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Inclusion Lives Here – Committee


In March 2020, Synapse set out our annual strategic objectives, one of which was a focus on diversity and diversification. As the nation finally began reckoning with systemic barriers to racial equality on the streets and in board rooms, we at Synapse also took a close and honest look at the need for greater equality and inclusion in the innovation community. We saw that Synapse had a unique opportunity to lead Florida’s innovation community towards more inclusive and diverse representation. We started by reaching out to diverse community members and leaders and really listening to their experiences, their needs and their suggestions. 

To truly create change, listening isn’t enough. Action is essential. In July 2020, Synapse established Inclusion Lives Here, a committee of Synapse Impact Board members focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. This committee was approved unanimously by the Synapse Impact Board. 

Synapse will continue to share the goals and actions of our committee in the hope that it will inspire others with specific, tangible steps each person and organization can take to create a truly equitable innovation community.

Inclusion Lives Here Committee Mission Statement

Synapse is committed to promoting a truly diverse, equitable, and inclusive ecosystem throughout Florida that will provide more equitable access to opportunities leading to more success for the entire community. 


Inclusion Lives Here Committee Charter

Diversity is one of Synapse’s core values. Now more than ever, it is apparent that diversity, equity and inclusion within Florida’s innovation community requires specific attention to be paid and a concerted effort made. Too often, parts of our community are overlooked and underserved. 

Synapse has formed the Inclusion Lives Here Committee including members from diverse backgrounds, industries, races, ethnicities and gender identifications. 

  • Synapse is committed to being thoughtful and intentional about choosing speakers for webinars and events, ensuring equitable representation. The Committee works with Synapse staff to create meaningful content and programming that serves a diverse audience and helps Synapse to identify subject matter experts from a variety backgrounds on all stages, including the mainstage. 
  • Synapse will continue to create content to further the educational resources available to our statewide community. The Committee will help Synapse to both identify inequities and propose solutions. 
  • The Committee will work with Synapse staff to encourage partners to place DEI as a priority and assist them in doing so (e.g.: seminars/workshops for executives, accountability peer groups/roundtables, etc.)
  • Synapse is committed to curating meaningful connections throughout Florida, based upon merit while looking to overcome any internal connection or relationship bias. 
  • Synapse’s efforts will be transparent and the committee serves as a mechanism for accountability for achieving these goals, and identifying the short and long term goals which align with the Committee’s and Synapse’s overall mission.

Inclusion Lives Here Committee- 2020-2021 Objectives

Synapse is proud to make our goals and progress transparent through updates to this web page.  We hope in this spirit the innovation community will both help Synapse to achieve these goals and be inspired to take action in your own organizations towards a more inclusive and equitable innovation community.

Internal Short Term:
  • Reviewing documented policies and procedures against internal goals to ensure an  inclusive working environment within Synapse.
    • While Synapse has never discriminated in hiring or vendor relationships, in 2021 Synapse has officially adopted a non discrimination policy. 
  • Continuing to diversify the Synapse Impact Board and Board Committees.
    • Synapse has added 23 new Board member companies as of May 2021; 15 have appointed female and/or minority executives as representatives to the Synapse Impact Board. 42% of current members of the Synapse Impact Board are female and/or minority individuals.
  • Develop procedures for ensuring that vendor applications/bids are made available to a  diverse set of candidates.
    • In submitting RFPs during the 2020 year, Synapse specifically sought out and submitted requests to diverse vendors for their consideration. 
External Short Term:
  •  Identifying companies to make introductions for career and business sponsorship and/or investment opportunities for the community. 
    • Synapse is actively seeking these opportunities and has begun measuring and tracking introductions in Q2 2021.  
  • Identifying and creating meet and greet sessions where questions can be  asked/answered for the advancement of all diverse community members. 
    • Synapse has created these opportunities throughout all of our 2020 & 2021 programming with intentionality, and will continue to do so:
      • Libate & Learn sessions (2020 & 2021 ongoing)
      • Synapse Converge (June 2020) 
      • Synapse Converge: GEW Edition (November 2020) 
      • Synapse Summit (March 2021) 
      • Successful DEI Initiatives in Action Community Conversation (June 2021)
  • Securing sponsors and partners for Synapse interested in the diversity and inclusion space. 
    • Synapse launched the Inclusion Lives Here Committee in 2020, which includes representatives of current Board members as well as new companies and community organizations.
    • Several Impact Board member companies have led sessions and sponsorship opportunities specifically to advance DEI content, initiatives and opportunities.
  • Fostering economic inclusion for Florida’s diverse innovation community via introductions for career entrance and advancement, mentorship, sponsorship and investors.
    • This continues to be an ongoing effort for the entire Synapse team both internally and externally.  A few examples: 
      • All Synapse programs feature subject matter experts from diverse backgrounds, elevating those perspectives as important contributions to the innovation ecosystem.
      • Synapse Summit 2021, our marquee event, featured our most diverse speaker roster to date: more than 60% of speakers were from diverse backgrounds including women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ subject matter experts.
      • Synapse earned a grant from Truist to enable Synapse Converge: GEW Edition to be hosted for free to the entire community.  Content was specifically geared towards minority community leaders with sessions around understanding the needs of women in business, the black community, Hispanic leaders, veterans, and creating a welcoming culture in the workplace.
      • Synapse Converge: GEW Edition included a 12-part “Start-Up Toolkit” series led primarily by faculty from Florida colleges and universities.  This remains accessible and free to the community on our website: https://synapsefl.com/startuptoolkit/
      • The ILH Roundtable hosted exclusively for Synapse Impact Board members on January 27, 2021 created opportunities for a candid conversation with Florida founders and ecosystem leaders about their experiences navigating professional opportunities.  Synapse continues to facilitate warm introductions to create economic opportunities, and seek out partnerships with organizations that are seeking this shared goal.
Internal Long Term:
  • Continuing to diversify the Synapse Impact Board and Board Committees. 
    • This is an ongoing effort in conversation with existing and new board members. 
    • 2021 KPI: 46% of Impact Board representatives should be female, LGBTQ+ and/or BIPOC (representing a 10% increase; 42% of the current Board members are female, LGBTQ+ and/or BIPOC)
  • Continue to improve upon vendor relationships. 
    • ⅔ of the vendors with which Synapse currently works are run by women and/or minority founders (6 out of 9).  8/9 have been long-term relationships (i.e. 2 years or more)
    • Synapse issued 1 RFP in 2020 for a PR partner; 3 of the 5 companies invited to reply to the RFP were run by a minority and/or female founder.  Synapse worked with two PR partners, 1 run by a minority founder.
    • As Synapse seeks new vendor relationships we will continue to seek diverse partners, and those who value and support diversity within their mission.
External Long Term:
  • Improving partner relationships to ensure that the companies with whom we partner are  placing a high priority on diversity, equity, and inclusion. 
    • Synapse has been outspoken by prioritizing long term DEI efforts within the organization and sharing those goals publicly by creating a dedicated webpage and hosting conversations during our public-facing events including Converge in June 2020, Converge Global Entrepreneurship Week in November 2020, Synapse Summit 2021, our ongoing Libate & Learn series and DEI Community Conversations. 
    • We clearly defined those objectives for the Synapse Impact Board, which voted unanimously to include the ILH Committee and its founding members on the board.  The January 2021 ILH Roundtable was exclusively a learning opportunity for board members, with a professional facilitator.  
    • Synapse proactively requests that companies providing a speaker use those opportunities to “pass the microphone” to a subject matter expert from a diverse background.
    • Synapse creates opportunities for partner companies to speak about their DEI efforts in our programming.
  • Continue to build upon and create new partnerships with sponsors and partners interested in the diversity and inclusion space. 
    • Synapse encourages all partners, sponsors and board members to engage in advancing DEI efforts.  Several existing partners requested to discuss their DEI initiatives including ERGs, supplier diversity, pay equity, recognizing unconscious bias, and other related topics.  
    • The ILH Committee continues to expand with new partners, both from current Board members and attracting new participants.
  • Identifying and securing prospective educators and educational institutions to create  partnership and teaching opportunities. 
    • The 12-part Startup Toolkit was the first initiative to address this opportunity.  
    • Synapse aims to create strategic partnerships with Florida-based HBCUs and primarily Hispanic serving institutions in 2021.
    • Synapse leadership completed USF’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace Certification (May 2021). 
    • Synapse is collaborating with USF leadership to include their educational leaders in ILH programming and the committee. 
  • Continue fostering economic inclusion.
    • Synapse will continue to proactively seek out and enthusiastically promote initiatives that accomplish this objective.  Examples include the Glaring Gap Summit and report led by Embarc Collective and the Minority Entrepreneurship Institute’s Florida pitch competition.

Committee Members

Dr. Wendy Norfleet is the CEO and founder of Norfleet Integrated Solutions (NIS). NIS specializes in working with clients to provide strategic solutions that include training and development, executive coaching, and business consulting. Wendy is a published author and holds life coach, leadership development and career development certifications. She was one of Jacksonville Business Journal Women of Influence 2020 and has been named as one of the Small Business Leaders of the Year for 2021. Wendy is a graduate of […]

Justice Gennari (He/Him,His) is the President & CEO of the Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber. Since joining the Tampa Bay LGBT Chamber, they have seen it grow in recorded numbers and achievements, including hosting the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce International Business and Leadership Conference in 2019. Justice is responsible for the vision, strategic direction and overall operations of the Chamber. He leads the Chamber’s mission to “advance common business interests, economic growth, and equality in the workplace and society.” In […]

Thaddeus Bullard entered this world as a statistic. He was the product of rape; his mother was only 12 years old when she delivered him. Bullard grew up in poverty, oftentimes hungry, sometimes living in homeless shelters, and other times sleeping in cars. When they could afford an apartment, they couldn’t pay the electricity. His family inevitably would be evicted because they were behind in their rent. He always knew when that day came because he find the doors bolted […]

Ben Dachepalli is a shareholder and chair of Hill Ward Henderson’s Construction & Design Practice Group. As a Florida board-certified construction attorney, his practice includes the negotiation and drafting of construction related agreements and complex construction litigation claims regarding contracts, construction defects, design errors, and construction liens. Ben represents owners, developers, contractors, construction managers, design professionals and subcontractors in all phases of the construction process. As a former board member of the Construction Industry Licensing Board for the State of […]

Mac Gardner, a Certified Financial Planner practitioner, has served in the financial services industry for more than 20 years.  His passion for financial literacy led him to publish his first book, “Motivate Your Money!” in 2013. As his family grew and his clients began to ask him for ways to teach their kids about managing money he decided to use elements from his first book to develop a financial literacy platform for young children. The Four Money Bears represent the […]

Andy is a tech industry veteran and an innovation entrepreneur with decades of experience in driving new business and economic growth through collaboration and community building.  Andy is currently in the Doctor of Business of Administration program at University of South Florida in Tampa, and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering and a master’s degree in Business Administration from USF.   Andy founded and serves on the board of thriving companies including Dynamic Communities, LLC., DCE Productions, and […]

Cesar is the founder and president of the Tampa Bay Latin Chamber of Commerce. Cesar Hernandez is a  first-generation American of indigenous Mayan immigrants from Guatemala, Cesar R. Hernandez blazed a trail to the University of South Florida where he would build a foundation to become a young leader in the business community. Cesar has worked the past 10 years as an innovation policy advisor, public affairs strategist and government relations professional. Perhaps Cesar’s most widely publicized role to date […]

Marcus Howard is the CEO of ProjectMQ, an experiential marketing agency that uses family friendly esports, to help colleges and other non-endemic brands more effectively engage younger audiences. He’s also the President of the Tampa Association of Gaming, a nonprofit dedicated to growing the gaming industry and STEAM youth programs in the Tampa Bay region. Marcus got Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas when he was six, and he’s been playing video games ever since. […]

Kirstie is currently the Executive Director of GuideWell Innovation, where she works to connect entrepreneurs and innovators across the United States with strategic opportunities at GuideWell and the broader healthcare ecosystem. Before joining GuideWell, Kirstie was the President & CEO of InBIA, a global non-profit that serves over 900 business incubators, technology accelerators and economic development agencies in over 60 countries. She has also held executive roles at five venture-backed technology startups, including her role as co-founder and CEO of […]

Avril Stinson, seasoned in investor and sponsor relations, brings years of investor relations and sponsor engagement knowledge to the Tampa Bay Chamber. Stinson is passionate about powerful community support development in addition to networking, programming, and strategic leadership within organizations. Prior to joining the Tampa Bay Chamber as Director of the Minority Business Accelerator & Economic Inclusion. Stinson previously worked at Tampa Bay Wave as Director of Development, and at the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council as the Investor Relations […]

Ebony Vaz is the Founder and CEO of Above Promotions, a marketing technology, and public relations company in the Tampa, FL area. She is also the author of the book titled “Because You’re Small: Effective Marketing Strategies for Immediate Implementation” and a marketing instructor for various professional training and accelerator programs. Ebony interweaves her engineering background and government research in virtual reality and information security with her public relations and marketing expertise to help implement science and technology into storytelling […]

Nancy Vaughn is a multi-passionate entrepreneur and principal, PR & Marketing Director at White Book Agency, an award-winning, full-service public/media relations, culture marketing and special events firm serving fashion, wellness and lifestyle brands. Always curious, Nancy is known for bringing her special blend of critical thinking and creativity to businesses looking to discover (and uncover) new ways to increase their visibility.  Nancy excels at assisting media professionals and clients alike, and is called upon frequently by media outlets for her […]