TAMPA — What are the most pressing problems re-emerging urban downtowns like Tampa must overcome to blossom into a place people, businesses and investors will want to pour their hearts and money into?
Established startup companies with innovative solutions to that question: We Want You.
That, in a nutshell, was the pitch delivered Wednesday evening to about 100 entrepreneurs and urban enthusiasts by Dreamit Ventures managing director Andrew Ackerman at The Attic bar inside the Tampa Bay WaVE incubator building in downtown Tampa. Acknowledging his first visit to Tampa, Ackerman said he's spearheading a new "urban technology" accelerator program starting in September in Tampa. The program aims to pluck eight to ten of the most innovative startups (those with some track record and customers already) for an intense Dreamit-run program to prep these businesses for growth.
What does "urban tech" mean, anyway? Ackerman offered some suggestions. Like a business making autonomous tools in construction, such as those that can lay their own brick. Or creating a less cumbersome way for new renters to more easily finance the high upfront costs of security deposits and several months rent. Or inventing a smart clamp that fits on plumbing pipes and anticipate leaks before damage is done.
Dreamit has partnered with Jeff Vinik, whose Strategic Property Partners joint venture with Cascade Investment (a financial arm for Bill Gates' fortune) is redeveloping 50-plus acres with $3 billion around Tampa's Amalie Arena. Vinik, who owns the Tampa Bay Lightning, wants to tap the innovation from the Dreamit urban tech startups in that redevelopment — an opportunity Ackerman says is a no-brainer opportunity to put urban tech problem-solving to a live test.
"Hell yes, it makes all the sense in the world," an enthusiastic Ackerman told the Tampa crowd.
The Dreamit leader was in town to remind potential urban techies that the deadline to apply for the fall accelerator program is June 23. Ackerman's message: This will be a highly competitive program since Dreamit's casting an international net for startup candidates. Better to apply now, he said, than to miss a chance to participate.
Here are a few takeaways from my chatting with Ackerman and listening to his pitch:
• "Urban tech" is a new niche for Dreamit, which has made a name for itself in the startup worlds of education technology (including Tampa's own school dismissal system startup called PikMyKid) as well as health care technology.
The accelerator says it has deep ties with investors and venture capitalists nationwide and overseas. Dreamit seems confident it can deliver startup participants providing fresh and disruptive ways to improve how the players in urban redevelopment — architects, construction firms, city governments, designers and more — can do things smarter, faster and more efficiently.
• Dreamit works, says Ackerman, not by charging a traditional upfront fee to those picked to participate in their accelerator programs. Instead, Dreamit gets the option to take a stake at a 20 percent discount of up to $500,000 in any of the firms that catch its investor eye. To expedite development of its "urban tech" firms, Dreamit takes them to see venture capitalists directly in Silicon Valley and San Francisco, and New York, Boston and other investing hubs to quickly gauge interest in backing urban technology businesses.
• The deal with Vinik, says Ackerman, aims for this fall's urban tech accelerator program to be the first of several Dreamit hopes to pursue here as part of a broader mission to bring more muscle and experience to the Tampa Bay startup scene.
Among questions posed by Wednesday's audience was this: How can we help make this program successful?
Ackerman smiled. Make sure, he said, that really sharp startups in urban tech apply.
"Nothing we do matters if we do not have good startups," he said.
Remember: Next Friday is deadline day.
Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.