The Tampa Innovation Partnership (!p) celebrated a big week with its partners and guests at the 5th Annual Innovation Gathering on Thursday October 17th. The theme for this year’s Gathering was “Uptown United” celebrating an unprecedented level of collaboration toward building the Uptown Innovation District and uplifting and reinvesting in the community. Earlier that day Tampa !p gave a presentation to the Tampa City Council and Wednesday delivered a similar presentation to the Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners outlining an approach toward formulating a development plan for the area that will capitalize on the federal Opportunity Zone tax benefit to bring private investment into the area while including the community in shaping a development plan. The County Commission voted 7-0 and the City Council voted 6-0 to work toward a Memorandum of Understanding to work together on the Uptown project and members of each body provided input on core values and guiding principles they want to see woven into the planning process.
At the Innovation Gathering Chris Bowen, Chairman of the Tampa !p Executive Board and Chief Development Strategist with RD Management, LLC, owner of University Mall, welcomed attendees to the Gathering and shared a vision for the area as a convergence point for creative innovators that will drive medical, engineering, and technological advances on a scale that will rival any area in the southeastern U.S. Bowen is responsible for the ongoing redevelopment of University Mall into a mixed-use urban village anchored by medical and tech developers that is located right in the heart of the Uptown Innovation District. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Hillsborough County District 1 Commissioner Kimberly Overman each voiced enthusiasm for Uptown and reiterated the commitment to collaboration that the Board of County Commissioners and Tampa City Council made to the area that week.
USF president Steven Currall delivered a keynote address focusing on university innovations and regional economic development. Dr. Currall’s presentation highlighted university advances in optics such as the Argus II that have helped the blind see again. Dr. Currall explained the Three Pillars of Organized Innovation: Channeled Curiosity, Boundary-Breaking Collaboration, and Orchestrated Commercialization and how universities, businesses, and government can work together to orient curiosity-driven research toward solving real world problems for societal benefit.
Another highlight of the night was the introduction of the Community Enrichment Laboratory (CEL), a 501c3 organization spun off from the Tampa Innovation Partnership that is dedicated to harnessing the intellect, resources, and ingenuity of the innovation district to continuously and organically enrich the lives and prospects of the area’s residents, institutions, and businesses. The Florida Blue Foundation provided a $200,000 grant to help establish the CEL and the Florida Business Development Corporation provided $25,000 as initial supporters of the CEL. Shilen Patel, chairman of the CEL and Christian Leon, the CEL’s executive director, announced a $25,000 grant to the Foundation for Community Driven Innovation, the organization overseeing the Advanced Robotics and Manufacturing (AMRoC) Fab Lab to help with its mission supporting academic achievement, economic development and the spirit of innovation through inspiring programs and active learning projects.
Finally, Pastor Tommy “Urban D.” Kyllonen of Crossover Church took the stage and revved up the audience for an energetic finale presenting the Community Impact Awards, an awards program that Tampa !p partners with the University Area Community Development Corporation to provide, recognizing organizations for showing exemplary leadership by working together to build a cohesive community and a thriving, community-engaged innovation district. AMRoC Fab Lab was selected for the Creative Cooperation Award, given to an organization that excels in partnerships and community. AMRoC provides workforce training across 25 technical competencies, high-end automotive repair training, and after-school STEM programs for youth at its University Mall location. The Community Catalyst Award, which focuses on a start-up or non-profit emerging in community leadership, inclusion, and ongoing growth and development was awarded to Lily Pharmacy, a pharmacy in University Mall that provides free medical clinics twice per week and provides medication prescribed at the clinics to patients at no cost. The Corporate Changemaker Award went to Florida Blue for its work helping Uptown residents obtain nutritious meals. Florida Blue has assisted Feeding Tampa Bay with food access and provided a $300,000 grant to fund weekly produce markets at the Busch Boulevard Trinity Cafe.