Tampa has Jeff Vinik. Now St. Petersburg has Cathie Wood.
The national profile of the Tampa Bay area’s twin cities has risen dramatically over the past decade thanks to Vinik, the Tampa Bay Lightning owner who has also spearheaded the $3.5 billion Water Street Tampa development that’s transforming downtown Tampa. Wood, the widely admired and influential tech investor who moved her company, ARK Investment Management, from Manhattan to St. Pete last year, is now set to become one of the Sunshine City’s most prominent champions.
“Cathie is just one of those very smart individuals who know what they want and how to get things done,” says Tonya Elmore, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a St. Pete-based business accelerator and co-working space. “Very innovative, as you would gather, very forward thinking, future thinking.”
Elmore would know. She and her TBIC team have been working with Wood and ARK on a major project — the construction of a $15.8 million innovation center — that will bring much-needed jobs and economic development to South St. Petersburg.
ARK contributed $2 million to what will be called the ARK Innovation Center when the 45,000-square-foot facility opens next summer at the intersection of 4th Street South and 11th Avenue South. That’s in an area of the city dubbed the Innovation District because of the growing presence of science, tech and health companies and organizations, including USF St. Petersburg, Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the U.S. Coastal and Marine Science Center, to name a few.
“We didn’t know much about the Tampa Bay Innovation Center when we chose St. Pete,” Wood said at the facility’s groundbreaking ceremony in February. “We’d heard of it and thought, ‘That’s interesting.’ I see here an openness to the idea of convergence, not silos, but working together. We’re talking about public-private partnerships.”
The ARK Innovation Center will provide space for the companies that take part in TBIC’s accelerator programs, as well as local startups and firms that are new to the area and need a temporary place to call home. Wood sees it as a potential epicenter of “explosive growth” in the region’s tech sector and all the industries tech touches.
“You have to have collaboration between and among disciplines,” Wood says. “In talking to community leaders, talking to companies, I feel that collaboration is part of (St. Pete’s) DNA — and I feel that even more so than I do about Silicon Valley.”
The partnership is about more than money and naming rights, though: Elmore says Wood has joined TBIC’s board and she might bring her annual Big Ideas Summit and other high-profile events to St. Pete. “That will bring even more economic impact to our region,” Elmore says, “and we’re working on several other projects with ARK. One is a project in the metaverse.”
Not to mention Wood herself is high-profile: She’s developed something of a cult-like following on Wall Street, growing a fund that at one point had some $60 billion in assets under management. She uses Twitter and social media videos to send out her investment philosophy to the masses, mainly that Wall Street has been too slow to embrace companies with innovative technologies, in areas such as genomics and autonomous vehicles. Wood is also widely known as one of the biggest backers of Tesla, predicting the electric vehicle giant will eventually hit a $3 trillion valuation.
Wood, No. 53 on Forbes magazine’s 2021 list of the world’s most powerful women, studied economics at USC under famed economist Art Laffer. While her main ARK Investment Fund has shed some gains recently, partially due to the market slide, and the firm, in late July, shuttered one fund, she remains a big draw at investment events and a noted voice in picking stocks.
Having Wood as a champion and evangelist for St. Pete, the way Vinik is for Tampa, meanwhile, will create a ripple effect for the city, Elmore says, in terms of talent and capital — the two most critical ingredients for the success of startups. The presence of Wood and the ARK team, she says, “will build on our ability to attract talent and capital and bring best-of-breed startups to the region, and put a global spotlight on what we’re doing.”
Elmore is quick to point out Wood’s decision to put down roots in St. Pete involved much more than just throwing a dart at a map. It’s the culmination of “decades” of work to rev up the city’s tech heartbeat.
“We’ve been at this for a long time,” she says. “I’ve been at it a long time, almost two decades, setting the groundwork and the grassroots, having people believe this community can be bigger and more innovative. It’s been a long time coming. With Cathie Wood and ARK putting their stamp of approval on that, and what Vinik has done across the bridge, it makes it more of a reality for people to say, ‘Oh, this vision has come true.’ Yeah, it’s happened.”