We’re asking thought leaders, business people and creatives to talk about 2022 and give us catalyzing ideas for making St. Pete a better place to live. What should our city look like? What are their hopes, their plans, their problem-solving ideas? This is Catalyze 2022.
As a young adult, Chris Jenkins found himself “basically homeless” and running afoul of the law due to a perceived lack of opportunities and direction.
Now, after over a decade as a successful technological entrepreneur, Jenkins wants to help St. Petersburg’s children avoid that same path.
Jenkins, chief digital officer for Symphony, launched ImTheirWebGuy.com in 2010. Jenkins said he started the local boutique development firm as an emergency response to the markets crashing during the Great Recession and the bleak job opportunities that followed. After building his company for five years, Symphony – a St. Petersburg-based marketing and communications firm – acquired ImTheirWebGuy and made Jenkins head of development.
In early 2018, Jenkins joined the advisory board for Pocket Network, which he said put him on a straight-line path to where he is today. According to its website, Pocket Network’s mission is to coordinate open access to the world’s public data and empower anyone to provide unstoppable infrastructure. Jenkins’ big idea for 2022 is empowering families with children to increase their earnings and social and financial mobility through technology.
“One of the things that I’ve been working on, which is not necessarily entrepreneurial but something I think is critically necessary, is a project called Third Quintile,” he said.
Jenkins said the project begins with identifying families whose earnings are in the first and second quintile of the population and “have a strong potential in the technology space.” A quintile is 20%, and in statistics, it denotes a population or sample divided into five equal groups, according to the value of a particular variable.
The program would provide families with training, oversight and rapid job placement to help them move from the first quintile of earnings to the third.
“Which we’ve seen, statistically, is sort of the place where you start to actually achieve some true social and financial mobility,” said Jenkins. “So, for me, that’s going to be one of my biggest focuses this year.”
Jenkins said he is looking for good pilot schools to partner with and has held discussions with several local organizations. One such organization is Life-Skills, Empowerment, And Development Services, or LEADS. Jenkins said LEADS already has a strong presence in the community providing parental, family and educational support.
Jenkins hopes to create a series of technology labs that allow students to receive concentrated, hands-on technological education. Students would also have access to high-quality computing equipment, and Jenkins noted that many kids depend on a mobile device for internet access. “So, getting them into a real lab environment and letting them get hands-on with the technology,” he said.
Jenkins said he is also putting together a fellowship where people working on technology-based projects can utilize cohorts from the Third Quintile program to complete the work. Jenkins added the program would also pay for the fellowships.
“It would allow these kids to have some real-world experience on their resume as they get through graduating high school,” said Jenkins. “And be able to walk right into a good, solid middle-class technology job.”
Jenkins said the ultimate goal of the program is to create a change in intergenerational wealth. He explained that it is significantly more difficult for those in the first quintile to break the cycle of poverty, and once someone hits the middle-class earning threshold, doors begin to open. Jenkins said poverty itself is a trap and noted, “it’s very expensive to be poor.” He added that improving a family’s earning potential has a compounding effect when passed down generationally.
In addition to his Third Quintile project, Jenkins said he is most excited for St. Pete’s potential as a hot spot for technological development in 2022. He said he has never been fond of the west coast, Silicon Valley environment, calling it “super clique-y” and more about who you know rather than what you bring to the table.
“The way that we do technology in St. Pete is so much friendlier,” said Jenkins. “It’s broader, and there’s more access to it.”
Jenkins wants to keep driving that idea forward in the new year. He said organizations like the Entrepreneur Social Club and various other venture capital and cryptocurrency groups emerging in the area indicate that Tampa Bay is becoming a leader in technological innovation on the east coast.
Jenkins said he is on the lookout for the next up-and-coming tech and crypto startups and wants to help mentor, drive and grow them to success.
“I want St. Pete to be on the map as a place where if you are a young entrepreneur looking for a rich environment and other people who are ready and willing to work for you, and most importantly, capital funding, that you know this is the place to go,” said Jenkins.
There is a bit of a battle for the heart of St. Pete, Jenkins said, and he will be watching to see how it plays out in the new year. He explained some in the city focus on the continued development of downtown, specifically with constructing new luxury condominiums. He said another segment of residents are worried the city is losing its heart and soul, specifically its vibrant art and music scene.
“Personally, I want to spend some more time making sure we preserve what I think is the culture of St. Pete,” said Jenkins. “That we don’t lose track of those kitschy little art studios and the music venues and the pridefulness of it – our diversity and inclusion.
“I think that it’s really important that we have some culture guardians who are out there, never losing sight of the fact that if it wasn’t for those things, St. Pete would have never become what it is.”