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Jeff Vinik's Embarc Collective, a hothouse for tech innovation, seeks startups

Embarc Collective, the Jeff Vinik-backed innovation hub, is scheduled to open early next year in the renovated District 3 warehouse north of Amalie Arena. Renderings courtesy Embarc Collective
Embarc Collective, the Jeff Vinik-backed innovation hub, is scheduled to open early next year in the renovated District 3 warehouse north of Amalie Arena. Renderings courtesy Embarc Collective
Published Nov. 13, 2018

TAMPA — Think of Embarc Collective, the planned innovation hub backed by Jeff Vinik, as a hothouse for young tech companies.

But the collective, which opened its application process today and plans to open its doors next March, is not a co-working space or startup accelerator or incubator looking to turn a profit by betting on startups.

Instead, it's applying for non-profit status and won't be taking equity in the startups it selects. Rather, it will charge member startups a fee to move in to its new offices inside the old District 3 warehouse north of Amalie Arena.

There, they will get office space, but also help focused on five areas: coaching for company founders and their teams, an on-site recruiting strategist, introductions to potential customers and prospective investors, help with marketing, and support developing new products. The long-range goal is to expand the local economy by strengthening its tech and innovation sector, says Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning and a major force in downtown Tampa's redevelopment.

"It is critical when we look at the growth of the Tampa Bay region, that we take this to another level and that we provide opportunity — that we provide forums and the coaching and the resources and the capital and the customers for startup companies and founders here," Vinik said last week.

And Embarc's founding CEO says the collective's support will be tailored to each startup, rather than every company getting the same curriculum on the same schedule as they would going through an incubator with a cohort of other startups.

"Companies are going to be able to apply on a rolling basis, and their experience is going to be based on what does their company need to progress forward," said Lakshmi Shenoy, whom Vinik hired from 1871, a well-established (and also nonprofit) tech entrepreneurship hub in Chicago.

"They're all at different stages," she said. "They all have different strengths and maybe different knowledge gaps. So being able to plug those holes and guide them based on what specifically they need is really the intent. ... Building a company is so messy sometimes you need that external force in your life to help you figure out which direction is forward and how do you track forward, and how do you stay accountable to yourself, your team, your customers, your investors and everyone who is counting on your to build something real."

The collective's home will be in 32,000 square feet in the red-brick District 3 warehouse — the home for last year's popular Art of the Brick Lego exhibition — at E Whiting and N Jefferson streets in downtown Tampa. The hub is meant to bring together startups, venture capitalists, academic resources and startup-focused partners in one place. Among others, Vinik said, the collective will partner with the University of South Florida, University of Tampa, Tampa Bay Wave and the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator.

Architects at KWJ and the Kreher/Barna Design Studio are creating the space, which will include "mini neighborhoods" meant to create small communities of startups.

"I've worked in these types of spaces and I've seen hubs around the world," Shenoy said, "and the one thing we've learned is you can't have an open bullpen for people to work in, because it's just not conducive to being productive. You can't have a space with no walls and no privacy."

So the hub will include private work spaces, podcasting and event facilities, event space for groups of 250 or more, a public cafe, a lending library and an outdoor lounge, or, in the words of designer Jan Barna, "an urban porch."

Fees for the full Embarc Collective experience, including dedicated space for member startups, will be $465 per employee per month. (Hence, a three-employee startup pays $1,395 per month. By comparison, the stylish Bay 3 coworking space above the popular and restaurant-rich the Armature Works charges $699 to $2,499 a month for private offices with 51 to 450 square feet of space, $400 a month for dedicated desks and $130 a month for common-area memberships.)

That's a fee "heavily subsidized" by Embarc Collective, Shenoy said, "because we want to make sure that we're meeting startups where their budgets are."

"We're investing in their future by subsidizing that cost, and that's why we applied for that 501(c)(3) nonprofit status," she said. Shenoy expects the hub to have a staff of about 10. The project has a budget of $10 million.

In addition, the collective will offer flexible memberships that don't come with private office space at the District 3 building but do include the support services for $150 per employee per month. A third tech-focused membership, also $150 per employee per month, will be geared toward off-site digital designers, software developers and freelancers.

Shenoy said she would love to launch with 50 members across those three categories. Vinik said last week he expects one of the collective's tenants to be BlockSpaces, which works with individuals and startups on blockchain technology education, development and support.

"This is going to create such an important destination for the startup community," Shenoy said, "not only for people who are based here, but really to help us put ourselves on the map … and to help amplify the story of the Tampa Bay region as a great place to build a company."

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Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

To learn more

Check embarccollective.com/join

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