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Clearwater starts business incubator for technology companies downtown

CLEARWATER — Downtown Clearwater is not a place that's widely known for its high-tech startup companies. It's a long way from Silicon Valley.

Still, the city estimates that roughly 600 people are working in more than a dozen software or information technology companies in and around the downtown district. Many are in the Clearwater Tower building at 33 N Garden Ave.

Seeking to create even more high-tech jobs, Clearwater officials are launching a business incubator program for tech startups that are willing to locate downtown. The idea is to provide strategic advice and services to tech entrepreneurs so they can market their products and hopefully succeed.

"We have a lot of very early-stage sort of entrepreneurial businesses and mid-stage companies that perhaps need some help in going to that next level," said Geri Campos Lopez, the city's director of economic development.

But officials aren't establishing a site downtown. Instead, they're planning a "virtual incubator."

Clearwater is contracting with the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nonprofit outfit that runs a business incubator at the Young-Rainey Star Center on Bryan Dairy Road in unincorporated Largo.

There, it's been working with about a dozen clients, including a company that makes explosives-detection kits and a firm that runs an online marketplace for buying and selling military parts. "We've been at this for 10 years," said Tonya Elmore, the center's president.

Clearwater is hiring the Innovation Center to help a handful of chosen startups with things like marketing, finances, business plans and growth strategies.

"We think it's an innovative way to address the need to incubate and support these early-stage companies without investing in a center or a physical facility," said Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin.

The Innovation Center and the city will screen potential clients for the incubator program.

The Clearwater City Council voted for the one-year deal on Thursday night. The city will spend a maximum of $25,000 on services for six clients. The money will come from property taxes generated downtown, in the city's designated Community Redevelopment Area.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Clearwater starts business incubator for technology companies downtown 02/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, February 8, 2013 5:23pm]

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