Founder Notes
Takeaways from Synapse 2019
"Great things in business are never done by one person. They are done by a team of people."

- Steve Jobs

This quote from the inimitable Steve Jobs sums up how I feel about the exhilarating three days of meetings, presentations, discussions, pitch contests, and chance encounters at the 2019 Synapse Summit.

Every year, the Summit acts as a bridge between siloed groups, bringing leaders from the entrepreneurial ecosystem, accelerators, VC partners, angel investors, government officials, media publications, larger corporate supporters and local university representatives together to explore ways to strengthen Florida's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

As Synapse co-founder Mark Blumenthal said in his opening remarks, the Summit was created to bring great minds together and collectively turn the Sunshine State into "the Startup State" - and that's exactly what it's doing.

This is an ambitious goal, mind you, and much still needs to be done to get the best resources in the hands of our most ambitious founders. To keep the momentum rolling, I want to share a couple of takeaways from the Summit that, in my opinion, can act as a roadmap for the next stage of entrepreneurial development initiatives.

Takeaway #1: The actors are in place to build an entrepreneurial hub in Tampa

In order for an entrepreneurial hub to take shape and thrive, five actors must be present: startups, corporations, governments, educational institutions and investors. But they can't just exist side-by-side and expect new companies to emerge out of nowhere. Infrastructural support for a vibrant startup ecosystem will only come once all five economic actors are building mutually beneficial projects in and amongst themselves - collaborations that pool resources and make the region an enticing locale for ambitious founders.

These five actors were all well represented at this year's Summit, whether it was...

Economic development officials from state and local government attending the Future of Transportation discussion.A series of talks on how universities are vital startup talent generators and resource hubs for founders.The active role played by startup enablers and early-stage investor players, including Embarc Collective (a first-of-its-kind innovation hub) and Florida Funders (an angel and crowdfunding investment fund).The presence of local businesses as sponsors for the event, including local juggernaut ConnectWise and the popular grocer Publix.The thousands of founders who came with their passion and zeal, looking for ways to collaborate and grow their startups.

I am not alone in noticing this convergence. William Hortz, in his detailed reporting on the event, noted the Summit is proof that "everywhere in this country, no matter how large or small an area or region, there exists the beginnings of local/regional entrepreneurial ecosystems."

Together with William Hortz, I can say that the actors are in place to build an entrepreneurial hub in Tampa. There are a lot of exciting cross-sector collaborations to keep our eyes on, and Mr. Hortz is going to make it a bit easier to track the new changes with a series on "Mapping Your Local Entrepreneurial Ecosystem". I'm already looking forward to reading it!

Takeaway #2: Founders make great debaters - but that's not what builds great companies

I had a great time judging participant companies in Pitch Madness, a wild ride of an event structured more like a debate than a conventional elevator pitch. Seeing how the founders reacted in this pressure cooker atmosphere was fascinating because, when pressed for answers on the fly, you could really see how much they all knew about their respective companies, industries, and competitors. What stood out to me most, however, was not their rhetorical skill. We know most founders have a knack for selling, and it's an important skill to harness in early negotiations when no one will take you seriously. So naturally a lot of the founders were impressive debaters.

But being a great debater is not what builds great companies. The winners from the Pitch Madness tournament stood out because they had the most holistic view of their company. Company strategy, product specs, market dynamics, revenue projections, operational efficiency - these are the core links in the chain of a well-balanced company, and a lot can be known about them all, even through informed assumptions.

There is a lesson here for all founders: you don't just need to have metrics memorized to impress investors. Instead, the more you know about every aspect of the company - capturing a holistic view - the better able you will be to bridge operational gaps and build a well-balanced business. A holistic view will also pique investors interest more than rhetorical wit or a few enticing numbers.

Rounding It Up

Propelling the next wave of innovation through collaborative action is needed if we want to boost existing companies and create the conditions for the next biggest companies to get their start here in Florida. The task now is to act on these collaborative aspirations to materialize a stronger, more interconnected network of entrepreneurial resources. This is true for us here in Florida and for all the emerging regional hubs of entrepreneurial innovation driving change across the country.


Jim Barnish is Co-Founder and General Partner of Morgan Hill Partners, an innovative management consulting partner that helps startup to scale-up technology and tech-enabled clients innovate and grow through Strategy & Planning, Executive Leadership, Product Excellence and delivering the right and strategic playbook, at the right time, for the right outcomes. Jim's 15+ years of experience in global and integrated operations, sales, and marketing uniquely qualifies him to lead Morgan Hill Partners associate operations and affiliate partnerships. Over the course of Jim's career, he has successfully worked with companies undergoing accelerated business development, process improvement, change management and operational transformation initiatives.