Nonprofit Synapse Accelerates Innovation in Florida
By Justin Braun
In the nervous system, a synapse is a structure that allows neurons to pass electrical and chemical signals to each other. It is a connection point that facilitates the flow of energy throughout the body, essential to all living things. Similarly, within the entrepreneurial ecosystem, the synapse is just as vital.
Taking the form of relationships and networks, connections within a business community enable the flow of ideas and capital that foster innovation and breed growth. But, unlike neuronal synapses, social connection points between entrepreneurs are often entirely circumstantial rather than naturally occurring. Unfortunately, serendipity doesn’t scale.
“A strong innovation community needs more than luck to be successful. It needs intentionality,” says Brian Kornfeld, president of Synapse, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded to accelerate innovation throughout the state. “Synapse was founded by entrepreneurs and investors looking to create a framework to connect Florida’s dynamic innovation communities more efficiently and effectively. Synapse is a place for business leaders to find what they need and share what they have so they can more easily succeed.”
The organization brings visibility and opportunity to entrepreneurs, startups, investors, talent, corporations, entrepreneur support organizations, service providers and government leaders that make Florida the center of innovation in the Southeast. Synapse’s goal is to unite Florida’s innovation community — an entrepreneurial ecosystem rich with resources and assets that produce an abundance of promising technologies, but one that has been historically disjointed and underserved by the investment community.
“There’s a lot more discussion about building the next generation of great companies here,” says Terry Berland, managing partner of Kirenaga Partners, an early stage investment firm focused on finding promising companies in Florida. “There’s a lot of enthusiasm about the entrepreneurial community and a
lot more coordination. The region’s resources are becoming more connected, which is critical.”
A catalyst for these connections is the Synapse Summit, a celebration and showcase of Florida’s most innovative people, companies, organizations and technologies. The 2019 symposium took place in Tampa’s Amalie Arena in January, with two days featuring 111 breakout sessions, 415 speakers, 334 exhibiting companies and 5,542 attendees who gathered for workshops, panel discussions, demos and keynotes by top business and thought leaders. On the heels of Tampa’s success, Synapse will debut its first regional business event, Synapse Orlando, in downtown Orlando on October 18, 2019, in collaboration with the Orlando Economic Partnership (the Partnership).
“We are thrilled to be bringing the excitement of Synapse to Orlando,” Kornfeld says. “Synapse is all about getting connected to the right people. We believe that by hosting Synapse Orlando in collaboration with the Orlando Economic Partnership, we can create synergistic and intentional connections across the state, making Florida an even better place to start a business, scale a business and innovate.”
The daylong symposium of entrepreneurship and thought leadership will showcase the region’s innovation ecosystem from experience technology to digital wellness and smart city initiatives while also offering opportunities for the startup community to learn about the latest transformational innovations impacting Florida’s overall business community.
With Synapse’s first event in Orlando, regional entrepreneurs also gain access to Synapse Connect, an online platform that allows innovators to easily and quickly connect with the resources they need to accelerate success. Additionally, the organization seeks to spur innovation through community action in the form of Synapse Challenges, a crowdsourcing solution for organizations to solve real-world problems and create new opportunities for forward-thinking businesses and people.
“Synapse’s decision to launch its first regional event in Orlando further builds on the momentum of our entrepreneurial ecosystem as well as our technology-focused industries that have been vital to our economic growth,” says Tim Giuliani, president and CEO of the Partnership. “The depth of talent and expertise the summit brings to our startup community will propel the pace of innovation throughout the region by connecting our entrepreneurs with the ideas, talent, resources, tools and capital they need to grow.”
To showcase the strength of Orlando’s creative culture, Synapse Orlando is strategically aligned with Creative City Project’s IMMERSE, an annual city-wide performing and interactive arts experience made possible, in part, by the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. This year’s event, taking place in the streets and public spaces throughout downtown Orlando on October 18 and 19, provides a massive public platform for 1,000-plus artists from more than 100 organizations with performances and interactive installations by Blue Man Group, The Architects of Air, Diavolo, Orlando Ballet, Opera Orlando, Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra, Florida Symphony Youth Orchestras, Corkcicle and Orlando Utilities Commission.
“We believe Orlando is a place of creativity and innovation,” says Creative City Project Founder and CEO Cole NeSmith. “Each year, Creative City Project is working to promote that on a global scale through our annual event, IMMERSE. The partnership with Synapse just makes sense as we work to achieve this vision together. Orlando truly is a uniquely collaborative city, and I’m proud of our community for reaching across industry lines to create meaningful experiences for residents and visitors. The more we work together, the more we thrive. And this partnership is one more example of our collaborative spirit.”
The connection between Synapse and IMMERSE was facilitated by the Partnership, and its vice president of innovation, Sheena Fowler, has been working with public partners to develop and forge new alliances to connect the region’s tech and entrepreneurial ecosystems.
“The partnership between the two events presents the opportunity for a creative collision between Orlando’s innovation and experience economy,” Fowler said. “It also builds on our momentum of the Rise of the Rest tour with AOL Co-Founder Steve Case, whose venture capital firm, Revolution, chose Orlando for its kickoff to this year’s tour.”
When the Rise of the Rest Road Trip announced it would start its eighth tour in Orlando, regional entrepreneurs submitted 152 pitches for the competition, the most received from any U.S. startup market in the tour’s history. Rise of the Rest shone a spotlight on local entrepreneurs and worked to foster the spirit of innovation throughout the region’s startup community.
“There’s incredible momentum building in our community right now,” Fowler said. “Synapse is one of the keys to unlock our future potential and continue to accelerate the success of our businesses. It is a resource that can bridge our entrepreneurs to the larger business community.”