Shining a Light on Escambia County’s Growing Tech Sector

Innovation Coast has built and expanded a network of technology and knowledge-based companies in Pensacola and surrounding areas



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A vibrant downtown Pensacola is part of what Innovation Coast is using to promote the ​​​Escambia/Santa Rosa region to tech companies looking to expand.
Courtesy of Innovation Coast
 

IRIS: Intelligent Retinal Imaging Systems was the first place winner of Innovation Coast’s 2014 Innovation Awards. Shown here are Dr. Sunil Gupta, founder/chairman and chief medical officer; Jason Crawford, chief executive officer; Chad Henderson, a board member.

COURTESY OF INNOVATION COAST

When people think “Northwest Florida,” the area’s tech sector probably doesn’t ring many bells — yet.

That’s where Innovation Coast comes in. Since its inaugural meeting in 2012, the coalition has worked to bring attention to all the technology and knowledge-based companies in Pensacola and its surrounding areas. But even more importantly, the group has worked to build a network among individuals and companies in the industry to grow the area’s tech sector, attract high-level professionals and expand job opportunities. We’re in the age of the Internet, after all. If people can work from anywhere, why not work steps away from gorgeous Florida beaches?

Over the past few decades, plenty of areas have rebranded to refocus on tech — to the great benefit of their economies. From Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas, “everyone seems to have this very similar approach,” according to Robert David, TechSoft’s president and chief operating officer, and a member of Innovation Coast’s board of directors. It starts with workforce development and networking, and then it’s a matter of attracting outside interest.

For their part, the University of West Florida and Pensacola State College are already involved. Both have faculty members on the board, and Innovation Coast Executive Director Donovan Chau is also director of strategy and engagement at the Center for Research and Economic Opportunity at UWF. Cooperation and communication between the group and area schools will produce more graduates to fill positions in existing and emerging companies. And communication across the entire community is key to everything Innovation Coast has planned. The foremost goal going in was to create a wide network, and while such efforts are always ongoing, the group has already pulled together a powerful coalition that shares contacts and resources to everyone’s benefit.

“We’ve developed a pretty powerful network,” said Innovation Coast board chair and AppRiver Director of Marketing Jim McClellan. “If companies have a need, there are other companies that are willing to step in.”