Saturday, June 23, 2018
Business

Trigaux: Here's the latest thing Jeff Vinik is doing to make Tampa a magnet for urban development

TAMPA — Could Tampa become a major hub people flock to for the best and brightest urban development ideas?

The owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and a leader of one of the biggest urban redevelopment efforts in the nation, Jeff Vinik today is announcing he will personally partner with New York-based Dreamit to bring its high-end business accelerator and about ten elite startups specializing in urban technology to Tampa this fall.

If successful, the partnership has high hopes it could help Tampa grow to become a regional, if not international mecca for innovative urban technology and development.

For now, the partnership will focus on choosing young companies with urban technology ideas deemed most promising and disruptive. We do not know yet what startups will be chosen. But their ideas could include such urban tech niches as wearables that direct visitors to the nearest hospital or restaurant. Or bike lanes carved out next to self-driving cars. Perhaps advances in construction materials.

"We want to do our part to accelerate innovation in Tampa Bay," Vinik said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

The Vinik-Dreamit partnership has three related goals:

• First, to inject some of the most innovative products — from construction and real estate tech ideas to the "Internet of Things" — culled from these urban tech startups into the early stages of the $3 billion, 50-plus acre real estate project. That ambitious plan is emerging under the guidance of Strategic Property Partners, Vinik's joint venture with Bill Gates-backed Cascade Investment.

• Second, to nurture a longer-term goal that Dreamit, if successful in Tampa, could help realize Vinik's vision of setting aside a portion of the real estate project as an "innovation zone" dedicated to supporting startup activity.

• Third, to bring additional expertise of Dreamit and other resources to strengthen ongoing efforts here to build a stronger, richer ecosystem to support innovative business startups on a metro-wide scale.

"We want to make this area more attractive to young people starting companies, to venture capitalists who might want to invest in these emerging companies," Vinik said, "and to the best and brightest graduates in our area and state so they will want to stay or come to Tampa Bay because there is opportunity here."

Grand plans, indeed. But that's Vinik's style. And his track record of success, here and long before he relocated here from Boston, should not be taken lightly.

Vinik admits that until 18 months ago or so he had never heard of Dreamit or its success with startups in the health care and education technology fields. But through frequent travel and business networking, Vinik eventually was introduced last year to Dreamit CEO Avi Savar. They quickly saw great opportunities in working together.

Vinik saw in Dreamit a highly successful startup organization with global contacts among entrepreneurs, business accelerators and venture capitalists. Savar recognized in Vinik a broad thinker passionate to make his real estate vision an innovative standout. That the Tampa project had the backing of Gates, the world's' richest person, only strengthened the development's credibility.

"Guys like Jeff Vinik and Bill Gates do not mess around," Savar said in an interview.

"What started as a conversation with Jeff Vinik developed into a pretty awesome partnership," Savar recalled. Still, the decision for Dreamit to create a program focused exclusively on urban technology — assisting startups to make cities smarter, more efficient, friendlier and more connected — is new ground for the firm. To Savar and Vinik, though, UrbanTech was an obvious choice.

In Tampa, Dreamit's UrbanTech startups will have a rare chance to learn from leaders in the real estate development, design, construction, and management industries near the start of a huge and well financed project. Strategic Property Partners in turn can benefit by adopting some of the product and service ideas that emerge from the startups. And, Savar emphasized, Tampa Bay over time could reap the rewards of building a global reputation for cutting edge urban development.

What does Tampa have to offer startups, Savar asked. What were its natural resources besides a lower cost of living and weather — basics that can be found in many places?

What stood out in talking to Vinik, Savar said, was his "long-term proposition that they were about to do something remarkable there."

Vinik was offering startups with the right stuff a chance to integrate themselves into one of the bolder development projects in the country. Urban tech startups will work with leading architecture and construction firms involved in hotels, office parks, urban parks, hospitality and healthcare services, and much more.

"Tampa's mission over the next ten years is for the best entrepreneurs dedicated to making cities great to come here," Savar said. "We want to make this so robust that if you're an urban tech company — wow! — you're asking, 'How can I get into Tampa right now and get in on the ground floor?'"

If Savar sounds awfully enthusiastic, remember his job involves reaching out and selling high-caliber businesses in this country and others to step up and apply for what will be only eight to ten spots in Dreamit's four-month business accelerator program in Tampa this fall. Given Dreamit's global network, Savar seems confident hundreds of companies will apply by the late June deadline. Between 30 and 40 finalists will be chosen from that lot, and the top ten or so picked this summer.

The typical company in the accelerator would have between five and ten employees and an existing product that has been validated in the market to some extent, according to Savar.

"Who would not want to be part of this?" asked Savar. "That's an IQ test. Not a question."

Once chosen, startups and a Dreamit team will spend time in Tampa getting to know the city, its leaders, its urban style — and its entrepreneurial culture. A specific Tampa location within the SPP development for the Dreamit accelerator has not been selected.

Sensitive to the politics as a newcomer, Dreamit wants to become part of the startup scene and help where it can. It is not coming to tell the startup community here what to do, Savar said.

For Vinik, the passion that convinced him to become a successful owner of the Lightning owner is spreading to area startups. He is already an investor in multiple young companies here. More commitments seem likely.

"Quietly, there are a lot of entrepreneurs starting companies in this region," Vinik said. "I meet with many of them and encourage them all."

Of course, investing in promising businesses for profit is the precise thing Vinik used to do managing the now famous Fidelity Magellan Fund from 1992 to 1996, where he averaged 17 percent annual returns.

"I do love analyzing companies," Vinik acknowledged. "But what I like a lot more thinking about now is how great a place this can become ten or twenty years from now. That's an important subject to me."

And to us all.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venture tampabay.

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