Growth Story: Lauren Prager of Synapse
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 Lauren Prager, VP of Community Engagement of Synapse, a platform to connect and organize Florida's innovation community.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to join Synapse?
I realized at a young age that I love helping people find their voice, enabling and empowering others to succeed. It's energizing for me to hear someone's story, help them make a valuable connection to another person or give the encouragement to take a next step that makes an impact. To me, this is what it means to build a community.
For several years after we moved to Florida in 2013, I was fortunate to stay home full-time with our young daughters. I used that time to reflect on my previous career and passions. Throughout my career, I've been fortunate to work with teams dedicated to making a positive impact on significant issues that ultimately create community. I spent more than a decade in and around Washington DC building support for bipartisan public policy issues. I was a registered lobbyist, a community organizer and educator. I traveled around the country engaging activists and leaders, led international trips exposing people to new experiences and challenging ideas, and helping them all become advocates themselves. Together, we rallied thousands around issues that had global impact, often creating new partnerships and friendships that might not have otherwise come to fruition. We made a real positive difference in ways that truly matter.
I joined Synapse as a volunteer eight weeks before the inaugural Synapse Summit in 2018 at the invitation of a friend. I started out volunteering 5-10 hours a week to help develop the program. I quickly realized that we were not just planning a conference; we were creating a movement. Dozens of volunteers were giving hours of time to create an exciting celebration of innovation. Business leaders, investors, educators, officials offered their time and expertise to educate others. The energy was - and still is - palpable and exciting.
Before I knew it, I was volunteering full-time, getting babysitters and working late into the night, dedicated to making sure we served the community with the best possible program. We were literally innovating as we went, creating an event in Amalie Arena and willing our vision into reality. In the end, when more than 3,300 people spent two days with us celebrating and connecting. We knew we had launched something transformative that and I was - and still am - proud to be a part of.
After Synapse Summit 2018, my volunteer role became a full-time leadership position. Now, I spend my days meeting as many founders and leaders from across the state as I can and finding ways to help them connect with what they need and to share their story. Sometimes it's by facilitating Innovation Challenges to help businesses crowdsource innovation solutions or designing program innovations for Synapse Summit in Tampa or Synapse Orlando, or finding other ways to ensure that we're engaging our community.
Synapse is the manifestation of my passion to create meaningful, impactful connections that empower others to make a positive impact on our community. I'm proud and grateful every day to be a part of it!
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
The impact we've been able to make at Synapse has been remarkable, especially considering we're a two-year old non-profit startup!
Our mission is to make it easier for innovators to find what they need and share what they have. Synapse is becoming the central hub to navigate Florida's dynamic and growing innovation community. It's way too difficult for innovators in Florida to make meaningful, valuable connections. We're divided by our enormous geography, the distance between centers of gravity in our educational institutions, and city centers with car-dependent culture that differs from other cities. We are often siloed in our industries, missing significant opportunities for collaboration with the talented makers, doers, hackers, creators right around the corner. And because we're all heads down working, we sometimes forget to celebrate the wins!
It's exciting to see how the movement we're powering is accelerating successes in Florida - new companies launched, companies who found investors, founders who moved to Florida or found the talent they needed because of connections made through Synapse. That's the magic that happens when our movement comes together.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
Synapse is innovating every day. Our greatest challenge is ensuring we're serving our entire community. As a Florida-focused organization, we're striving to tie in innovators from across the state. We intentionally structure all of our programming and content to engage eight key partners who need to work together: investors, entrepreneurs, corporations, academia, government, innovation enablers, entrepreneur support organizations and talent - not just students, but also the 1,000 people moving to Florida every day looking for jobs, members of our military ready to transition to civilian careers, professionals searching for their next opportunity.
Where do you see your company headed next?
Synapse is continuing to strategically refine our outreach across the state, doing more to serve our innovators. We're also integrating exciting new ideas for Synapse Summit 2020 - we're not just celebrating innovation, we're challenging ourselves to innovate, too.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.
Stay focused on the problem you're solving and embrace the fact that there might be more than one solution. Trust your gut. You know more than you realize.
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