take on more meetings with either clients or potential partners. We spend a lot of time meeting with clients and educating partners about the blockchain space. Usually our clients and partners they don't know what's possible with blockchain technology, we help ideate solutions for their companies and give them a blockchain strategy roadmap that they can either chose to use and have us deploy. Or we can serve as a partner with them on that journey. They also have the choice to institute the roadmap themselves.
How did you get your career started and what challenges did you face along the way?
Before we took the leap with BlockSpaces, I was working at a 9 to 5 job, that luckily, enabled me to listen to a lot of podcasts. I was always in a tech position and didn't have to interact with a lot of people during the day. So I spent most of the day behind the computer and listening to podcasts day in and day out. This is where I spent a lot of time learning about blockchain. It was around 2012 I discovered bitcoin. It was still an early concept around that time. Learning about it got me curious and I wanted to find other peers in the community who were also curious about this new, strange thing — bitcoin. That experience really enabled me to purse blockchain. Ironically, the former career enabled the new career even though they weren't related. Fortunately, I was able to take in a lot of information relatively quickly because I could dedicate a large chunk of my day learning about blockchain and doing my day job. It was a great advantage to learn a lot in a short amount time.
In terms of starting the business, there are lots of challenges. The biggest challenges is how to handle funding and money. I didn't come from a family with a lot of money. Learning about the financials of the business was the first hurdle I had to get over. I did, however, have a strong work ethic, so I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty if I need to. I am a voracious learner and am always trying to learn something. I actually enjoy the challenges that it takes to start things and get curious about ways to solve these challenges. That has certainly helped me get to where I am today. Launching this business happened out of other hobbies and passions that kind of took root and then we decided to build a company around that.
How has this region shaped your career or startup journey?
Prior to launching BlockSpaces, I never had my own venture before. I never thought to start my own business, let a lone a tech company. I was brand new and had no connections to the existing tech community here. I think the timing when we launched was fortuitous as it coincided with everything happening now in Tampa Bay. We're seeing a lot of growth in the tech companies and community here in Tampa Bay, especially with the work happening at Embarc Collective and other groups. We were fortunate to be introduced to Lakshmi as soon as she arrived to Tampa. That definitely helped connect us to the community and meet others interested in this technology. Synapse was also very helpful to our start. We were connected with them early on. Just in time for their first conference. We helped put were together some of the blockchain and fintech-focused breakout sessions, talks and exhibits. These connections were very instrumental in getting us engaged with the local tech community. Before meeting them, we had no idea where to go or what developing a community even looked like.
What tactical advice can you share from building your startup or career?
My tactical advice is to start as soon as you can. Start getting your hands dirty as soon as possible no matter how rudimentary your idea is or how few resources you have. You have to start somewhere. Just do it and figure it out. It's going to take time, so you have to be patient but also be tenacious — which is a hard balance to master for sure. So that's a struggle you'll face, but be ready for that. You have to strengthen the mentality to pursue an endeavor that's actually going to be impactful.
Where do you see Tampa Bay next? How do you play a role in this future?
I hope that we are instrumental in bringing the new, emerging technology of blockchain to Tampa Bay in a big way. Through the startups we're working with, through startup partners, such as Embarc Collective and Synapse, we hope to help other companies to not only leverage the blockchain community, but the technology itself. We hope to serve as a long standing community partner to startups in this region and be a resource that they can drive inspiration from and get guidance from. Of course, we're still learning about more about blockchain too and want to do so with the others who are interested in the technology. Learning and growing together is a wonderful thing.
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