Friday, December 15, 2017
Business

Tampa Bay startups to gain all-in-one website

Parents will understand this. If you blink, you'll probably miss important moments in the growth of a child.

The same goes for Tampa Bay's startup community. The roots of the entrepreneurial scene here are enjoying another growth spurt in so many ways, it's tough to keep up. Let's try.

Part of the latest growth is physical. Downtown Tampa startup incubator Tampa Bay WaVE next month celebrates its new, eye-catching digs on the third floor of 500 E Kennedy Blvd. The relocation comes after spending a few years inside the Sykes Enterprise "Beer Can" building on Ashley. Although that space was compelling, the building was recently sold, and nearby parking for thrift-minded entrepreneurs proved challenging.

The new space, which I toured last week with WaVE president Linda Olson, already is awash in startups and co-working space activity. Replenished with another federal grant, Olson and her lean WaVE team are pursuing fresh niches, focusing programs geared to support women and possibly minority entrepreneurs.

WaVE is hardly the only physical addition to the region's startup scene. In St. Petersburg's emerging Innovation District — a piece of downtown that includes the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and All Children's Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine among others with startup interests — a new space at 2232 Fifth Ave. S has attracted entrepreneurs running businesses such as financial data firm Intrinio, Genius Central and Check I'm Here, with St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman slated to host a Sept. 30 ribbon-cutting. And as I reported last week, the University of Tampa unveiled its new Innovation and Collaboration building, dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship.

Another part of regional growth is the new focus on nurturing likely winners among startups. These are the ones that tend to have an actual product, real customers and genuine revenue. They may even have attracted multiple investors.

This is an important step in this area's startup evolution. One of the great prizes sought by Tampa Bay is to see one of its own startups break out and become a substantial business. That business can provide bay area jobs but also serve as an icon beyond this metro area to entrepreneurs and investors that says Tampa Bay's startup community is building a track record of success.

Serial entrepreneur Steve Tingiris, WaVE board member and current founder of the Dabble Lab startup in WaVE's new space, has an idea that seems to be part of a bigger trend in this region. First, he wants to find 10 of the area's most promising and maturing startups. Second, he wants to identify and recruit 100 of Tampa Bay's most influential businesspeople. And, third, he wants to formally connect the startups with the seasoned influentials in a series of meetings to help the entrepreneurs take promising startups to the next level.

Tingiris says it's another step that goes beyond recruiting raw entrepreneurs and teaching them the basics.

That same theme was echoed Friday by Sean Kennedy, who helps run the Greenhouse business assistance center in downtown St. Petersburg. That's where, on Wednesday mornings, area entrepreneurs present their startup ideas at the "1 Million Cups" (of coffee) pitch sessions to an often-packed room. Kennedy said the city's plan to start its own Economic Development Corp. and actively recruit companies to the city will bring a fresh opportunity to connect big businesses with local entrepreneurs.

John Morrow, who has started several successful companies and serves as USF St. Petersburg's entrepreneur in residence, echoed that message. "We're trying to help more companies with customers and revenues with possible funding."

Finally, one other critical part of the region's entrepreneurial growth seeks to improve what may be most lacking: communications.

On Friday, a regional group known as the Entrepreneurial Pow Wow met at the Poynter Institute. The downtown St. Petersburg journalism school (and owner of the Tampa Bay Times) has set aside portions of its building to house the Innovation Lab, where startups can lease space. The Pow Wow gathers key bay area people who are affiliated with incubators, university programs, business support groups and other startup interests to discuss ways to boost the region's entrepreneurial ecosystem.

At the top of Friday's agenda: the unveiling of a website that aims to offer a visual map of (hopefully) all the major startup assets — from incubators and accelerators to co-working space, university-college entrepreneurship programs and more — that the Tampa Bay area has to offer.

You would think that after all these years, such an online resource would already exist. Nope. There are resource lists and sites that explain portions of the area's resources. But this one, says Danielle Weitlauf, a veteran incubator manager and now a startup consultant, aims to be comprehensive and constantly updated.

That's the dream, at least. Others helping to drive this online site — it will be called mystartuptampabay.com — include Monica Stynchula and James Slusser, both of the startup Reunion Care, and Bevan Gray-Rogel, founder of Encore Tampa Bay.

The idea for the online visual map goes to Stuart Rogel, former Tampa Bay Partnership CEO and now a consultant helping startups. He noticed Seattle had a version of a map indicating startup assets, which inspired the Tampa Bay project.

Attending the Pow Wow was Randy Berridge, longtime president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, the influential coalition of Central Florida economic development groups and major area universities. He volunteered on the spot his group's resources to help support Tampa Bay's startup map, which he characterized as a strong step forward among Florida metro areas.

Will it work? The website will only be as useful and timely as the information it receives about area startup resources.

Still, kudos to somebody finally taking the initiative to try to get such a fundamental website up and running. It has been a sorely lacking resource for new and serial entrepreneurs, investors and anyone — like me — who blinked and missed the latest leaps forward by our startup community.

Contact Robert Trigaux at [email protected] Follow @venturetampabay.

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