TAMPA, Fla. — The annual Synapse Summit, which returns to Tampa this week for its third year, will for the first time feature a big name in the aerospace industry looking for potential partnerships with Bay area startups: 

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. 

  • Synapse a nonprofit that connects investors with startups
  • NASA looking to make inroads in Tampa Bay area
  • More Destination: Space stories

For decades, NASA has loomed large over Central and Coastal Florida. Launches from Kennedy Space Center have become an almost regular occurrence, captivating residents and space enthusiasts. 

"Cape Canaveral, the Kennedy Space Center, NASA is a huge part of what has taken place in Florida,” said Brian Kornfeld, president of Synapse. “It's a huge part of the economy and it's a huge part of business and industry.”

Now the aerospace giant is looking to make inroads into the Tampa Bay area and beyond by partnering with startup companies. This week, it will receive pitches at the annual Synapse Summit in Tampa, a rare opportunity for startups looking to expand.

“To be able to connect with one of the biggest, best customers in our state like NASA gives people more opportunities than they've ever had in the past,” Kornfeld said.

Synapse is a nonprofit organization that works to connect investors with companies of varying size and expertise. The goal is to establish ties and grow local and regional economies, and the summit is part of that strategy.

With NASA’s participation in this year’s summit, the stakes are high.

“These companies are not your typical startup out of somebody's garage,” said Richard Munassi, director of Tampa Bay Wave. “These are companies that have some traction that are spun out of universities and that have validation on multiple levels.” 

Munassi will serve as a judge identifying which companies would be a good fit to partner with NASA. Some of those startups vying for a government contract are based in Tampa. 

“I think it's very reflective of the fact that Tampa is moving and moving quickly and becoming a national player as far as technology,” Munassi said. 

Artificial intelligence and biotech companies are among those NASA wants to collaborate with.