Synapse Summit 2021 – A Community Making Innovation and Business Growth Happen

The fourth annual TampaBay Synapse Summit – this year designed as a four-day virtual business community gathering – was a major catalytic event in the pursuit of transforming Florida from the Sunshine State to the Startup State. The event was orchestrated by Tampa-based Synapse Florida –  a nonprofit organization whose mission is to connect and mobilize the TampaBay and greater Florida entrepreneurial ecosystem which includes entrepreneurs, startups, corporations, nonprofits, local & state government, universities, community leaders, and private investors including venture capital and private equity firms. The Summit clearly illustrated how it really does take a village to ensure the progress of innovation and dynamic business growth.

I will be sharing highlights from my thoughts and experiences from the Summit which will hopefully inspire you to explore similar entrepreneurial activity and efforts you can support in your community.

Pillars of the entrepreneurial ecosystem

While there was a massive amount of startup business topics, virtual knowledge sharing sessions, and entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) illustrating their strategic services for entrepreneurs throughout the four days of the conference, there seemed to be some core themes that could be grouped together as key pillars supporting entrepreneurial activity throughout the state:

Pillar #1 – Mindset and Process

As we state repeatedly at the Institute, “innovation” does not equal or is totally defined as technology. Technology is the greatest tool of innovation but this mental shorthand by many misses the fact that innovation is primarily a mindset. It is a distinct way of thinking and behaving; it challenges assumptions, asks tough questions, and experiments incessantly.

As such, the Summit offered many sessions supporting entrepreneurs around the topics of mindset and process including mindfulness, culture, agile, leadership, and collaboration showing how to make these needed skills more than just buzzwords. Advice from successful entrepreneurs, like Daymond John from Shark Tank, emphasized the importance of being present, focused, and driven in your entrepreneurial journey, especially during the disruption of trying times.

Pillar #2 – Data

Technology and digitalization have propelled and opened the floodgates of data but now also offers data science and data management tools to make sense, draw out insights, and provide direction for new innovations and client engagement strategies.

Sessions were designed around the latest in data science, data management strategies, cybersecurity advances, artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, and support organizations that can leverage entrepreneurs’ efforts in these areas. Highlights:

PwC – a panel of PwC’s forward-thinking data analysts shared how they transformed from a reporting group into “Analysts of the Future” and the success they have realized from learning how to tell the story of a business through their data and partnering with customers to leverage the data to generate insights and help with decision-making to drive strategic outcomes.

Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) – as a methodology, analytical framework, and technology agnostic approach, OSINT allows practitioners to validate reliable information and transform that information into actionable intelligence. The power of OSINT is immense with applications ranging from identifying threats to national security, recovering missing children, evaluating, and managing corporate social risk, and making more informed business decisions.

Cybersecurity – Florida is becoming a cyberhub and national leader in cybersecurity with robust cyber programs and cyber-related degrees from local universities, extensive training and research from organizations like CyberFlorida, and talent transitioning from Florida’s 22 military facilities.

Pillar #3 – Funding and Investing in Innovation

Capital is the life blood of entrepreneurial efforts and in creating a more diverse and vibrant regional economy. The Summit helped map out the financial infrastructure, pathways, and the players for business innovation investment for a geographic region – from partnership with accelerators to private investors to local/state business growth initiatives to increasingly democratized access to capital from the general public.

Many sessions were offered on understanding the different sides of this equation – for entrepreneurs on how to locate and engage with potential sources of startup and ongoing capital, as well as educational efforts for accredited investors and others wanting to invest in these entrepreneurial efforts. There were how-to’s on angel investing, crowdfunding, and private equity and venture capital with leading Florida early-stage investment firms like Florida FundersLas Olas Venture CapitalPS27 VenturesKirenaga PartnersMiami Angels and, recently relocated to Florida, Blumberg Capital from Silicon Valley and Zelkova Ventures from New York.

Pillar #4 – Engaging with key community partners

Awareness of the important role and critical support of entrepreneurial activity from local/regional community partners was another key topic highlighted throughout the Summit. These resourceful partners include local/regional educational institutions (universities and community colleges), nonprofits, and local and state governments, including city, county, regional and state initiatives targeting business development and entrepreneurial support.

State of Florida – Florida’s Chief Information Officer, Jamie Grant, and Florida High Tech Corridor Council CEO, Paul Sohl, discussed how Florida plans to remain at the leading edge of innovation by leveraging solutions created by public/private partnerships. This session dove into the state’s goals to modernize and transform how government interacts with the startup business community, including by giving wider visibility to resources to help commercialize and support economic development. Highlights:

Miami’s Magic City – speaking about entrepreneurship and investing in Miami, Mayor Francis SuarezMelissa Krinzman the City of Miami’s first Venture Capitalist in Residence, and Saif Ishoof VP of Engagement at Florida International University and recently appointed Miami Senior Advisor for Innovation & Technology, among others, discussed how city leaders have been building the foundations that are now being recognized by entrepreneurs and investors as Miami as an innovation hub and re-earning its nickname of the Magic City.

Tampa General Hospital (TGH) – Jason Swoboda, Associate Director of Emerging Technology at TGH, explained how to navigate the Healthcare Innovation Life Cycle whether you are a start-up founder, early-stage investor, or part of a business looking to work more closely with emerging tech companies. Rachel Feinman, the first Vice President of Innovation at Tampa General Hospital then talked about launching TGH InnoVentures later this year which will include an innovation lab, an accelerator program, and will directly invest in promising healthcare-focused startups.

Pillar #5 – CleanTech

The growing trend of companies and governments committing to reduce their carbon emissions or be carbon neutral is globally accelerating. In response, there were eight sessions on CleanTech sponsored by Florida Power & Light focusing on the need and advancements in developing clean technology for sustainable and renewal energy. Highlights:

City of Orlando – Chris Castro, Director, Office of Sustainability & Resilience of Orlando, outlined how they are working as a future ready city to meet their goal of relying solely on clean renewable energy by 2050 to support their growing population.

ecoSPHERES – a startup which uses NASA-based technology to remove dangerous pollutants from sediment, soil, and groundwater.

Florida Power & Light – discussed how they are building solar plants cost-effectively saving Florida customers money over time and announcing their groundbreaking ’30-by-30’ plan to install 30 million solar panels by 2030, making Florida a world leader in solar energy.

35 Mules – an innovation hub supported by Florida Power for entrepreneurs in energy, water, and other energy adjacent industries with access to subject matter experts in solar, renewables, smart grid, and other evolving areas.

Virtual Engagement Results

There were initial concerns that Brian Kornfeld, CEO and CoFounder of Synapse Florida, had in converting their annual event from the Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa to a virtual event. The serendipitous chance meetings at past events at lunch or in the hallways between sessions were no longer in the cards but employing top virtual event resources like the Brella networking and exhibitor communication platform, actual proactive engagement and tracking of meetings could now be quantified.

The Brella system actually made it very easy to reach out to entrepreneurs and support organizations, suggested meetings for you to make, and positioned others to meet with you based on your activity and posted interests. The platform even added a gamification element of awarding you with an engagement score based on the more people and virtual booths you visited. The end result, feels Kornfeld, is that now they can quantify the engagement levels between participants which is a key goal for the event. He can now proudly state the number and nature of the meetings and communications that actually happened at the Summit. A benefit from previous years physical meetings.


The Synapse Summit provided an excellent overview with leaders in emerging technology to get their take on what we should be paying close attention to by way of trending business innovation and, most importantly, keeping us engaged and connected with our local entrepreneurial ecosystems in social and collaborative ways. Synapse Florida lived up to its hashtag of #InnovationLivesHere in TampaBay and greater Florida.

The cumulative effect of listening and engaging with so many innovators with their fingers on the pulse of the latest technologies and their creative applications was awe inspiring and a little dizzying. It led me to many revelations but none greater than this: Witnessing and participating in the behind-the-scenes mechanics of modern-day business innovation was invigorating and made me truly hopeful of our collective abilities to solve major challenges we face and create meaningful solutions that can drive us all forward as a united country that can achieve anything.

The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We position our members with the necessary ongoing innovation resources and best practices to drive and facilitate their next-generation growth, differentiation, and unique client/community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors – NASDAQ, Ultimus Fund Solutions, Pershing, Fidelity, Voya Financial, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines).

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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