Synapse Summit 2022 and Florida’s Energized Innovation Economy

The 5th annual 2022 Synapse Summit returned to Tampa’s Amalie Arena this February calling together Florida’s entrepreneurial ecosystem - startup founders, funders, tech talent, executives, educational institutions, support organizations, and local/regional/state government entities, especially the economic development boards. Synapse Florida, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, expertly designs the annual event to Celebrate, Discover, & Engage the Florida innovation community. Acting as a powerful catalyst, Synapse brings in all community stakeholders together to enable chance meetings, meaningful dialogues, opportunities to brainstorm, be inspired, and learn from speakers and panelists.

This year was another resounding success as 5,662 attendees, 185 speakers, 311 exhibitors, 51 sessions met as one big community of practice dedicated to turning Florida from the Sunshine State to the Startup State and becoming a leading innovation hub in the country. The event provided an opportunity to spotlight the broad array of startup efforts happening throughout the state, hear from cross-industry innovation leaders, and educate through breakout sessions addressing hot innovation topics including AI (artificial intelligence), blockchain, cybersecurity, FinTech, the metaverse and NFTs (non-fungible tokens).

According to Crunchbase, early-stage funding for Florida startup companies exceeded $1 billion in 2021. It is neither a secret nor a surprise that Florida has been attracting major investors, experienced founders, and a wealth of talent to energize and support the growing momentum of the state’s innovation economy.

Some highlights from the Summit: 

FinTech: Solutions at Every Age and Stage - The panel explored what makes Florida’s innovation ecosystem specifically suited for the explosion of the FinTech industry. One panelist in particular, Mac Gardner, Founder & Chief Education Officer, FinLit Tech and a Certified Financial Planner practitioner, discussed his passion for the importance of financial literacy and his efforts of elevating financial literacy into a technology to create the tools and resources to bring financial knowledge to more people across all ages across the world. Moderator Michael Wiemer, Director, FinTech Center, University of South Florida discussed his efforts to build a hub of engagement and activity for business students employing cutting-edge research, world-class teaching, business engagement, experiential learning, and industry internships in the FinTech sector by engaging in the center’s business incubator and accelerator activities as part of their educational journey with USF.

How Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are Disrupting Legacy Industries – panel discussion on how industries such as insurance, healthcare, finance, and security are spending billions on data, machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to meet user demands and stay competitive. Moderator Linda Olson, CEO/President/Founder, TampaBay WaVE - a 501c3 nonprofit that has supported over 300 tech startups since 2013 with an accelerator program, coworking, and other services – talked with a some Florida companies to learn how they are using these new tools to reshape the future of their business. In particular Bruce Lucas, Founder & CEO of Slide,  a full-stack insurtech company, discussed how they use technology that leverages artificial intelligence and Big Data to hyper-personalize, optimize, and streamline every part of the insurance process.

The New World of Blockchain for Business – The session moved beyond the viability question, multiple blockchain integration, interoperability, corporate node staking, and real-time payments. Corporate interest in blockchain is now obvious with 81 of the top 100 public companies using the technology. Moderator Rosa Shores, CEO, Co-Founder, Blockspaces - a B2B integration platform connecting business applications to blockchain networks - discussed the many ways major banks and institutions are leveraging blockchain to improve their traditional systems.

Engines of Prosperity: The Role of High-Tech Corridor Universities in Florida Innovation [Hybrid] - Florida is home to a powerhouse State University System. Leading the way in innovation are the University of South Florida, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Florida and their hallmark partnership approach. Together these institutions form the Florida High Tech Corridor, an organization designed to amplify the impact of higher education on the regional high-tech economy by building meaningful relationships across industry, academia, and the community. Paul Sohl, CEO of the Corridor, moderated a discussion with the Presidents of the three universities on the role of universities in Florida’s economic development and how universities are preparing the next generation of innovators.

Demystifying Decentralization: The New World of Web 3.0 [Hybrid] – Panel composed of Florida’s leading digital thinkers, investors, and advocates discussed the need to demystify the next evolution of our digital transformation. Composed of Florida’s leading digital thinkers, investors, and advocates including Michael O'Rourke, CEO, Pocket Network and Gabe Higgins Co-Founder of Blockspaces, these experts mapped out a vision for what’s next for our digital world as decentralized technology becomes ubiquitous. 

Metaverse: That’s so Meta – With “metaverse” potentially becoming the word of the year in 2022, this session reviewed what the metaverse is, how it is being created, and how it can transform the fabric of our virtual world. The panelists were Joe Hamilton, Head of Network, Metacity a virtual platform that overlays and logically connects to a physical city; Kyle Morrand, CEO & Technologist, 302 Interactive interactive technologies developing tools and crafting XR experiences that are not only entertaining, but also purpose-driven in building real-world applications; and Jason Warnke, Global Digital Experiences Lead at ACCENTURE responsible for Accenture's Experience Agenda crossing various corporate functions, processes, and key stakeholder groups including developing their own virtual global employee campus The Nth Floor.

Navigating the Metaverse: Your Guide to Limitless Possibilities in a Web 3.0 World - Cathy Hackl, nicknamed the “Godmother of the Metaverse” and the CEO and Chief Metaverse Officer of the Futures Intelligence Group provided an insightful keynote illustrating that while sounding unreal and having a Sci-Fi craziness to it, the metaverse has many practical business applications for corporate branding and to create new economic and engagement opportunities. She illustrated by discussing the strategy behind her launch of an NFT art collection entitled Boss Beauty Role Models with Boss Beauties, a women-led global initiative. “Don’t just create NFTs for the buzz …create an NFT with a mission. NFTs are long-term commitments,” Hackl said. 

 In the spectacular environment of Tampa’s hockey stadium with robots, Oculus VR headsets, virtual dodgeball games and visionary firms like metaverse startups VEDX and The Dilemma Exhibit; mental and emotional health support innovators Cope Notes, and so many other amazing cross-industry startups, the Synapse Summit once again opened up a new world by forcing us to rethink what is possible.

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