Disclosure: My company, SeatSwap, was selected to participate in leAD’s inaugural Selection Days process for their first cohort in 2017.
When Spanish explorer, Juan Ponce de León set out to find the long-mythologized Fountain of Youth in 1513, he landed in what is now St. Augustine, Florida. Little did he know that several centuries later, that a modern-day science-driven Fountain of Youth would spring up on Florida’s west coast.
If you haven’t heard of Lake Nona, you’re not alone. Located within the city limits of Orlando, Lake Nona is the brainchild of British Billionaire, Joe Lewis’s hybrid holding company/family office, Tavistock. The master-planned community, which sprung up in a relatively undeveloped part of Orlando, feels like it’s equal parts proof of concept and grand social experiment. Unlike long-standing communities that have been around for centuries and have had to adapt and evolve over time, Lake Nona was able to effectively start from scratch, creating a community built around the necessities and amenities of our modern culture, economy, and way of living. The first key ingredient to the success of Lake Nona was attracting industry, which being in a place that has no state income tax was already an implicit draw but then they decided to up the proverbial ante by installing a true 5G infrastructure as well as gigabit internet connectivity.
As Tavistock Vice President of Innovation, Juan Santos describes it, “We have had different waves that have powered Lake Nona, with the first wave being what was dubbed ‘Medical City’ as organizations such as the University of Central Florida, the Veterans Administration, and Johnson and Johnson established roots in the community.”
That first wave spurred an influx of transplants who decided to make Lake Nona their home. Soon after, other major organizations such as the United States Tennis Association (USTA) decided to build their flagship campus in Lake Nona, which is the USTA’s largest facility, consisting of over 100 tennis courts, which host over 300 collegiate matches each year.
After successfully attracting corporate partners, the current focus has turned to fostering a culture of collaboration among the businesses that call Lake Nona home. “The next wave for Lake Nona is focused around the idea of collaborative innovation. We’ve created this environment where companies collaborate but now we are asking ourselves how we make that more robust,” said Santos.
To help achieve that goal, Tavistock enlisted an organization that has been at the forefront of innovation in the sports technology for the better part of the past three years, in leAD Sports Accelerator. Since launching their inaugural Berlin-based accelerator program in 2017, leAD, which is named in honor of late Adidas Founder, Adi Dassler, (”Legacy of Adi Dassler”) and was founded by three of Dassler’s grandchildren, launched their first accelerator program in 2017, has steadily expanded since then adding a separate $50 Million Series A focused fund called ADvantage Sports Tech fund, which makes follow-on investments in both leAD portfolio companies as well as other companies in the sports tech space.
Though they have been able to attract a number of U.S.-based companies, the Lake Nona Accelerator program is leAD’s first formal initiative based in the United States. However, unlike their other programs which primarily focus on three core sub-verticals: Fan Engagement, Connected Athletes, and Next Gen Sports, the Lake Nona Accelerator will focus primarily on what leAD describes as “The Future of Living.” The accelerator will run for six months and focus on three main sub-verticals: sports and health tech, smart cities, and the future of nutrition. The companies that are selected to participate in the accelerator will receive an initial investment of $75,000 and will have access to all of the amenities and infrastructure of Lake Nona, which includes their ultra-low latency 5G network and of course Lake Nona’s residents who have become enthusiastic guinea pigs in this grand social experiment.
According to Santos, the pioneers who have opted to make Lake Nona their home and whose median age is 37, are extremely proud and willing to serve as the data points that will hopefully make communities such as Lake Nona the model for modern living. “It has become a badge of honor for our residents, they call themselves ‘Citizen Scientists,” added Santos.
When asked about the prospects of their partnership with leAD, Santos exclaimed: “We’re extremely excited to welcome leAD as a partner and create this one-of-kind environment that supports and enables innovators. Lake Nona has always been a place where ideas are imagined and tested. This new facility for tech start-ups featuring 5G technology within our existing well-being community creates a perfect ecosystem for the next great breakthrough that will transform how we live.”
LeAD’s Head of Accelerator, Nathalie Sonne added that “Lake Nona is the perfect piloting city and the perfect playground for innovation.”
Considering this is a “first-of-its-kind” program in a “first-of-its-kind” city with a broad ambit, neither side is quite sure what kinds of innovations will emerge from the accelerator, nor is anyone totally certain what the future of living will look like or if these two organizations will be able to crack the code in finding a modern-day equivalent to the Fountain of Youth, but from all indications that future seems bright.