May 28 2020

Tech-Loaded Accelerators Support Startup Companies’ Success

Around the country, small-business assistance programs deliver IT infrastructure, mentorship, office space and more.

Embarc Collective nurtures the growing tech startup community in Florida’s Tampa Bay area as it works to turn the region into the next hotbed for technology innovation. To do it, the nonprofit has built a state-of-the-art facility that is giving the area’s startup ecosystem a major boost.

The startup hub’s new 32,000-square-foot headquarters, opened in January, features private offices, collaborative workspaces and conference rooms where startups can work and learn from mentors, experts and each other. It also has a cafe, a library and a 250-person space for hosting communitywide events.

“Tampa is going through tremendous growth and has all the makings of a thriving startup market,” says Embarc Collective CEO Lakshmi Shenoy. “The facility allows our members to build their companies, learn and collaborate. It’s also a central landing zone for the community’s activities around entrepreneurship, innovation and technology.”

The renovated, century-old brick warehouse in downtown Tampa features a content creation studio for recording videos and podcasts and videoconferencing equipment for meetings.

“We make sure our members have easy, remote access to their investors and customers, wherever they are,” Shenoy says.

Incubators Are a Growing Trend

Startup hubs, incubators and accelerators, created by both the public and private sectors, have emerged in cities across the U.S. to provide startups the guidance and support they need to grow. They offer coworking spaces, mentors and education, networking opportunities, and connections to potential investors and partners.

Many incubators are nonprofits, funded by universities or governments and focused on economic growth and creating jobs in their communities, says Sarfraz Mian, professor of strategic management and entrepreneurship in the school of business at the State University of New York at Oswego.

“Incubators can serve all purposes, including targeting groups to improve social development and social equity,” Mian says.

These programs all have similar goals, but they have unique approaches and different operating models. While startups purchase their own computers and software, these entrepreneurial programs provide them with the IT infrastructure they need, such as Wi-Fi in the coworking spaces.

DISCOVER: Find out more about incubators across the country.

A Workspace That's Packed with Tech

Embarc Collective works with 48 early stage startups chosen through an application process. Most are local, but the nonprofit has attracted startups from New York, Massachusetts and other parts of Florida that have r­elocated to its new building.

The year-old startup hub is the brainchild of Jeff Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning professional hockey team.

Embarc Collective differentiates itself with one-on-one mentorship from on-staff executive advisers and function-specific experts, Shenoy says.

“We coach them based on their milestones for measurable growth for their companies,” she says.

It also assists with product development, fundraising, marketing and sales, and it develops weekly programming based on the startups’ needs.

Embarc Collective transformed an old warehouse that was originally a grocery distribution site into a stylish, modern office space and loaded it with IT infrastructure and office technology, including Wi-Fi and wireless printers.

The organization equipped its facility with LG and Samsung LED TVs throughout, ranging from 55-inch and 65-inch displays in conference rooms and classrooms to 86-inch displays in the event space.

It installed videoconferencing gear by Logitech in its conference rooms and classrooms, including Logitech MeetUp, an all-in-one device with a built-in camera, speakers and microphones that attaches to the TVs. 

That technology is paired with Crestron Flex touchpad devices on meeting tables, allowing startup members to easily launch audioconferences and ­videoconferences with a few presses of the touch screen. Meeting spaces also have Barco ClickShare CSE-200 wireless presentation systems, to which members can easily connect their laptops or mobile devices.

“The Crestron and Barco ClickShare devices ensure anybody can come to our space and immediately plug in and get to work,” Shenoy says.

The facility includes a content ­creation studio that features five podcast microphones, headphones, a mixing board, a Logitech video camera and an iMac computer with cloud-based audio- and video-editing tools.

For its own employees, Embarc Collective takes a page out of the startup playbook and relies on cloud software, including Microsoft Office 365 for office productivity and Zoom for videoconferences.

“We operate like most startups,” Shenoy says. “Our state-of-the-art technology allows us to be nimble to better serve our dynamic and growing startup community.”

MORE FROM BIZTECH: Learn how to keep your video meetings secure, from the experts.

The Technology That's Driving Innovation

In Las Vegas, Caesars Entertainment and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas have partnered to build an integrated resort and casino innovation lab for companies, faculty and students to develop and test new hospitality, entertainment and gaming concepts.

“We are looking to develop new kinds of consumer experiences and diversify the revenue mix at our integrated resorts,” says Andrew Baca, Caesars’ director of business innovation and technology strategy.

Black Fire Innovation, a 43,000- square-foot research lab located off the Las Vegas Strip, includes two replica hotel rooms and a hallway, which flows into a mock casino floor, esports arena, sportsbook, bar and virtual reality entertainment lounge.

The lab includes a coworking space that will house an incubator for startups, as well as conference rooms and a classroom, says Zach Miles, UNLV’s associate vice president for economic development.

The goal is to explore emerging technologies such as robots, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and the Internet of Things to create new products and services. Researchers can test the use of robots to deliver room service and luggage, for example, Miles says. The rooms also have IoT sensors installed in the bathrooms to detect silent leaks.

Technology drives the innovation lab. The lab’s data center was the first thing Caesars and the partners built, because it powers everything they hope to accomplish, Baca says. It features hyperconverged infrastructure running on Nutanix software and Lenovo servers and storage hardware. The site also uses HPE Aruba network switches and Wi-Fi access points, he says.

The space will allow students to gain real-world experience, foster startups and boost the local economy, Miles says. In fact, Intel, Palo Alto Networks and other tech companies have rented office space and are joining the research efforts.

“This can be a great resource for the university and the community, not only to support startups and drive innovation but to attract new companies into the region,” Miles says.

Lakshmi Shenoy
We make sure our ­members have easy, remote access to their investors and ­customers, ­wherever they are.”

Lakshmi Shenoy Embarc Collective CEO

Using Tech to Solve Humanity's Problems

At 31 years old, the Austin Technology Incubator is the longest active technology incubator in the country. Having graduated 300 member companies that have contributed more than $3 billion in impact to the Central Texas region, it’s also one of the most successful.

Still, ATI’s leadership team is constantly fine-tuning its strategy. Two years ago, it pivoted to “deep technology” with entrepreneurs focused on global issues, such as agriculture tech, healthcare, transportation, energy and water, says ATI Executive Director Mitch Jacobson.

ATI also became a “virtual” incubator after doing away with its coworking space four years ago. With 75 coworking spaces in the vicinity, it’s no longer necessary to provide members with office space, he says.

The ATI team still meets with its startups in its office, but they also ­communicate via phone, email and videoconferences. ATI’s employees use the latest cloud-based customer relationship management and communications tools, including Zoom and Skype.

The team has subscribed to online file storage service Box to store critical internal documents, such as lists of venture capitalists. It also relies on specialized cloud software, which allows ATI’s mentors and startup founders to schedule meetings, share documents and communicate.

“Even though we are 31, we are constantly in startup mode,” Jacobson says. “We are constantly looking to improve because the world changes so fast and technology changes so fast.” 

Photography By: Al Hurley/BizTech Magazine