Leaders who helped evolve Tampa Bay’s tech scene by creating incubators and making the jump to building startups all gathered under one roof to discuss how the region can capture even more activity. and different verticals to pursue.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways from Thursday’s Tampa Bay poweredUp tech festival at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg, hosted by Tampa Bay Tech:
On the metaverse
The Accenture team took center stage for the Meet Me in the Metaverse panel discussion.
Accenture, one of the largest local professional services firms that works with Fortune Global 100 companies, has ramped up operations and scale for its mixed reality metaverse world. At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, causing disruptions in the traditional physical space and the onboarding of new employees, she prompted Accenture to go the extra mile using its virtual platform. Accenture has purchased 60,000 Oculus headsets for its employees to begin the journey to an omni-connected experience it calls the One Accenture Park, a metaverse campus of Accenture.
Inside One Accenture Park, employees and newcomers are avatars navigating the campus. While One Accenture Park was the main talking point, the panelists broadly explained how different industries are entering the market and how the metaverse can virtually impact every industry in a unique way.
“The metaverse is one of those triggers for transformation in digital worlds and business models. You have the ability to own a digital receipt and trade like we do in the physical world,” said Dan Guenther, Director CEO of Accenture who leads the global extended reality division.
Carly Evans, Senior Director of Management Consulting at Accenture, highlighted how a Gucci bag sold in the Metaverse for a whopping $4,000.
“In the world of fashion retail, when you buy that physical bag, it’s physically with you, but [by having and displaying assets] virtually you can reach a lot more people,” Guenther said, explaining that acquiring goods illustrates your status in the virtual world.
He used the example of how sportswear retail giant Nike uses the metaverse not only to sell products, but also to leverage sponsorship deals, generating additional revenue. Chipotle is another company taking advantage of the metaverse because people can receive a virtual token that they can use at physical Chipotle restaurants.
On the gender gap in the startup world
Women leaders from the growing tech startup space in Tampa Bay spoke about their experiences breaking into the world of entrepreneurship, all sharing the common denominator of overcoming obstacles.
The Future is Female panelists included Jill St. Thomas, CEO of Tampa Bay Tech; Rachel Feinmann, Vice President of Innovation and Managing Director of TGH Innoventures, Tampa General Hospital’s venture capital fund; Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, and Tonya Elmore, CEO of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center. Tampa Bay Business Journal and Tampa Bay Innovation journalist Lauren Coffey moderated the panel.
“I’ve spent most of my career as a corporate lawyer working with venture capital and private equity investors as well as startups,” Feinmann said, explaining that she has a lot volunteered in the startup world and saw the potential of the ecosystem.
“I remember going to my partners and saying I was thinking of leaving and starting this nonprofit accelerator in the startup world,” she said. “Everyone looked at me like I had five heads.”
She said it was hard to have the courage to finally walk away.
St. Thomas also emerged from the advertising world and found herself in Florida in the mid-1990s. For more than six years, she ran the Tampa Bay Tech group.
“I tend to be very type A. The wisest advice I’ve ever received comes from my mother. She told me that in the grand scheme of things, it’s nothing,” said St. Thomas, highlighting tips on how to navigate through obstacles and cultivate blueprints.
For Lakshmi, said she was “exposed to technology from the womb” as her father was a scientist and she would spend countless hours with him in his labs witnessing first hand the power of innovation .
However, Lakshmi said it took her a while to break into the industry after working in advertising and marketing roles in Chicago and was eventually recruited to Tampa, where she currently runs Embarc Collective.
“For me, it was about figuring out where my passions were…I would come home really exhausted and it wasn’t until I was in the startup world that I gained energy from the work that I was doing. It was a big step into something new…but it ended up being the best thing for me, although transitioning from a life of corporate stability to the startup world was definitely an adjustment,” said said Lakshmi.
Elmore, who said she was a minority in her field at college, was inspired by a professor.
“I got into economic development…and what was interesting was that there were so many startups,” Elmore said. “I had so many great mentors and opportunities that opened doors for me…maybe because it was new and early at the time, a lot of people couldn’t understand starting an incubator and what it really meant.”
Although there are more women leading startups and becoming entrepreneurs, in 2021 women received less than 2% of venture capitalists, Lakshmi said, now mentioning that the dynamic needs to change as everyone does not rely solely on venture capital funding.
“There are a lot of implications if you’re looking for venture capital funding that may not fit the company’s projections,” Lakshmi said.
On Retaining Tech Talent
No matter the panel, the hot topic of attracting talent emerged in almost every discussion.
“From a technical point of view, it seems that what has caused this crazy job market is the participation rate which has dropped over the last few years. A lot of people have left the workforce because of Covid or early retirement… it’s gone down,” said Dan Lasher, chief information security officer at TD Synnex, which was formed by a merger of Tech Data.
“At the same time, you have this pent-up demand that has now been released and this workforce reduced by 5%,” he continued.
He added how legal immigration has been affected by the slowdown in granting visas due to changing policies on the free movement of people. However, on the opposite end of the spectrum, the federal system has offered funds to nonprofits during the pandemic, which has launched new projects, further increasing the demand for jobs.
“It created this environment that we had never seen before and took people by surprise,” he said.
While Florida has a large number of vacancies and has survived the pandemic economically, leaders say the state must continue to be aggressive in retaining the talent and startups it has attracted.
“The #1 variable that’s going to impact our region’s rankings is volume — the number of startups,” Lakshmi said. “For us as a region, we don’t have the volume like other places in the world. What we’ve seen during the pandemic is our rate of acceleration. It’s incredibly high. The change from 2018 to 2022 is probably one of the most significant changes when you look at locations…we’ve had this strong growth over the past pandemic years and we need to maintain this level of growth in all other locations that have been negatively impacted by the pandemic look at us and say we want what Florida has.
She added that Florida should not be complacent and shield its growth from competitors.
From Cathie Wood’s perspective
At the poweredUp event, Cathie Wood, CEO of ARK Invest, and Joe Hamilton, St. Pete Catalyst Editor and head of network for Metacity, had a fireside chat.
Wood shared his thoughts on inflation, calling it “the toughest time of his career”, as well as his views on the $40 billion crash of popular crypto token Luna and its stablecoin terraUSD (UST ) associated.
Learn more about fireside chat here.
Additionally, Tampa-based BlockSpaces and Cogent Bank discussed innovative ways they are using blockchain technology, a topic the Catalyst will highlight in an upcoming feature.