With a new executive director at the helm of the Orlando Tech Association, the city is prime to become a major power player in the tech scene.
Over the course of the last decade, businesses have started flocking to the Orlando area. It's also a popular destination for conferences with Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo being held there every year.
The latest pieces of tech news to hit the Orlando tech scene are Lockheed Martin's $100 million missile deal and Elon Musk's Hyperloop One transit system that promises to get people from Miami to Orlando in 26 minutes. In this week's Tech Center tracker, Neil Dufva, CEO of Crunchy Logistics, spoke with PYMNTS on how Orlando is slowly blooming into a tech contender.
Before we jump into the post, here are a few quick facts about Orlando and its tech scene:
- The city had a population of 270,934 in 2015, making it the 73rd largest city in the United States and the fourth largest in Florida
- GDP of Orlando, Kissimmee, Sanford (Metropolitan Area): $109,336 million (2015)
- Median household income (2015): $42,318
- There are more than 710 startups and tech companies
- There have been 52 new startups founded in 2017
- Total funding in the past 12 months: $15,092,422
When thinking about Orlando's tech industry, some say the city's access to capital, accelerator programs and tech clusters are what sets it apart. With accelerators like Starter Studio and VentureScaleUp popping up, the Orlando startups have solid places to start building out their companies.
Neil Dufva, CEO of Crunchy Logistics, a tech design company that specializes in innovative customer connections, told PYMNTS that Orlando is on its way to tech superstar status.
Here is an excerpt of the conversation:
PYMNTS: Can you describe your personal and/or professional experience with the tech community in Orlando?
ND: I’ve been involved in the Orlando tech community for 10+ years. I've been fortunate enough to speak twice at Starter Studio (a great Orlando tech incubator) about my startup experience and how to stay relevant in the fast-paced tech industry. We also love participating in Orlando's tech ping pong tournaments for general networking and camaraderie with great companies like Purple Rock Scissors, Power DMS and Envy Labs.
PYMNTS: What do you think makes Orlando (or Florida as a whole) an attractive location for both entrepreneurs and investors? Is there anything people may find surprising about operating a business there?
ND: People always ask me why I don't move Crunch to California/Silicon Valley. I always respond with “Why would I do that?” The natural response is “better talent,” and that's true to an extent — but I strongly believe that extraordinary talent exists in Orlando and Florida, but you have to be more creative and diligent in looking for it. Low sales tax and zero state income tax are huge incentives for new tech companies who have a plethora of some of the largest clients in Orlando such as Disney, Universal, Sea World and Florida Hospital. Orlando beats California in every way, in my opinion, other than the over-abundance of skilled people.
PYMNTS: How does the startup and tech scene in Orlando differ from other cities in the United States?
ND: Orlando’s startup scene/tech scene is becoming more organized and collaborative quicker than any other city I’ve seen. It’s come a long way with welcoming arms thanks to some of these pioneering tech incubators and community organizers like Gregg Pollack.
PYMNTS: What are some of the challenges facing startups in Orlando? Are there any initiatives to help address those barriers?
ND: Finding talent is one of the biggest challenges in Orlando. I believe the newly founded Orlando Tech meetups and the tech discussions at many of the newly founded clubs in downtown Orlando are lowering the barriers through increased networking for an industry that can be very socially awkward.
PYMNTS: How has Orlando's startup ecosystem changed in recent years? What do you think has sparked this transformation?
ND: The change has been about organization and unification, and I believe that's happened because tech companies in Orlando have really thrived and succeeded over the last 10 years. This has allowed leaders in those companies to seek out expansion of the community they love and take interest in giving back in any way they can.
PYMNTS: What's Orlando's FinTech sector like? How has it changed or grown in recent years?
ND: There are some outstanding companies paving the way in this space like FattMerchant, which is getting so much recognition for drastically reducing fees for end-users. Because of Orlando’s FinTech sector, it’s causing major waves nationally and internationally on how other merchant services are servicing clients.
PYMNTS: Which sectors of the technology landscape are thriving in Orlando? How do you see these industries evolving in the coming years?
ND: I think the tech industries that are doing exceptionally are the digital creative agencies and educational software/interactive tech companies. I can really see Orlando becoming the Silicon Valley of the east coast. In 10 to 20 years, Orlando will be a household name for a reason other than theme parks and UCF.
PYMNTS: Is there anything else you think people should know about Orlando’s role as a global tech center?
ND: I think that people were subconsciously looking for a place to gather a great tech hub that had fewer regulations, taxes, and costs of living with more business opportunities, and I think Orlando is spearheading that movement.