Facing a potential merger, Florida Poly highlights tech pioneer’s commencement speech to make the case for autonomy

florida poly
Tom Wallace will deliver the school's upcoming commencement address.

Tech pioneer Tom Wallace will deliver Florida Polytechnic University’s spring commencement address on May 3, the school announced Thursday.

Wallace began his career as a technology entrepreneur when he was just 23 and has been an angel investor to new companies for the past 25 years.

In its announcement, Florida Poly hinted at underlying challenges it’s facing as lawmakers seek to merge the young school with the University of Florida, noting that Wallace is excited to deliver the address because Florida had, before the University launched, been lacking programs to elevate its tech potential.

“I’ve been involved in building the technology ecosystem of the state for the last several decades and the one thing that we arguably were missing was a top engineering and STEM school,” said Wallace, managing partner at Florida Funders, a Florida-focused investor network and online investing platform based in Tampa. “I think it’s great the state figured that out and launched Florida Poly.”

Wallace said he thinks the world’s next tech hub, like Silicon Valley, could launch in Florida, especially with access to a quality tech-driven school.

“There’s no reason the next Google or the next Facebook can’t come out of Florida,” Wallace said.

Wallace has invested in startup companies like Vector Solutions, Q-Link, which was later sold to Adobe, Adjoy, Threshold-360 and many others.

He said Florida needs both talent and capital to transform its tech ecosystem to match cities like Boston and San Francisco. His company, Florida Funders, is focused on funding early-stage tech businesses, helping them grow from startups to successful enterprises.

“Florida Poly obviously is working on the talent side of it,” he said. “We want to ensure the best and brightest students stay here in the state, and Florida Poly plays a big part in that.”

Wallace said he hopes to convey to Florida Poly graduates that the state is on the cusp of ascending to the next level of tech innovators, and they can play a big role in shaping its future.

“We are on a mission to make Florida known for technology and innovation more than tourism and oranges,” he said.

Florida Poly’s third four-year graduation ceremony will be at 3:30 p.m. on May 3, at RP Funding Center, 701 W. Lime St. in Lakeland.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.


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