Carrying Tech Legacy Into the Future
Of the 400 tech enthusiasts who gathered in downtown Orlando this summer to watch business pitches from tech accelerator Starter Studio, most probably didn’t know the name William C. Schwartz.
A leader in the region’s optics and photonics industry, Bill Schwartz remains one of our greatest technology pioneers – combining futuristic research with real-world business sense.
That’s why for the past 24 years the Orlando Economic Development Commission (EDC) has honored his legacy with an awards program to celebrate bright ideas and innovative solutions from local businesses.
Previously known as the William C. Schwartz Industry Innovation Awards, this year’s program, the Schwartz Tech Awards, sought to include a mix of “established and new” tech – along with additional categories for research, investment, diversity and community support – to recognize and foster better connections between our community’s legacy enterprises and our burgeoning startup class. The Orlando EDC also partnered with the newly formed Orlando Tech Association for the first time and the Florida High Tech Corridor to host the awards.
Orlando Means Technology
Now the second-largest industry in our region, technology is synonymous with Orlando. From Martin Marietta (now Lockheed Martin) to Tupperware Brands Corporation to Walt Disney World, Orlando’s early, iconic businesses embedded innovation into our culture.
Schwartz epitomized this spirit, too. One of the first who mastered laser technology in the 1960s, he left Martin Marietta to start International Laser Systems, and later founded Schwartz Electro-Optics, which was acquired by a California-based company in 2003 for $3.6 million.
“He was an entrepreneur before most people were even using the term,” Richard Fox, a long-time Orlando high-tech executive, told me. Fox, now Venture Partner at IDEA Fund and one of this year’s Schwartz Tech Awards judges, says Schwartz’s impact in the region’s lasers and optics fields created the cluster for which Orlando is known today.
A Growing Legacy
Schwartz’s friends and peers now believe more than 100 laser and optics companies can be attributed to people who worked for and with him. Schwartz also was an early advocate for the University of Central Florida’s College of Optics and Photonics – the first of its kind in the nation and one of the world’s foremost research institutions.
Orlando’s technology scene today is more varied, with optics and photonics, simulation, software development, data analytics and more sharing the stage. This year’s Schwartz Tech Awards winners ranged from Lake County’s 68-year-old Electron Machine Corporation and international optical sensor developers FAZ Technology to local startups CareSpotter and SPLYT.
From the tech legacies of Schwartz and others, Orlando continues grabbing the national spotlight for its high-tech industry. Our region was recently called a “new tech frontier” by Jones Lang LaSalle’s High-technology Office Outlook, and locally, the first Orlando Tech Week – which the Schwartz Tech Awards were part of – drew crowds of tech enthusiasts eager to launch or learn about new technologies that will both drive economic development in our region and help keep Bill Schwartz’s legacy alive.
Regional Innovator of the Year
Productivity Apex Orange County
CareSpotter Seminole County
Electron Machine Corporation Lake County
Photon-X Osceola County
SPLYT City of Orlando
FAZ Technology Florida High Tech Corridor
Researcher of the Year – Academic
Dr. Sudipta Seal University of Central Florida
Researcher of the Year – Industry
Dr. Steven R. Smith Translational Research Institute for Metabolism & Diabetes
Diversity in Tech
Carlos Carbonell Echo Interaction Group & Orlando Tech Association
Tech Investor of the Year
Allen Kupetz venVelo
Tech Champion of the Year
Dr. Thomas O’Neal University of Central Florida
Rick L. Weddle is president and CEO of the Orlando Economic Development Commission.