As the new year begins, many find themselves looking forward. For Ned Pope, the president of FloridaNEXT Foundation, a Tampa nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing innovation across the state, it's part of his job. The organization, founded in 2011 by former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, helps develop the home grown entrepreneurs and small businesses of the future by lending a hand during the startup phase. Times staff writer Shelley Rossetter talked with Pope, 35, recently to learn more about the organization's mission.
What is FloridaNEXT?
I would call it an innovative economic development program that focuses on increasing Florida opportunities for entrepreneurship, funding opportunities. It also empowers young professionals and young executives to bring forward innovative ideas that can improve their community.
How is that done?
One way is through Impact Forums. We hold these events where everyone has 90 seconds to give an idea to the audience on how to improve their community. The audience votes for the top three and divides into teams depending on interests. We then facilitate and assist in the process of implementing those programs during the next 12 months.
It's a cool way for people to just bring an idea off the top of their heads and see it have a positive effect on their community.
We encourage participants to take a business kind of approach, to have real long term sustainability, whether through fundraising models that show tangible results or by helping them get established and earning revenue.
These impact forums get pretty rowdy. We did one recently at the Dalí Museum with about 140 people there and 40 pitches. We had one in Tampa in July.
One project that has turned into a bay-wide initiative, that we plan to announce in late January, is a partnership with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, making it easier for folks in the younger generations to identify nonprofits and contribute on mobile devices, tablets, whatever.
Does FloridaNEXT provide financial support to these projects?
No. What we try to do is just help them get organized into a real project. We help them with their fundraising under the FloridaNEXT umbrella, so they don't have to wait to get a 501c3. We can also expose them to those who can fund them, get them an audience with them.
Have any others, besides the one with the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, made it past the start-up phase?
That's the first big one. We've had some other smaller ones. In Orlando we are working on a documentary project to showcase the city that can be played at the airport or on International Drive, some places where non-local visitors and traffic are.
There are a couple of other ideas around the state, including bringing a major naval museum to Jacksonville. It's a project we are assisting with that was already up and running by the time it came to our forum.
How do people get involved?
It's invite only. We never turn anyone away, but we have limited capacity, so we don't open them up to the general public. We generally do targeted invites through different chambers of commerce, young professional groups, entrepreneurship support organizations. Those are the perfect places for us to mine for interested, motivated people who already have an entrepreneurial mind-set.
What is on the horizon for innovation and entrepreneurship in Florida for 2014?
I think you will start to see a new wave of very innovative and highly productive nonprofits and community projects, created and organized by people in those communities. We'll see a new generation of people engaging in philanthropy.
We'll see a rise in locally based support and funding and growth in the private sector. We'll see different types of start-up businesses, such as lifestyle-oriented, tech businesses with apps being created. Trying to build up the local support for those is important.
We don't want to see our best people leaving the state for Silicon Valley. We need to have an environment where they can grow and flourish here in Florida.
Is your organization trying to help with that?
Our project that really addresses the start-up community is the Wave program. Helping private sector start-ups secure private capital (like Angel investors). It's all under the same umbrella of, like our motto says, trying to inspire a state of innovation.
Sunday Conversation is edited for clarity and brevity.