Saturday, December 16, 2017
Business

A 'rising' Orlando has startup lessons for Tampa Bay

ORLANDO — Yes, the City the Mouse Built is quietly gathering a critical mass as Florida's startup hub for digital technology.

While we still identify Orlando as a place overgrown with theme parks, the city's startup renaissance was recently captured in a 45-minute documentary called Orlando Rising. The film is clearly promotional. But its can-do theme resonates, suggesting the entrepreneurial stars are aligning in this metro area, especially in its downtown.

I viewed Orlando Rising recently and toured some of the city's vibrant startup community with the film's executive producer, David Glass. A founder of the Florida Technology Journal, Glass is a re-energized entrepreneur who relocated to Orlando after an underwhelming stint in Tampa.

The film features fast-paced, upbeat interviews with a broad array of Orlando politicians, business leaders, academics and entrepreneurs. "I just want people to know what we really are," Teresa Jacobs, mayor of Orange County, Orlando's home, says in the film. "Once they know, I think we'll be the magnet for the world."

"This is a get 'er done place," echoes Bob Allen in the film. His media company is a Disney spinoff that relocated downtown from a back lot of Disney's Hollywood Studios.

The film is not yet available online or in theaters, except for a few in Orlando. But the feel-good film already serves as a rallying cry for Orlando entrepreneurs and creatives alike.

Don't let Orlando's size — it's smaller than the Tampa Bay metro market — fool you. The city's run with precision and cooperation by veteran politicians like Jacobs and Mayor Buddy Dyer. Orlando enjoys a deep bench of talented tech engineers. Its University of Central Florida boasts a strong reputation for economic development. All the tax dollars that flow from being the world's biggest tourist destination help, too.

In the downtown core, cheap spaces dedicated to startup businesses and business accelerators are opening in dormant Church Street Station, where tourist restaurants and bars once flourished. UCF will soon open a digital-media incubator downtown for startups developing video games, animated film and Web products.

A free bus system called Lymmo circulates downtown, making it easy to get around, and cheap for young entrepreneurs who can leave their cars at home and skip pricey parking garage fees. Nearby, a major proposed project known as Creative Village will feature clusters of urban housing, working space and support services dedicated to high-tech innovation.

Contrast this glimpse of a highly focused and even cocky Orlando to Tampa Bay's more fragmented approach to supporting startups. Many projects operate as separate silos in Tampa or St. Petersburg or Largo or Clearwater or Oldsmar or Wesley Chapel. And talk of better coordinating Tampa Bay's startup culture is modest so far.

"The rise in Orlando's ecosystem is a good thing for Tampa Bay," says Linda Olson, who co-founded the Tampa Bay WaVE business incubator in downtown Tampa. "This is not a zero-sum game. If we work with Orlando to get the word out about Central Florida's strengths for tech talent and tech companies, we will all enjoy a fantastic economic boom for the long term."

At the same time, Olson agrees it is "great" to let our local political and business leaders know how aggressively Orlando is building its ecosystem. "If we don't wake up, they very well could steal a lot of our talent and most promising companies."

Serial entrepreneur Daniel James Scott, who teaches startup skills at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg business school, recently took his own tour of Orlando with Glass. Scott was impressed with the downtown momentum.

"Holy cow," he said in an email. "A dense urban core and city/county alignment really pay off."

Several years ago, Tampa Bay's tech community tried to create its own film like Orlando Rising. But it never quite happened. A brief trailer still haunts the Internet, but it feels canned and lacks a grass roots tone.

That does not mean Tampa Bay's startup scene does not deserve its own documentary.

At Tampa Bay WaVE, Olson says she see plenty of reasons to validate Tampa Bay's efforts. She cites the recent decision by the major health care incubator Healthbox to choose Tampa Bay for its home base in Florida.

"After looking at ecosystems around the state, including Orlando and Miami, they chose Tampa Bay because they liked what they saw here," Olson says. "And I personally know of other national programs who are looking at Tampa Bay, and not Orlando, for some exciting opportunities because we have a lot of what they are looking for."

That's the beauty of the entrepreneur: Hope springs eternal. In Orlando and Tampa Bay.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

Fueled by indulgence and machismo, restaurants are a hotbed for sexual harassment

When Brenda Terry was 16 and living in St. Louis, she was a hostess and food runner at a sports bar where female employees wore cute, little cheerleading skirts. One night, she said, a patron grabbed her crotch. She ran to her management team and the...
Published: 12/15/17
Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Pigs can be therapy animals too. So can horses and rats and cats and llamas and … (w/video)

Shrieks of laughter echoed off the walls of the hospital as Thunder the mini pig flopped onto his side and the children huddled around him, scratching his pink, hairy belly. He and his wet-nosed partner, Bolt, drew patients in wheelchairs and bandage...
Published: 12/15/17
Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

Vology landlord challenges property tax assessment

LARGO — Eight months after paying $10.15 million for the office building that houses IT services company Vology, a New York company is suing the Pinellas County Property Appraiser and Florida Department of Revenue contending its $5.5 million tax asse...
Published: 12/15/17
Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

Taxpayer subsidies of Tampa golf courses are on the rise as struggles continue

TAMPA — For the half of the year that Harry Nichols lives in Oldsmar, he plays 18 holes several times a month at Rocky Point Golf Course. On a good day, Nichols said he shoots close to par on the Dana Shores course. And if he’s really lucky, it’ll on...
Published: 12/15/17
Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

Florida’s $1.1 billion Hardest Hit Fund winding down after some hard knocks

In 2010, Florida was in the throes of an unprecedented housing crisis. One in every eight homes was in some stage of foreclosure. Today, the foreclosure rate is one in every 83. Because of that enormous drop, Florida’s Hardest Hit Fund will s...
Published: 12/15/17
Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

Report: Rich will get still richer unless policies change

By ELAINE KURTENBACHTOKYO — Global inequality has stabilized at high levels in recent years, a report said Friday, despite gains among the poor in China and much milder disparities in incomes and wealth in Western Europe. The World Inequality Report ...
Published: 12/15/17
How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

How the Disney/Fox deal will shake up Hollywood

Associated Press NEW YORK — After years of tremors, the earthquake that had long been predicted finally shook Hollywood. Disney’s deal to purchase most of 21st Century Fox ends the era of the "Big Six" major movie studios, toppling one ...
Published: 12/15/17
St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

St. Petersburg’s Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement set to be complete in 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement, under construction since 2015, is scheduled to be complete by the summer of 2019.The five-story, 137,100-square-foot building will house businessman and collector Rudy Ciccarello’s...
Published: 12/15/17
Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Obamacare enrollment ends today, but some can get an extension

Today is the day that open enrollment for the Affordable Care Act will close for most people. But those affected by the slew of hurricanes that pummelled Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and other states earlier this year can take advantage of a two-week ...
Published: 12/15/17
Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

Pack your bags: 107.3M Americans to set holiday traveling record

A record-breaking number of Americans are expected to travel this holiday season.The American Automobile Association projects that 107.3 million Americans will pack their bags and travel more than 50 miles by planes, trains, automobiles and other mod...
Published: 12/14/17