What makes an area fertile ground for tech startups? Is it the proximity to Silicon Valley or Seattle? If you ask me, no. As a veteran of Florida’s tech startup scene and, now, as an angel investor with a primary focus on tech startups, it’s no surprise to me to watch this area gain recognition as a hotbed of tech innovation. I can do more than comment on the culture of opportunity for tech founders in Tampa: I’ve experienced it firsthand. This is where I developed my passion and experience for founding and launching tech companies decades ago and where I’ve amassed +$400mm in exits over my career, including my pharmacy benefits firm, myMatrixx in 2017. It’s also where I continue to invest in the next generation of tech founders, where I participate in events like Synapse, and where I serve on boards of organizations that are supporting and nurturing the area’s tech ecosystem. From community cross-pollination to passionate investors, here are some of the top factors contributing to Tampa’s emergence as a tech epicenter.
Top 5 Factors Contributing To Tampa’s Emergence As A Tech Epicenter.
I have to admit, I enjoy championing an underdog. It makes me happy to see a discounted or underappreciated leader rise to the forefront of their field, reminding us all that talent and determination exist everywhere. We all benefit from all benefitting, and there’s a need for more tech talent and innovation than what Silicon Valley can hold. Here’s how Tampa Bay is rising to meet that need.
1. Opportunity Amid A Pandemic
Of the many harsh realities of the pandemic, unemployment was among the worst. One analysis showed that, despite the fact that the US job market took a hit to the tune of 140,000 jobs for a 6.8% unemployment rate, the tech sector’s unemployment rate was 3%. This shows hope that there is still stability, or even growth, in the tech sector, providing opportunities in a tough job market.
Florida is #3 in the country for remote work and work-from-home tech offerings, which is something that allowed tech companies to continue to grow during a time when other sectors stopped in their tracks.
2. Impressive Tech Job Numbers
Ranking 22 in the country, Tampa’s metro area is expected to bring in 2,316 tech jobs by the end of 2021. In 2020, the state of Florida added 3,623 tech jobs, the 5th highest in the US. The tech sector accounts for 7.8% of the state’s economy, making it the 6th in the nation for the dollar value of tech contribution to the economy. These numbers are powerful – they show a real commitment to the tech industry, and to the allocation of resources and jobs towards tech. The Institute for Commercialization of Florida Technology has created over $740 million in economic impact as tech companies and startups raise funds and create new jobs and products.
3. A Culture of Commitment To Tech
A healthy tech community feeds itself, creating a dynamic, innovative network that spurs more growth and innovation. I believe that is a large part of why we’re seeing such meteoric growth in this community, where the presence of tech incubators and funders provides tech startups with resources, support, and collaboration to elevate their offerings – as well as a talent pipeline and “first dibs” on the next generation of tech innovators in the area’s highly ranked colleges and universities.
Some examples from my experience here in Tampa: the Tampa Bay WaVe, an entrepreneur-led tech incubator and community that provides accelerator programs, coworking, events and more designed to help tech entrepreneurs build, launch, and grow successful startups. As an entrepreneur-in-residence at the WaVe, I have seen firsthand how startups have benefitted not just from mentors, advisors, and investors, but from their peers as well.
Another great example: CAVU Talent Acquisition, a blank check company here in Tampa Bay, and where I’m proud to serve on the board, recently filed with the SEC to raise up to $100 million in an IPO for a market value of $125 million.
That’s just two organizations among many: Synapse, INNO, Embarc Collective, Tampa Bay Tech, and Florida Funders, the state’s most active VC firm and where I serve as a board member, are more proof of the deep layers of support for tech startups in our area.
4. IT Sectors Are In A Stage Of Rapid Growth
An increase in digital offerings as a result of the pandemic has pushed cybersecurity, software development, data science, and IT user support positions to the forefront of hiring demand. Hot companies in the cybersecurity industry are relocating to Tampa, such as Just Protect and OPSWAT, not to mention native Tampa companies like ReliaQuest, Abacode, A-LIGN, and Connectwise who continue to thrive here. Even Clearwater, known best for its sugar-sand beaches, boasts more than 50 IT/software companies responsible for 2,100 jobs.
5. It’s Just A Nice Place To Live
You might not be able to quantify this into statistics and reports, but it’s undeniably a factor at play here. It’s hard to beat the Tampa Bay area for livability; the great year-round weather, active outdoor lifestyle, and lower cost of living, especially in comparison with tech-focused metro areas like DC and San Francisco, make it a uniquely attractive region for tech startups (and the lack of state income tax doesn’t hurt, either).
Investing in Tampa is About More Than Money
Through my Tampa-based investment venture, MacDonald Ventures, I am proud to impact 100+ startups nationally, with a preference for those who are growing their businesses here in Florida. Part of why I chose to be an angel investor, versus a VC or another type of investor, is because I get to mentor, support and impact young tech companies. MacDonald Ventures is about finding and funding the next generation of phenomenal founders and I’m confident that we’ll find some of the brightest tech leaders of the future are going to come out of Tampa Bay. Are you working to launch a tech startup and contribute to innovation in the Tampa Bay area? Let’s talk.
Enjoy the ride.