The push to change Florida’s reputation

Published on November 26, 2019

It is one thing to create a mental image or to sketch something out. To be curious and to question why not is what turned a joke on the Jetsons into Facetime. But what Brian Kornfeld and his partners Marc Blumenthal and Andy Hafer saw here in Tampa, Florida was not a lack of innovation but a lack of connection. This lack of connection between entrepreneurs, talent and most importantly investors was creating a difficult environment in which to start a business.

“I started to do some research into what was wrong with the Tampa Bay and the Florida startup markets and why people weren’t getting connected.”

Brian Kornfeld, cofounder at Synapse.

He said that what he noticed most was a lack of a central community. A lack of connection also meant investors were less likely to put their money into smaller businesses.

“When you’re wide geographically you have hubs and centers but the right resources aren’t always right in front of you.”

This is what led them to create Synapse. Today, Synapse connects people, money and talent here in Tampa Bay and now across Florida. The company aims to create a business community that is easier to navigate for both entrepreneurs and investors. 

Starting out

The path to Synapse, though, was not a simple one. Creating a network of people when that is the problem proved difficult for the duo.

During the creation of the brand it was known as “project cuban sandwich.”

“When you think of the cuban sandwich it’s three types of pork, hard bread, mayonnaise, mustard, pickles, cheese and it doesn’t make sense but when you take a bite it’s perfect,” said Kornfeld. 

He said the same was true for local innovation companies. They didn’t look like much from afar but everything was there they just hadn’t been brought together. 

At Grit Daily’s Summit “What’s Tampa’s Next Move as a Brand?” — Brian Kornfeld, cofounder at Synapse, next to Immertec CEO Erik Maltais and Cesar Hernandez (left); Ashley Bauman, Mayor Jane Castor Communications Director (right).

While difficult, Kornfeld said that this is his favorite job and that he has an enthusiasm for this company in a way that he hasn’t before. 

“I have never worked harder, I have never been more stressed, but I’ve also never been more passionate and I’ve never cared so much and I’ve never loved what I do as much as I do [sic],” he said.

The enthusiasm shows on his face as he talks about the people that he connected or aided.

Early lessons

His journey started in California where he received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a Master’s degree from University of Florida both in aerospace engineering.

He said the lessons he learned in his previous fields prepared him for what he is doing now.

“In my first job I was flight testing satellites and I learned there that when you launch a 500 million dollar piece of metal into outer space and it breaks there’s nothing to fix it and people tend to not like that.”

He learned to ensure that what he was doing was precisely what needed to be done and to be very vigilant when he checked that everything was correct. 

Once he moved back to Florida he also learned how to lead. He worked for Nielson and that there he learned how to manage difficult stakeholders and lead effectively in the workplace.

In a way he said that he always felt as though he wasn’t completely fulfilled in what he was doing.

“Even going back to 2007 and 2008 I had a lot of ideas I just didn’t have the confidence in myself to launch them,” he said.

He once told his friend he wanted an uber-like service while in New York City for a wedding several years before it launched.

“To think of ideas like that and to just say, ‘oh well somebody else can do it not me’ it always sat [sic] like something was missing with me and that’s one of the reasons why I love what I do now.”

He said previously he didn’t feel as though he was able to pull something like Synapse off. He couldn’t see it becoming everything that he saw in his head and even further. 

His mission at Synapse is to make sure that nobody feels that they are not capable. He wants to enable people to feel inspired and to make success possible and even probable. 

“We’re not trying to solve everybody’s problems but we’re trying to make sure that the opportunities are present and everybody can see what they are and we can be one connected state,” he said. 

Florida has all of the resources Kornfeld believes it needs to succeed. It has more than 20 research institutions, over 200,000 accredited investors and in addition to that the state is only growing with new people moving in everyday, according to Kornfeld.

A different future for Florida

What Kornfeld and his team hope to do it to connect all of these resources so that Florida isn’t just known for its antics but in the future is also known for its innovation.

“All of the resources are present they just may not be right in front of you and in 2019 and 2020 and beyond there’s no reason that just because you’re not walking downtown and bumping into somebody doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have access to that person or to that resource.”

The company’s goal today is to draw talent to Florida from other places. They also want to bring  people from all corners of Florida together to make a “engine” that will really make startups in Tampa and all throughout Florida successful. 

This year Kornfeld says the organization is focusing on drawing in talent like never before and building a “talent pipeline” for Florida. 

“A lot of people just don’t understand how many awesome things are happening in Florida and it’s time to open those doors and let them see it,” he said. 

This comes at a great time as in 2018 the number of jobs in technology in Florida grew by 5.4 percent according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity

“Having an organization like Synapse around it only betters Florida, it only betters Tampa Bay, it only betters innovation communities and if those innovations can come to light it’s only going to continually better the world,” Kornfeld said. 

In the future, Kornfeld says there’s no reason why this model couldn’t bring people together across the country. For now, him and his team are sticking to creating a better reputation and reality here in Florida. 

“You can’t tell me that there’s not somebody here who’s thinking of some type of world changing something that if the connections aren’t there it could be stopped and the world would be worse off for it.”

Sarah Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in Tampa, Florida, she primarily covers new tech and events.

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