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Jax Daily Record Friday, Feb. 7, 202005:10 AM EST

Innovate Jax works to connect, elevate city, its innovators

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Plans for the initiative include more events in the coming year.
by: Katie Garwood Staff Writer

Forcura CEO Craig Mandeville knows there’s innovation in Jacksonville, but he believes few people see it like he does.

To solve that, in June he started Innovate Jax, an initiative to create awareness of innovators in the city through events and a podcast. 

His goal is for Jacksonville to be the innovation hub of the Southeast. 

“What always has been rattling through my brain is what can we do to make better connections and have awareness of the innovation that’s happening? How can we bring these innovative minds together and just kind of break down those silos?” Mandeville said. 

“So that was really the inspiration behind it.”

Mandeville founded Forcura, a health care tech company, in 2012.

Although Forcura and Innovate Jax are separate, the initiative is led by three Forcura leaders. They are Mandeville; Annie Erstling, chief strategy officer; and Kate Warnock, director of communications and brand strategy. 

Warnock serves as host and producer of the Innovate Jax podcast. 

The podcast has featured 10 guests, including Generation W CEO Donna Orender and Jacksonville University President Tim Cost. Up next, the podcast will feature JAXUSA President Aundra Wallace. 

Warnock said people around the world have listened to the podcast, which can be found on Apple Podcasts. Since it debuted in June, people have been asking to be featured.

Erstling said there are Jacksonville events that focus on innovation, but those often are attended by the same circles of people.

“We wanted something that could bring everybody together across the whole entire region and something digital seemed to have the ability to do that more because of the geographic expanse of the city,” Erstling said. 

They plan to host a panel this year with several podcast guests, as well as other events.

“Looking at all the guests that we’ve had the opportunity to interview, every single one of them are world-class and not doing their job in New York,” Warnock said. “They’re doing it here in Jacksonville. So the benefit of having that kind of experience, thought leadership, the connections that they bring with them – we can only go up from here.”

The three agreed that Jacksonville has a “PR problem” when it comes to marketing itself as an innovative place to outsiders, as well as letting those who live here know about the innovative companies, people and achievements in the city.

Companies like SoFi are seeing that Jacksonville is a good place to locate, not only because there are other tech companies here but also because it’s a great place for employees to live, Mandeville said. SoFi is a digital personal finance company that intends to hire about 300 people.

Warnock added that companies that have been here for years, such as Mayo Clinic and Haskell, are moving more toward innovation. Mayo Clinic opened its Life Sciences Incubator in August, and Haskell began Dyrsuptek, a venture capital arm of the company. 

Mandeville has seen Jacksonville come a long way since he moved here 10 years ago from Austin, Texas. He wants to keep it moving forward and hopes Innovate Jax helps to accelerate that.

“That’s what we’re committed to doing with Innovate Jax,” Mandeville said. “This is working. People want to be a part of this. People are asking what’s next and people are describing it as a movement. So I think, wow, let’s do more, let’s keep going.”

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