neurs build, launch, and grow breakout tech businesses. Sink's chairwoman-ship begins in November. Says Sink: "Our goal is to get these companies investor-ready."
Sink, 69, joins several others in getting behind the area's startup scene, from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik to a dozen or so co-work spaces and incubators that dot the town. "I really believe we are at a tipping point," says Sink, adding while a corporate headquarters is nice, local companies are the lifeblood of a community.
Tampa Bay Wave is celebrating its 10-year anniversary in 2018, having grown from a peer group for local entrepreneurs to a thriving tech hub that supports more than 200 startups. Tampa Bay Wave President Linda Olson says the organization, like Tampa, is bubbling over with never-before seen opportunities, including interest from out-of-state investors and partnerships with national entities.
"If you haven't been here in the last six months," says Olson, of the downtown Tampa digs on Kennedy Boulevard, "you wouldn't recognize this place."
Sink has two core reasons for diving into Wave, at which she's been on the board since 2016.
One motivation can be traced back to her gubernatorial campaign vision. She was a big booster for small business interests back then, she says, promoting the idea of homegrown successes. "I've always said I'd rather have 100 small businesses hire three or four people each and keep growing than have one business make one big splash with 400 jobs," says Sink. "Florida does not have a lot of Fortune 1,000 companies. We have a lot of small and midsize businesses. We are the land of dreams."
Sink honed that philosophy during her 26-year banking career. With Bank of America, Sink became something of Florida pioneer, opening the office in Miami. That's when the bank was NCNB, which became NationsBank, and later Bank of America. Working under legendary BofA executive Hugh Mc-Coll Jr., Sink grew the Miami operations into a statewide powerhouse: while she was president, the bank's branch network grew to 800 and deposits more than tripled, from $13.7 billion to $43 billion.
The employee side was her other passion, particularly in guiding young bankers. So much so Sink's daughter Lexi would often joke that in her mom's next life she would come back as a high school guidance counselor. "I've always considered myself to be something of a mentor," says Sink, the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce's 2017 H.L. Culbreath Jr. Profile in Leadership Award winner. "I like being able to share my knowledge and experience to help others be successful."
Her pupils from Bank of America form a top-notch roster of Tampa area business executives, people Sink mentions like a proud parent. The list includes Jamie Harden, who now runs Creative Sign Designs, an $18 million company with 130 employees; Steve Raney, the president and CEO of Raymond James Bank, a Raymond James Financial subsidiary; Gordon Johnson, co-owner of Highway Safety Devices and a board member at Raymond James; Pilot Bank President Rita Lowman, the 2017 Florida Bankers Association chairwoman; and Penny Parks, founder and president of Links Financial.
Sink says her goals at Wave include utilizing both her mentoring skills and her large base of contacts to connect young entrepreneurs with investors, potential investors and customers. "I'm very blessed to be in a position financially where I can pay it forward," Sink says.
That includes working with a Wave company like Harness, which created a software app that helps nonprofits,
This is no joke: People ask Alex Sink to run for office again so much, that even on a recent night out at a comedy/ improve club in Tampa's Ybor City, a stranger encouraged her to run for something again.
Sink, who lost a Florida gubernatorial election to Rick Scott in Florida in 2010, balks at getting back into that game - at least on a ballot. Now the chairwoman-elect of Tampa Bay Wave, a startup support organization, Sink has mentored others in political office, and encouraged others to run. She does that informally and also with Tampa-based Ruth's List, which supports pro-choice Democratic women running for state, city and county offices across Florida. Named after Ruth Bryan Owen, the first woman elected to Congress from the South, the group is modeled after Emily's List, a national organization.
Sink, in a recent interview at Tampa Bay Wave's offices, says she supports several current Democratic candidates running for state House and Senate seats. One candidate is St. Petersburg personal injury attorney Carrie Pilon, running for state Senate District 24 against Republican Jeff Brandes. Another is former Tampa Bay Technology Forum CEO Heather Stahl, running for state House District 64, which includes Safety Harbor and Clearwater, against Republican Jamie Grant and other potential candidates.
Sink also supported Margaret Good, a Sarasota attorney who won a special election for state House District 72 in February against Republican James Buchanan, son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key. She especially admired Good's ability to overcome polls and odds in a widely followed election, and uses that as a model for mentoring other candidates. Says Sink: "We need 50 Margaret Goods."
Will Sink ever put her own name atop a ballot again? She pays attention to national politics, too, and hasn't totally closed the door. "I've learned to never say never, but I don't think it will happen," she says. "Maybe if I get mad enough."
- Mark Gordon
schools and other organizations improve fundraising campaigns. One of its features is a roundup part of the app, similar to Amazon smile, where people can donate leftover change to groups. Founded in October 2015 by Miraj Patel, 27, and Andrew Scarborough, 26, Harness has nine employees and had about $250,000 in revenues last year. "We want to disrupt the fundraising space by bringing these new tools to donors," Patel says.
Patel and Scarborough met Sink at a Wave breakfast event late last year. The young entrepreneurs and the veteran businesswoman connected over a shared passion for helping nonprofits while also building a business. Sink has since connected Harness with a bevy of nonprofits for potential business, including the board of the United Way. Says Patel: "She's opened doors left and right at some of the biggest groups in town."
Sink has also mentored the co-founders on everything from the nuances of targeting nonprofits to constructive criticism on elevator pitches. "Alex even called me on a Sunday morning once to talk about a presentation I had just given," Patel says. "She's just a genuine human being."
Olson, at Wave, agrees that Sink's sincerity is both what draws people to her and will also be an ally for Wave going forward. "She has a true passion for this, and she just gives and gives and gives," says Olson. "And her attitude is infectious."
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