The massive building on North Howard Avenue in Tampa was once a place for men making history, a former armory stocked for war and full of machismo.
- Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders camped there before fighting in the Spanish-American War. The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy both spoke there. Even Elvis was at the old Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, playing a show in front of 10,000 fans in 1956.
Now, As a Jewish community center, the building is home to two women who hope to help transform Tampa Bay and perceptions of Israel.
The context: Rakefet Bachur-Phillips and Pam Miniati took over as co-directors of the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA) just before the pandemic hit in 2020.
- The closures and lack of travel have been a challenge for the organization, which was established in 2016 to help Israeli startups establish a presence in Florida.
- But they came out the other side with a more focused agenda ready to bring more startups to Tampa Bay’s booming tech economy.
What they say : “Before, we really had to convince people to come to Tampa,” Bachur-Phillips told Axios. “We don’t have to do that anymore.”
Their stories: Bachur-Phillips, who was born and raised outside of Tel Aviv, served in the Israeli army before moving to Tampa and later joining FIBA as a program director.
- Miniati is originally from Massachusetts and worked as a Capitol Hill staffer before a decades-long career in tech, healthcare, and nonprofit startups. She moved to Tampa and joined FIBA in 2017.
Enlarge: Last year, Bachur-Phillips and Miniati moved the accelerator program away from its cohort model, which welcomed various Israeli companies wishing to locate in Florida, to bring in companies that meet the specific needs of the Florida economy. .
What’s new: They are now looking for companies that can solve Florida’s hospitality and tourism labor issues.
Local impact: The CEO of StemRad, which makes radiation protection equipment for doctors, astronauts, first responders and nuclear industry workers, moved to Tampa and opened a local office after FIBA put him on connected with Tampa Bay Lightning owner and investor Jeff Vinik.
- ECOncrete, which moved to St. Pete after the FIBA program, creates mixtures for underwater construction to encourage the growth of marine life and strengthen these structures.
- Six other companies have established their presence in Florida after participating in FIBA’s annual Acceleration Program.
The big picture: Bachur-Phillips and Miniati focus on changing the narrative associating Israel with the conflict.
- “We said, ‘Let’s talk about the amazing innovation that’s coming from Israel,'” Bachur-Phillips said. “So it’s not about race or gender or faith. It’s about making the world a better place.”