Recruiting amazing people to the Tampa Bay area will have a ripple impact that improves the area’s economy, one local tech entrepreneur says.

That’s a big part of the reason FairWarning, a Clearwater firm that protects data and provides security for electronic health records and other online information, is one of the sponsors of Ignite Tampa, the local version of an international movement that describes itself as a fast-paced geek event.

At this year’s Ignite Tampa Bay, Thursday night at The Cuban Club in Ybor City, 20 speakers will get five minutes and 20 slides to share their knowledge and passions.

While some of the scheduled speakers’ topics indicate they will deal directly with workplace and economic development concerns — such as encouraging women in technology or building a filmmaking community in Tampa — others are indirect components of the business ecosystem, such as five tips to increase happiness.

“I feel like innovation and growth is driven by a very small number of people willing to push the boundaries,” said Kurt Long, CEO and founder of FairWarning. “Ignite has a lot of those people. They’re fearless and they push boundaries and that’s a healthy thing for a community and people.”

Too often, he said, the status quo has focused on recruiting large numbers of people to the Tampa Bay area.
“I’m not sure that just focusing on volumes of people creates futures for our kids and grandkids,” he said. “I feel like Tampa Bay could benefit by thinking in terms of recruiting and retaining amazing people to the area.”

There’s a relationship between those “amazing people” and economic growth, he said.

“Innovation drives growth. Innovation results in patents that differentiate companies that generate higher wages and bigger gross margins. When those companies have profits, they can give back to the school systems,” Long said. “It’s a virtuous cycle that can’t start without innovation.”

This is the seventh Ignite event in Tampa Bay and there have been concrete results from past events, he said. For instance, in 2013, Long took to the stage to introduce his company’s “next generation entrepreneurs” program, described in a press release as a yearlong business plan competition with non-traditional learning opportunities for developing a business. Since then, the Pinellas Education Foundation has taken on the program.

Over the years, Ignite has evolved. Early on, there were some individuals with great ideas who had trouble executing them. Now, there are teams with more capability for execution, he said.

One such team is a personal favorite of Long’s. Michael Crosby, president and CEO of Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, will talk about an initiative to restore corals in the Florida Keys.

FairWarning is listed as the presenting sponsor of Ignite Tampa Bay, with two dozen other companies also lending support.

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