TAMPA — Spanx founder and chief executive officer Sara Blakely will be the keynote speaker for the two-day Synapse Summit 2020, the annual innovation convention hosted by the nonprofit entrepreneurship support group Synapse Florida.
Blakely, a 48-year-old native of Clearwater, launched Spanx as a one-woman venture with $5,000 from savings. In 1998, she came up with the idea of cutting the feet from a pair of pantyhose to look better in a pair of cream-colored pants while still being able to wear open shoes. In 2000, she made her first major sale. In 2012, Forbes named her the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire.
Time magazine has since named her one of its “100 Most Influential People." In 2006, she founded the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation, which is focused on supporting women through entrepreneurship, education and the arts. She joined the Giving Pledge, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s venture to encourage the world’s richest people to commit to giving at least half their wealth to charity.
In 2017, she was named, along with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Starbucks’ chairman Howard Schultz, as an investor in Steve Case’s $150 million “Rise of the Rest” seed fund to promote entrepreneurship outside of Silicon Valley, including in the Tampa Bay area.
“Sara is the quintessential innovator and an inspiration," Synapse vice president for community engagement Lauren Prager said Friday in an announcement. “Her achievements in business and philanthropy have empowered and emboldened so many.”
This year’s event at Amalie Arena featured more than 330 exhibitors and 300 speakers and attracted more than 5,500 attendees. Companies raised more than $10 million in capital as a result of pitches made at the summit in January.
Next year, organizers anticipate a crowd of 6,000 innovators, entrepreneurs, investors and corporate partners at the arena on Feb. 11 and 12.
“We believe this is the best event to get connected to the innovation community and we hope more people will attend, get engaged, and become a true part of innovation in Florida,” Synapse Florida co-founder and president Brian Kornfeld said, And having Blakely on stage will be a game-changer for the event, he said. Tickets are on sale at synapsefl.com/summit/.
Synapse Florida, founded by Kornfeld, Marc Blumenthal and Andy Hafer, seeks to have a statewide reach. It recently launched a similar event in Orlando that drew more than 1,200 participants.
Along with the summits, Synapse Florida is trying to nurture Florida’s innovation network through two other strategies. It regularly holds challenges that begin with an identified problem and uses crowd-sourcing to inspire innovators to come up with solutions and connect with each other along the way.
It also has launched a web connections platform, Synapse Connect, to bring together inventors, investors, coders, intellectual property attorneys and others. Kornfeld compares its customizable search with how Kayak.com helps travelers book flights and hotels.
So far, Synapse Connect has attracted more than 1,500 users, combined almost as many different event listings into one calendar and facilitated a couple of hundred successful connections.
“People can say who they are within the community, what technologies or industries they’re interested in, the stage of their company, locations where they’re willing to do business, and what they need,” Kornfeld said, “and get answers back.”