CC004: Tampa’s Emerging Entrepreneurial Hub // a coffee chat with Allie Felix (Embarc Collective)

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Jay Clouse: 00:00

And so this guy that you had met in an Uber pool in San Francisco years prior was from Tampa Bay. He must’ve had some conversation with Lakshmi or Jeff and said, I know somebody. You should bring it in here.

Allie Felix: 00:11

Yeah, yeah that’s exactly it.

Jay Clouse: 00:16

The startup investment landscape is changing and world class companies are being built outside of Silicon Valley. We find them, talk with them and discuss the upside of investing in them. Welcome to Upside.

Eric Hornung: 00:44

Hello. Hello. Hello and welcome to the Upside podcasts first podcast, finding upside outside of Silicon Valley. I’m Eric Hornung and I’m accompanied by my co-host, Mr. Weekly Newsletter himself, Jay Clouse. Jay, how’s it going, man? You made the you made the big jump. You no longer a daily guy.

Jay Clouse: 01:00

Made the big jump. Well, it was. It was a
question of do I want to hide from writing at all or do I want to get back to writing, but only do once a week instead of once a day. For the listeners, been writing a daily newsletter for the past year and a half or so. Things are a little intense right now, so I hadn’t been delivering on that. I had taken a little bit of a break and now I’m coming back on a weekly cadence, Sunday newsletters.

Eric Hornung: 01:23

Do we expect more depth with weekly or how’s that gonna work?

Jay Clouse: 01:27

I hope you don’t expect that. Expect it to be good.

Eric Hornung: 01:33

I expect everything you do to be good. Jay. Speaking of good today, we have a really good interview. Part of our coffee chat series and Jay, who are we talking to today?

Jay Clouse: 01:44

Today we’re talking to Allie Felix. Allie is the director of programming and partnerships at embark collective Embark Collective is a fiscal innovation hub in Tampa Bay, Florida. They are what they describe as a startup collective curators of experiences, resources, and environment. They opened in 2019. Allie was introduced to us from a friend in the podcasting fellowship, a program by Seth Goden that we took part in.

Eric Hornung: 02:11

And I just want to let the listeners know that I will not be asking any questions because I was gallivanting around Europe while Jay was working hard on the podcast. So it’s not that I wasn’t interested, if you don’t hear my voice

Jay Clouse: 02:24

Gallivanting for quite some time. A lot of time in Europe.

Eric Hornung: 02:26

Yeah. Did a nice little two and a half weeks. Didn’t couple countries, couple cities, lots of beer.

Jay Clouse: 02:31

Yeah. So Allie and I had a good short chat talking about the ecosystem in Tampa Bay, Florida. I compare and contrast that a little bit here to Columbus, Ohio and some of the other ecosystems we spoken with. It’s a fun little conversation and deep dive into an ecosystem outside of Silicon Valley that people don’t talk about a lot. So with that, Eric, let’s get in the interview.

Eric Hornung: 02:52

Let’s do it. We’ll see you guys in the debrief.

Jay Clouse: 02:57

Allie, welcome to the show.

Allie Felix: 02:59

Hey, thanks for having me.

Jay Clouse: 03:01 So we were just talking a little bit before I hit record, but I’d like to back up a little bit and just hear a little bit about your story and your background, how you came to be here in Tampa Bay now.

Allie Felix: 03:12

Yeah, it’s a, it’s an exciting question. So I, this is my home, this is where I grew up. So I’m now moving back and it’s awesome to have that opportunity and the density of opportunity here to do what I’ve done in my home right? So from the area after college I moved to San Francisco where I worked for Tim Draper, who’s a pretty prominent venture capitalist on the West Coast leading marketing for his entrepreneurial founder training program called Draper University, which was like a critical, right. We were training early stage founders 18 to 28, seven weeks in Silicon Valley where they would learn from all of the biggest names that were out there. So like pretty unreal experience for myself to be, to be in that world, move to New York. And I led community at a venture fund work bench that does enterprise tech investments and community and platform was really just coming to be in the last couple of years. So it’s been really interesting to see what that offering looks like and how VC’s are now becoming value add and how that’s a core to their thesis. And it’s a cash flush world and you have to be value added in order to get into the best deals. So.

Jay Clouse: 04:21

Why did you make that move from Draper University to workbench?

Allie Felix: 04:24

Because my significant other lived there and it’s funny because I actually think here in Tampa Bay I’ve met so many founders or former executives from Silicon Valley and I’m like why? Like why did you move here? And they’re like, well we had kids and my family is from here or have an aging parent or so on and so forth. So I feel like that that human need is so apparent and so many people’s stories and I’m not shy about it. Like that’s why I moved and I’m, I’m so grateful because the ecosystem in New York is really interesting and so different than in San Francisco right? So it was incredible experience there. And to be on the fun side specifically was, was really great for me too.

Jay Clouse: 05:06

We have that happen in Ohio a lot too. We call it boomeranging. Do you guys call it boomeranging?

Allie Felix: 05:11

Yes. We call it boomeranging and it’s my favorite and it’s like honestly, as we think about the talent that we’re trying to attract in Tampa Bay, it’s not like a wild, fresh out of college talent is great. It’s like the people who have had careers and are now comfortable coming back to a smaller community to live their life and it’s like that’s, that’s who we want. Like they have the professionalism, they have the experience, they have the network and they have a reason, a reason to, to plant roots back in Tampa.

Jay Clouse: 05:38

Okay, so let me make sure I’m getting this straight. Your significant other lived in New York, that’s why you moved to New York?

Allie Felix: 05:44 Yeah.

Jay Clouse: 05:44

And you’re at work bench for awhile. I would actually love to hear, you mentioned the differences between New York and Silicon Valley. I would love to hear what stands out in your mind is like the starkest contrast between those two cities.

Allie Felix: 05:56

So I actually think one of the biggest differences that I noticed was the inclusivity for women companies and women in venture. There was such a strong and palpable community around that in New York that might give existence in Francisco, but I just wasn’t privy to it. I didn’t know I wasn’t a part of it and moving to New York and seeing that community on the venture front end on the founder friends, it was really important to me personally and I left that. I think that’s such a strong suit of, of New York. That’s awesome. Yeah. I’ve spent a little bit of time in New York and I spent a pretty good amount of time in LA, but almost no time actually literally no time in San Francisco, which is interesting and something that I know I need to change.

Allie Felix: 06:42

It’s, it’s definitely like it’s own force to be reckoned with. There’s so much going on there and I think another thing that I realized when I moved to New York was how much of a bubble it is and like I left that about San Francisco while I was there. You know, everyone I met was doing something in the same vein that I was doing and it was really cool and exciting to be meeting people who had the same interests as me. And then in being in New York I was like, oh, there’s creatives here. There is people in finance here like people in advertising all walks of life. And I think that breath of experience in people is important too. So it’s kind of funny just to see those differences.

Jay Clouse: 07:20

Yeah. And that’s what’s always been kind of like the blocker of me spending more time in Silicon Valley is I have this perception and it is perception this point because I haven’t validated it with my own eyes of that bubble and have the almost how homogeneous it is of people like me and I’m somebody I just love being around people who are creating things of all kinds and for all the reasons. And I really like that diversity of just how people spend their time and what they’re involved in.

Allie Felix: 07:48


Jay Clouse: 07:49

So when did you decide to boomerang
back to Tampa Bay?

Allie Felix: 07:53

So this is a crazy story. I moved in May and I was only in New York for a year. I didn’t think I would ever like that soon, but I got a call from this founder from Tampa Bay and I had met him two years prior in San Francisco in an Uber pool and you know, you don’t talk to people on Uber Pools, but being from Florida I guess, I guess you do. And so him and I hit it off in San Francisco two years ago. You know, I told him no, my passion is to at some point move back home and help build the startup ecosystem. That’s what I was doing in San Francisco at the time. It’s what I went on to do in New York and it’s my passion. So like what greater way than to do that at home where your impact has so much more value right. And so he had reached out to me and brought that up and I was like, you know, sure. Like I didn’t think this would be the time, but I’m interested in seeing this conversation through and the person he connected to is a woman who came on to lead this organization that I’m working at now. Embark Collective, her name is Locked Meeshanoise. She was on the leadership team at 1871 in Chicago, did an amazing job at the early stages of building that innovation hub and really saw the impact of how physical hub could have on a community and she was hired down in February by a gentleman named Jeff Bennett who is leading so many amazing efforts in the Tampa Bay area. He purchased the Tampa Bay lightning many years back, not because he had ties to Tampa Bay, but he saw the biggest opportunity for impact in the community here. Went on to start a $3,000,000,000 real estate redevelopment called Water Street Tampa that’s happening downtown, transforming our downtown, doubling its footprint, and then decided on this innovation hub as a way to sustain that economic growth and development of the city as the city physically grows. It was someone that I admire and really much is, is Jathan kind of the foresight that he’s had and his existence here in our community has been kind of a lighthouse for, for all other activity, right? Like people see him taking his money using it for such good and that that impact has trickled down and so many other aspects. Um, and it’s really exciting to be with someone who’s so forward thinking and is making such an impact somewhere.

Jay Clouse: 10:17

So did Latchme have ties to Tampa Bay as well or did he say, I like what you’re doing at 1871. I love Tampa Bay. I got to get you here to Tampa Bay.

Allie Felix: 10:26

It was the latter. So Jeff went on, this is several years ago now, human on kind of a national tour with one of his colleagues to look at all different models of innovation and Latchme gave him the tour of 1871 when he visited there. And you know, he reached out to her about a year later and was like, hey, you want to build this thing? And, and in Tampa Bay. And that’s ultimately what brought her down

Jay Clouse: 10:51

Wild. Okay. And so this guy that you had met in an Uber pool in San Francisco years prior was from Tampa Bay. He must’ve had some conversation with Latchme or Jeff and said, I know somebody you should bring it in here.

Allie Felix: 11:03

Yep, Yep. That’s exactly it. So I’m head of our team. We’re building startup too, so it’s been really exciting and it is, it’s like I’ve done community my whole career and it’s such a testament to the network effect and how sharing what you’re passionate about being open to conversation and connecting the dots for people can create such impact.

Jay Clouse: 11:29

So Embark Collective is what we’re alluding to here. Can you tell, tell me about the breadth of what Embark Collective is meant to be and do?

Allie Felix: 11:38

Totally. So we are physical innovation hub and I’d like to think that, you know, outside of regions or areas like New York, San Francisco region as much like where you are and where I am, it’s, there’s such a sprawl, right? There’s so much stuff happening. You have to use a car to get there. It’s just so widespread. And what we found that an innovation hub does is it creates an x marks the spot for all startup activity happening in, in an area. So when we think about why we exist, it’s to make the path of a founder of least resistance, right? Like how can we connect them to everything they possibly need from help with talent, to PR, to customers, to capital, by filling a physical space, a physical hub with all of those tools and resources. So that’s what we’re building and will open in March of 2019. We’re in that early phase and figuring out what are the needs of founders here, how can we differentiate ourselves from the folks that are here and to your point much before in of the work that you’re doing, how can we create tentacles into other communities so that when our founders are ready to raise larger rounds, that they can look at other institutional investors or potential customers outside of our bubble to help them scale.

Jay Clouse: 12:54

You used a very specific word there that I’m really interested in because you said, how do we differentiate here? So I’m interested to hear what else exists in Tampa now and in the way of infrastructure or institutions that are serving entrepreneurs because I feel like we probably have similar landscapes and problems in a Columbus. So I’d love to hear about the, just the ecosystem and landscape there.

Allie Felix: 13:20

Yep. So when Latchme moved down here, she had 450 conversations with community members, so like really, uh, really went on the ground floor to try to figure out who exists in, what are they doing now. And what she uncovered was that there are over 60 for entrepreneurial support organizations in our area, which is an incredibly large number. What we found is, you know, there’s a lot of effort duplication happening with that number. So the folks that do exist, you know, we have great organizations on the tech acceleration front. So the Tampa Bay wave is a local accelerator. Fiba Florida is really business accelerator, is working on a soft landing program for Israeli companies in our area. We have amazing colleges and universities who have a passion for this tech talent in startup talent. USF, we have UT, we have Florida colleges, community colleges, so all of those players are in play. Um, and we have a few larger corporate customers that are, you know, dipping their toes into this scene. We also have a pretty decent sized angel network. There’s a lot of angel capital that exists here. Florida is a very wealthy state and a lot of people have made a lot of money, although it’d be, um, oftentimes in real estate. So there’s this neat almost for investor education that comes along with that. So we have all of those channels. We have, you know, ÉDC’s university or college partners. ESO is Entrepreneurial Support Organization, capital channels, technical training partners. But what we were really missing was this glue that holds them all together. This. And that’s what I see Embark Collective as is that big tent where everything falls under and we can all work together and be kind of the missing puzzle piece for one another, but we don’t need to duplicate efforts. We just need to make founders aware of what we’re doing and make that a path of least resistance for them. Make it easy to identify what you need at what stage and plug you into the right person.

Jay Clouse: 15:18

So did you see or experience a similar corollary in New York or San Francisco to the Embark model or. I would assume that out in both of those regions, there’s even more, whether you call it competition or just resources and groups who have similar goals but have naturally some duplication of efforts. Is that a bad thing? This is something I wrestle with.

Allie Felix: 15:40

Yeah, it’s such a great question. I don’t think it’s a bad thing in other markets because there is such a density of founders that are building companies, so you need x amount of accelerators and incubators and investors to help satisfy that, that demand. When I think about our market, a big differentiator is that you want. You almost need all of the pieces of the puzzle because there’s not that competition where founders can learn from one another and mirror each other. Right? There’s not that huge density of companies being built where you can call upon your peer network to identify where you are and where you need to be and I think that’s where the support organizations like ours really come in to play because we’re there to, you know, be the connector for them in those early stages and help them level up.

Jay Clouse: 16:34

Yeah. I’m trying to look up the name of the guy that I met with in Alberta, Canada because it was a really great conversation. Jim Gibson. So I met with this guy, Jim Gibson in Alberta, Calgary, and he was telling me about this book called the Rain Forest, which was written. You just bought the book, The Rain Forest. So you know the premise of this?

Allie Felix: 16:55

Yes, yes, yes. But go on.

Jay Clouse: 16:57

So for the listeners out there, the rain forest is a book that is written from a couple of Silicon Valley veterans essentially, and they compare silicon valley as an ecosystem to the rain forest as an ecosystem. The Rain Forest, you know, the, the actual rain forest is the most successful ecosystem on the planet and there is no governing. There’s no governance structure or conversation in The Rain Forest. Everything just has its role and it plays a role in. It thrives together and so the book The Rain Forest talks about how to emulate that in ecosystems for entrepreneurial activity and something that Jim was telling me was when he started implementing this rain forest system in Calgary, Calgary is in Edmonton, I think it was Calgary, Alberta. He literally brought all those stakeholders from all those accelerators, co-working spaces, VC’s, micro VC’s, angels. He brought them all into one physical space and had them sign a literal physical social contract to say this is the role that I’m playing in ecosystem so that they all could work together effortlessly. Knowing how they contribute and what . It’s something that I see in Columbus and another ecosystems with the best of intentions, sometimes smaller growing ecosystems have these duplicative efforts and it’s hard then for other players in the ecosystem to know how and where to plug in most effectively because there isn’t the same level of demand as you would see in San Francisco and everything kind of becomes watered down.

Allie Felix: 18:29

It’s such a good point and I think what all of these organizations really have to do is listen to their customer, the entrepreneur and see what are their needs because it’s not about, you know, the political of I’m with this organization or I’m with this organization, like there should be none of that for founder of founders should be able to bounce around to what they need, who they need, when they need it, and if we as an ecosystem aren’t being that connector for it, for them, then we’re feeling them and we’re getting in our own way of our ambitions of becoming, you know, a great startup ecosystem and destination for startup talent.

Jay Clouse: 19:05

So true. And I think that takes some level of willingness and trust on the part of the entrepreneur is to say, I am going to help lead this ecosystem because all of those, all of those players serve the entrepreneur. Like you said, it’s their customer. So ultimately they have the leverage and the power to kind of get people in line so that they all work together and serve the customer. It’d be interesting just to think through how to gather. I’m just thinking out loud here and that rain forest type example, you need the entrepreneurs there as well to say here’s what we need and direct kind of that contract,

Allie Felix: 19:42

Well you know, what we did as we were thinking about the offering from Embark Collective and how to differentiate. We put out a survey to the community and we asked multiple questions for startup founders and their teams and we asked our partners to share this survey with their founders as well and you know, what we said is we’ll open source this data and give it to everybody so that everybody knows what founders need. We’re not trying to like harbor or duplicate efforts right, but we needed people to ask like what do you need? And then we needed to share those needs so that they can be better identified in a strategy that we’ve taken when we think about partners and I owe this to Latchme. She’s like, you know whether or not you want to be your partner, you are like, we’re a collective. We’re in this together. And as organizations, we have to think in that collective term.

Jay Clouse: 20:33

Are you able to share where the funding for Embark Collective comes from?

Allie Felix: 20:38

Yeah, so we’re structured as a 501C3 pending approval, which you know how that goes. But Jeff Finnick, the gentleman that I mentioned before, he’s primary benefactor for now. He’s really getting lights to our organization. As soon as we launch, we’ll get off the ground like many other nonprofits through filing for different grants and having sponsorship in our community.

Jay Clouse: 20:59

Is there something in particular that Tampa Bay is really good at, where startups there is a destination city for retail or ecommerce or some particular thing.

Allie Felix: 21:08

We’re building this narrative and it’s so strange because I moved here and I realized nobody knows what Tampa Bay is here for. You might know that it’s a great place to live, but you don’t know it’s a great place to grow a business and you don’t know what industry. So we are working on telling this narrative and the few in the research that we’ve done and the companies we found in the customers that are here, there are a few industries that are really exciting for us. One of them being security or secure tech. So US Central Command is located in Tampa Bay. McDill Air Force is in Tampa Bay if there are a lot of veterans that come off the ground with specialized expertise to build security companies. And so calm serves as a buyer, right? There’s, there’s a customer connection here for the security industry. The second one that we’re really excited about is urban tech. So as I mentioned, there’s this $3,000,000,000 project spearheaded by Jeff Finnick and cascade investments, which is Bill Gates Investment Organization and that’s $3,000,000,000. So the money that’s that’s using to build build the city and Urban Tech plays a huge piece into that and I’ll plug right now Dream Adventures if you’re familiar with them. They a global accelerator. They operate their urban tech insecure tech programs in Tampa Bay. So they do a customer immersion week here in Tampa Bay. To wrap up their program and their introductory week. So those are, those are two that I’m really excited about. And the third I’ll plug is the opportunity in sports tech because I think this is a really untapped market in other communities. Um, and we again have many buyers. We have three professional sports teams. Minor League Baseball is headquartered in St. Pete right across the bay from us, you know, we’re really bullish on it. It’s something that’s exciting. It’s something that’s different and I think we can build a narrative for ourselves around that.

Jay Clouse: 22:54

I’m connecting some dots now in my head. I, I spent a little bit of time working with our smart city team here in Columbus and I did read quite a few articles about Tampa Bay leading in the way of startups being able to quickly get a pilot actually off the ground and running in that city. And I think that kind of falls into your did you say Urban Tech is the way you’re calling it?

Allie Felix: 23:15

Yeah. And it’s, it’s Urban Tech smart cities and that’s exactly it. It’s this $3 million project and it’s not the only real estate project happening here, but that’s just the largest, um, and that’s the water street tamper project led by an organization called Strategic Property Partners and they are looking for the best and the brightest and the most innovative. So I think there’s such a need for customers who are willing to put dollars to work and take a chance on new technologies, new innovations for the upside potential of being the most innovative city. So on and so forth.

Jay Clouse: 23:48

Yeah, it’s interesting that Bill Gates has a foundation for that. One of the largest parts of our grant here in Columbus, which came mostly from the US Department of Transportation, but part of that competition as well was with Vulcan, which was the apology Alan Philanthropy’s. So the OG, Microsoft folks care about our cities. I love it. So I don’t know much about the history of Tampa Bay. A lot of cities in the Midwest, they’re trying to emerge as startup hubs. You have Detroit and Pittsburgh and Cleveland. They have like these legacy narratives of mobility or steel or oil. Is Tampa Bay kind of a blank slate or was there some industry in Tampa Bay that had its heyday that I’m not aware of?

Allie Felix: 24:31

I think it is a blank slate and I’ll be frank with you. What we’re battling in the state of Florida in general is this notion of tourism where our economy is largely came from previously and we we weren’t a distance ourselves from that, like Florida is not only a great place to visit. It’s a great place to build and grow a business and so aside from those industries that I mentioned before and some others are health tech. There’s a lot of healthcare companies here at Moffitt Cancer Center for example, and there’s a lot of financial services here, but there’s really no overarching narrative about what Tampa Bay is and what led it to this point and you know that’s good and bad, bad because people don’t know about us, but exciting because we really have an opportunity to write that story and emerge with this new narrative with this new mission of Embark Collective. That will help hopefully shape people’s thoughts and opinions about building and growing a company here.

Jay Clouse: 25:28

Yeah. We’re in a similar spot in Columbus, which is exciting for the most part. It’s also challenging. It’s also challenging at times, you know, you’re, you’re defining it as you go because it doesn’t have this long history, so you don’t have to re-define anything. You don’t have to like re-emerge. I’ll tell you, I’m so sick of the narrative or rhetoric of will this be the next Silicon Valley for any city?

Allie Felix: 25:51

Forget it.

Jay Clouse: 25:51

No, there will be no next Silicon Valley. It’s called that literally because they were manufacturing silicone chips, which is not going to be a corollary anywhere. Everywhere is going to be the first Tampa Bay or the first Columbus, the first Cincinnati. Right. And frankly, you know, there’s a lot of activity in China that is really impressive and you know ahead of the US in many markets,

Allie Felix: 26:17

Right. I think to your point, we need to understand what we do best and leverage that, leverage the capital and the customers in our respective locations and then not be afraid to reach out and partner with other ecosystems and say like, hey, there’s great deals coming from here. Like you should look at it. You should look at the Southeast. You should look at Florida. You should look at Tampa Bay. We don’t need to build it off. We just need to build relationships with, with of those players.
Jay Clouse: 26:44

Yep. Totally. Well, I know we gotta wrap up here after the show. Where can people learn more about you or Embark Collective?

Allie Felix: 26:51

If you want to check out more, visit EMBARC is spelled with a e, m, b, a, r, c, You can also check us out on twitter and on my personal Twitter at Allie and it was such a pleasure. I’m so excited by other community builders like you who are hustling for their cities making some serious change.

Jay Clouse: 27:14

Yeah. Likewise. This has been fun. Thanks for being here.

Allie Felix: 27:17

Thank you.

Jay Clouse: 27:21

All right Eric, so I just spoke with Allie Felix have Embark Collective. Let’s do just a little bit of a download, a little sinking up here on that interview. Anything that stood out to you in particular?

Eric Hornung: 27:35

It’s always interesting when I get to be like a time delayed, fly on the wall when you have conversations and then I come in and I’m like hmm. Because I like to think as if we’re interviewing during the interview and I’ll be like, oh, what’s Jay gonna ask next, what would I have asked next and how is that different? Um, so it’s just like a little fun experiment in my head for myself I guess. So that has nothing to do with Embark that has everything to do with me, but there’s my little debrief from myself and how close were we? How many times were we in the same spot? I think we’re pretty much right on. I think we’ve developed a similar thought process. You picked up on some different words and I picked up on which is I think you asked the question about differentiate and I would have went down a different path, but it’s good. It’s good because you asked them the questions that I didn’t even think about specifically around like the history of Tampa. Comparing and contrasting that to the Midwest, I thought that was very good. But spinning over to Allie and Embark. I think the thing that that I liked the most is that she lived in both San Francisco and New York, which are kind of like the two biggest cities in the startup space in the US and she is a boomerang. I think that that concept is something that we’re going to see more and more and it’s going to continue to grow in the United States and it’s really cool being able to talk to her about those experiences that you have in those cities that are just awesome cities for what they do and being able to bring that back.

Jay Clouse: 28:56

That reminds me of something you said in a previous episode, which was that everyone that you meet and talk to in New York has a plan for how they’re going to get out of New York and when.

Eric Hornung: 29:04

Yeah, it’s true. Even if even if they’re just going to go to long island or Westchester or Staten Island, everyone that you meet in Manhattan and maybe not as much Brooklyn, but definitely everyone you meet Manhattan has like a 5 to 15 year plan of like, okay, here’s how I’m going to get get out of here. Which I think is awesome because it makes everyone’s super motivated to do their things really quickly and do everything like to the fullest.

Jay Clouse: 29:26

Allie definitely raised the bar on my expectations for Uber Pools. I feel like I should really be on my game when I’m in an Uber Pool because it could lead to what I’ll be doing six years from now.

Eric Hornung: 29:37

That’s true. Uber pools was while you meet some interesting people, them. I met a girl in New York who was the executive assistant to David Yurman and just had a fascinating backstory and I had just thought that was really, really interesting, like everyone takes them.

Jay Clouse: 29:52

It’s cool. It was also interesting hearing the three sectors that she thinks Tampa Bay has pride well for Secure Tech, Urban Tech and Sports tech. I think that’s something that we keep hearing from different cities and ecosystems in the Midwest as well. If we’re going to build whatever our startup ecosystem is, let’s build that around the lanes that we’re good at as a city and have reason to to compete with other cities based on these things, and it’s true. When I was, when I was working with the smart city team and I was just trying to educate myself and doing research about smart cities around the country and around the world. Tampa Bay was a city that came up frequently for their friendliness to entrepreneurs in terms of here’s how quickly you could get a pilot up and running. Have your technology, whether it’s infrastructure or an autonomous vehicle or whatever.

Eric Hornung: 30:40

What I really like about alleys kind of like take on those three pillars were, okay, those are three pillars, but we’re building the narrative because it’s true. No, I don’t know what Tampa Bay does. I know that there’s a very famous picture of people sunbathing in the fifties on clearwater beach and that is about it for Tampa. I know that they have manatees. I think that’s like the extent of my knowledge about Tampa. Whereas if you asked me about most midwestern cities, I can tell you kind of what their history is and all of that. Tampa feels like a newer city and I liked the idea that they get to build that narrative.

Jay Clouse: 31:16

And the reason I asked that question a couple of years ago, I went to Pittsburgh with this group of. It’s a It’s a nonprofit board called the create Columbus Commission and we try to make Columbus a better place for young professionals to live, work and play, and every year we go to some peer city to learn what they’re doing and what’s going well for them. What things that we can learn from what things we can share. The first year that we did this, we went to Pittsburgh and it was just a fascinating, fascinating trip because everyone we talked to in Pittsburgh talked about the reinvention of Pittsburgh. They talked about, okay, it was a steel town and then when that industry was dying, here’s how that changed the, uh, the like literal landscape of the city and where people live and what they did and so everything was in the shadow of that, which was challenging from what I could tell because even though they wanted to bring forth this new narrative of innovation just as every city does and they wanted to say they’re a, they’re a startup hub. They have. Duolingo is based in Pittsburgh, so that’s kind of their darling right now. Everything was still spoken about in the context of what we used to be a steel town. And for cities that don’t have that, they don’t have as much old money, but it’s easier to write that story. And we see that here in Columbus all the time too.

Eric Hornung: 32:32

Well, it’s interesting you say old money because Florida is known for their old money. The problem is it all came from up north, it’s all the teacher who moved down and maybe they started a business late in their career or they’re retiring, so that’s kind of like the stigma around Florida is that people moved down there, invested in some real estate 20, 30 years ago, and now they’re retired down there and they are literally the definition of old money.

Jay Clouse: 32:57

True, true.

Eric Hornung: 33:28

One thing that I wanted to mention on boomerangs, and I wanted to get your take on this. I’ve found that cities are generally scared to invest in people leaving their cities or their states. I remember when I was a freshman at Ohio state, I was in a group that actually had the chance to sit down with Michael Dalby, who’s the CEO of Yahoo, who at the time was the CEO of the Columbus 2020 Initiative or whatever. What’s the group of all the CEO’s s called? I’m blanking on it. The Columbus partnership, Columbus Partnership, and the idea was how do we attract and retain talent? Why are all of our students leaving for other cities? Why are they all going to. A lot of them were going to Cleveland, Cincinnati, but a lot we’re going to Chicago and New York and San Francisco and my thought on that is that I would want my people to go experience something new. Right. If you have had a great experience in Columbus, the fact that you’re going to go to New York for two and a half years, that’s actually gonna make you a better Columbus citizen when you come back. In my opinion, I think that diversity of experience is what really drives innovation and that’s why you see like the immigrant centers of the United States being the hubs of innovation because they have a diversity of experience. That’s why there’s more immigrants living in New York and San Francisco, which are arguably the two most innovative centers in America and I don’t know that that’s me. I know. I understand. There’s like an underlying political incentivization to invest in the people in the city because you want to get reelected, but that to me, I feel like they’ve been more embracing of it lately in Ohio, but it just feels like that’s kind of something that I just wanted to touch on because the payoffs for leaving and coming back are huge.

Jay Clouse: 34:38

I like that perspective. I like it a lot. It reminds me of the perspective that you’re starting to see for startup companies, being supportive of their people. Also leaving after a couple of years, so my perspective of this is great. This is good for your journey up to this point. We want to support you in the next step of your journey and then this takes a step further which is in when you’re ready to come back or you’re going to be better for it, we’re going to be better for it. I like that. Obviously it assumed some level of trust that they’re going to come back, but you see this with some larger companies, larger startup companies that are hiring top talent out of the West. A lot of them had originally had roots to Ohio is the first people they target, but then you know the draw. Is your experience out there being directly applicable to what you’re being hired for here.

Eric Hornung: 35:22

You said that it assumes trust. I don’t think it assumes trust. I think it assumes that you gave them a incredible experience while they were here and if you do that, they’re going to want to come back. So I think that’s a little different. One thing I did want to mention, you said big startup companies. Deloitte actually our good friend, Deloitte, Jay, our good friend, our good friend, Deloitte, especially on Deloitte Consulting from what I remember, they have a alumni program, so when you graduate they are excited to see you go to wherever you go, whether it’s business school or it’s another company or whatever, but current employees have a budget where they’re allowed to buy drinks for alumni of delight or take them to dinner or anything like that. Because that alumni network is so powerful and I think if city started thinking about their cities as having alumni networks, I know Cleveland’s would span the globe because people have diaspora from there and hopefully they’ll be coming back.

Jay Clouse: 36:12

One more thing. I wanted to make one more point I wanted to make on this point. When I visited Alaska recently, there was a panel moderated by Governor Walker and a couple of people in his cabinet and a couple other individuals that are just prominent officials in the city. In one of the questions that came up several times was about talent shortage in the talent gap and bringing people into Alaska. One of the women oversees a medical center, I believe, and she talked about the expense they go to trying to bring in top executives into this health system and they’ll spend sometimes tens of thousands of dollars and months courting high level executive just to get them to Alaska and realize that they don’t have a stomach for the Alaska winters, for example. And so they were all in consensus that their best solution to solving the talent gap in their various industries was to grow that talent in Alaska and whether they leave and come back, they just find that they’re most successful hiring native Alaskans into things.

Eric Hornung: 37:10

And that’s interesting because it gets into a point with Embark that I wanted to touch on, which is this idea of centralization of efforts and natural kind of bubbling up. In your interview with Allie, there was a lot of conversation comparing and contrasting Silicon Valley with pretty much every other startup ecosystem will take New York out of it for a second and you guys brought up this idea of a rain forest and there is just a lot of really interesting discussion. But I think that one thing that happens whenever we compare a city to silicon valley is we tend to look at them today in 2018 and we look at Silicon Valley in 2018. But if you read on the history of Silicon Valley, it really started in the 70’s. And I think that a more apt comparison would be to look at Silicon Valley in, let’s call it the seventies, early eighties, compared to a lot of these other startup hubs and see like, okay, now we can compare and contrast like things at an equal level because they are just so far ahead from a community development standpoint, it almost feels futile.

Jay Clouse: 38:11

I hear what you’re saying and I get it. I think it’s really hard to make that comparison specifically with the advances we have in cloud computing and access to tools. There’s just not access to things in the seventies the way that we have access now. The ecosystems that aren’t silicon valley across the country are starting out on second base as we like to say.

Eric Hornung: 38:29

Yeah, of course they have a roadmap for what was successful and they can iterate off that based on what their are. But starting on second base, sure. Maybe it’s better to compare it to a little bit further along Silicon Valley, but the idea is still in principle that Silicon Valley is so much further developed than any ecosystem that it often feels odd to make comparisons to me at present day.

Jay Clouse: 38:53

Yeah. I forget which guests it was. I think it was Andrew Goldner who said Silicon Valley owns Venture Capital, but they don’t own entrepreneurship. I think that’s the biggest difference.

Eric Hornung: 39:02

That’s a great point. So let’s talk about this idea of there being a bunch of entrepreneurial support organizations versus one centralized support organization and some of the kind of benefits that come with each and maybe how this fits in in the context of our conversation with Allie.

Jay Clouse: 39:19

Yeah. To me, the more resources that are available, the better. The hard thing that I’ve witnessed is when ecosystems are starting to grow and they start having duplicative efforts, which are always started in good faith, but if I’m a. If I’m an investor, if I’m a potential angel investor and I have one day a week that I can go and check out the startup scene, I want to know where to go that’s going to be the best representative place when and that should be fairly consistent. What I’ve seen here in Columbus for example, is you’ll have three of essentially the same type of pitch event in a month and so that confuses both the entrepreneurs and investors a little bit because we just don’t have the supply to keep that going sustainably into perpetuity. You run out of companies that are the companies that you should be hearing pitch and who are interesting companies and so it waters down the effect a little bit and it’s hard then to continue to engage all the individuals you want to have at the table because it’s no longer as good of a product.

Eric Hornung: 40:24

I don’t know that I agree completely with that. I mean it depends on the model, right? It depends on the model of the funding because if your model is a typical venture capital funding, you want the most deals possible. There’s going to be watery deals, there’s going to be substantive deals. The thing that kind of irks me about centralization, and I’m probably more Austrian in my economics in general, but the thing that maybe irks me a bit is what happens if you don’t get picked? What if you’re a good entrepreneur and you just don’t get picked because you’re going through some central organization? The thing I like about centralization is the idea of like collision theory, like specifically with a physical space. I think that Cincinnati did a great job with Union Hall.

Jay Clouse: 41:09

Yeah, I love the idea of a center of gravity, whether it’s within one building or within a geographic corridor, as you call it. It has so much so much value for people who were visiting the ecosystem for people who live in the ecosystem. The feedback loops are just really tight and it grows really quickly. The threat is if you don’t have some social contract, whether implicit or explicit, let’s say, let’s say Embark just crushes it and everyone’s like, this is amazing. We love having you guys here. We love having you as a physical space. We love that. People can go to you and find their way to all the other resources in the ecosystem. Somebody comes to Tampa Bay says I want to do a better one, and they do it some other part in the city and you have the same problem you’re just describing. It’s like how do you maintain that without natural entropy taking over and creating chaos in the ecosystem without having some sort of mutual understanding.

Eric Hornung: 42:01

Yeah. I agree, I do think that that person came to the city and built right next door to Embark. That would be a good thing though.

Jay Clouse: 42:07

Right? Right.

Eric Hornung: 42:09

So it’s. It’s weird because it gets into geography, which is a interesting idea in this. The concept of you mentioned earlier in that VC’s can compete because of cloud and it’s less restrictive or whatever, and there’s this ability to kind of communicate and work amongst channels. Still is rooted in, I mean in Silicon Valley with Sandhill road, right? Everyone wants to be on Sand Hill road in Cincinnati it’s. It was OTR, maybe in Tampa. It’s embark. I do think those centers of gravity matter.

Jay Clouse: 42:39

Yeah. All right, well if you guys enjoyed the show, we’d love to hear from you. You can tweet at us at upsidefm or comment on this episode on Breaker. If you or someone you know, she’d be a guest for our show, email us and we will talk to you next week. That’s all for this week. Thanks for listening. We’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s guest, so shoot us an email at, or find us on Twitter at upsidefm will be back here next week at the same time talking to another founder and our quest to find upside outside of Silicon Valley. If you or someone you know would make a good guest for our show, please email us or find us on twitter and let us know and if you love our show, please leave us a review on iTunes. That goes a long way in helping us spread the word and continue to help bring high quality guests to the show. Eric and I decided there were a couple of things we wanted to share with you at the end of the podcast, and so here we go. Eric Hornung and Jake Clouse or the founding parties of the upside podcast. At the time of this recording, we do not own equity or other financial interest in the companies which appear on this show. All opinions expressed by podcasts. Participants are solely their own opinions and do not reflect the opinions of Duff & Phelps LLC and its affiliates Unreal Collective LLC and its affiliates or any entity which employ us. This podcast is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as a basis for investment decisions. We have not considered your specific financial situation nor provided any investment advice on this show. Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you next week.

Allie Felix is the Director of Programming & Partnerships at Embarc Collective.

Embarc Collective is a physical innovation hub in Tampa Bay, Florida. They are a startup collective – curators of experiences, resources, and environment.


Allie’s experience spans venture capital, business development, and community. Having spent time with Draper University in Silicon Valley and Work-Bench in New York, Allie has worked closely with innovators from students to top entrepreneurial leaders on special programming and content, high-impact events, and curated partnerships

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