Trying to keep up with creative business startups across the Tampa Bay area is a bit like running around catching raindrops in a paper cup. You're bound to miss a lot. But there is some surprising momentum out there in Startup Land if you take the time to look. This column offers a quick drive-by of some good things happening among recent startups. We'll update four young companies first detailed for Tampa Bay Times readers in a special June report that introduced several dozen entrepreneurial businesses in this area. That report was important because the Tampa Bay region, along with others nationwide, has caught a case of startup fever. Universities, cities and counties, veteran entrepreneurs and investors (slowly) are beginning to realize the sense in supporting business startups as they become a pipeline of economic innovation, a draw for creative young businesspeople and, eventually, a growing source of quality jobs. Let's get to it.
Jordan Raynor and his startup partners at Tampa's Citizinvestor, a crowdfunding and civic engagement platform for local government projects, are finalists in the first-ever V2Venture competition. It will be held at the inaugural SXSW (that's short for the tech-edgy "South By SouthWest" gathering) V2V conference that starts today in Las Vegas. Citizinvestor is one of five finalists in the "innovative world technologies" category. The startup will deliver a two-minute pitch and gets feedback from judges before a winner is chosen. "If we win, I guess we get bragging rights," Raynor says.
Citizinvestor last week had its 11th project posted with its ninth partner city. The online public funding site works with 65-plus municipalities. It was funded in April and seeks another round next month.
Ever since Tampa founder Gina Almonte of Refresh-a-Baby patented a baby bottle nipple that can convert water bottles to baby bottles, she's pushed for retail stores to carry her product. Now she's got a good shot at the big time.
Almonte tried to get Refresh-a-Baby into Walmart by talking to a local store manager. She was referred to Walmart corporate to apply online only to be rejected. Then she was invited to compete in a Walmart contest for local inventors called "Get on the Shelf." She sent in a product video. Out of thousands of applicants nationwide, Refresh-a-Baby was one of 117 products chosen to get into the public voting round that ends Sept. 2. There's more voting information at http://bit.ly/16G7qdx.
In Wesley Chapel, startup partner Kerriann Greenhalgh says her KeriCure line of topical wound care products will soon be available in 855 Publix locations.
Black & Denim
The first Black & Denim jeans and apparel store opens Aug. 29 in Ybor City (1910 E Seventh Ave.), says co-founder Roberto Torres. The 5-year-old startup sells its goods to more than 50 boutiques, but now wants to make that all-important plunge into direct retail sales of its "100 percent American materials" straight to consumers.
Many startups don't make it. It's the nature of the beast. And it's a key reason to nurture a steady pipeline here.
But these are just four examples among many positive startup tales emerging in this metro area. Plenty more are waiting to be told.
Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]