Synapse 2024 and the Business of Innovation

Bringing together the entrepreneurial ecosystem of a region – its visionaries, entrepreneurs, startups with available sources of funding, corporate innovation leaders, universities, and its entrepreneurial service organizations (ESOs) like startup incubators and business accelerators – is a powerful catalyst towards innovation creation and a region’s economic development. The recent sixth annual Synapse Summit in Tampa was an excellent example of execution towards that goal as it sparked a great deal of community excitement and creative engagement.

This annual Florida innovation event has been engineered by Synapse Florida, a 501c(3) nonprofit founded in 2018 with the launch of their first flagship event and has meaningfully contributed to making Tampa Bay one of the fastest-growing tech hubs in the country. For Lauren Prager, CEO of Synapse Florida, the goal of the annual event is to create community, connections, opportunity, impact, and a solid ROI or “Return on Inspiration” for the region’s entrepreneurs.

The Synapse Summit, besides acting as a bridge and connector for Florida’s innovation community, also clearly brought home the fact that innovation is not just a great new idea or creative spark but, more fundamentally, is a serious business management and strategy undertaking that has defined business processes that can help forge an idea into an innovation that gets widely adopted by clients and changes the marketplace. There were a substantial number of educational business and entrepreneurship sessions and resources offering an unparalleled opportunity to upskill entrepreneurs throughout the course of the event. Some of the entrepreneurship sessions and keynotes included:

  • Collaborative Leadership: Building Strong Partnerships for Business Growth

  • Unleashing Potential: Mastering the Art of Uncovering Hidden Opportunities

  • Build Without Burnout: The Secret to a High Performing Team

  • Decoding Success: Strategies for Effective Decision-Making

  • Building Strong Cultures, and Scaling Organizations

Building to $100 Billion: Leading through Innovation and Resilience – In the morning keynote with Shirl Penney, CEO of Dynasty Financial Partners - a pioneer in wealth management innovation – he discussed the story of the firm’s 300% strategic growth and scaling in the past five years to a $90 billion investment and wealth management platform and why he decided to move his firm from the financial center of New York City to St. Petersburg, Florida, to continue the firm’s growth to $100 billion. Shirl provided valuable advice on being an entrepreneur by sharing his unique perspective and personal journey of overcoming obstacles throughout his life by using resilience and innovation to turn adversity into success.

Attracting Capital and Customers: Standing Out in a Crowded Space - This session provided a detailed breakdown for founders into the steps needed to convey a differentiated value proposition to attract both investors and consumers. Presented by Veronique Zayas, Founder, of branding and strategy firm, HatchMark Studio and Kelly Reeser, Managing Director, of startup venture firm, TechFarms Capital, they illustrated how effective early and ongoing branding, communication, and content creation can be designed for maximum impact and that demand attention from the market.

Five Star Customer Experiences: Lessons from Hospitality Leaders – Interesting session illustrating how entrepreneurs can strengthen their customer engagement and experience efforts by learning how to adopt the successful principles and strategies used by hospitality leaders. Best practices and insights were shared, including how new technologies like AI are being applied to strengthen customer satisfaction and build competitive positioning in your marketplace. Panelists included Jeff Gigante, Co-Founder, Next Level Brands Hospitality - Eric Knott, COO, PDQ - Dan Meretsky, VP and Head of Technology, Ciccio Restaurant Group - Chon Nguyen, Partner, Proper House Group - Cristina Moguel, Assistant Director, Florida International University

Other innovation topics and sessions during Synapse 2024 included:

  • Cyber threat intelligence,

  • HealthTech State of the Union: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities

  • Transforming Business with AI: Advocacy and Implementation

  • Revolutionizing Industries: Harnessing the Power of AI

  • Using AI to Build and Manage High Performing Remote Teams, Defense Innovation, & Business Collaboration

FinTech Solutions for All – This session discussed some of the latest advancements and innovative tech design solutions being developed in FinTech covering banking operations, mobile payments, financial literacy, and the democratization of financial services. Panelists discussed their insights, technology, and intensely personal motivations for helping reshape the future of finance, reimagining community banking, and making financial tools like credit cards more manageable for a wider demographic. Panel included Michael Wiemer, Director, USF Fintech Center, University of South Florida, Muma College of Business - Brian Alvarez-Bailey, CEO & Co-Founder, Allison - Evan Leaphart, CEO, Kredit Academy.

Becoming a Tech Investor in an Uncertain Market – A panel of successful tech investors, entrepreneurs, and industry insiders shared their perspectives and experiences on identifying investment opportunities, assessing risks, and capitalizing on emerging trends in the tech sector. Panelists included Saxon Baum, Partner, Florida Funders, Moderator - Katie Palencsar, Partner, Anthemis, Female Innovators Lab Fund - David Goldberg, General Partner, Alpaca VC - Richard Heruska, Chief Operating Officer, Kinnetz Family Office.

To further illustrate the range of innovation leaders and Entrepreneurial Support Organizations (ESOs) at the Summit, here are a few examples:

Cesar Hernandez, Founder & Chairman, Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce - a non-profit organization and ESO that serves to promote economic growth and development for the Latinx community in the Tampa Bay area through advocacy, education, and networking opportunities.

Pam Dockser Miniati and Rakefet Phillips, co-Executive Directors of Florida-Israel Business Accelerators – a business development program that connects Israel’s most high-potential tech startups to the Florida-based partners, investors, and advisors they need to launch and scale successfully in the United States.

Ryan Bailey, Innovation Director, Groundswell Startups – Space coast nonprofit incubator and coworking space building an ecosystem where innovators and creatives can thrive locally by connecting to a diverse pool of pro-bono mentors and offers high-tech office space with all they need to get their business up and running.

David Yocum, Founder, Florida Future Factory and Space Bus Tours – building better futures with innovative, immersive tech training with VR simulation for members of the tech community and high school/college students.

Marly Levine, Director Business Development of Escalon – back office outsourcing of FinOps/PeopleOps/Risk Mgmt providing a one-stop shop of all essential business services, including accounting, bookkeeping, taxes, insurance, payroll, benefits, and recruiting for startups to established growth-oriented firms.

Ben Sever, CEO & Chairman, Phoenix Portfolio Partners – a startup incubator, agile venture fund, and engagement ecosystem supporting a wide range of purpose-driven startup firms.

Claudia Duran, Managing Director at Endeavor Miami – an affiliate of the world’s leading community of high-impact entrepreneurs that focuses on scaling entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystems by creating a Multiplier Effect that provides a platform for entrepreneurs to pay it forward. 

Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO, Embarc Collective – startup business accelerator that curates the experiences, resources, and environment that help forward-thinking founders and their teams thrive.

Linda Olson, President, Tampa Bay Wave – business accelerator that provides world-class startup support, corporate innovation programs, and a collaborative innovation hub.

There are many misconceptions about innovation and the innovation process. Some perceive the process of innovation as a magical manifestation, filled with serendipity, brilliant lightning bolt ideas, and scary smart people. There is nothing further from the truth. Decades of cross-industry and academic research on business innovation development have mapped out innovation as an eminently doable management process and business strategy. Successful innovation requires market research, product-market fit, marketing and communications, go-to-market strategy, and deep customer engagement. The winning mindset and goal for innovators is that the bottom-line outcome of their innovation efforts needs to be a thriving business.

From my perspective as a business innovation writer and thought leadership interviewer working to chronicle and promote innovators, progressive thinkers, startup firms, and the innovation process, it was heartening to see the active acknowledgment happening at the Summit that innovators need to be strategically supported in their real-world change efforts. It is inspiring to see the continuing growth of specialized support, training, and resources for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-oriented firms to maximize their innovation strategies and steer them towards a greater potential for success.

The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We operate as a business innovation platform and educational resource with FinTech and financial services firm members to openly share their unique perspectives and activities. The goal is to build awareness and stimulate open thought leadership discussions on new or evolving industry approaches and thinking to facilitate next-generation growth, differentiation, and unique client/community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors — Ultimus Fund Solutions, NASDAQ, FLX Networks, TIFIN, Advisorpedia, Pershing, Fidelity, Voya Financial, and Charter Financial Publishing.

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