Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Business

Can Florida NEXT better coordinate Tampa Bay's startup resources?

Now that Alex Sink is running full bore for former Congressman Bill Young's open seat in Pinellas County, she's shedding a number of other duties and titles.

To avoid any potential political conflicts of interest, Sink recently gave up her role as chair of Florida NEXT, the Tampa-based think tank she founded a few years ago.

Florida NEXT now will be chaired by George Gordon, a name known to many business leaders in the technology and startup communities here. But Gordon is no caretaker chairman. He envisions Florida NEXT as an umbrella organization to help coordinate the still piecemeal efforts of Tampa Bay's business incubators, pursuits of venture capital funding and other regional assets that support business startups here.

Would herding cats prove any easier?

Gordon says he's gotten positive feedback and some curiosity over the idea of adopting a more "cohesive strategy" to help area startups.

"Nobody wants to end up worse off than where they started," Gordon acknowledges. "I think by working together, we can raise the tide and float all boats."

Gordon, who relocated here from Silicon Valley years ago, is on to something. A common frustration of many area startups is their lack of visibility and the absence of a single go-to place for assistance — whether it's mentoring, fundraising or networking.

Sure, the rise of incubators like the Tampa Bay Innovation Center in Pinellas County, Tampa Bay WaVE in downtown Tampa or USF Connect on the Tampa campus helps a lot. But Gordon, who has chaired or sits on the board of several of these organizations, believes a third-party group like Florida NEXT could help raise the bar on collaboration.

Asks Gordon: "What if Florida NEXT could be the umbrella that ends partiality to any one organization?"

Why all this fixation on improving coordination?

Because Gordon — like many area technology leaders — wants to better the odds of creating and nurturing a Tampa Bay startup that hits it big. Why can't this area be home to a company just like Austin is to Dell or Cupertino is to Apple?

"Creating some breakout companies. That will be a focus of mine," Gordon says.

Nothing will better splash Tampa Bay's tech industry on a larger map than a startup-turned-big success. Focusing the region's best resources on promising startups will more likely make that happen.

But we are getting ahead of the playbook. A former CEO and owner of Tampa energy industry startup Enporion, Gordon only recently became chair of Florida NEXT. His board of directors and staff soon will go on a retreat to discuss their strategy. And while Sink is no longer chair, she still awaits a legal opinion to see if she must completely detach herself from the group.

When Gordon left for Tampa Bay 13 years ago, his Silicon Valley peers shook their heads. Tampa? There's no technology in Tampa.

Gordon wants to send them a message soon so they can see what they missed.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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