Entrepreneurial ecosystem keeps building but trick is to get it to a tipping point
If you build it, will they come?
Wake up and good morning. News of Tampa Bay start-up activity and the efforts to support entrepreneurs is gathering steam even as eyes remain focused on the potential of the planned First WaVE Venture Center as a one-stop shop for business start-ups coming soon to the Beer Can building (Rivergate Tower) in downtown Tampa. Here's a sampling:
* The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce just launched a Startup Scholars Program aimed at choosing three entrepreneurs and assisting them with mentors and assistance in finding seed capital and providing guidance in sales growth. The chamber will help assess any gaps in a start-up plan, offer a chamber membership to enourage access to events and networking opportunities, provide a mentor selected by the chamber's business innovation subcommittee, plus "recognition" of being chosen as a startup scholar. Hey, anything that keeps some momentum going in building the area's so-called "entrepreneurial ecosystem" is good news. Let's hope this new program talks to the other projects already in the works, including the coming First WaVE Venture Center. Read more about the chamber program.
* One of the original six start-ups that made it through the Gazelle Lab business accelerator program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg is making recent progress. We knew it then under the name AutoIQ, a business designed to help drivers connect wirelessly with automotive services. It's changed its named since then to Carvoyant and now we learn it's just received venture capital funding from a Massachusetts "seed stage" investor called Stage 1 Ventures. Entrepreneur-in-charge Bret Tobey (photo, left) is Carvoyant CEO (read his blog here). Read more about the funding here. (Tobey photo, James Borchuck, Tampa Bay Times.)
* The challenge of finding investors in area start-ups was raised at an 83 Degrees Wednesday evening event held at downtown Tampa's CAMLS building featuring Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn (photo, right) and others. Buckhorn reminded the audience that there may be plenty or rich people willing to invest in businesses in the Tampa Bay area. But they tend to be older investors much more comfortable putting their money into real estate projects and old school (my word) opportunities rather than technology start-ups they do not really understand. That's the big trick here, isn't it? It's been pointed out that there's really a thin core of senior statesmen serial entrepreneurs with the success, wealth and track record to step up and help the best ideas in area start-ups. Some of those names include Tom Wallace, now of Red Vector in Tampa, who has personally invested in a Gazelle Lab start-up, Clay Biddinger now of Kenyon Energy and John West who sold his System One tech staffing business to Monster.com and is now focused on building his business called Hire Velocity and its more recent parent company Hire Partners.
The point? Building a start-up culture with even the slightest feel of Silicon Valley requires more start-ups, more failures, more successes and another generation or two of serial entrepreneurs here to invest locally in new businesses. That must be encouraged but it will also take patience and a discipline (historically not one of Tampa Bay's or Florida's strengths) to stay the course.
(Buckhorn photo: Edmund D. Fountain, Tampa Bay Times.)
-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times