Apr 18, 2022 - Business

Bringing North Tampa into the city's tech story

Illustration of a Tampa minaret with a light bulb coming out of it.
Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Tampa is on track to become the next Silicon Valley. But while big tech hubs can be breeding grounds for inequality, Mark Sharpe says that community investment will be the key to Tampa's success.

State of play: Sharpe, who leads the innovation nonprofit Soaring City !P, told Axios that he wants to make sure Tampa's tech growth will incorporate residents, encouraging them to be entrepreneurs and tech workers.

Context: For the last two years, University Mall has been slowly transforming into an urban mixed-use community and tech hub called [email protected] β€” a play on the word "algorithm," and standing for Research, Innovation, Technology, Habitat and Medicine. Companies reimagining things like warfare technology and video production have already moved in.

  • Sharpe, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, has been leading the charge to support changes to the area like RITHM. Soaring City, formerly known as the Tampa Innovation Partnership, focuses on connecting Tampa Bay's technology, health care, education and entertainment industries to strengthen the local economy.

The latest: As part of its partnership with health insurer Florida Blue, the nonprofit launched its "Growing Resilient Communities" initiative this month to address poverty in North Tampa. Florida Blue invested $750,000 in Soaring Cities to start the initiative.

  • Their goal is to get everyone in North Tampa to use cryptocurrency, including those who don't have bank accounts, and to train locals in skills like drone operation and robotics to create a "blue-collar tech workforce."
  • Soaring City also wants to partner with FDOT to improve infrastructure on Fowler Avenue. Their goal is to make the area a walkable and bikeable "research boulevard," with safe and easy access to places like USF and Advent Health.

What they're saying: "You're really going to see the difference when you get off 275 there," Soaring City's communications coordinator, Eddie Burch, told Axios.

Meanwhile: BlackboXXcelerator, an incubator for entrepreneurs, just moved into University Mall's second floor. Chris Bowen, the accelerator's lead developer, told St. Pete Catalyst that it will focus on empowering "non-traditional tech people" from the surrounding community.

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