TAMPA — Jeff Vinik is hiring an executive from one of the nation’s most respected startup incubators to run a similar innovation hub he’s planning for his Water Street Tampa project.
Lakshmi Shenoy, 34, will come to Tampa from her current job as vice president of strategy and business at 1871, a tech entrepreneurship hub in Chicago that UBI Global rated as the top university-affiliated incubator in the United States.
"We are thrilled to welcome Lakshmi to Tampa Bay and can’t wait for her to join us early next year," Vinik said in an announcement Thursday. "Her tremendous track record at 1871 makes her the perfect person to take our entrepreneurial ecosystem to the next level."
Shenoy is scheduled to start work as the chief executive officer of Vinik’s innovation hub in February, with a goal of opening the new hub in late 2018. A graduate of the University of Chicago with an MBA from the Harvard Business School, Shenoy also has worked at Prophet Brand Strategy, Time Inc., Procter & Gamble and the Leo Burnett advertising agency.
In Tampa, her new job will include leading a comprehensive strategy, branding and community engagement effort, plus forging partnerships with business, educational and entrepreneurial support organizations.
"You start by listening," she said in a telephone interview Thursday. The Tampa Bay area already has a lot of people who are doing great work, she said, so an early priority will be to learn about the existing tech startup scene and figure out who has taken advantage of what opportunities, what’s still needed and who’s being left out.
Founded in 2012, 1871 is named after the year of the great Chicago fire, which set the stage for a huge burst of growth and development. The incubator has a staff of about 30 and works with 500 early-stage startups, seven university partners, eight venture capital firms and 600 volunteer mentors. It does about 1,000 events a year.
That’s the kind of environment that Vinik talked about creating earlier this month when he announced plans for creating an innovation hub on the second floor of Channelside Bay Plaza. He expects it to occupy 40,000 to 75,000 square feet of space, or about 20 to 40 percent of the building.
At 1871, Shenoy’s current job includes managing partnerships with corporations, government and private foundations, as well as fostering collaboration between startups and corporate partners. She’s particularly proud of her work launching a women’s entrepreneurship program that takes about a dozen startups at a time through a 12-week program.
Women in Chicago told 1871 three things: more access to capital, more access to technology and more access to community, Shenoy said. The program, which received the same kind of U.S. Small Business Administration grant that Tampa Bay Wave did, has created a network of supportive entrepreneurs.
"No matter who you are, to a certain extent entrepreneurship is very lonely," she said. There are a lot of skeptics and a lot of people asking why you would leave a stable profession to do something risky.
"You need people who are saying yes, ‘You’re doing the right thing,’ " Shenoy said. "And you need people who can give you feedback and brainstorm with you. And you also need people to pick you up when you’re having a bad moment and to celebrate those wins that you’re having along the way."
With that kind of community, "every day it feels like there’s a road ahead, and you just want to keep going."
Along with creating the innovation hub, Vinik has said that he plans, with his own money and funds from other investors, to launch a venture capital fund with as much as $50 million, which would make it the largest in Florida. He also said he will buy an equity stake in the startup accelerator DreamIt, which focuses on health care and urban tech startups. He expects to end up with an ownership stake comparable to that of DreamIt’s founders, but did not disclose how much he’s investing.
The idea for the Tampa hub emerged from trips Vinik has taken for more than a year to see similar initiatives around the country with Jim O’Connell, the CEO of the Vinik Family Foundation. In Chicago, 1871 was an early stop and a big source of inspiration, Vinik has said.
The Tampa hub will be a tenant of Strategic Property Partners, the real estate development company that Vinik runs with Cascade Investment, the personal wealth fund launched by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, to develop the $3 billion project known as Water Street Tampa.
Fostering the growth of Tampa’s business innovation culture is not a new idea for Vinik. In May, Channelside Bay Plaza welcomed the Tampa Bay Wave startup incubator as a tenant until the plaza undergoes a larger redevelopment.
Contact Richard Danielson at [email protected] or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times