Brent C.J Britton – A technology lawyer in de la Peña & Holiday’s San Francisco and Tampa offices, and managing partner of the Tampa office.
He focuses on intellectual property, technology transactions, and emerging companies.
It is not just a nifty coincidence that both Tampa Bay and San Francisco Bay are referred to as the Bay Area because the communities actually have a lot in common. They are both wonderful places in which to vacation, work, and live, and both are populated by a broad diversity of cultures and generations.
Even 20 or 30 years ago, San Francisco’s startup community in the Silicon Valley was already in very healthy shape. One of the reasons the region is such a gold standard for technology startup companies is because they’ve been doing it forever. But even Silicon Valley had its own early movers who created the startup culture for the whole region.
Tampa Bay is now at a very similar stage. We have a thriving technology community populated by large, decades-old technology powerhouses; funded companies well on their way to stardom; and a very fertile crop of seed-stage startups pursuing everything from mobile apps to rainwater conservation. We also have a lot of people in this ecosystem who are devoted and passionately moving the needle in Tampa’s entrepreneurship and startup community. And, as they say, it takes a village to raise an ecosystem.
Interestingly, both Bay Areas have enjoyed success with technology startups because they are progressive places, almost instinctively. Obviously, the city of San Francisco has a progressive political view almost sewn into its DNA, and that’s important because progressive people automatically appreciate the new thing, they automatically value a startup company because it’s new and interesting and maybe even a little wild and crazy, and it’s at least as valuable as the old proven standard. I would say most people in the world don’t enjoy that level of respect for new ideas, which is why most places are nothing like the Silicon Valley in terms of entrepreneurial output. But that’s changing here in Tampa. The region is enjoying a serious boom in the community’s willingness to value a startup company because it’s new, because it’s wild and crazy, and because it could potentially change the world.
If you want to bridge the Bays, I think there’s no question that, while the San Francisco Bay Area is an electric, fun, and wonderful place to live, it is extraordinarily expensive. The cost of living in San Francisco is probably among the highest in the nation, both for families and companies. The idea of moving to San Francisco or its surrounding areas with your family and buying a house, a detached home with a lawn from which you can commute comfortably into the city or the Silicon Valley for work every day is almost impossible unless you’re already independently wealthy. You can sell your condo in San Francisco and you can come to Tampa and you can buy a neighborhood. Ok, maybe it’s not quite that bad, but you can certainly get a beautiful four or five bedroom home with a lawn and a swimming pool for what you made on your San Francisco condo.
One of the things that’s really incredible about living in Florida is that there’s no state income tax which, say what you will, there’s no doubt that that makes it easier to live here. And while San Francisco is beautifully located geographically and enjoys gorgeous weather, unfortunately you can’t swim in the ocean. The Pacific Ocean is just too cold to swim in at those latitudes. So you come to Tampa and you’ve got some of the most beautiful beaches in the world sitting there on the Gulf of Mexico just waiting for you to come soak up the rays.
One of the things that Silicon Valley has that Tampa’s on the rise with is a very dense community of two things, technology-capable workers and professional venture capitalists. It’s not easy to hire in San Francisco, but there are a lot more engineers than there are practically anywhere else in the world, with a higher PhD quotient than anywhere else in the world. And Tampa’s getting there. We certainly don’t have all the engineering talent in the world that we would like, but more and more are coming every day. Our technology workforce is strong and growing.
Tampa Bay is a destination city, it’s the kind of place that people want to come live in. And one of the reasons for that is because the Tampa Bay region and various cities around Tampa Bay are becoming a lot more like San Francisco. There are spots in downtown St. Petersburg where you can’t really tell the difference, where you walk past a Bohemian coffee shop and an art gallery
and you could easily be on Filmore Street in San Francisco. We are becoming a cool place to live.
Tampa Bay will never be San Francisco and it shouldn’t try to be. We happen to be the other Bay Area, but we’re always going to have our own vibe, and our own culture. Ybor City, for example, is a fun demonstration of our unique hipness. We are continuing to develop our own personality, one with roots in cultural and commercial vibrancy. We are taking the best of what we see in other cities including San Francisco and the Silicon Valley and we’re trying it out here, and we’re seeing what works. Not everything will, but that’s okay; we’ll find our own unique vision about how to be one of the great Bay Areas in the country.