Long before being named the number one emerging tech city in the U.S. by the Forbes Technology Council in 2021, Tampa Bay was already making waves as a hub for innovation and technology.
As home to over 25% of the tech jobs in Florida and counting, the Tampa Bay area is home to a thriving ecosystem of startups, scaleups, and established enterprises. And it's not just about the numbers—this region has also been ranked as one of the country's top 10 most entrepreneurial metro areas.
But as the Tampa Bay tech community finds its footing amid such immense growth, some in the tech community find it challenging to network with peers, organizations, and talent in meaningful ways. Moreover, with dozens of meetup groups and small tech events competing for attendees, there's not always a clear path to interconnectivity where each facet of the tech ecosystem can meet.
That's where High Tech Connect comes in—but this isn't your typical tech meetup.
In 2018, two Tampa Bay transplants—Daniella Diaz and Zac Duffy—ran separate meetups, including the Tampa Bay Amazon Web Services (AWS) group and the Tampa Bay Azure User group.
"We each ran our own groups, and then we started thinking of ways to be more inclusive," Duffy explains. "Initially, our goal was to showcase companies new to Tampa Bay."
After deciding to join forces, the two raised funds to host a more prominent, combined networking event. They put ads in their respective meetup groups, booked a modest board meeting room, and invited a handful of startups and local tech companies to share pitches with talent at the event.
They anticipated a handful of attendees. But Diaz and Duffy weren't quite prepared for what happened next.
With over 100 people in attendance at their first event, they pivoted on the spot, ditching the idea of moving attendees into the board room and instead holding up a laptop screen while companies yelled their speed pitches into the crowd.
"People listened," Duffy says, "it was really cool. So we started running them monthly."
That's when Diaz and Duffy knew they were on to something, and High Tech Connect was born.
Today, High Tech Connect is an organization on a mission to unite, connect, and empower the Tampa Bay technology innovation community through networking events and programs.
The platform is entirely user-driven, with participants directing much of each event's direction.
And after a two-year hiatus in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, they're back in action.
On Monday, July 25, 2022, High Tech Connect is hosting their free July Tech Fest event at Wine & Wood from 5 PM - 8 PM EST to celebrate their return. Tech Fest attendees can expect to see companies ranging from startups to Fortune 500s focusing on innovative technologies.
And whether you're looking for peer-to-peer networking, you're on the hunt for new talent, or you're just curious about who's who in the Tampa Bay tech community, you're encouraged to attend.
"Everyone is welcome," says Diaz. "People and companies that are new to the area, and local organizations hiring for a specific role. We're extremely inclusive and have a little bit of everything for everybody."
Tech Fest includes three parts:
Tech Prep—a moment of brief professional development that focuses on anything from LinkedIn optimization to resume reviews. Tech Fest—the main event. This is the part where companies give their speed pitches, highlighting goals and contributions while building community engagement. Attendees will never have to suffer through any sales pitches, with all presentations vetted ahead of time to ensure they vibe with the group's intent to empower and connect. Networking—this is where the real community building happens. Attendees engage with sponsored organizations and build peer relationships while enjoying libations. If you can't make it to this event, no worries—High Tech Connect has big plans for future networking events and growth as a platform.
Companies interested in participating in future events are encouraged to reach out to Diaz and Duffy, especially if they're interested in hosting an event, as the meetup locations change each month.
"There are venues people didn't know exist, and it's great to give companies a platform to show off their space," Duffy says.
High Tech Connect has even forged a new partnership with Made In Tampa, a platform created by founder Jason Allen dedicated to connecting Tampa Bay's tech talent with hiring companies through unique features such as job boards, company profiles, and the latest tech news.
Together, High Tech Connect and Made In Tampa hope to streamline networking throughout Tampa Bay's thriving tech community.
But High Tech Connect has no plans to stop there.
"We want to expand to other cities as well and drive interconnectivity within Florida and beyond," Diaz says.
They also have their eye on emerging tech hubs across the nation, such as Austin, Atlanta, and Chicago, where other tech industries could benefit from more interconnectivity.
If you're interested in being a part of High Tech Connect, you can register for Tech Fest and other upcoming events here.
Diaz and Duffy also encourage techies in Tampa Bay and beyond to connect with them via LinkedIn.
"Tell us the topics you want to see more of at Tech Fest and tell us what companies you're interested in. And if we can't help you find what you're looking for, we can direct you to people who can."