Orlando firms take regional approach at Synapse

TAMPA, Fla. — The 85-mile road trip to Tampa from Orlando is hardly a deterrent when it comes to Synapse Florida at Amalie Arena.

Orlando companies tend to have a sizeable representation both on the show floor and on stage, sharing their expertise.

However, what has emerged recently has been a camaraderie between the two ecosystems, one that grows with each event, said Dawn Haynes, CEO of Orlando-based Starter Studio.

“It’s showing the depth of our technology ecosystems from across Central Florida,” she said. “It’s not Orlando or Tampa or Daytona, it’s Central Florida. It’s about what we all have to brag about here in Central Florida. This shows it.”

The event drew more than 6,000 to Amalie Arena less than four months after its most-recent iteration at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Orlando.

Among those were 800 investors, 300 exhibitors and 150 speakers.

Synapse CEO Brian Kornfeld said the team’s goal has been to connect people from across the state with its series of events.

“It’s not just Tampa, it’s not just Orlando, it’s not just Miami,” he said. “It’s about Pensacola, Jacksonville, Gainesville because that opens doors of opportunity for everybody.”

The one-day event, which was preceded by an opening VIP party on Monday night, included more than 40 sessions and highly regarded keynote sessions from industry leaders like Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention cofounder Phoebe Miles and AOL cofounder and high-profile tech investor Steve Case.

A pitch competition awarded $150,000 to one startup while an innovation awards component resulted in $75,000 of winnings.

All of this was done with three-time Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning’s home as the backdrop.

“We want it to be a place where people want to see each other and want to be seen,” Kornfeld said. “They want to connect and have a good time. We turn a place for world championship hockey and turn it into a world class venue for technology and innovation.”

As has become customary in Synapse events, plenty of Orlando companies were peppered in among the two floors’ worth of businesses showing off their services around the ring of the arena.

But beyond the ability to give the public and the tech community a glimpse into your work, Synapse also allows for real collaboration.

Haynes said she saw two businesses decide to collaborate after meeting at Synapse on Tuesday morning.

“An event like this broadens everybody’s perspective,” Haynes said. “This is an opportunity to make connections that can eventually become collaboration. By walking around seeing what other people are working on, it can spark ideas about how they can work together.”

Synapse often draws the more notable companies to showcase but it’s not just young companies trying to make the most of the event.

Duke Energy, for example, brought in Oculus Quest 2 headsets that walked people through the company’s approach to clean energy.

The non-interactive presentation, which lasted about 10 minutes, was an effort to create educational content and draw in a younger crowd.

“It’s an essential campaign that aims to make clean energy more accessible to customers,” said Elizabeth Escobar-Fernandes, a senior IT manager for the energy giant who was at Synapse. “We have high school students here and they are the future.

The presentation showed virtual representations – often called digital twins – of power plants that use different kinds of energy, including wind, solar and nuclear.

The narration updates the viewer on how Duke uses each type and why supporting all three is critical to the company’s success.

“They will want to work for a company and we want to show them the technology we are using,” Escobar-Fernandes said.

Isabella Johnston has attended six Synapse conferences, including three in both Orlando and Tampa.

The Orlando-based entrepreneur, whose Employers4Change matches students and potential employers, said Synapse is a great asset to the community.

“We feel aligned with Tampa’s innovation ecosystem and Synapse is a huge part of that,” Johnston said. “There is a significant Orlando presence here also, which I want to support.”

For Haynes of StarterStudio, it’s a twice-a-year chance to both get re-energized and encourage others to improve by making connections.

“There is an energy when you get all of these people with different ideas together,” she said.