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Jeff Vinik: Bay area's startup ecosystem is promising, but still young

TAMPA — It's been not quite a year since Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik outlined a multi-part plan to nurture innovation in the Tampa Bay area, and while progress since then has been promising, it's still the "second or third inning" of a long-term effort, he said Tuesday.

"We have momentum," he said after speaking to about 400 participants at an innovation summit sponsored by Dreamit Ventures, the startup accelerator in which he invested $12 million last year. "It's early stage momentum, (but) there is a detectable excitement in this region about where we can go in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship."

Over the past year, Vinik's talk about creating an innovation hub has coalesced into the Embarc Collective, a $10 million project that will move into 30,000 square feet of space in the old District 3 warehouse directly north of Amalie Arena.

Vinik said he expects one of the tenants there to be BlockSpaces, now located on Gandy Boulevard in Tampa, which offers blockchain technology education, development and support services to a collaborative community of individuals and startups.

Embarc Collective also plans to partner with other organizations working with startups: the University of South Florida, University of Tampa, Tampa Bay Wave and the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, among them.

Vinik sees the bay area as fertile ground for startups in four areas where there's a built-in customer base here. Three are already areas of focus for Dreamit: health technology, military and security-related startups and what's known as "urban tech," which takes in technological advances in building design, construction, building materials and more.

The fourth is consumer marketing. Vinik said this is promising because, demographically, the bay area is so similar to the national economy as a whole.

That said, there's education to do in Florida because so many wealthy people here made their money in real estate or their own companies, Vinik said.

"Venture capital, startups, risk is a little bit of a new concept for them," he said.

With successful venture organizations, two or three out of 10 startups that get backing might be "pretty successful," he said, which translates to "doing pretty well."

"There are no simple answers," he said. "It's tens and dozens and hundreds and thousands of meetings and conferences and phone calls with people to educate them and teach them how the venture capital process works and equally, why it's so important."

But one of the nice things about the bay area, he said, is that venture capitalists can find some bargains among startups here.

"The same company in Tampa Bay is probably valued at 20 percent of what it would be in Silicon Valley," Vinik said, "so the prices here and the valuations of companies are much more reasonable."

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