St. Petersburg, recently named Florida's fastest-growing tech hub, is home to a unique combination of high-growth start-ups and Fortune 500 giants. In addition to its many arts and business districts, The Sunshine City's downtown corridor poses ten innovation labs within steps of one another.
1. InsideOut – Sales Innovation Lab
2. USFSP Innovation Lab
3. Dali Innovation Lab
4. Poynter Institute
5. Ozark Labs
6. St Petersburg College Innovation Lab
7. Johns Hopkins All Children’s Medical Innovation Center
8. USF College of Marine Science
9. SRI International
10. US Geological Survey
Leading edge technology is taking place in Tampa Bay, says a top executive at Florida’s largest technology council.
Jill St. Thomas, co-executive director of Tampa Bay Tech, points to the new Syniverse Innovation Lab, launched in July at the Syniverse headquarters in New Tampa, and OZK Labs, Bank OZK’s financial technology laboratory in downtown St. Petersburg.
The Syniverse lab allows the company, which provides services for mobile network operators and businesses, to show its customers and partners how to use next-generation technologies, such as 5G networks and the internet of things, and how it can help them innovate on business models, said Mike O’Brien, senior vice president of strategy and corporate development.
OZK Labs is the in-house tech development team that Little Rock, Arkansas-based Bank OZK (NASDAQ: OZK), formerly Bank of the Ozarks, picked up when it bought C1 Financial in St. Petersburg in 2016. The lab is “critically important to the future of banking,” said Tyler Vance, Bank OZK’s chief operating officer.
The facilities are key to attracting and retaining smart, technical talent to the market, St. Thomas said.
“Give someone who is passionate about tech a place where they can grow their career, while doing impactful, creative work, in a supportive, connecting and thriving community — it’s a home run,” St. Thomas said.
The emphasis placed on partnerships with other Tampa Bay businesses speaks volumes about the collaborative nature of the local tech community, St. Thomas said.
OZK Labs is beginning beta testing of a rewards app that highlights small businesses in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
App users will accumulate points when they go to Kahwa Coffee or Cassis, for example, and they’ll be able to redeem those points for a coffee or a dinner, said Marcio deOliveira, president of OZK Labs.
Syniverse is working with Occam Technology Group, a Tampa engineering firm, on an IoT “smart campus” project that uses LoRa (long range, low power) technology. Sensors installed in the company’s visitor parking area detect when a parking spot is occupied or vacant, and that’s displayed on a monitor inside the lab.
The technology could be applied to municipal or airport parking lots, O’Brien said.
Syniverse also is working with FlyMotion, a Tampa company specializing in drone systems for business and government uses. FlyMotion drones, which collect sensitive data, can communicate over Syniverse’s new global secure access network, a private secure network that’s not accessible from the public internet, said Richard Hodges, senior program manager and co-manager of the lab.
The secure global access network has the same reach and convenience of the public internet, but without the risks, O’Brien said.
Inside the labs
Pepper, a humanoid robot developed by SoftBank Robotics, greets visitors as they enter the Syniverse Innovation Lab. It’s an example of the internet of things in operation. Pepper uses the secure global access network for communications, vital, for instance, when Pepper is used to check in patients in a hospital setting where health privacy is a big concern.
In the future, Syniverse wants to incorporate technologies such as blockchain and artificial intelligence into the lab.
OZK Labs has developed technology to help bankers in the branch more efficiently handle small business lending and online account opening. The next phase of its work will have a customer-facing side. Clients will have more self-service options, and bankers will have tablets and other tools to work in the field, meeting clients at their place of business.
The bank has just partnered with Google and is training its lab workers on machine learning and artificial intelligence. In July, OZK Labs namedGordon Chang, aMicrosoftveteran, as director of machine learning and product innovation.
Machine learning and artificial intelligence enable bankers to tap into the massive data pool the bank has in order to better understand client needs, not to replace bankers, deOliveira said.
By: Margie Manning, Finance Editor