Friday, April 20, 2018
Business

Worry over entrepreneurial stall sparks plan to attract startup talent, capital

Tampa Bay's infrastructure for business startups and entrepreneurs still looks like a jigsaw puzzle with too many missing pieces.

A renewed effort will try to complete more of the picture.

Today, a project dubbed Tampa Bay's "6/20 Plan" will be unveiled with two key goals. First, it will seek more talent by reinvigorating the region's so-called entrepreneurial ecosystem with involvement by successful area entrepreneurs.

A second and tougher task seeks more venture capital from angel investors backing startups in their earliest days to later-stage investing in companies with real products and revenues but still in need of financing. Say the backers of the 6/20 Plan: "Florida's virtually nonexistent seed and early-stage equity capital pipeline, combined with the latest economic downturn, have caused too much local talent to leave in pursuit of greener pastures."

Longer term, the mission is to better coordinate dozens of area business startup and entrepreneur groups.

Researchers here looked at how other cities like Boulder, Colo., or Philadelphia achieved successful track records for business startups.

"To get an entrepreneurial ecosystem to flourish, we found successful area entrepreneurs have to get behind the plan," says John Morrow, who has started and sold companies of his own. Morrow serves as "entrepreneur in residence" at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and co-founded the Gazelle Lab business accelerator to mentor area startups.

Now he is the front man for Tampa Bay's 6/20 Plan.

The plan is called 6/20 not only because of the date it is being unveiled. It also means that, to build a quality entrepreneurial ecosystem, it takes at least a half dozen entrepreneurs that are committed to provide leadership for 20 years.

So far, the 6/20 Plan has been endorsed broadly by the entrepreneurship programs at USF St. Petersburg and the University of Tampa, plus BarCamp Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Technology Forum and more than a dozen other startup, chamber and economic development groups.

Along with Morrow, those behind the initial 6/20 Plan include Daniel James Scott, Marvin Scaff, Bill Jackson and Brent Britton — all Gazelle Lab co-founders — plus Rebecca White, head of entrepreneurship programs at the University of Tampa.

Has our entrepreneurial momentum plateaued?

"We are concerned about that," White says. "Success breeds success. We've had successes but we need to keep startups here," referring to both companies and talented entrepreneurs who end up leaving the area.

The end game is jobs and growth driven by creating more business startups here.

Morrow cautions that the 6/20 Plan is not a corporation or organization. It is just a plan — one that needs broad and energetic buy-in from veteran entrepreneurs here.

Could we eventually see some type of coordinating body to keep diverse startup groups in the loop with one another? Could we see an "entrepreneurial ecosystem" in spirit as well as name?

Morrow's okay with those ideas. But right now, all he wants is input and conversation about 6/20.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at [email protected]

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