1. Business

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
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."

MORE: Go here for more Business News

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

To learn more



  1. Jeffrey D. Senese was inaugurated as Saint Leo University's 10th president. Pictured, Monsignor Robert Morris (left), Class of 1979, and a member of the board of trustees, and D. Dewey Mitchell, chair of the university’s board of trustees, bestow the presidential medallion on Senese. Renee Gerstein and William Speer, Saint Leo University
    New and notes on local businesses
  2. Dr. Manjusri Vennamaneni (center) was awarded Businesswoman of the Year by the Indo-US Chamber of Commerce. With her are Matt Romeo, President of PrimeCare (left), and Dr. Pariksith Singh, CEO, Access Health Care Physicians. Vince Vanni
    News and notes on local businesses
  3. Tampa Bay Lighting host a watch party on the beach at the Tradewinds resort on St. Pete Beach in February. LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times
    TradeWinds is the biggest resort in Pinellas County.
  4. A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from over Tampa Bay.
    The news that the Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation wants to change its name to include “Tampa Bay” has been met with resistance.
  5. The Whole Coffee Company makes Dunkin’-branded Coffee Thins as well as Tim Hortons Double Double bars and its own Whole Coffee Company-branded nudge coffee bars. (Photo courtesy The Whole Coffee Company) The Whole Coffee Company
    The Whole Coffee Company, which is based in Miami, was previously known as Tierra Nueva Fine Cocoa. ProspEquity Partners of Tampa owns a majority stake in Whole Coffee.
  6. The Corona Cove opens as the Florida Aquarium's new outdoor bar. The beer company is pledging continued donations to aid conservation efforts. Florida Aquarium
    The beer company also has pledged donations to aid conservation efforts.
  7. The Triton cantaloupe, created with help from Eckerd College. Eckerd College
    The St. Petersburg college teamed up with a central Florida plant breeder to create the Triton cantaloupe.
  8. FILE - In this May 14, 2019, fiel photo, containers are piled up at a port in Qingdao in east China's Shandong province. China’s economic growth slowed to a 26-year low in the latest quarter as a tariff war with Washington weighed on exports and auto sales and other domestic activity weakened. The world’s second-largest economy expanded by 6.2 percent in the three months ending in September, down from the previous quarter’s 6 percent, data showed Friday, Oct. 18, 2019. AP
    Growth in the world’s second-largest economy slipped to 6% in the three months ending in September, down from the previous quarter’s 6.2%, data showed Friday.
  9. Ryan Cummings, 23, left, and Alex Frey, 25, both of Tampa, rent Spin electric scooters from a corral located along Zack Street in May. St. Petersburg hopes to soon launch it's own scooter program. CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The city wants to avoid other cities’ mistakes. Scooters will not be allowed on sidewalks and must be parked in designated corrals.
  10. Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    The shuttered store has been reinvented and debuted to the community.