By Haley Tisone, Community Outreach Manager Black Dog Venture Partners
Tonya Elmore has been in the incubator business for the past twenty years and is now the CEO and President of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center. Her career started in the top-secret space, but she was continuously asked to do work outside of it, prompting her to start a new organization. The stars aligned for her – at the same time, Pinellas County government planned to start an incubator. The federal, county, and city of St. Petersburg government all came together to create the Tampa Bay Innovation Center unique.
The center connects young companies with capital and coaching, helping companies get off the ground and investor ready. They focus on the tech space and the center is home to independent workers from entrepreneurs to lawyers, investors, and more. Elmore is currently opening another innovation center.
Elmore’s vision aligned with ARK Investment Management’s and the two are collaborating on the ARK Innovation Center. The facility officially broke ground on February 15, 2022 and will be open for business in July 2023. It will include a 200-person event center, an innovation lab for prototyping, an AR/VR studio, two state-of-the-art classrooms, conference rooms, and coworking space.
Elmore loves working in this industry; it fascinates her. She says she has the best job surrounded by the smartest people. In early years, it was a challenge to give entrepreneurship a positive connotation in the community. Elmore focused on educating the area about what an incubator was and what it did. Now, she is focused on attracting the best start-ups to this region and ensuring the ARK center is a huge success. Her advice for start-ups is to always know who you are selling to and the price point.
According to Elmore, the startup community in the Tampa area is at a pivotal point. We are getting a lot of attention from outside regions and funding from outside the area. Now is the time to focus on attracting the right talent, the right types of technologies, and get more capital.
When she is not working, Elmore loves the outdoors. She enjoys hiking with her fourteen-year-old son and recently took a trip to the Valley of Fire.