Transforming Ideas Into Innovations - Guide to Greater Tampa Bay
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Transforming Ideas Into Innovations

Transforming Ideas Into Innovations

On Jan. 1, 1914, pilot Tony Jannus took the first commercial air flight in the world. The 23-minute flight took place between St. Petersburg and Tampa, with Jannus in a two-seater plane carrying a former mayor of St. Petersburg who had won an auction for the privilege of being the first passenger.  

Jannus was one of the first to light the spark of innovation in Greater Tampa Bay, a spark that continues well into the 21st century.  

GTB has a long history of being on the cutting edge of developments in science, health care, technology, aviation and numerous other sectors, with impacts that are felt close to home and around the world. The local innovation community has grown tremendously in the last few years and now offers national and local collaborations to help creative professionals succeed. 

Innovative companies around the country are taking notice of what is happening in GTB. One of these includes asset management firm ARK Invest, which moved its headquarters from Wall Street to downtown St. Pete in November 2021. 

“We are thrilled to relocate our corporate headquarters to St. Petersburg, Florida, as we believe the Tampa Bay region’s talent, innovative spirit, and quality of life will accelerate our growth initiatives. ARK is not a traditional Wall Street asset management firm, and we are looking forward to breaking the mold further by relocating to St. Petersburg, a city investing in technology, science, and innovation.”  

— Cathie Wood, Founder, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Investment Officer of ARK Invest, an investment adviser focused on investing in disruptive innovation 

In addition to the relocation, ARK is collaborating with the Tampa Bay Innovation Center on a new incubator that Pinellas County will build and own. The incubator, designated as ARK Innovation Center, is scheduled to open in July 2023. It will be located within the Innovation District in St. Pete. 

This incubator will strengthen an already-strong, and growing, network of innovators within the district. Since 2016, the Innovation District has united entrepreneurs, industry clusters, researchers, educators and government entities to advance technology, science and the local economy. 

Here is a look, at a glance, of existing entities within the Innovation District: 

  • University of South Florida 
  • Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital 
  • Bayfront Health 
  • Poynter Institute 
  • Dali Museum 
  • Tampa Bay Innovation Center 
  • Duke Energy 
  • NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office 
  • Dozens more! 

Inspirational Innovation 

The St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation plays a major role in fostering opportunities for growth and success. 

The EDC is a private-public partnership that helps innovative companies discover and explore the area for relocation or expansion. It assists in finding available office space, attracting talent, securing funding, navigating incentives, developing a workforce, discovering educational opportunities and working with local governments. 

Canadian-Founded Company Finds a Community 

Spontivly is an analytics company that helps communities measure their growth, engagement and impact. It was started three years ago, and recently relocated to the St. Petersburg area from Canada.  

Anthony Nagendraraj, founder of Spontivly, said he and his team were originally planning to open the business in the Atlanta area, but after being accepted to an accelerator program they changed their minds.  

A big part of that change came from their interaction with the St. Pete EDC.  

“They made us feel welcome,” Nagendraraj said. “They made it super easy to come in and they really adopted us. We were part of the community right away.” 

Nagendraraj said the EDC helped them find all the resources they needed to facilitate their move to St. Pete. He also said Anne Core, St. Pete EDC’s director of marketing and communications, helped point him and his wife in the right direction for schools for their children. 

Growing Greens in an Urban World 

The St. Pete EDC helped Brick Street Farms, a sustainable farm in St. Petersburg, which started in 2016 with just a couple of shipping containers.  

Brick Street Farms’ head of business development, Madeline McNaughton, said a big part of the farm’s success has been the support it receives from the St. Pete EDC, as well as city officials and the community. 

Brick Street Farms uses hydroponic shipping containers to grow 66 acres worth of greens on 0.24 acres of land. It is located within urban St. Pete and does not use traditional mass transportation or distribution channels to deliver its product. It is also a pioneer in water reuse and generation by gathering rainwater, as well as the condensation generated by its equipment. These innovative practices enable Brick Street Farms to provide customers with fresh and fully nutritious greens. 

McNaughton said the EDC has also helped connect Brick Street Farms’ innovation throughout the community and supported the idea of residents being able to buy and support local products.  

“We’re proud to be part of the St. Pete community, and we’re excited for the future,” said McNaughton. 

Innovators and Inventors 

Invention goes hand in hand with innovation and entrepreneurship, and GTB also has an incredibly vast network of inventors.  

The Tampa Bay Inventors Council is a nonprofit that offers new inventors advice and guidance on patents and other expenses to help mitigate costs. It is essentially a pre-incubator that helps direct people to resources. 

“We help them understand when to pursue patents and when to go into business,” said Wayne Rasanen, president of the Tampa Bay Inventors Council. “Not all good ideas should be made into a business.”  

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In addition to serving as president of the Inventors Council, Rasanen is also an inventor who utilized the council when he was starting out. During his 35-plus-year career in video production, he had the idea to create a different kind of computer keyboard because he was tired of hitting two keys at the same time. 

So, he created DecaTxt, a one-handed keyboard the size of a deck of cards. The letters, numbers, symbols or functions are available without scrolling, menus or repeatedly pushing a button.  

He started working on the invention while he was working full-time and applied for a patent. He also attended some of the inventors council meetings. When his job ended, Rasanen said he went full-time on his invention and became more involved with the council. Now, he has been there 15 years and said it is still a valuable use of his time.  

“It gives me connections with lots of other people,” he said. “If I wasn’t involved, I’d miss out on opportunities.” 

Innovation is Trending Upward 

Metro Development Group is a master-plan developer that builds communities of 1,500 homes or more. Metro makes sure that as these communities grow, advances in technology will enhance residents’ lives for years to come.  

Vaike O’Grady, vice president for marketing and communications at Metro, said that while innovation in GTB is not new, it is booming here now. 

“That new energy is partly driven by Millennials that have chosen to relocate here from other tech hubs on both coasts, and by young people who attend university here and choose to stay for the lifestyle and relative affordability,” O’Grady said. 

Synapse Florida helps organizations in GTB connect resources, programs and companies driving innovation throughout the state.  

Synapse’s vice president of corporate engagement, Brett Maternowski, said it is an understatement to say that innovation is winning in GTB.  

“The work done by organizations like the Tampa Bay Wave, Embarc Collective, Synapse Florida and others have not only shined a spotlight on the region’s resources, but they have painstakingly built the community framework required to sustain and encourage it,” Maternowski said. 

By Celia Goodyear.

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