Orlando is at the Center of Success
The late Steve Jobs said innovation is what distinguishes leaders from followers. If that’s the case, Orlando is pioneering a path to lead the nation’s startups.
In the past few months, we’ve become the new home of an industry and academic-led advanced manufacturing research center for universal smart sensors in Osceola County. We’ve also become the headquarters of the National Business Incubation Association, the world’s leading organization for advancing business and entrepreneurship, with support from the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.
The City of Orlando recently recognized the Orlando Tech Association as part of its first digital main street, and several of the region’s largest coworking spaces, like Canvs and Catalyst, are opening in downtown Orlando.
Orlando was named among Techie.com’s most promising tech hubs to watch in 2014, alongside Atlanta and Kansas City, partly because of our strength in the digital media industry, which also is featured in the new tech documentary, “Orlando Rising.”
Big, out-of-market tech companies are recognizing our success, too. Whether it’s Google acquiring Osceola County’s Channel Intelligence, Aspect Software’s purchase of Voxeo or an Indianapolis-based transportation software company buying up locally-built TapRide, Orlando innovation is in demand.
Like tourism, tech is in our blood.
Orlando has always been a home for entrepreneurship. But we seem to be getting more “buzz” for it these past few years. So what has changed in the last decade that I’ve been launching and working with local tech companies?
One difference is the type of companies that are getting started. Right now, most of the hot activity is in the mobility software space where many of the barriers to entry have decreased due to cloud computing, coworking spaces and a predominantly young workforce. The costs associated with launching a software company aren’t as reliant on large outside investments – even less so with today’s virtual and local crowdfunding platforms. This allows local companies to tap into local money.
Another change is in the culture of today’s startups and their emphasis on collaborative building. In the past, hardware-oriented companies were more proprietary in nature. But just look at the multiple meet-ups and hackathons held each month here, and it’s clear that working with your peers gets more done and positions companies to stay at the forefront of the accelerating rate of innovation.
Our region has also benefited from a growing number of students graduating in digital media, computer engineering or related fields – more than 2,600 students each year at varying degree levels. The Princeton Review and PC Gamer ranked the University of Central Florida’s Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy the No. 2 graduate video gaming school in the country, and we’re home to globally-recognized Full Sail University whose “Hall of Fame” graduates are entertainment and tech VIPs across the world.
There’s always a certain percentage of the population that tends to be entrepreneurial. With such a large talent base in Orlando, our startup population will just keep growing. And as more startups see Orlando as the place to be, more people will be attracted to our thriving region.
As the role of innovators is elevated in our national dialogue, we need to continue finding ways to nurture the startup culture that has been created here. We need to see the value that startups bring to legacy businesses in the Orlando area.
And we need to help build those relationships to bridge the gap between them.
One way in which we’ll be doing this is through the Orlando Economic Development Commission’s Schwartz Tech Awards later this month, where we’ll honor local tech accomplishments.
We hope this is just one of many efforts to engage startups and established businesses as we work with each other to build an economy of the future.
Later this month, the Orlando EDC, in partnership with the Orlando Tech Association and Florida High Tech Corridor Council, will be honoring local tech accomplishments at the 2014 Schwartz Tech Awards. Named after the late William C. Schwartz, a pioneer within Orlando’s optics and photonics industry, the awards this year will recognize several new categories, including research, student entrepreneurship, diversity and financial and community support for local tech. Winners will be announced in a new format – at a happy hour reception that will replace the luncheon the EDC had previously hosted.
Scott Faris is the chair of the Orlando Economic Development Commission, CEO of AeroSonix, Inc. and a serial entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience in venture-backed startups and established tech firms.