USF President Targets Bigger Role in Driving Local Innovation for University

The Tampa Bay skyline

Tampa Bay could become the Silicon Valley of the southeast, or at least that’s the thinking of the University of South Florida’s new president, Steven Currall.

The thinking stems from a Fortune Magazine article Currall read back in the late 1990s that highlighted the ways Stanford University fed the development of Silicon Valley. This idea of the university having missions outside of academics, athletics, research and public service has the potential to plug into efforts going on around Tampa Bay to develop it as a hub of innovation. Rather than re-create the success of California’s tech hub, Currall believes Tampa simply learn from its ascent.

“I’m not suggesting we try to transplant something that worked out there,” Currall said in an interview with Tampa Bay Inno. “We have our own state, own regional and state government but I think there are some generic principles. The university can play this catalyst role and see itself not just as educating students and doing research, but really being a player in economic development through these spinout companies and the development of intellectual property.”

Tampa Bay becoming a home to startup has been something of a priority for community leaders such as Jeff Vinik, whose innovation hub known as the Embarc Collective aims to help entrepreneurs and startups succeed in the area by providing access to an international network of experts and resources.

Currall believes the university can play a part in bringing further investment in startups in the region, noting that there is already a startup culture in the area. There’s just one problem.

“Funding is hard, that’s really a very big challenge in every setting,” he said. “And it’s so asymmetrical now: you have so much going into Northern California, so much going into Boston and Austin. You need universities creating, partnering with entrepreneurs and alumni and trying to get early stage investors involved.”

Tampa’s Startup Scene

Currall’s vision is well timed. Aside from the ongoing research happening on campus and in collaboration with university partners that could lead to fascinating startups down the line, other tech companies are beginning to take root in the communities around the university.

Immertec, a 3-D virtual reality training software for doctors is one example of a healthcare technology startup that has chosen to call Tampa Bay home. Another is Medical House of Knowledge, a company dedicated to helping health plans and managed care providers deliver better care by combining critical health data in an integrated platform. Both companies are prime examples of the type of innovative entrepreneurship local leaders are targeting.

The hope is to build an innovation eco-system through the work of USF, Vinik’s Water Street project and Embarc, the St. Petersburg based Tampa Bay Innovation Center and the efforts of local organizations such as Tampa Bay Wave, a non-profit that supports tech startups through services such as co-working space and accelerator programs.

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