Ken Hall, Vice President of DeepWork Capital, discusses why he took a gamble on Orlando and why he thinks the next billion dollar company can be built here in Florida.
The Orlando innovation ecosystem is rich with high-caliber tech talent and boundary-pushing entrepreneurs. In an effort to foster a more connected community, the Orlando Tech Council presents “Profiles in Tech,” a new series highlighting the region’s top executives, innovators and movers and shakers whose ideas and companies are changing the world right from our own backyard.
This edition of Profiles in Tech features Ken Hall, Vice President of DeepWork Capital. He discusses his recent move to the region and how the region’s current ecosystem makes it the perfect place for DeepWork Capital to succeed.
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Have you experienced an “only in Orlando” moment? If so, what was it?
There hasn’t been one specific moment, but the combination of everything in the area has made me realize that the region is special. Moving from New York City, I was concerned that I wouldn’t have the same quality restaurants and bars, but the area has amazing food of all types (steakhouses, sushi, ramen, Italian, French, Mexican, Spanish, etc…), great cocktail bars (Mathers!), and countless boutique coffee shops. I was concerned there wouldn’t be as much to do, but my “free time” has never been busier. I was concerned that the startup community wouldn’t be as vibrant, but I have been thoroughly impressed with the programming and the community thus far. I was concerned that there wouldn’t be as much entertainment, but there are world-class experiences at my fingertips. I was concerned there wouldn’t be as much diversity, but a lot of people in Florida moved from other countries or states and actually have unique perspectives on issues, unlike many big city bubbles.
My “only in Orlando” moment was the realization that all of these things were available in an area that’s close to beautiful coastlines, near an international airport, and has weather where you can enjoy the outdoors year-round.
What brought you to the Orlando region? What’s kept you here?
I just moved to Orlando in May 2021 after spending the last four years of my life in New York City working for IBM. I fell in love with Florida when I left NYC to stay with family during the initial days of the pandemic in March 2020. I found myself thinking, “why would I ever leave this?” I eventually reached the state of mind where I became determined to make Florida my permanent home. If I could find the right opportunity and still be near family, I would take it.
I ultimately moved to Orlando for the opportunity to work with DeepWork Capital, an early-stage venture capital firm investing in technology and life sciences startups. Entrepreneurship is in my family’s DNA – my parents (my heroes and inspiration) owned a restaurant, my brother is the CEO of a small business, my uncle is an entrepreneur – and I have always wanted to build a career in venture capital to help other entrepreneurs similarly achieve their own dreams. I specifically decided to join the team at DeepWork because the founding partners are some of brightest people I have encountered in my career and are committed to the future of the community and our portfolio companies. I believe in the team, the thesis, and this community to the extent that I switched jobs and moved across the country for this opportunity. I look forward to working with great entrepreneurs, building great companies with this team, and shaping this community for decades to come.
What makes Orlando the right place for your business? How does being in Orlando contribute to your business success or personal growth?
DeepWork Capital invests primarily in geographically underserved regions like Florida. Rather than competing for deals in Silicon Valley, we are investing in great companies in areas that are historically neglected by investors. Orlando gives us a great pipeline of talent from local universities, an emerging technology community, proximity to prestigious healthcare systems and corporate partners, and a central location to several other attractive ecosystems throughout Florida.
If you use Zoom, Slack, or Dropbox, you likely never even interacted with someone from that company. Covid-19 accelerated this trend of “Product Led Growth”, but key sales processes have moved from golf courses and steakhouses to digital environments. Great products will win out, regardless of location. If that’s the case, why not build a company in a warm weather, low tax state like Florida? This is why I believe the next generation of great companies will be built here in Florida and why I think Orlando is the right place for our firm and our thesis. This is why I made the bet to move from New York to Florida and ultimately why I think the better days of this community are ahead of us.
(Note: I write and talk about Product Led Growth ad nauseum and am always happy to speak on the topic for those interested).
What makes the Orlando tech ecosystem unique?
Unfortunately, I think one of the most unique things about this environment is that it has so much unfulfilled potential. There is a lot of top talent graduating from local universities that wind up leaving the area. There are startups that historically looked to raise outside of the state and relocate. There are a lot of potential investors that have made money in real estate and other areas and aren’t interested in supporting venture capital firms. There are a lot of world-class corporations that are not engaged sufficiently in the ecosystem.
There will be a realization (you’re already starting to see this) that a rising tide lifts all boats. We are starting to see local businesses achieve profitable exits, hire throughout the community, and invest profits back into the ecosystem. We are starting to see some momentum in the right direction.
What‘s one thing you wish Orlando had? What will it take to make that a reality?
Less construction on I4 and a beach, but, since those both will likely never become realities, I’ll settle for a generational talent playing for the Orlando Magic. Yes, it’s only sports, but one successful draft (Lebron, Giannis, Curry, Jokic, etc…) can really change the culture of a city and cause people throughout the community to invest heavily in the local economy.
If you had to describe to an out-of-town friend what it’s like to live, work, learn and play in Orlando, what would you say?
Orlando is a city that avoids many of the typical headaches of a big city. You can have everything a big city has to offer (world-class entertainment, amazing food & drink, an international airport, nightlife, business opportunities, every retailer imaginable, etc..) while still maintaining the intimate community, extra space, golf courses, and proximity to beaches that is typically only available in small towns.
The Orlando Tech Council is composed of private industry, resource organizations and public partners that work to develop new programs with the core objectives: strengthen the Orlando region’s innovation resources, create new opportunities for companies to scale, and to amplify the region’s success stories, raising the global profile of Orlando as a leading community for entrepreneurship and innovation.