TAMPA — Jeff Vinik’s up-and-coming innovation center introduced itself Wednesday with a new name, news of its future home and the rollout of a community survey as it aims for a full launch in early 2019.
Embarc Collective, a $10 million project, will not be a traditional startup incubator or accelerator per se, but will work to provide tech entrepreneurs with resources they might not otherwise find in the Tampa Bay area currently.
This could include access to an international network of experts. They could also include a curriculum that entrepreneurs, even those who already have some experience starting a business, can tap into and build on as needed.
“The hub exists to make Tampa Bay a premier destination for diverse startup talent,” said Lakshmi Shenoy, who Vinik hired as CEO of the new organization. “We don’t need to replicate what already exists. It’s all about complementing what already exists.”
To determine the necessary resources, the collective launched a community survey on embarccollective.com on Wednesday afternoon. Its objective: to collect the brains of entrepreneurs at the heart of the bay’s startup ecosystem, of organizations that play a role in supporting innovation and of all those who are considering getting started themselves.
The survey will remain online for perhaps two weeks, and the collective could submit a report on the needs it identifies in early October.
When he announced plans for the innovation hub in December, Vinik thought it might be a good fit for Channelside Bay Plaza, which is undergoing a major renovation and being renamed Sparkman Wharf.
Instead, Embarc Collective’s home will be the District 3 building, a structure built in 1921 that previously housed a paper company, wholesale grocer and event space. Last year, he drew crowds for the Art of the Brick, a traveling collection of more than 100 Lego sculptures brought to Tampa by Vinik and his wife Penny through the Vinik Family Foundation.
This place places the collective just north of Water Street Tampa, the $3 billion mixed-use redevelopment that Vinik is creating in partnership with Cascade Investment, the private wealth fund of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. By the time they move into the 30,000-square-foot space in District 3, Shenoy’s three-person team is expected to grow to about a dozen.
Embarc Collective, which is seeking nonprofit status, is expected to offer community-based entrepreneurship, technology and innovation programming and resources for entrepreneurs.
Together, these two efforts are expected to complement the work of a wide range of existing accelerators and incubators, such as Tampa Bay Wave, TEC Garage in St. Petersburg, Dreamit Ventures, the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator, and the Hub focused on the BlockSpaces blockchain, as well as the University of South Florida and the University of Tampa.
Shenoy, 35, came to Tampa after serving as vice president of strategy and business development at 1871 Chicago, a tech entrepreneurship hub in Chicago that UBI Global ranked as the best corporate-affiliated incubator university in the United States.
Since February, Shenoy has met with more than 400 people about the Bay Area’s startup culture, which she says is strong in many ways, but not well-known enough outside the region and geographically expansive.
To counter this, she talked about creating “opportunity density.”
“This region, I’ve learned, is huge, and it’s really important to be able to create that sense of a central landing zone for entrepreneurship,” she said. In Chicago, his former employer filled this role. In Paris, the essential innovation hub is Station F. In Lisbon, Portugal, it is Startup Lisboa.
“The market is already doing a lot of things, and I see Embarc Collective’s role as just amplifying and raising the profile of all this activity that’s happening,” she said. “There’s no reason why entrepreneurs and their teams shouldn’t view Tampa Bay as a great place to grow their business, but we’re not telling that story loud enough outside of this region.”
Contact >Richard Danielson