Who are the champions? Orlando tech community in search of leader to rally behind – Orlando Business Journal

Some tech leaders in Orlando are asking, “Who are the champions?”
For example, Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik consistently invests in Tampa startups and furthers that market’s entrepreneurial efforts as the co-founder and vice chairman of tech and entrepreneurship Embarc Collective. Meanwhile, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez is the face of that city’s ongoing efforts to bring in more high-tech businesses and scale its homegrown startups.
Further, Tampa and Miami are the respective No. 1 and No. 2 emerging tech cities in the U.S., according to Forbes.
Orlando didn’t make the list despite decades-long efforts to make the region a tech hub, assets like a $6 billion simulation sector and tech success stories such as Stax and Luminar Technologies.
The lack of a unifying figure or organization, like Vinik in Tampa or Suarez and the nonprofit Knight Foundation in Miami, hinders the messaging of Orlando’s innovation ecosystem, Mitchel Laskey, managing partner of Orlando-based venture capital firm DeepWork Capital, said during Orlando Inno’s Innovation Ecosystem Roundtable on Sept. 20.
“That took quite some time to do, but they were very consistent about their messaging. Miami got the mayor to stand up behind it as kind of the rallying point and really drove home a unified message. We’re not there yet.”
Likewise, University of Central Florida Director of Innovation Districts Strategy and Partnerships Rob Panepinto said Orlando needs “a champion” to lead the way toward becoming a nationally recognized tech city, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a person. “I do think a unifying strategy — not that everyone has to follow in lockstep, but [one] that creates an umbrella for all of this really strong tactical work — would be a multiplier. I just think we’d get there faster knowing how long this is going to take anyway.”
However, Black Orlando Tech Executive Director Rose LeJiste said one person or organization leading Central Florida’s tech community isn’t advisable. Instead, the organizations and communities that make up the larger technology ecosystem need to collaborate through one body, she said. “I don’t think it should be one person. I don’t agree with that. Why? Because they’re not going to impact or have connections to all the communities that are out here.”
While the need for a unifying leader was mentioned frequently during the roundtable, it’s not clear who or what that could be.
“Who leads that strategy? I think that’s where a lot of these conversations are going on,” Panepinto said. “It’s not an easy thing to do. But if you ask me, that’s the one missing piece.”
The growth of Orlando’s technology sector is crucial to diversifying the region’s economy and creating more high-wage jobs. For example, the average local tech wage of $89,000 is much higher than metro Orlando’s average annual wage of $48,530, according to CBRE and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Central Florida’s hospitality-focused economy lags in its recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Research by The Business Journals shows Orlando is not among the 30 U.S. metros where the job market is bouncing back the fastest — even though surrounding markets like Lakeland, Melbourne and Daytona Beach are all in the top 30.
See more coverage of the Innovation Ecosystem Roundtable on Orlando Inno‘s website.
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