Technology in Florida
The High Tech Corridor
A formidable array of higher-ed research, private research institutions and high-tech businesses lines Florida's I-4 corridor.
Electronic Arts helped put the Orlando area on the map in the world of electronic gaming with its EA Tiburon sports video-game studio, creator of global bestsellers Madden NflFootball and PGA Tour Golf. What started out as a three-person team in 1994 has grown to more than 800 artists, graphic designers and tech whizzes. The parent company in Redwood City, Calif., reported more than $4.3 billion in revenue and $804 million in profit for fiscal 2015, driven in part by expansion across multiple platforms. Digital-game revenue soared to a record $2.23 billion, and more than 165 million monthly active users of its mobile titles in the final quarter drove that category to a record $524 million. Daryl Holt, GM of EA Tiburon’s Sports studio in Maitland, says the Corridor and its growing gamer community attract top job prospects from throughout the nation.
Other Notable Companies
- Trendy Entertainment, Gainesville: Founded in 2010 by UF engineering grad Augi Lye, Trendy has outlasted other startups in the field with hits such as Dungeon Defenders and other downloadable titles. The Gainesville-based firm now employs more than 100 people and has opened a number of satellite offices.
- Phyken Media, Orlando: A 2010 spinoff from an information technology firm in Orlando, Phyken is an independent producer specializing in media and mobile game development, with titles such as Wizard Ops Tactics available on Apple iOS and Android Google Play.
- N-Space, Orlando: One of the pioneers of video console-game development was founded in 1994 and has churned out multiple-million selling franchise hits such as Rugrats: Search for Reptar, and Duke Nukem: Time to Kill, and is now branching into independent role-playing game production.
- Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy: Students can earn a master’s of interactive entertainment from UCF’s graduate video game school in 16 months. With the help of Electronic Arts, the Economic Development Commission and other local businesses, the downtown Orlando academy opened in 2005.
When the Silicon Valley startup Malwarebytes was searching for a second U.S. location in 2014, it settled on Clearwater, where a cluster of cybersecurity firms has emerged. The 7-year-old company opened the Clearwater location last year after it received its first $30 million in outside financing for expansion. Despite decades of work to develop and refine software to protect computers from virus attacks and hackers, newer companies such as Malwarebytes are finding plenty of business competing against the likes of Microsoft.
Finding enough tech talent to fill positions can be a struggle. To help meet that need and better coordinate research and development, the Florida Legislature tapped the University of South Florida to open a Florida Center for Cybersecurity at its Tampa campus last year. The center, which operates as an information hub and focal point for universities and businesses in internet security statewide, also helped USF develop an online program for a master’s degree in cybersecurity.
Sri Sridharan, the center’s managing director, says surveys show that cybersecurity job openings outnumber qualified candidates by more than 10 to 1 nationwide, and the Tampa area is a good recruiting market because of MacDill Air Force Base and the large number of young military veterans in the region looking for civilian careers. One of the area’s fast-growing cybersecurity firms, Tampa-based Cybrix Group, founded in 2002, is a notable local example of a veteran owned small business in the security field.
Also in the region, Tampa Bay-based ThreatTrack Security recently expanded in Clearwater by leasing a 30,000-sq.-ft. facility. ThreatTrack has more than 300 employees worldwide, with Clearwater home to nearly 150, working on a range of products and services including antiviral software to detect and defend against internet attacks.
Geri Lopez, economic development director for Clearwater, says that while cybersecurity firms have clustered in the eastern part of town near the Clearwater Mall, downtown has 600 or more high-tech workers of all types, and the city is working to encourage more interaction between all the various businesses, civic groups and service providers.
“We have a strong group of companies doing software, and we’ve built a strategy to encourage them to grow and expand,” says Lopez. “Many of them don’t even know each other.” The new consortium is called Clearwater Business Spark!
Cybersecurity firm ReliaQuest expanded its Tampa headquarters this year, opening a 24- hour Security Operations Center with 55 IT jobs paying an average of $63,669 a year, an expansion supported in part by $330,000 in local and state incentives.
Sypris Electronics, also Tampa-based, opened a Cyber Collaboration Center at its Tampa headquarters in 2011.
Engineering & Software
When the distinctive Apple logo went up on a sign outside the Orlando University Center near UCF last year, the tech world took notice. Apple quietly built out a 14,000-sq.-ft. office without a news release or announcement of any kind.
Apple, notoriously quiet during early stages of product design and development, still has not commented about its Orlando facility. But job postings and engineers hired for the site indicate that the company is working on graphics-oriented projects, possibly a proprietary GPU, or graphics processor unit, the advanced electronic circuits used in everything from game consoles to mobile phones.
The opening of the Orlando hardware location came on the heels of Apple’s $356-million purchase in 2012 of AuthenTec, a Melbourne-based firm that specializes in biometric sensors for mobile devices.
Other Notable Companies
- NanoSpective, Orlando: The company specializes in materials science with tools that allow it to probe down to the atomic nanoscale level, analyzing materials from ceramics to polymers and products such as semiconductors for everything from quality control to patent protection.
- VaxDesign, Orlando: The pioneer in designing, developing and manufacturing models of the human immune systems for rapid vaccine testing and resolving complex biological problems was acquired by French drug giant SanofiPasteur in 2010 for $60 million.
Higher Ed & Research
A Solid Foundation in Research
In the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, major institutions include the USF medical school, Moffitt Cancer Center, the USF Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation, Baxter International, SRI International and USF’s College of Marine Science.
In metro Orlando, dozens of key players range from Florida Hospital’s Nicholson Center for Surgical Advancement in Celebration, to the new $53-million UF Research and Academic Center in downtown Orlando. Alachua County, UF’s home base, has one of the largest biomedical clusters in the state, with more than 1,000 workers in Progress Corporate Park alone, and numerous spinoff companies from UF’s internationally acclaimed Sid Martin Biotech Incubator.
- Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach is a nonprofit independent institution offering more than 70 degree programs and is the world’s largest fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace.
- Full Sail University in Winter Park offers 78 degree programs on a 212-acre campus. The digital arts specialty school has 18,000 students and more than 50,000 graduates, many of whom have gone on to careers in the digital arts, music and film industries.
- Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center based in Florida, specializing in peerreviewed research, programs in basic, translational and population research, cancer prevention, diagnosis and therapy, along with programs to educate health care professionals and the public, and to serve underserved populations.
- Nemours Children’s Hospital in Orlando provides advanced pediatric specialty care, with a 24-hour ER designed especially for children, and participates in research in numerous health fields from asthma to neurodevelopmental disorders.
- The Florida Institute of Technology, founded in 1958 in Melbourne, is the only independent technology university in the Southeast. Florida Tech has a 130-acre campus, more than 9,000 students, including about 2,000 in campus housing, and more than two dozen research centers and institutes.
- All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg is part of Johns Hopkins overall research efforts and conducts more than 150 clinical trials each year. The hospital established a Clinical and Translational Research Organization to facilitate clinical and other research in pediatrics.