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The massive building on North Howard Avenue in Tampa was once a place for history-making men, a former armory stocked for war and full of machismo.

  • Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders camped there before fighting in the Spanish-American War. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy both spoke there. Even Elvis was at the former Fort Homer W. Hesterly Armory, playing a show for 10,000 fans in 1956.

Now, as the Jewish Community Center, the building hosts two women who hope to help transform Tampa Bay and perceptions of Israel.

Context: Rakefet Bachur-Phillips and Pam Miniati took over as co-directors of the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator (FIBA) just before the pandemic hit in 2020.

  • The lockdowns and lack of travel were a challenge for the organization, which was established in 2016 to help Israeli startups build a presence in Florida.
  • But they’ve come out on the other side with a more focused program ready to bring more startups to Tampa Bay’s booming tech economy.

What they’re saying: “We used to really have to convince people to come to Tampa,” Bachur-Phillips told Axios. “We don’t have to do that anymore.”

Their stories: Bachur-Phillips, who was born and raised outside Tel Aviv, served in the Israeli military before finding her way to Tampa and later joining FIBA as a program director.

  • Miniati is from Massachusetts and worked as a Capitol Hill staffer prior to a decades-long career working with technology, health care and non-profit startups. She moved to Tampa and joined FIBA in 2017.

Zoom in: Last year, Bachur-Phillips and Miniati shifted the accelerator program away from its cohort model, which hosted a variety of Israeli companies wanting to move to Florida, to bring in companies that address specific needs of Florida’s economy.

What’s new: They’re now looking for companies that can solve Florida’s hospitality and tourism labor challenges.

Local impact: The CEO of StemRad, which makes radiation-protection gear for physicians, astronauts, first responders, and nuclear industry workers, moved to Tampa and opened a local office after FIBA connected him with Tampa Bay Lightning owner and investor Jeff Vinik.

  • ECOncrete, which moved to St. Pete after FIBA’s program, creates mixes for underwater construction to promote sea life growth and strengthen those structures.
  • Six other companies established their presence in Florida after participating in FIBA’s yearly accelerator program.

The big picture: Bachur-Phillips and Miniati are focused on changing the narrative associating Israel with conflict.

  • “We said, ‘Let’s talk about the amazing innovation that comes out of Israel,'” Bachur-Phillips said. “Then it’s not about race or gender or faith. It’s about making the world a better place.”

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