New program to facilitate growth at Central Florida businesses operating in high-tech 'clusters' – Orlando Business Journal

When Florida High Tech Corridor Council CEO Paul Sohl on Nov. 9 presented to Orange County commissioners, he was happy to get peppered with questions and feedback.
To Sohl, it was evidence the county leaders were engaged with the strategy he was unveiling: Cenfluence, the name of an industry cluster initiative spearheaded by the council and Orange County’s government. The initiative has been in the works for months, but it’s now ready to ramp up its efforts helping local high-tech businesses grow. 
“We’re going to see the fruits of that labor next year,” Sohl told Orlando Inno.
Cenfluence focuses on four industry clusters: energy and environmental sciences; gaming/entertainment/esports; learning sciences and human performance; and life sciences. Companies that join a cluster will have access to a staff made up of Florida High Tech Corridor Council and Orange County employees. The Cenfluence staffers can help cluster members access funding, find talent, get research and development help and more. 
In fact, the cluster initiative so far has identified $1 million worth of resources for member businesses that they weren’t aware of, Sohl said. Plus, Cenfluence has helped multiple members apply for grants. 
There are already more than 50 member companies, ranging from industry giants like Duke Energy to child safety tech startup Pink Lotus Technologies Inc. However, Orange County and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council recognize a huge pool of potential members. Cenfluence’s website estimates in Orange County alone there are 2,562 companies eligible for one of the four clusters.
The cluster initiative is one program funded by the $3.6 million in economic development grants approved by Orange County commissioners since February. Due to these funds, Cenfluence membership currently is free. That’s valuable for early-stage companies that don’t have excess funds to spend, said Johnny Williams, CEO of Cenfluence member Player Epic Inc. 
Williams founded the Orlando-based esports services startup in 2020, and he’s already seeing value in joining the gaming and esports cluster. He’s been able to access a curated list of funding sources that range from grants to venture capital to small business loans, he told Orlando Inno. “This is the start of Silicon Valley 2.0.”
While Cenfluence is backed by Orange County funds, the initiative maintains a regional focus. It’s open to firms in a seven-county region: Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola, Polk, Seminole and Volusia counties. 
Next, Cenfluence will help the local tech industry by forging county-backed pilot projects that can give early-stage companies their first customers, Orange County Chief Innovation and Emerging Technology Officer Andrea Wesser-Brawner told Orlando Inno. Plus, it can supplement ongoing economic development and marketing efforts by providing targeted industries in which to attract businesses. 
These clusters are meant to replicate the achievements of other highly successful Central Florida industry clusters, such as the simulation hub at Central Florida Research Park and the hospitality and tourism concentration around the theme parks in western Orange County. Metro Orlando’s tourism and simulation sectors both are renowned internationally.
Meanwhile, the initiative will target additional clusters in the future, Wesser-Brawner said. They include aerospace and hospitality technology. 
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 Group Inc. and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Learn more or find out how to join at the Cenfluence website
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