"Executives say it is time for Tampa Bay to become a technology hotbed through talent and investment."
No area tech executive would quibble today with such a statement, except that line appeared in a St. Petersburg Times story 10 years ago. Some things take longer to happen than we like.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, this region's umbrella and advocacy organization for more than 350 member tech businesses and entrepreneurs. The forum was forged by necessity in the days of the fizzling Internet/tech bubble. Since then it has grown to become, TBTF hopes, a role model for most tech communities and a culture of risk-taking and innovation across Florida.
It is exactly that recognition that this year's new TBTF leadership — forum chairman Anand Pallegar, 31, of the Sarasota tech marketing and branding firm atLarge Inc., and forum vice chair Chris Paradies, at 49 a Ph.D. attorney at Tampa's Fowler White Boggs specializing in biotech and intellectual property matters — hope to leverage. Their goal: to help create a network of tech support groups across Florida under what would be known as the statewide "Florida Technology Forum." The two share big dreams for TBTF and Tampa Bay's tech community. Joined by TBTF CEO Amy Norman, 31, they stopped by the Times recently to talk about their ambitious agenda. Here are excerpts:
So I hear you have big plans for technology in Tampa Bay?
Pallegar: Yes, we want to make Tampa Bay one of the top 10 technology hubs by 2015.
What makes the tech base in Tampa Bay superior or worthy of such a hub status that you can't find, say, in Fort Lauderdale or Melbourne?
Paradies: We have three first-class state universities that bring a lot to this (Central Florida) region. By working with them — and the University of Florida, University of Central Florida and University of South Florida — they spin out a lot of technology that needs to find a home. So we're trying to help create an environment to help tech companies thrive here. We have the right demographics, and this area is growing.
Norman: And we also have SRI and Draper Labs here …
Paradies: And M2Gen (the Tampa joint venture between Moffitt Cancer Center and big drug company Merck).
What's the thinking behind this statewide technology initiative? Why bother?
Pallegar: I have spent time talking to other tech groups, and it is interesting how they view TBTF as a role model. We'd like to do more in shaping this state's technology economy by sharing our TBTF model and creating the Florida Technology Forum. We are working with Randy Berridge of the Florida High Tech Corridor (a Central Florida tech advocacy group).
As tech groups go, TBTF is influential. Miami's, for example, is a volunteer group. We do not want to gobble up other tech groups, but want to create a conduit so we can speak with a unified voice about the state of technology across Florida.
Paradies: We have support of area counties and other economic development groups like the Tampa Bay Partnership.
Pallegar: This is an election year and a good time to do it. Many seats are up for grabs. Having an organization that can articulate what is happening in tech regions and with entrepreneurs is an important role.
You have a track record with other tech groups already?
Pallegar: We worked with the tech group called 82 Degrees in Sarasota that was struggling. They took some of the bylaws of TBTF, and we were able to help instill them with a new vision as the new Suncoast Technology Forum. In the huge metro Orlando area, too, there was a need to bring together all the technology companies there to start capitalizing on all the tech in their economy.
When you talk about things like a tech economy to a broader audience not focused on such things, how do they respond to your vision?
Pallegar: I have only been here in Florida for five years, but the state has long been driven by tourism, and before that by agriculture. You have to stick your neck out. If Silicon Valley did not change direction in the 1940s, they would still be growing oranges there. What is the future of our economy going to be? What lifestyles do we want to create for ourselves? How do we bring like-minded people together?
Paradies: Today is an innovation economy. If you do not innovate, you will not be part of the future economy. That means there may be ways to innovate in things like tourism, too. That is where the money and growth will be. It is a necessity to become part of that economy. Do we want to be what we are just now?
Pallegar: That's right. How do we reduce the brain drain in Florida? Tomorrow's economy will be led by knowledge workers, and we need to be part of that.