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2013 arrives with new energy, strategies to help regional entrepreneurs

Fresh signs are emerging that Tampa Bay's effort to support regional entrepreneurs and business startups is off to a strong start in 2013.

USF St. Petersburg's business school was just named the "outstanding emerging entrepreneurship program" in the United States.

In downtown Tampa, the much anticipated Tampa Bay WaVE Venture Center is opening its accelerator in the "Beer Can" (Rivergate Tower) building, with the first applications due by Feb. 1 and a boot camp for startups slated for Feb. 14.

And a group known as the Founder Institute, which calls itself the "world's largest startup accelerator," is testing this region's level of entrepreneurial fire to see if it is time to set up a local chapter here. The group held an initial gathering Tuesday evening in Tampa.

Combined, these three events lend new energy to ongoing efforts to offer education, business mentoring, access to investors and other tools to strengthen Tampa Bay's still-young entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Some of the key players aiding the business startup scene here, in addition to those mentioned above, include business incubators and accelerators at USF Tampa, the University of Tampa, the Tampa Bay Innovation Center in Largo, as well as the career and entrepreneurship center at St. Petersburg College — among many others.

This is no slam dunk.

A major missing piece here for business startups is the significant lack of venture capital focused on modern-day entrepreneurs. Younger people involved in startups tend to cultivate Internet-based business ideas that often lie out of the comfort zone of older Florida investors accustomed to investing in real estate or retail franchises.

That is a significant hurdle this area must overcome.

USF St. Petersburg collected its big "emerging program" award on Saturday at the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship's annual conference in San Francisco. In only its third year, the USF program beat out two other finalists, at the University of Maryland and the University of Rochester in New York.

"This provides needed validation for us and the community that we have accomplished a lot here in a short period of time," said USF professor and program director Bill Jackson.

The award goes to the USF College of Business Sustainable Entrepreneurship & Innovation Alliance, an umbrella group that includes programs taught by Jackson, and related startup programs taught by Daniel James Scott, Nathan Schwagler, John Morrow, pitch coach Elizabeth Markie and Wayne Brass, a consultant with USFSP's Small Business Development Center.

At Tampa Bay WaVE, founder Linda Olson has already helped launch several technology startups. "But to finally be positioned to formally launch the FirstWaVE Accelerator and welcome our first class of entrepreneurs is extremely rewarding," she stated.

And the Founder Institute? Let's hope it likes what it sees here enough to stick around. It says its goal is to "globalize Silicon Valley."

All in all, not a bad 2013 start for startups.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@tampabay.com.

2013 arrives with new energy, strategies to help regional entrepreneurs 01/15/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 8:18pm]

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