NEW PORT RICHEY — Longtime New Port Richey resident Greg Smith cannot believe the business opportunity that landed just steps from his back yard.
Smith has lived in the city for 25 years and built a career in the health care business, but now he wants to focus full time on his latest entrepreneurial endeavor. For years, he has been developing an app providing digital inventory tracking services to clients.
As he grew the idea, a partnership between the city and the Pasco Economic Development Council emerged to open a business incubator that provides office space, Wi-Fi connections, mentorships and training to start-ups.
Smith's Savealator LLC computer apps business is one of the first to be accepted to move into the PEDC's emerging New Port Richey SMARTstart. It's modeled after an incubator in Dade City that has proven successful in creating nearly 30 new jobs and is already in need of more space, according to Krista Covey, the PEDC's director of both programs.
Smith said he is thrilled to be moving into the incubator that officially opens with a ribbon-cutting on June 26 in downtown New Port Richey. A bonus for Smith is the 9,000-square-foot incubator, at 6347 Grand Blvd, is within walking distance of his house.
"It's really great to see this excitement in New Port Richey," Smith said. "I'm really looking forward to co-mingling with the other businesses in the building and bouncing ideas off of people. I really believe it's going to open up so many opportunities."
The incubator is a win for the city as well. The property served as a post office until the 1970s and was later owned by First Baptist Church. New Port Richey bought the property in 2005 as part of a push to redevelop the city's downtown. But it has remained empty through the recent economic downturn and the City Council's wrangling over what to do with the property.
As the city's financial outlook has brightened in the last couple of years, the city hired the PEDC to help with spurring economic growth. Opening an incubator in the heart of the city caught on with the council.
In recent months, the city has put more than $40,000 into sprucing up the building with new paint, carpeting and doors. The PEDC has been instrumental in getting the program ready to launch this month, hopeful that many of the businesses the incubator cultivates will eventually relocate to sites in the city, said New Port Richey economic development director Mario Iezzoni.
"The PEDC has really done so much to help us get this launched. I really think it's going to be great for the city," he said.
In addition to Smith, SMARTstart's advisory board, which is made up of members of Pasco's business and educational community, has accepted another business to move into the New Port Richey incubator and several others have applied to present ideas, Covey said.
Costs are low to take part in the program once a business-owner is accepted. There is an upfront $85 membership fee and office space is free for the first six months. After that, members pay $200-a-month, then $300-a-month after the first year, then $400-a-month after 18 months.
The structure provides the businesses time to grow but later allows members to experience dealing with overhead costs every business faces, Covey said.
"Starting a business is challenging and we know that. I'm just so excited to work to help our members grow and succeed," she said.
The New Port Richey SMARTstart incubator is still accepting applications. For more information on the program, log onto smartstartpasco.com.