Why Jacksonville could be the next Austin or Kansas City

More than 400 attendees and nearly 70 speakers are expected at Jacksonville Community of Entrepreneurs (JaxCoE)’s first Innovation Connection Conference taking place Friday at the Schultz Center. The day-long event will include workshop sessions, brainstorming sessions and panel discussions with speakers from across the region and the nation, all with the aim of coalescing support around Northeast Florida’s growing entrepreneurial hub.

The preliminary lineup of panelists and speakers includes Adam Arredondo, co-leader of the Kansas City Startup Village; Adam Greenspan, director of business incubation at the University City Science Center in Philadelphia; Kevin Koym, founder and CEO of Tech Range in Austin, Texas; Jane Muir, director of the Florida Innovation Hub at the University of Florida in Gainesville; Gabriela Perez, a successful entrepreneur who was part of the founding team at Best Doctors, which pioneered e-second opinions; Jennifer Walsh, a Jacksonville-based businesswoman; and Ted Willich, CEO of NLP Logix, a data analytics firm in Jacksonville.

In addition, Michael Lester, of NASA’s technology transfer office, will speak about patented technologies developed for the space exploration mission that are available for public commercial use.

One of the goals of the conference is to brainstorm solutions for some of the challenges facing local entrepreneurs, such as potential sources of investment and ways to make Jacksonville a national leader in the innovation space.

Kate Stewart, co-founder of JaxCoE, said the conference hopes to tap into the expertise and experience of leaders in other communities that have been able to build up their own ecoystems.

“Many cities have already paved the way to show us how to be successful,” Stewart said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. That’s why we invited speakers from other cities which already have or are developing as innovation hubs: Austin, Orlando, Miami, Boston, Philadelphia and Kansas City. Many of the cities are very similar to Jacksonville in many ways.”

JaxCoE was formed as a nonprofit in 2014 to provide a support network for innovators across Northeast Florida and to strengthen the ecosystem of resources available to that community.

It’s that kind of organic grassroots support — by entrepreneurs, for entrepreneurs — that could help take Jacksonville to the next level, according to Adam Arredondo, who helped organize Kansas City’s Startup Village.

“It’s building an ecosystem,” said Arredondo, “Government plays a role, so do leaders, corporations, investors and educational groups. But the customers are the entrepreneurs of that ecoystem so you need them to be the ones leading it.”

Arredondo sees Jacksonville as “a bit less further along than Kansas City” as an innovation hub, acknowledging that one of the factors that catapulted the Midwestern city to the next level was getting Google Fiber.

Kevin Koym, founder/CEO of Tech Ranch Austin, said while Austin’s startup scene is considered one of the most thriving in the country, “It’s important to know it ain’t always been that way — emphasis on the ‘ain’t’”

Koym, who will also speak Friday, agrees with Arredondo that the most successful entrepreneurial movements come from the ground up.

Tickets for the event are still available online for $20 each ($15 for students) and include breakfast, lunch and an after-party. Tickets at the door are $40.