Notes from the 1st Annual Tampa Bay Millennial Impact Forum

Last night, I attended the 1st Annual Tampa Bay Millennial Impact Forum, a gathering featuring prominent Tampa professional ages 40 and under discussing civic topics. Tampa’s News Channel 8 described it as a career advice session, but I saw it as more of a call for community involvement that would lead to personal and career success along the way.

In spite of the torrential rain that had been coming down in the late afternoon, the turnout was great for the kind of panel session you’d see in places like Toronto, but perhaps not expect in Tampa Bay. This is a good sign of things to come here.

The panel was moderated by Roberto Torres, co-founder of the Blind Tiger Café,Cowork Ybor, and the Black and Denim Apparel Company, and who seems to have some kind of involvement with just about every interesting venture in the Tampa Bay Area, including co-sponsoring this event. I recently spent a couple of days with him at a brainstorming session at the Dali Museum, and I’m hoping to see how we can collaborate on future projects. He’s an inspiring figure, and was the perfect guy to cat-herd this panel.

There was never a dull moment. The panelists were a group of interesting people, all of whom had valuable ideas to share, and they were quite lively and entertaining as well. I’d like to see more events like this here in Tampa Bay; in fact, I’d like to be involved next time!

My congratulations to Roberto Torres and Andrew Machota for putting this event together, and to Jeff Vinik for providing the space and being a great sport about my offer to play the national anthem on accordion at the next Lightning game:

The main panel discussion

Jeff Vinik, Owner at Tampa Bay Lightning

  • How many people have moved here in the past two years? [From my quick estimate, around a quarter to a third of the crowd raised their hands]
  • As thanks for attending, I’ll give two free tickets to a Lightning game to anyone who paid to attend tonight’s event. I think I’ll break event. Okay, maybe I’ll be a little bit in the red. But that’s okay.
  • For Tampa Bay, the future is its young people and graduates of its local universities.
  • Tampa Bay is a great place to live, buoyed by the tail wind of a 2% growth in its population every year.
  • We need to make this place a magnet for millennials, and there’s no reason we can’t fulfill this goal.

Mike Griffin, Chairman at the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce

  • If you’re part of the target audience for this forum, the business community has failed most of you!
  • The vision plan at the Chamber of Commerce had changed our organization to be more innovative, agile, and vocal, and to prepare for the next generation.
  • You will see more transportation options. Right now, we are in a transportation crisis. By doing nothing, we will lose quality of life, vibrancy, and amazing rankings.
  • As I speak, there’s a vote tonight on $6 billion for transportation. It’s disappointing that we’re even debating the issue.

Sing Hurt, Owner at Anise Global Gastrobar

  • I came here from from Vietnam at age 2 as a refugee. I didn’t know what a refugee was when I was young, but knew I was different.
  • Our church was instrumental in helping us start a new life here.
  • My parents each worked hard at 2 jobs and saved as much as they could.
  • Still, we went without things that we wanted. As a result, we got jobs while young so that we could save for thing like back to school clothes and sports uniforms.
  • The financial struggles our family went through while I was young taught me to work hard and that no job is beneath you.
  • I ran the Stinky Buns food truck with my husband, and did a little bit of everything: food prep, washing dishes, and even driving the truck, which terrifying — not just for me, but for every other driver on the road!
  • I’m opening a couple of new concepts at the Hall on Franklin [a new food hall]: an Asian eatery and a dessert shop like you’ve never seen before.
  • Being a refugee taught me not to be too proud or arrogant. I learned that if you’re different, you will always be judged for being different. It taught me to be fearless and bossy, which turned out to be great for my line of work. It taught me what I’m capable of doing, what my strengths are, the value of hard work, and knowing when to ask for help and not being ashamed for doing so.
  • I have never forgotten where I came from.

Jeff Vinik, in response to “You could have simply bought the Lightning and made it successful, but now you’re developing the downtown area. How does someone do that?”

  • That’s what my wife asks all the time!
  • She hates sports, hates hockey, and loves Boston. But, after some getting used to it, she now loves playoff hockey and loves Tampa. [Applause from audience]
  • I recognized the land around the arena was available. It was across the street and the price was reasonable, so I bought it. I started buying more land around the arena as it became available in a piecemeal fashion, and suddenly owned 50 acres of contiguous real estate!
  • I immersed self in field of urban development and learned about the value of mixed-use space.
  • I saw lack of gathering spots in the city.
  • In this era of cellphones, people want more actual face time.
  • I’ll have 9 million square feet of building, where I’m trying to create great experiences and more person-to-person interactions.

Cesar Hernandez, Government Relations at HART

  • Transportation is being disrupted. The Tesla project at USF is just one example.
  • The greatest currency we will have is time and how fast you can get to your destination.
  • We’ve had some wins: The Downtowner, the ferry project [a ferry service crossing the bay between Tampa and St. Pete], and Vision Zero [a project with the goal of reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries to zero]. There are lots of wins that aren’t being talked about.
  • Innovation moves in 3 parts.
  • There’s sustaining innovation, which is constant improvement.
  • Disruptive innovation is the creation of new markets that displace old ones, such as Netflix.
  • And there’s civic innovation, the innovations that improve our communities and the way we live, work, and play.
  • We need to celebrate the civic innovators in our communities and celebrate our wins!
  • There’s lots more room on Tampa’s canvas to create — what are you doing?

Erin Aebel, Partner at Shumaker, Loop & Kendrick, LLP, in response to “Tell us why it’s important to have a good mentor.”

  • Choose your mentor — and you can choose more than one!
  • I found a dozen mentors, each for an area where I wanted to learn. Even now, I’m still looking for mentors.
  • It’s important to surround yourself with smart, talented people, people with different experiences, and people from different generations.
  • My advice is to be open, listen, ask questions, do not be afraid to make mistakes. Be passionate about a cause.

Jeff Vinik, in response to: “Tell us about your work/live/play district. You said you were surprised about people wanting to live in the urban core.”

  • I’ve travelled around the U.S. and Europe, and I’ve observed what works.
  • Vibrant downtowns are very mixed-use — people live, work, and play in them.
  • Downtown Tampa has 10 million square feet of space in its buildings, but 7 or 8 of that is office space.
  • Right now, there are 5,000 to 7,000 people living downtown. 10,000 is the critical mass — at that point, you’ve got a downtown that’s a viable place to live in. I’d like to see our downtown population hit 30,000 in 10 years.
  • I know that young people don’t have the balance sheets and income statements of old people, and I want our district to offer something for everyone, with places to live at multiple price points.
  • The truth is that people my age like having young people around. Your energy makes us feel young!

Tim Moore, Owner at Diamond View Studios

  • To understand the future of advertising, you have to know where we are now.
  • 8 million hours of content are created every day.
  • With that much content, you can’t consume it all. You have to filter it.
  • Advertisers see that the game has changed. They can no longer make content for content’s sake; they now have to make content with meaning.
  • There’s an attention economy now. The average American, once you’ve factored away everything else they have to do, has about 4 hours of disposable attention each day. If you create content, you’re competing for that attention.
  • If we simply put noise on platforms, people jump ship. You have to create content that has meaning to your audience.
  • Airbnb doesn’t sell rooms, they sell adventure. Uber doesn’t sell transportation, they sell time. It’s all about meaning.
  • An example of the search for meaning: Proctor and Gamble’s “Proud Sponsor of Moms” campaign. It doesn’t show a single product or offering. It just says they’re proud about moms. It doesn’t tell you the what, it tells you the why. That’s what millennials care about.
  • Stories are the fabric of understanding. Noise is out, stories are in.
  • The evolution of advertising the the revival of storytelling, and the greatest stories are yet to come

Rena Frazier, Communications Director at Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office

  • I ran for Florida legislature — District 59 in Brandon. I won the the primary, lost the election, and learned a lot in the process.
  • I ran for the same reasons as the one for my becoming an attorney: I wanted to take my background, experience, and strengths, and use them to serve the community.
  • I’ve served on the board of trustees at Brandon Regional Hospital. I’ve dealt with families who had no other choice to use their local emergency room as healthcare.
  • I encourage you to run for office; it’s how you can make change.

Jeff Vinik

  • We have to do everything we can to make Tampa Bay more attractive to young people. Other places lure people away, which means we need to create opportunity right here. We also need to import people from other parts of the country.
  • I’ve visited the places that are attracting young people and producing innovations: Austin, San Diego, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Nashville, to learn from them.
  • There’s some of the activity I’ve seen in those places happening here: at Tampa Bay Wave, the TEC Garage, and the JCC.
  • We need to be 5 times as big and deep as we are now, and more organized. The local VC community people here don’t know who each other are. We need an umbrella organization to organize what we have.
  • We’re bringing the Dreamit urban tech accelerator. They’re brining in 10 companies at first, then hopefull 40, then hopefully 100. We want to create healthcare mini-ecosystem here in Tampa Bay.
  • I’ve got people running the Tampa Bay Lightning and my real estate business, so I’m trying to spend my 4 hours of disposable attention looking at transportation. If we can’t move people around, we’re not a functioning city.
  • Sometimes all it takes is a single to success to start other successes. Austin’s beginning was Dell, and we can have one too. Momentum is what it’s about.

Andrew Machota, Owner at New Town Connections, in response to “Why connect people in real life?”

  • I moved here from Indiana six years ago, and I didn’t know anyone here.
  • You need to work hard to succeed, but more importantly, you need to put people first.
  • Bringing people together in real life is my job. People crave conversation, not just 4-second online interactions. They like being reached out to.
  • I love living here, I’m not moving back to Indiana anytime soon.

Tammy Charles, Senior Manager of Corporate Relations at Metropolitan Ministries, on getting involved through volunteering

  • Ask yourself: What moves you? What angers you? What keeps you up at night?
  • I learned that things that we are passionate about are not random — they are our calling!
  • On a trip to Haiti, I saw true poverty, the kind we don’t see here: people living in tents, without access to water, people who had potential but not the tools to realize their potential. That’s when I decided my life’s mission was to make a positive impact on people’s lives.
  • Every day gives me an opportunity to help families raise funds to help them meet their potential.
  • You need to ask: What is your passion? What are your skills? Millennials are technically savvy: what can you contribute?
  • Use your skills to make a difference.

Jeff Vinik on Tampa’s greatest asset for bringing in new people

  • I’d say…weather, beaches, outdoors, friendly people.
  • Depending on your point of view, we’re a big small town or a small big town. The advantage of that is that everybody in this room can move the needle. You can make a difference.
  • We need to brand ourselves better. The message about Tampa Bay needs to be more about business and living here, and not just tourism.

Mike Griffin

  • Relationships are the currency that drives the economy.
  • I graduated from USF, and am honored to be one of the first co-chairs of Emerge Tampa
  • We’re all here because we care and want to meet like minded people.
  • The answers are in this room.

Sing Hurt

  • Take your passion and turn it into a business. You’ll need that passion, because you need something to hold onto while waiting to get paid.
  • Bring clever friends, find mentors to bounce ideas off of, and be open to criticism and suggestion.
  • Find a way to finance your project, but own a majority share of your business. You don’t want to work for someone who can push you out and run with your idea.
  • To finance your dream, go to friends and family. Take another job. Learn to do without little luxuries — if you can’t do that, you shouldn’t be starting your own business.
  • After 6 months: look at your business and see if it has what it takes to survive. Don’t let ego stop you from shutting down a business that isn’t viable.

Cesar Hernandez

  • You have to be absolutely hungry and persistent.
  • At HART, all I do is advocate for transport and transport options.
  • HART runs with one-third the money used by transit systems of similar size. It was never designed to support a a population this size, and our population is expected to grow by 33% by 2025.
  • I go to to Tallahassee and Washington to get funding, and I also go to Silicon Valley to get them to deploy tech here.
  • My life was very different ten years ago. In 2007, I was homeless, facing my 5th arrest, possibly bound for Rikers. I rode the 6 train to sleep, with my clothes in trash bags, often having to make this choice: Do I buy a metro card or food?
  • Tampa was a chance to start fresh. In 2010 I was at USF, which led to my going to Brown, where I became class president.
  • Could you believe that the same guy in 2007 could end up as Ivy League material, majoring in biomed, poli sci and econ? It’s because I’m hungry and willing to work.
  • My current project is Hyperlink: the world’s first public/private partnership integrating public transport with ridesharing. Our vehicle of choice is Tesla; it’s making procurement sexy!
  • The system is in place to run autonomous ride share; everyone else will be catching pup to us.
  • We’ll have a working autonomous vehicle core downtown this year — it’s coming sooner than you think, right here in Tampa!
  • We produced our own regional fare app called Flamingo, and we’re preparing the foundational frameworks for future transport innovation.

Jeff Vinik

  • The Straz has told me people have trouble finding parking or getting there.
  • Our streetcar system needs to be modernized to actually serve working people.
  • Revitalized transit will change the downtown area and open up all kinds of opportunities.
  • The business community getting actively involved in pushing for transit. Transit is a difficult issue politically because it costs money.
  • It will take the entire community to stand up and demand transit systems like those in similar size cities.

Erin Aebel

  • I founded the Facebook group Surly Feminists for the Revolution [I’m a member — Joey].
  • I didn’t plan at all to become a political activist, then the 2016 election happened! I marched in the St Pete women’s march, and soon started doing more.
  • I’m fascinated with social media, but I’m not a millennial. I’m 45.
  • I want to use social media to springboard people from being in a closed room to meeting face to face.
  • Surly Feminists’ three main activities are social activities, political activism and philanthropy.
  • Everyone, regardless of party, gender, race, sexual orientation, or any other category is welcome — the common thing with all of our members is support for social, significant acts to combat misogyny and racism.
  • It’s focused in the Tampa Bay Area, but broader than that, with members in other parts of the U.S. and the world.
  • My definition of feminism: giving women the same opportunities for men. I’ve been studying intersectional feminism, which views the world not just through the lens of fighting sexism, but other prejudices.

Tim Moore

  • Tampa is still a blank canvas.
  • My dream: to do cool things with cool people for cool clients.
  • Back when I got started, I didn’t have money for computer and camera, and had to borrow it. When my then-girlfriend, now wife, got me my first camera, it was amazing.
  • In a place like Tampa, you are one degree of separation from someone who could change the trajectory of your life. You’re surrounded by great people, great things can happen.
  • This gathering is the tangible proof of my success. The connections are right here in front of us!
  • Tampa is embracing innovation — we’re in the future now! We used to talk about cars that would drive themselves and computers that would learn; they’re here.
  • You don’t learn just in case anymore, you learn just in time.
  • The opportunities are endless the time is now

Jeff Vinik

Rena Frazier on moving up the corporate ladder

  • My experience in the corporate world has been largely positive, but not without struggle. I was the only black female partner out of 450 attorneys.
  • If you want to advance, simply working hard isn’t enough. You have to get away from your desk, walk around, and meet people. You need to make those connections so you’ll have someone that room who will advocate for you.

Jeff Vinik

  • We’ve gone from 10 to 40 employees for my real estate business. There are 17 architects there now.
  • We’ve tried to stay under the radar, but we’ll be releasing more and more info over the year.
  • If anyone wants to get involved or active with what we’re doing, we do forums and focus groups. Contact me, contact us, and share your thoughts and ideas! We can’t do this alone, and we need to listen.

Andrew Machota

  • I grew up in a farming town with a population of 500 — fewer people than there are here now!
  • I believe that yes, if you’re a hard worker, things will happen, but only in combination with putting people first.
  • Even though I grew up in a place that was the opposite of diverse, my parents are from Chicago and taught me the value of knowing different kinds of people.
  • As a result, I studied abroad in Manchester, UK, which for a guy coming from small farm town Indiana was an eye-opener and a chance to meet people from all over the world.

Tammy Charles on volunteering and donating

  • Nonprofits require lots of stakeholders to keep things moving: Donors, volunteers, community.
  • 23,000 volunteers worked with us last year. That’s how important they are — I like to say we are “staff-led, but volunteer-driven”.
  • Joining a board is important too.
  • I love the initiatives happening here in Tampa. Who thought you’d see people riding Teslas in Suitcase City [a poor area of Tampa not far from USF]?
  • Volunteer, join a board, help fundraise!

The “lightning round”

Near the end of the panel discussion, Roberto called for a “lightning round” in which he asked for some quick words of wisdom from each of the panelists. He started with his mantra: Determination, urgency, taking your passion and filling the gaps.

Cesar Hernandez

  • I’m hungry, persistent, and relentless, and you should be too! I’m an optimist.
  • Now, there’s a time when you can’t get in touch with me. I’m a single dad and 6 to 10 is “Daddy Day Care” time, when I’m completely focused on my kid. I don’t answer any communication then.
  • I always try to remember that there was a time when I was sleeping on the train.

Rena Frazier

  • Don’t be afraid to fail.
  • There are so many times when I had to push myself out of my comfort zone.
  • Even in those times when I failed or came up short — such as running for office — I’m glad I went through the process. I didn’t win election, but along the way, I met amazing people, built a network, and discovered what I could do. I also came across opportunities that wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t run for office.

Erin Aebel

  • Please spend the time to get to know the nuts and bolts of federal, state, and municipal governments.
  • Get to know your local elected officials and speak to them!
  • Vote in every single election like your life depends on it — because it does!

Mike Griffin

  • Marry someone, and marry someone better than you. I did, and it helped me greatly. Marry someone who will push you to do big things.
  • Every night we talk about our day and the future of our family (currently us and our dog).
  • Don’t tweet after midnight.

Jeff Vinik

  • I’ll keep it short because I’ve spoken a lot already.
  • It’s about integrity, common sense, and hard work.
  • Getting things done is an art, not a science. There aren’t any published formulas.

Tim Moore

  • Remember the relationship between the dream and the hustle. The dream is free; hustle sold separately.
  • When I was only 2 years into my advertising business, I was working out of the edit suite in my bunk bed in my parents’ home. My mom walked in and told me that there was a tall bald guy in the house and that she think he’d broken in. I had to tell her he was a client!
  • Hustle like you mean it!

Sing Hurt

  • When you succeed and achieve, do not be afraid to get involved with nonprofits.
  • You should sit on a nonprofit board. It’s fulfilled my life in ways that my business could not.
  • Be involved in the community. It’ll feed your soul and help everyone.

Tammy Charles

  • We live in exciting times!
  • Coming from last week from Haiti, couldn’t sleep because there was so much joy. We held a tech summit there, with people from the best-known Silicon Valley firms, which really disrupts the narrative of Haiti as just being a third world country. It was run by people under 30, and if they can do it, I can do it too.
  • Sometimes we see issues in our communities and think they’re too big, but together, we can take them on.
  • We have a huge task ahead of us. The baton will be passed to us – we have to have our hands out and ready to receive it. What will you do with it?
  • Be hungry. And hustle hard.

Andrew Machota

  • Get out of your comfort zone. I used to be a CPA [cheer from one audience member], and now I connect people. You don’t know what you’re missing until your try something new.
  • Keep trying, and stay positive. It’s too easy to be negative on social media.
  • Emerge Tampa Bay changed my life.

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