10 to watch in 2007: Amy Norman

The head of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum is taking advantage of the area's potential as a leader. And investors are taking notice.

By Madhusmita Bora, Times Staff Writer
Published April 22, 2007

From a tiny cubicle splattered with papers and fliers, Amy Norman builds a dream of making Tampa Bay the next technology paradise.

This summer, the 29-year-old is stepping in as the president and chief operating officer of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum. Her new role: To press for a common vision for the TBTF (the leading economic development and networking group here for the tech community), technology businesses in the area and industry leaders.

Her biggest challenge: connecting a sprawling and diverse constituency.

"Whether it's working with USF (University of South Florida) and helping them get a technology ready for the market or helping an entrepreneur start a business. ... I am so excited and motivated by the growth and purpose of the job," Norman said.

She has reasons to be. Since her arrival at the forum two years ago as a program manager, the group's membership roster added more than 100 names. The forum has launched numerous programs, ranging from technology awareness in schools to starting an academy to coach new entrepreneurs about jump-starting their businesses.

It was not so long ago that the modest technology community in the bay area was a splintered group starving for attention. The Tampa Bay Technology Forum provided a platform for professionals and entrepreneurs to work together. It also embarked on an advocacy role, raising funds and launching efforts to attract talent and capital to the area.

Investors are slowly noticing the changes.

"The Tampa Bay area is coming of age from the technological standpoint and that creates a lot of excitement," said Robin Kovaleski, executive director of the Florida Venture Forum. "Amy has a strategic role and she is eminently capable."

Norman doesn't have a technology background. But she calls herself a passionate people person. She came to the forum from the American Association of Kidney Patients, a nonprofit advocacy group where she was a director.

"I wanted to grow to a leadership position, and I wasn't going anywhere there," she said. At TBTF, her organization and communication skills ensured her quick climb.

"She has performed very impressively since she was hired," said George Gordon, chairman of the board of directors.

The technology sector is expected to benefit tremendously with the advent of new research centers by Scripps Research Institute near Jupiter on Florida's east coast, the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies in the Palm Beach area, the Burnham Institute in Orlando, as well as the new Tampa Bay alliances of SRI-USF St. Petersburg and Merck-Moffitt. Norman and others hope the area will rise with the tide.

"The entrepreneurial spirit is here, it's just about bringing everyone together," Norman said.

Her goal is simple:

"We want to be one of the top 10 technology regions in the next 10 years," she said.