Conference hopes to spark Manatee tech industry growth

Spark Growth: Riverwalk 2013 events focus on creating a healthy tech community

cschelle@bradenton.comApril 25, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Spotlighting Manatee County's diverse economy means more than showing off how many people book a hotel for a beach trip.

"We're known traditionally as hospitality and tourism and that's not the true value of this market area," said Jeffrey Kratsch, president of the Suncoast Technology Forum, a sponsor of the upcoming four-day event called Spark Growth: Riverwalk 2013.

The inaugural event, May 2 through May 5 showcases how various technology industries thrive in Manatee County and how to foster that environment to attract more jobs. One of the bigger challenges is letting the rest of the world know there are companies already here to support future employers and employees.

"If someone wants to relocate a business here, they need to know that human resource aspects are here," Kratsch said. "If someone wants to get job here in the tech industry and if they leave that job, they need to know there's another job waiting for them here."

Spark Growth's main venue is the new Manatee Performing Arts Center, 502 Third Ave. W., which serves as the latest centerpiece on the Riverwalk to show entrepreneurs downtown Bradenton is on its way to better days, said Sara Hand, a cofounder of BarCamp Sarasota-Bradenton, an open-source development and Web technologies organization.

"In our second panel, we're talking about people who are relocating here, and not just to retire, but relocating here to grow their businesses," Hand said. "Sometimes we think the only people who are moving here are service-oriented people or retirees, but we have a panel of entrepreneurs who have done business at global levels and moved to Florida because they wanted to do business here."

Spark Growth includes several events throughout the weekend with some presentations geared to venture capitalists to more general discussions about technology and social media marketing that would be good for high schoolers and recent college graduates.

The Coding For Non-profits session May 2 will have programmers team up to create a new event content management system that will allow Realize Bradenton to collaborate with city, police, fire and public works officials

to coordinate needs and event requests along the Riverwalk.

Agencies will provide input about their needs, and by the end of the session, Realize Bradenton should have software that will be ready to use, Hand said. DotNetNuke, one of the largest Microsoft open source networks, provided a free version of software and is donating $25,000 worth of hosting services to complete the project, Hand said.

Today's technology summits tend to focus on finding the latest thing that could change the industry's landscape and find a new market for consumers. The business jargon for this is disruptive innovation, or disruptive technology. Think how cloud computing is replacing the need for USB flash drives to transfer files, or mp3 and other music files are creating a slow death for compact discs.

Dell Computers' Chief Innovation Officer Jim Stikeleather will talk about disruptive technologies during his keynote address at the Spark Growth Economic Development Summit, May 3 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Manatee Performing Arts Center. A networking event at Tarpon Pointe Grill will follow. Cost to attend both events is $85. Doors open at 8:30 a.m.

Other panels include why Florida makes a great place for tech business, where to find money for tech companies, how private businesses can latch on to new technologies being developed by Florida universities and building entrepreneurial communities in other Florida cities.

"The summit is designed for leaders across sectors to get a bigger perspective," Hand said. Investors, entrepreneurs, information technology managers and business people searching for new technology solutions across industries have a chance to be in the same place to be inspired or take action by what's being presented, Hand explained.

Part of Kratsch's challenge at the Suncoast Technology Forum is letting people know exactly what technology industries are here because the businesses aren't indexed by local government agencies in a way to make them searchable.

"We have a lot of entrepreneurial and start-up companies and mom and pop companies that represents these new idea, new companies and a new application," he said. "In Manatee County, we know that marine manufacturing is a big segment here. We know sports marketing and technology companies that are involved are another big segment."

To register for the event, visit

BarCamp Sarasota-Bradenton's annual "unconference" set for May 4 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Manatee Technical Institute, 6305 53rd Ave. East, will feature impromptu sessions throughout the day in an open format, allowing anyone to speak on technology topics. Nothing is scheduled in advanced to mix in surprises for the audience. Twentysomethings and high school students are often found at these events studying the latest tips and strategies, according to organizers.

"It's a younger, techier, geekier audience and I mean geeky in an affectionate way," Kratsch said. "It's an unstructured group. It's where people get creative and share ideas."

The unconference is free with pre-registration, a party follows on the Riverwalk. Register at

Wrapping up the weekend is the fourth annual Sustainable Shindig at the Riverwalk pavilion area, 452 3rd Ave. West. The free Shindig lasts from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., May 5 and features food, drink and local music presented by the Del Couch Music Education Foundation. The event focuses on sustainable building and business practices and will showcase Goodwill Manasota's efforts.

Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.

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