Leadership Profiles

Orlando Trep and The Power of Partnership

Partnership is part of the DNA of Central Florida and may well prove to be the most lasting legacy of Dr. John Hitt, president of the University of Central Florida, for leading the way with “America’s Partnership University.” Now a new collaborative platform is gaining traction.


Associate Vice President of Research & Commercialization at UCF, Dr. Tom O’Neal has for years seen the need for a unified voice to communicate to the world what an amazing and vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem the Central Florida region possesses. Dr. O’Neal has been an ardent evangelist for organic economic development, namely nurturing, retaining and attracting entrepreneurs to the region. Though inspired by Dr. O’Neal, this innovative new platform, Orlando Trep, is intended to be an inclusive project that is powered by partnerships with individual innovators and organizations like UCF, Rollins College, IQrlando, OUC, Orlando Inc., the Central Florida Partnership, the Orlando Tech Association, SCB Marketing and i4 Business magazine.

Orlando Trep was founded in partnership with the i4 Business publication and the initial leadership and vision was crafted by its CEO Jeff Piersall, who serves as the chairman of the board for Orlando Trep. The first step was to find a leader who understood the assets of the area, could communicate across a broad spectrum of potential stakeholders, had established relationships in the tech community and would be at home in a corporate boardroom. Jim Thomas, executive
director of Orlando Trep, is that leader.

In just six quick months, Piersall commented on Thomas’ successful start: “Orlando Trep has made tremendous strides, both here in the community and around the country. Jim has done a fantastic job of reaching out and visiting other regions like Silicon Valley and talking with venture capitalists and entrepreneurs about the real economic advantages of relocating to Central Florida. Jim is the right guy at the right time to help lead the next phase of economic prosperity in our region.”

Entrepreneurs do not require incentive capital, high tax cuts, and other costly incentives as does the process of attracting large corporations to your community. And the return is incredible; the data is indisputable with respect to the positive economic impact to a region that supports the growth of entrepreneurs.



Recently one of our great Central Florida leaders, José A. Fajardo, was selected as Hawaii Public Radio’s new president and general manager. This is a tremendous win for the state of Hawaii and the Fajardo family as his son is stationed in Hawaii.

As the Executive Vice President of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce, known as Orlando Inc., Fajardo instilled a sense of confidence in the business community as our region recovered from the great recession. He also oversaw the expansion and new growth of the Chamber and led various initiatives such as the Capital Task Force to bring more venture capital and investment to our region. Fajardo also fostered the development of the Entrepreneur Academy, with the goal of accelerating innovation and growth by helping companies navigate the rich set of resources available in the Central Florida ecosystem.

Jacob Stuart, CEO of Orlando Inc. and president of Central Florida Partnership, recognizing the talent of Jim Thomas and the need for Orlando Trep, formed a strategic partnership between Orlando Trep and Orlando Inc. to accelerate the shared missions of these organizations. Thomas will assume many of the responsibilities (specifically those related to the entrepreneur ecosystem) of Fajardo as the new executive vice president of Orlando Inc., and will serve as the director of innovation for the Orlando Chamber while continuing to serve as the executive director of Orlando Trep.

Thomas is a Los Angeles, California native and has called Central Florida home for over five years. He spent the first ten years of his career working in government and politics at the local, state and national levels. The last ten years of his career have been as an entrepreneur. Thomas have started or co-founded five companies and currently sits on the board of numerous civic and health focused organizations.

Thomas explained the new paradigm; “People today, regardless of age, are first choosing where they want to live based upon geography and lifestyle. Once that is determined, they then seek to start a business or find a job. I had that same mindset when I chose Orlando. Our history as the tourism entertainment hub of the world, now coupled with exploding industries like technology, life sciences, and aerospace make Orlando a world-class place to not only visit, but now to live and build a business. It is an honor to be chosen to sing the praises of this community to the world.”


Stuart commented, “Today we’re seeing real economic development being driven by entrepreneurs here in Florida and around the globe. If you look at major metros that have flourished over the past few decades, they are driven by entrepreneurs. As a nation-leading 5-Star chamber, Orlando Inc. is a natural partner with the mission of Orlando Trep. Celebrating our Chamber members and entrepreneurs across Central Florida will also give us powerful examples to help organically recruit entrepreneurial leaders to our region. We are ecstatic to have Jim join the Central Florida Partnership family and expand on the work that he has done through Orlando Trep. At such a critical juncture in Orlando’s existence, I know Jim will lead our organization on a successful path for many years into
the future.”

The highest return on investment for a community is to organically attract entrepreneurs to your community. Entrepreneurs do not require incentive capital, high tax cuts, and other costly incentives as does the process of attracting large corporations to your community. And the return is incredible; the data is indisputable with respect to the positive economic impact to a region that supports the growth of entrepreneurs. Thus, a healthy ecosystem that encourages growth and is communicated to the world is a necessary element of economic development.

The partnership of Orlando Trep and Orlando Inc. amplifies the significance of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and the need to support the technology community in Orlando. Excellent leadership has been provided in building the foundation of this ecosystem from UCF and Dr. O’Neal, Randy Berridge with the Corridor, Rollins College, Grey-Robinson and both of our tremendous mayors – Orlando’s Buddy Dyer and Orange County’s Teresa Jacobs.

Now with this partnership, the voice to communicate this powerful message and the ability to attract will significantly increase and add to the momentum of Central Florida. That is the power of synergy!

“Florida is going to be a national leader in the 21st century, and Orlando is going to be the epicenter of innovation and entrepreneurial growth. The future of Central Florida is limitless and I know we will see positive exponential growth in the years ahead. These types of partnerships and collaboration are a testament to that positive future.”

— Jim Thomas

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About the author

i4 Business

i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

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