CEO: Constant evolution is key to Synapse’s relevance

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As technology evolves, so, too, must the Tampa-based tech event Synapse, says CEO Brian Kornfeld (right). The event, which draws a heavy Orlando presence, returns to Amalie Arena on Feb. 14.

Tampa-based nonprofit has formed ties with Orlando tech through annual event hosted here. Event’s marquee Synapse Summit returns to Amalie Arena on Feb. 14 AOL cofounder, startup advocate Steve Case.

The chance to welcome AOL cofounder and longtime tech startup advocate Steve Case to Tampa at next month’s Synapse Summit means far more to Brian Kornfeld than the ability to land something of a big fish.

Beyond that, Kornfeld says it’s a chance to showcase the region’s progress since Case’s last official visit in 2019 with his “Rise of the Rest” tour bus, which crosses the country to highlight innovation ecosystems not named New York or Silicon Valley.

The 2019 visit made stops in Miami, Space Coast, Orlando and Tampa.

“When he came to Florida in 2019, it really was a different state, especially in terms of innovation,” he said. “I’m looking forward to hearing his viewpoints; how far along he thinks we have come and what else we can do to build a great and thriving innovation community.”

Case will serve as one of the keynote speakers at the Feb. 14 Synapse Summit at Amalie Arena. Organizers expect more than 6,000 people to attend.

The event series has become one of the more anticipated in Central Florida’s technology community.

“He has alwlays been a top target of ours because of his views on investing in markets like Florida,” Kornfeld said. “That is, up-and-coming big markets.”

The last time he visited, Case cautiously tempered his analysis of Florida tech. He compared the growth to a baseball game, saying it was still early in the game.

Specifically, he indicated that Florida’s tech community was in the second inning.

“I am curious now, are we in the third or fourth inning? Fifth? Sixth?” Kornfeld said. “There are very few leaders in the world who have the viewpoints of growing and building innovation communities like a Steve Case.”

Beyond Case, Synapse Summit’s goals

Florida’s pre-pandemic focus on technology and building companies that were tech-forward ended up being an advantage once the economy shut down in March of 2020.

Industries that were able to thrive during that historic period – medtech, remote work, gaming, etc. – are a big part of the state’s ecosystem.

The result was a larger market to capture.

“Our innovation communities have seen a major jump in talent and investment,” Kornfeld said. “We have seen a large jump in growth-stage companies, companies that have really propelled themselves past being in that early startup stage.”

Tampa and Orlando’s connective tissue

As Synapse Summit approaches, Kornfeld says he looks forward to providing an event that could serve as a connective tissue between regions of the state, including Orlando.

Those opportunities, at least for now, have been fewer and further in between, although they have grown in recent months.

“Everything we do is to contribute to grow the community and to get people under one roof,” he said. “We want people to celebrate the community, discover others and engage with each other. We want them to create this giant ball of energy to propel themselves for the next couple of months, couple of quarters, maybe the next 364 days.”

As Kornfeld prepares for the event, he hopes to see a large contingent from Orlando show up to support it and the region.

“Entrepreneurs and startups may view themselves as an Orlando startup,” he said. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re only doing business in Orlando or they can only take Orlando investment. Those types of connections (made at Synapse) are truly important for growth opportunities.”