Innovation Powers St. Petersburg, Florida

To see innovation in action, stroll the St. Petersburg Innovation District just south of the downtown core. The district includes the University of South Florida, Johns Hopkins All Children’s, Bayfront Health, the Poynter Institute, and the Dali Museum, along with dozens of companies, and was formed in 2016 to bring together entrepreneurs, industry, researchers, educators and government to collaborate on projects that will grow the Sunshine City’s economy now and for future generations.

Visit the new Maritime and Defense Technology Hub, and you’ll meet 17 businesses and organizations in these two sectors that are areas of strength and differentiation for St. Pete’s economy, says Alison Barlow, executive director of the district. The district repurposed the building this year as a shared space for small business, academia, and government.

Pole Star Defense, based in London, is The Hub’s largest tenant. Pole Star operates a 24/7 operations support watch and operations center for the Coast Guard and supplies services critical to national security.

Pole Star also operates a data center and has built a series of tech applications supporting the Coast Guard and Homeland Security out of St. Petersburg, says Ben Minichino, president of Pole Star USA.

He was based in Barcelona when the company needed a U.S. base, and he considered Texas, the Carolinas and both coasts of Florida. The St. Pete location, with its maritime and military focus, was perfect, but that’s not all: “St. Pete is a diverse, cultural city, as well as just a fun place to be. The standard of living is just so much higher.”

“St. Pete is a diverse, cultural city, as well as just a fun place to be. The standard of living is just so much higher.”
Ben Minichino, President, Pole Star Global

Center of Excellence

In the last couple of years, the USF College of Marine Science entered into a $9 million agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to become a Center of Excellence for coastal mapping.

The Innovation District and USF also partner with the U.S. Geological Survey located in the district.

And if all goes according to schedule, a new ARK Innovation Center will open in mid-2023. A project of the City, Pinellas County, and ARK Invest, the 45,000-square-foot, 3-story center at 4th Street and 11th Avenue South will house companies including ARK, a startup incubator/accelerator, a fabrication room, and event spaces. At the same time, Barlow and her team are looking at ways to activate the neighborhood around the center as a walkable, sustainable area for innovation.

Spurring more health care innovation is also in the district’s plans. “I envision some sort of housing for graduate students, for nurses. I envision more office space and maybe even some mixed-use space to accommodate expanded uses that we’d like to see where the university is blended with a tech company and a student may go to class on one floor and do an internship on another floor,” Barlow says.

Marine Companies to Watch

  • Blue Ring Imaging builds AR/VR hardware and software products for underwater unmanned vehicle operators, including the Navy, Air Force and defense contractors.
  • Aurora Borealis Networks specializes in universal satellite communications solutions in the maritime, mobile and fixed site satellite communications markets.

This article by Nancy Dahlberg originally appeared in Florida Trend.

Pictured above: Saildrone, maker of wind- and solar-powered autonomous surface vehicles, recently announced its new headquarters in the Innovation District's Maritime & Defense Technology Hub.

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