Rob Panepinto is an innovator who has always challenged the status quo of “good enough.” He is President of Florentine Strategies, CEO of Entrepreneurs in Action, and he recently joined UCF’s Partnership and Innovation team, serving as a Senior Strategic Advisor and Director of the Downtown Innovation District. Rob is a Founder and Board Chair of Orlando’s Social Enterprise Accelerator, Rally, a partnership between the Central Florida Foundation, Rollins College, the City of Orlando, and other community partners. He is the current Chair of the Central Florida Foundation board, immediate past chair of Orlando, Inc., and is a Board Member for the Orlando Economic Partnership. He also serves on the Board of Starter Studio, Rollins’ Crummer Graduate School of Business Board of Overseers, and the Rollins Center for Advanced Entrepreneurship. He has served on the Operations Committee of the Central Florida Expressway Authority, and he was a 2018 candidate for Orange County Mayor. Rob has been married to his wife Stacy for over 27 years and they have 2 daughters, Ali (17) and Samantha (15). They live in Winter Park.
It’s not just about creating companies; it’s about helping the ones with the greatest potential grow and to create significant jobs and innovation in the economy.- Rob Panepinto, Founder and CEO, Rally and EIA Social Enterprise Fund; President, Florentine Strategies
From my perspective, it’s so important, given Orlando’s legacy of innovation, our growth, and the great talent that’s coming out of our universities, to diversify our economy. The growth of early-stage companies into larger scalable companies is a critical part of that. It’s on the radar screen of community leaders across the public and private sector and we’ve got to continue working on it.
I get to see things from an interesting perspective, one that combines my experience as a volunteer and a professional in a variety of roles. We’ve started some good initiatives, but it’s time to move away from doing a lot of smaller things and toward tackling bigger projects that can really drive momentum and scale. It’s not just about creating companies; it’s about helping the ones with the greatest potential grow and to create significant jobs and innovation in the economy, and that entails a host of things. It entails the support of the accelerator programs that exist, and it entails taking companies more from acceleration to the stage where they’re either self-sustainable or taking on capital, which is a missing element in our community today.
Many potential Orlando investors have made their money here in real estate and agriculture, and can be reluctant to invest in technology. We need to continue educating that marketplace on not just the financial reward but the community-building component of investing in tech. We need the bigger companies to pay more attention to smaller companies—not just investing in them but in hiring them and bringing them on as clients. They can benefit from the innovation that these smaller companies are creating.
In order to build a broader community strategy that we can put some real muscle and momentum behind, we need to leverage our strengths and we need to remember that the prior generation helps the next. For example, people make the mistake of thinking that the tourism industry, for example, is not innovative, but their marketing systems, their ticketing systems and their theme-park rides—all of that leverages very innovative technology. The hospitality and tourism industry does and can drive innovation. We should be supporting that and fueling that. We should be the global capital of technology solutions for hospitality and tourism. There’s no doubt.
Even so, we’re sometimes a victim of our own success in Orlando. Because the economy is so strong and things are good, it will require constant effort and vigilance to push Orlando to that next level where our startups have scaled to become self-sustaining and are creating high-wage jobs, and where companies of all sizes are pushing innovation and building up our community.
We’ve looked at other innovative cities and learned that success is has come when there’s a strong partnership between a research-based University, local or state government, leading businesses, and the philanthropists in the community. We have all the ingredients to take us to the next level. Our opportunity, and challenge, will be about our continued community committment to seeing the future that we can bring about together.