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Investor Cathie Wood participates in local pitch event

Cathie Wood, who oversees an estimated $60 billion in assets as the founder and CEO of ARK Invest, made a surprise appearance at St. Petersburg College/Gibbs campus Thursday.

She joined a panel with around a dozen other investors from across the region, state and nation to hear entrepreneurs pitch their companies and ideas. Officials from SPC partnered with Scott Kelly, founder and CEO of Black Dog Venture Partners, to host the college’s first St. Petersburg VC Fast Pitch event.

The participating founders and speakers also came from across the area and country, and Dean Emmanuel Hernandez Agosto told the Catalyst that level of representation typically occurs on university campuses rather than state colleges. He called SPC the “college of the community” and said the event highlighted opportunities for students, 10 of which gave one-minute pitches before the event concluded.

“We are making our way into creating that pathway for growth for our students,” said Agosto. “So, for us, it’s the start of a great relationship to grow those entrepreneurs local to Pinellas County.”

Wood announced a significant plan for the area at the event.

In March, she will present ARK’s “Big Ideas 2023” at the expansive South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, Texas. Wood noted the nine-day event now includes thousands of musical performances, a film festival, and tech exhibitions to appease sponsors.

She relayed her long-term aspirations to pilot something similar – a South by Southeast – in St. Pete. However, like her investments, it would focus on showcasing disruptive innovation rather than extracurricular activities.

“We’d actually like to flip that around and make this an area where people will want to come to learn,” Wood said. “Not just investors but people from around the world, to learn how their lives are going to change during the next five to 10 years. Our message is ‘get on the right side of change.’ Get your children on the right side of change, and your grandchildren.”

Wood noted the ARK Innovation Center, a startup incubator, will open its doors in the city’s Innovation District sometime this summer. The Tampa Bay Innovation Center (TBIC) will call the facility home, and she expressed her hope that its leadership will change its name to the St. Petersburg Innovation Center.

She explained that her desire for the change is not to compete with Tampa – which has the Embarc Collective incubator – but to differentiate the two cities.

“We want to help serve as a bridge over to Tampa and work together with the Embarc Collective to really make this the new ‘Bay Area,’” Wood added. “You know, San Francisco is beginning to turn a lot of people off.”

Kyle Kemper, chief solutions officer for Sarasota-based RAZE, author and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s half-brother, attended the event. He called the region a burgeoning global innovation hub and said its relaxed live-work-play environment fosters collaboration and creativity.

“And naturally, what occurs when people come together who want to create, a lot of innovation happens,” Kemper said. “The best days are yet to come.”

Presenting companies included:

Spot Social Fitness: The Orlando-based “active lifestyle generator” platform recommends fitness events, activities and people to connect with who share similar interests.

REMware: The Tampa-based company develops sleep diagnostics software and hardware. Its home testing program for sleep apnea includes virtual diagnosis, artificial intelligence scoring of collected data and nationwide coverage by board-certified sleep doctors.

Sober Roots: The St. Petersburg-based hair care startup uses natural ingredients free from alcohol. Its founder, Monica Smith, launched Sober Roots after overcoming addiction and cancer.

MedWatch: Officials with the Las Vegas-based company are developing a non-invasive glucose monitoring watch. Mike Moore, CEO, expects to receive FDA certification within 15 months.

Podetize: Headquartered in Foothills Ranch, California, this company provides marketing, production, syndication and monetization services for podcasts.

Zing Drones: The St. Petersburg-based company offers enterprise-level drone delivery solutions to automate and improve logistics.

Hook Security: Based in Greenville, South Carolina, this psychological and behavioral science startup provides security training to companies.

Tadrus Capital: This Tampa-based capital management firm for institutional and accredited investors offers a fixed 2.5% return by utilizing autonomous mathematical models.

Amplify Capital: Headquartered in New York City, Amplify Capital’s officials seek to identify, acquire and direct operations of privately held e-commerce businesses.



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