Monday marked the beginning of Tampa Bay Startup Week, a five-day-long series of events meant to bring creatives, techies, entrepreneurs, and anyone who’s a combination of any of those together to meet, plot, and party. There’s a small but interesting tech scene here in the Tampa Bay area, and a number of factors including the subtropical climate, low cost of living, and the influx of people to the area — you might call it a brain gain — could help it grow dramatically over the next few years.
The week’s kickoff party took place at the Chase Basecamp, a rented venue on 7th Avenue, the main street of Ybor City (pronounced “EE-bor”), Tampa’s nightlife and party neighborhood. The Basecamp (located at the corner of 7th Avenue and 20th Street), serves as the central meeting place for Startup Week participants, as well as a venue for many of the scheduled events.
While chatting up the people from local mobile development shop Sourcetoad, I was introduced to the friendly-looking gentleman below, who went up to me and said “I just have to tell you, I love that accordion!”
As he walked away, Anitra told me that I just shook hands with Bob Buckhorn, mayor of Tampa. I’m a relatively recent transplant from Toronto, so I’ve never seen a photo of him, and I’m too used to picturing the mayor as either a sweaty, drug- and booze-addled, embarrassing mess, or too attached to highfalutin’ extravaganzas that are full of sound and fury but ultimately signifying nothing to care about a small grassroots effort like this one. I’m also not used to a mayor with his approval rating.
He gave a short speech to the crowd, in which he encouraged everyone to meet other people of like minds and ambitions, do what we do, “be a little crazy”, disrupt things, and start businesses. He talked about the brain drain that existed until recently, when people would leave Tampa in search of their fortunes. The situation has been turned around, what with Florida being one of the most moved-to states in the U.S. (as of this writing, it’s the third most populous state, after California and Texas), the population growth in the Tampa Bay/Jacksonville corridor and “Orlampa”, and Penske rental truck data that suggests that the Tampa Bay/Sarasota area is in the top 10 most moved-to locales. He asked the group to keep working to make Tampa a better place to be, if only to make sure that his daughters don’t move away to Atlanta, Austin, or anyplace else.
The money quote that got the audience to really put their hands together:
“I want Tampa Bay to be the economic engine of the southeast.”
It’s bold. It’s ambitious. I like it.
After all the speechifying, he then did what any good mayor would do: take control of the decks and drop a fat beat.
Anitra and I spent the rest of the evening either catching up with or getting to know the people in attendance, including:
- @ThatGirlAllie, one of the Startup Week committee organizers
- Aris from Creatives Alliance and Roy from the new local recording musician’s group
- The people from mobile app development shop Sourcetoad
- Vanessa and Conchetta from Embassy Suites, who want me to get in touch with them so they can add me to their list of local entertainers (they were sold when they heard me play along to Happy by Pharrell)
- Photographer Ashlee Hamon, for whom I plan to build an app
- Chima Nwala, who’s just started a business called Hangout Corporation
- Adam Caskie from Edward Jones, with whom I have to start talking about getting an IRA (I’ve got retirement savings vehicles in Canada, but none in the US just yet)
- A couple of women from New York for work for a K-pop recording company and were here to check out the local scene
- A dude who remembered me from South by Southwest
- At least one person who recognized me and tweeted a photo of me
Here’s what’s happening with Tampa Bay Startup Week today and tomorrow. These events are free — just visit the Tampa Bay Startup Week site and sign up!
Today (Tuesday, February 3):
- Leading Your Start-Up with Nicholas Karnaze at 11:00 a.m. followed by lunch.
- Panel: Investor Insights with Brian Smith at 3:00 p.m.
- Ping-Pong tournament hosted by The Urban Conga in Gaslight Park at 4:00 p.m.
- Coding as a Career at gr8code at 6:00 p.m.
- Maker: The Movie, a special screening at the St. Petersburg shuffleboard courts at 6:00 p.m.
Tomorrow (Wednesday, February 4):
- One Million Cups – The ECC kicks off Tampa’s first event 1MC at 8:00 a.m.
- One Million Cups in St. Petersburg – The Greenhouse host their 1MC at 9:00 a.m.
- Tampa Hackerspace – Lunch will be served up with a side of lasers at 12:00 p.m.
- Creating a Unique Crowdfunding Campaign at 3:00 p.m.
- Tech Cocktail Mixer at Chase Basecamp at 6:00 p.m.
- Open Make Night at the St. Pete Maker Space at 6:00 p.m.