Paul Sohl, retired Rear Admiral of the US Navy and CEO of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, describes the Orlando region’s boundary-breaking collaboration and tells out-of-towners to “imagine if…”

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This week’s Orlando Profiles in Tech features Paul Sohl, retired Rear Admiral of the US Navy and CEO of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council. He describes the Orlando region’s boundary-breaking collaboration and tells out-of-towners to “imagine if…”

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Have you experienced an “only in Orlando” moment? If so, what was it? 

That’s a great question. In conversations with folks around The Corridor, I’ll sometimes ask them for their “Aha!” moment – like an epiphany. I have “Aha!” moments all the time and having just moved our family from Maryland to the Orlando region (a nice geographic mid-point along the Florida High Tech Corridor), this question’s an easy one for me. It happens all the time. It’s the moment I ask current Orlando residents where they’re from.

Might sound like an interesting answer but one thing I’ve found amazingly interesting and unique about this region is that there are a TON of people NOT from here – at least not originally. That richness of “diversity of backgrounds” can be amazingly powerful and makes for very interesting conversations. I get to learn about the whole world just by meeting people in my backyard and that doesn’t just happen anywhere.

What brought you to the Orlando region? What’s kept you here? 

After 33 years of active duty service with the Navy (of which I loved every single day), I spent some dedicated time quietly thinking about “what’s next”. Over many months, I figured out two guideposts that helped me answer that “what’s next” question:

  1. I wanted to have an opportunity to “give back” for all the blessings our family received from decades in the Navy;  and
  2. I wanted to be able to learn something new every day. 

I believe this opportunity with The Corridor actually found me and not the other way around. I wasn’t hunting for it. I had no idea it existed. And yet It matches my guideposts perfectly. Orlando is in the heart of The Corridor, so it was the perfect landing spot. 

What makes Orlando the right place for your business? How does being in Orlando contribute to your business success or personal growth?

Let me focus on the personal growth piece and what I’m beginning to learn in my first year living in Orlando that has helped me, I hope, become a better person. And I’ll tie it to technology. 

I think it’s easy in the high tech world to be a bit myopic and think that high tech is all about the cutting edge, really cool, super-technical stuff at the leading edge of a given field. That’s part of it, for sure. What I have come to realize by engaging with great leaders here in Orlando is that tech is really about the positive impact it can have to benefit the people, neighborhoods, and communities we serve.  There is a great sense of community here – incredibly rich, vibrant and passionate neighborhoods that help each other. I’ve learned that from folks like Eddy Moratin at Lift Orlando, John Rivers building the 4Roots Farm Campus, and Rose LeJiste at Black Orlando Tech. 

Tech for tech’s sake misses the point. Tech to serve others….now that’s cool in my mind.

What makes the Orlando tech ecosystem unique? 

I find a term from the book Organized Innovation by Dr. Steve Currall, the President of University of South Florida, describes the Orlando tech ecosystem especially well. The term is “boundary-breaking collaboration”.  I see it all the time here in Orlando and across The Corridor as well – high tech entrepreneurs and other teammates in the tech ecosystem actively reaching across technology stovepipes to collaborate and learn from each other. Folks here are driven by the phrase “Imagine if…”  That takes courage. That takes energy. And it takes a lot of patience, too. I truly believe when we actively (and even sometimes with reckless abandon!) strive to “Imagine if…” with the entire tech ecosystem, that’s when the magic of the region truly emerges.

What‘s one thing you wish Orlando had? What will it take to make that a reality?

Honestly, I haven’t come across anything yet that I wish Orlando had. There are too many really cool things to explore for our family right now. We just saw the musical “Little Shop of Horrors” put on by Orlando Shakes at the outdoor Walt Disney Amphitheater at Lake Eola Park. Awesome production with great local talent. Not many places have something like that. We’re still in “discovery mode” of all things exciting here in Orlando.

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?

Imagine if…

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