Bradenton-Sarasota Area wins Highlighted in Economic Development Forum


Thursday, May 9, 2019 – For Immediate Media Release

BRADENTON, Fla. – Nearly 200 attendees convened in the Manatee Performing Arts Center on May 7 to network and share what is happening in the west-coast Florida innovation, education and funding ecosystems, and how those sectors strongly impact economic development regionally.

John Talmadge, Director of Economic Development with the Lee County EDC said about the event “I thought last night was one of the most insightful and inclusive convenings I have been to.” Andrew Gold from Hillsborough Community College called the forum “a wonderful community event.”

Mayor Wayne Poston, City of Bradenton, in opening remarks spoke of “tangible economic outcomes” from opening the 1.5 mile Bradenton Riverwalk and its planned 1.5 mile expansion, multiple hotels, apartment complexes and housing under construction, to the new City Centre Plaza and the strong positive business impact of change across Manatee County.

Organizer Sara Hand of innovation firm Spark Growth observed “Isn’t it amazing what we can do together if we don’t care who gets the credit,” and emphasized that “collaboration among organizations is the key to exponential growth.” Creating a movement in economic development creates the bottom lines of business expansion and creating jobs. Using the example of a Thanksgiving dinner, she suggested that “it’s important to not only invite people, but also to give them a place at the table and a purpose for being there.”

“Innovation lives here! But we need to be better at telling the story,” according to Brian Kornfeld, CEO of Synapse. Synapse provides a technology platform to connect people and resources, runs innovation challenges to solve community problems, and holds an annual innovation conference for in-person relationship building.

Joel Beasley, CEO of and the Modern CTO podcast with Tracy Ingram of TECHHire said that “tech-enabled companies need more than just software developers,” these tech companies need product managers, tech sales and tech support personnel. It is now entirely possible for someone coming out of service industry jobs to retool themselves for a higher wage career in tech-enabled business. This follows an emerging trend of learning, un-learning, and re-learning, especially important as we move into the “future-ready economy.”

Doug Wagner, COO and Deputy Superintendent of Manatee County Schools spoke of scaling their STEM education program for all students in many Manatee schools from pre-K to 12 that helps create a desire for lifelong learning and can transform lives. Wagner said there are middle and high school students in Manatee County able to support their families using their earned tech certifications, which is remarkable. Along the way we have created the winningest Technology Student Association in the country, including representing the US in multiple international competitions.

From across Tampa Bay, funding organizations including Dave Chitester from SeedFunders, Saxon Baum from Florida Funders, Karthik Viswanathan from TiE Tampa Bay and angel fund, Wendy Chapman from Bridge Angels, and Fermin Miranda of SunTrust Bank discussed that they are actively writing checks and looking for companies that fit the profile of their funds and funders. For success in finding funding, you need to do your research, prepare well, build relationships, and be coachable.

Entrepreneur Service Organizations included Rich Heruska from Tampa Bay WaVe, Allie Felix from Embarc Collective, Andy Gold from Operation Startup/HCC and Valerie McDevitt from USF Tech Connect. They emphasized that starting and growing successful businesses takes a community, and they offer resources to support companies of all kinds. Some of these companies will be high growth, but it is estimated that 95% of companies in America have 5 employees or less – and that’s a great thing for our communities.

This event was organized by Spark Growth in collaboration with Manatee County Economic Development. The event was free thanks to our generous sponsors: SunTrust Bank, Florida Funders, SeedFunders, City of Bradenton, Hartwell Capital Consulting, Operation Startup, and Manatee Community Federal Credit Union, Manatee Performing Arts Center and Pier 22.


Funders answer audience questions

Mayor Wayne Poston opens networking reception

Networking opportunities

Tracy Ingram and Joel Beasley Tech talent in Business today

About Spark Growth:

Stan Schultes and Sara Hand of Spark Growth provide connections and resources to help solve difficult problems. As an innovation consulting firm whose projects take shape across cultures, time zones, industry clusters and business sectors, we leverage expertise across the innovation value chain from idea stage to exit. Spark Growth works alongside our clients to identify potential and possibilities for growth and to develop authentic solutions specific to each client’s needs. We design and orchestrate experiences, creating environments ripe for innovation and changing the way people think.