Brian Kornfeld is President and Co-Founder of Synapse, an innovation hub for entrepreneurs, investors, and governments in the state of Florida to share ideas, solve problems and ultimately provide an ecosystem that ensures everyone from pre-seed startups to exciting unicorns continue to flock to, grow within and re-invest in the Sunshine State. We had a chance to interview Brian and asked about his story, why he started his business and the future of Synapse.
Tell us your story. Why did you start your business?
Circling back to 2016, I was working a side hustle business to a full-time job managing a global software development. I needed something more; something fulfilling in my life. My side hustle just wasn’t taking off, so that’s when I started to look at the Tampa Bay innovation ecosystem as a reason as to why my business wasn’t flourishing like I expected it to. When I started to conduct research, I discovered the community had a lot going on, but it was very disconnected and finding like-minded people was difficult. At the same time, I met two gentlemen. The first is Marc Blumenthal, who was doing the same research and coming to the same conclusions as I was. We started to brainstorm and imagined possibilities of how we could fix our situation. The other is Andy Hafer, who was running a community-building organization. He put the secret sauce into how to engage the greater community and make the rising tide lift all boats, ultimately making everyone's situation better rather than just our own. After months of work and research, the three of us formed a partnership to fund and run Synapse.
How did you come up with your business name?
Initially, we didn’t want to worry about the name. We had a code name called “The Cuban Sandwich” project. Cuban Sandwiches are native to Tampa, surprisingly. We were eating them and when we thought about the individual ingredients, they made no sense to us. They are three types of pork, cheese, pickles, mayo, mustard, and hard bread. Yet, when you take a bite, it’s a perfect harmony of flavor. That is what Florida’s innovation community is. We are spread out markets with universities, a rich talent pipeline and a plethora of resources and capital; and when you combine all of those things into one, it’s perfect.
After a few months, one of our team members, Wes Lehman, dubbed us Synapse. We are the connector of the region. We are the brain wave. We help the right arm and the left arm talk to each other. The name stuck, and we believe it’s a perfect fit.
Tell us about your products and services. How do you help clients?
We organize and engage the innovation ecosystem of Florida. To do this, we have to engage a wide range of stakeholders. These can include entrepreneurs, investors, talent, schools, corporations, government, support organizations, and more; which is no small task. We do this in three ways, the first is a digital platform called Synapse Connect, where people can truly find what they need and share what they have in a very curated way. The second is by running innovation challenges, helping companies connect to the talent pool of the area while solving some of their biggest problems in a crowd-sourcing format. The third, and most popular thing we do, is our events, headlined by the Synapse Summit. This yearly event brings together 6,000+ people over the course of two days, telling the top stories, educating the masses, and giving everybody an experience unlike any other. We do our events in unique venues like biker bars and hockey arenas, building onto the innovative experience.
What makes you unique? What is your unique selling proposition (USP)?
Nobody, and I mean nobody, builds a holistic community in this way. While we researched world-class communities all over the globe, we discovered there are people who connect certain stakeholders but not as one large community. We also know Florida has a lot of room for growth, which is why it takes an entire community effort to pull this off and needs everybody involved. That’s what Synapse is all about.
Where do you see your business in the next 3-5 years?
In the next 3-5 years, I see Synapse truly with a critical mass Florida’s innovation community. I see a very tightly connected state where we see more wins, more growth, more starts, and more exits. We measure based on connections, so the more we can enable the state, the better community we can become. I’d say the sky's the limit for Florida, but we have the Space Coast so we’re shooting beyond just the sky!
Any advice you would give to entrepreneurs and business owners?
A few years ago, I was watching an episode of “Modern Family” where they discussed what to do in the event of turbulence on a flight. They said to “watch the flight attendants.” If a flight attendant is calm, you know you are ok.
Be the flight attendant for your business. Be the flight attendant for your team. Things are going to be hard. This is not always easy and glamorous. The better you can lead under pressure, the better your organization will be.
What is your favorite business quote and why?
“It is kind of fun to do the impossible.” ~Walt Disney
Creators need to create. If people stop because it is hard, nothing will ever get accomplished. We need to be enablers, we need to be positive, and we to have fun doing it.
There is nothing better than that feeling of satisfaction of doing something you were told could not be done.
What have been some of your achievements that you are most proud of? Why?
I am proud to have built a very strong team. The best part of my job, by far, is the people I work with. I am also proud of how the Florida innovation ecosystem has really grown, and in particular how Synapse has been a part of that growth. People from outside our great state are looking at us and they want to be a part of what we are building. We have done this while being authentic and sticking to who we are, which far too often can get lost in the grand scheme of things.
Anything else additional you want to tell our readers?
Pay attention to Florida. We are just getting warmed up!