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Robert Trigaux

If you knew Wufoo, like they knew Wufoo: How breakout start-ups matter for Tampa Bay




Can The First WaVE Venture Center, soon to be housed in the Sykes Enterprises/Beer Can building at 400 N Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa, become the regional mecca for start-ups and entrepreneurs? There's a lot of human horsepower behind this effort, if they can stay focused on the prize. (Tampa Bay Times photo.)

Wake up and good morning. If you heard of a start-up company that took in only $118,000 in outside investment and then sold for $35 million, would you call that a success? You betcha.

Tampa Bay had just one of those successes because that's the story of Wufoo, a Tampa creation of brother Chris and Ryan Campbell and friend Kevin Hale (read more about them here) that lets you build forms (surveys, questionnaires -- whatever) online. It was bought in 2011 by SurveyMonkey and the firm was relocated to California from Tampa.

Why talk about Wufoo? Because that's the kind of start-up that Linda Olson of the Tampa Bay WaVE and others in a recently formed regional coalition of entrepreneurial support groups want to see happen again and again right here. Yes, Olson, says, Florida is lean on venture capital funding sources. But by supporting entrepreneurs with work space, seasoned mentors and better access to funding, Olson argues that successful start-ups can be generated -- like Wufoo -- more efficiently, often without huge amounts of outside capital.

Wufoo's "value" materialized because another business was willing to put a price tag on it and buy it. The next trick, of course, is to not only encourage more breakthrough companies but to keep them in the Tampa Bay area, adding jobs, prestige and building a culture of innovation.

Olson spoke about the importance of Tampa Bay efforts to nurture some breakout companies -- start-ups that go on to succeed in dramatic fashion -- in a conversation this week after the U.S. Department of Commerce awarded a $1 million grant to a local coalition of universities and tech advocacy groups. Those funds will be leveraged with matching local money to open The FirstWaVE Venture Center in 15,000 square feet inside the Beer Can/Sykes Enterprises building in downtown Tampa. Call it a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs. Read more in my column in today's Tampa Bay Times.

It's extremely early. Olson heads to Washington, D.C., soon to learn how the grant will work for Tampa Bay. No one's quite sure yet who will run the center. And a web site that explains more about the Center is still a ways off. Entrepreneurs are, by definition, folks who do things their own way, so any "Center" of this nature will need to be careful not to smother the entrepreneurial spirit in bureaucracy.

Still, this is cause to celebrate and contemplate the potential here.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columnist, Tampa Bay Times

[Last modified: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 7:55am]


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