Transforming Ideas Into Innovation in St. Petersburg, Florida

On January 1, 1914, pilot Tony Jannus took the first commercial air flight in the world. The 23-minute flight took place between St. Petersburg and Tampa, with Jannus in a two-seater plane carrying a former mayor of St. Petersburg who had won an auction for the privilege of being the first passenger.

Jannus was one of the first to light the spark of innovation in Greater Tampa Bay, a spark that continues well into the 21st century.

Greater Tampa Bay has a long history of being on the cutting edge of developments in science, health care, technology, aviation and numerous other sectors, with impacts that are felt close to home and around the world. The local innovation community has grown tremendously in the last few years and now offers national and local collaborations to help creative professionals succeed.

Innovative companies around the country are taking notice of what is happening in Greater Tampa Bay. One of these includes asset management firm ARK Invest, which moved its headquarters from Wall Street to downtown St. Pete in November 2021.


“We are thrilled to relocate our corporate headquarters to St. Petersburg, Florida, as we believe the Tampa Bay region’s talent, innovative spirit, and quality of life will accelerate our growth initiatives. ARK is not a traditional Wall Street asset management firm, and we are looking forward to breaking the mold further by relocating to St. Petersburg, a city investing in technology, science, and innovation,” said Cathie Wood, founder, chief executive officer and chief investment officer of ARK Invest, an investment firm focused on disruptive innovation.

In addition to the relocation, ARK is collaborating with the Tampa Bay Innovation Center on a new incubator that Pinellas County will build and own. The incubator, designated as the ARK Innovation Center, is scheduled to open in the fall of 2023. It will be located within the Innovation District in St. Pete.


This incubator will strengthen an already strong and growing network of innovators within the district. Since 2016, the St. Petersburg Innovation District has united entrepreneurs, industry clusters, researchers, educators, and government entities to advance technology, science and the local economy.

Existing entities within the Innovation District include:

  • University of South Florida
  • Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital
  • Bayfront Health
  • Poynter Institute
  • Dali Museum
  • Tampa Bay Innovation Center
  • Duke Energy
  • NOAA Fisheries Southeast Regional Office
  • Dozens more!


Inspirational Innovation

The St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corporation plays a major role in fostering opportunities for growth and success. The St. Pete EDC is a private-public partnership that helps innovative companies discover and explore the area for relocation or expansion. It assists in finding available office space, attracting talent, securing funding, navigating incentives, developing a workforce, discovering educational opportunities and working with local governments.

Canadian-Founded Company Finds a Community

Spontivly is an analytics company that helps communities measure their growth, engagement and impact. It was started three years ago, and recently relocated to the St. Petersburg area from Canada.

Anthony Nagendraraj, founder of Spontivly, said he and his team were originally planning to open the business in the Atlanta area, but after being accepted to an accelerator program they changed their minds.

A big part of that change came from their interaction with the St. Pete EDC.

“They made us feel welcome,” Nagendraraj said. “They made it super easy to come in and they really adopted us. We were part of the community right away.”

Nagendraraj, pictured below with co-founder and COO Marissa Huggins, said the EDC helped them find all the resources they needed to facilitate their move to St. Pete.


Growing Greens in an Urban World

The St. Pete EDC helped Brick Street Farms, a sustainable farm in St. Petersburg, which started in 2016 with just a couple of shipping containers.

Brick Street Farms’ head of business development, Madeline McNaughton, said a big part of the farm’s success has been the support it receives from the St. Pete EDC, as well as city officials and the community.

Brick Street Farms uses hydroponic shipping containers to grow 66 acres worth of greens on 0.24 acres of land. It is located within urban St. Pete and does not use traditional mass transportation or distribution channels to deliver its product. It is also a pioneer in water reuse and generation by gathering rainwater, as well as the condensation generated by its equipment. These innovative practices enable Brick Street Farms to provide customers with fresh and fully nutritious greens.

McNaughton said the EDC has also helped connect Brick Street Farms’ innovation throughout the community and supported the idea of residents being able to buy and support local products.

“We’re proud to be part of the St. Pete community, and we’re excited for the future,” said McNaughton.

This post is excerpted from article by Celia Goodyear that originally appeared in Guide to Greater Tampa Bay.


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