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AOL co-founder to keynote Synapse Summit

One of the nation’s most well-known entrepreneurs will soon return to Tampa Bay, as Steve Case, co-founder and former CEO of America Online (AOL), will headline the sixth annual Synapse Summit.

After establishing the company that played a significant role in making the internet accessible to average Americans, Case launched Revolution, a successful Washington D.C.- based investment firm. He is also a Wall Street Journal and New York Times best-selling author and chair of the Smithsonian Institution’s Board of Regents.

Tampa’s Amalie Arena will host the Synapse Summit and hundreds of local innovators Feb. 14. Brian Kornfeld, CEO of Synapse Florida, told the Catalyst what it means to have someone like Case providing the event’s keynote presentation.

“It’s huge,” said Kornfeld succinctly. “We hope that he’s floored – that he is amazed and wants to come back, time and time again. Not just to see the area, not just to talk to entrepreneurs or inspire investors, but to put some money to work and invest in the region.”

Case toured the area as part of his Rise of Rest Road Trip in 2019. His goal is to discover, promote and invest in compelling startups based outside Silicon Valley, Boston and New York City. Kornfeld noted that 75% of all venture capital funding typically goes to entrepreneurs in those markets, and said Case hopes to level the playing field.

According to Case’s biography, Revolution Growth has invested nearly $1 billion in early-stage companies, while the Rise of the Rest Seed Fund has supported over 130 startups in 70 cities.

From left: Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective; Brian Kornfeld, CEO of Synapse Florida; and Rich Heruska, former accelerator director at Tampa Bay Wave during the 2019 Rise of the Rest Tour. Photo provided.

Kornfeld added that Case’s forward thinking and penchant for discovering overlooked opportunities led AOL to become the world’s largest and first publicly traded internet company. He noted that Case had the wherewithal to realize people would pay for internet subscriptions if he mailed them the necessary CDs for free in the days of dial-up modems and loud, robotic screeching noises.

Kornfeld said Case is “very selective” about speaking engagements. He is also promoting his new book, The Rise of the Rest. According to his website, the book showcases “how entrepreneurs in surprising places are building the new American dream.”

“He really wanted to come to the summit because he knows the depth of people who will be there and that it really does cross this entire innovation ecosystem,” said Kornfeld. “And to help inspire such a large audience at one time, as to how the ecosystem can continue to grow and thrive.”

He hopes Case inspires the hundreds of entrepreneurs attending the summit to realize the omnipresence of opportunity, even when it is not readily apparent. Case’s investment partners will join him in Tampa for the event, and Kornfeld said he looks forward to “some of those 300 exhibitors meeting people from his team and not even realizing who they’re talking to.”

“That’s why we have something like this, like a summit,” he said. “To open up the doors for those opportunities for people to truly find what they need.”

Synapse Florida founder and CEO Brian Kornfeld. File photo.

Kornfeld said Case’s team frequently visits the area and has invested in several local companies. He expressed his sincere belief that they will identify more than one potential investment in February.

Like Case and his associates, Kornfeld said he looks forward to the “high quality” exhibitors and bringing awareness to the region and state’s innovators. He also awaits the energy, fun and connectivity provided by having so many industry stakeholders under one roof.

Those interactions lead to meaningful connections, said Kornfeld, and called this year’s main stage agenda “the best and most action-packed” in the summit’s six-year history. He said Synapse officials would release the names of other notable speakers in the coming weeks.

“I think there will be plenty of people who just sit down, grab their seat for the main stage and can sit there all day and have a really great time,” said Kornfeld. “So, stay tuned for more.”

The Synapse Summit website is here.

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