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Hillsborough commission sets $2M fund to help tech startups

TAMPA — For years, Hillsborough County and other Florida governments have focused job-creating efforts on trying to lure existing business from other locales or help big corporations add more workers.

Commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to create a $2 million pool aimed at finding ways to help home-grown, technology-savvy entrepreneurs start a business or expand.

Borrowing a page from cities like Austin, Texas, or Boulder, Colo., commissioners hope to use the money to help sponsor conferences or organize events that bring entrepreneurs together to share thoughts on turning ideas into moneymaking ventures.

"In the old days, we'd wine and dine some corporate guy from another city," said Commissioner Mark Sharpe, who pushed for the idea. "Really, this is a model directed to the people who are driving job creation."

Elected officials say they hear a similar complaint: Local governments throw money at existing fat-cat businesses in the name of economic development rather than finding ways to support people who are coming up with ideas that could produce the next Apple.

As a result, they say Tampa Bay suffers from a brain drain, in which people with big ideas leave town at a young age and move to Boston or the Silicon Valley.

Sharpe said he expects the county to reach out to software developers, engineers and others to come up with ideas for how best to use the money to support their efforts to create business and good-paying jobs. He says some of the money likely will be used to help sponsor conferences.

Some could go to help develop an inventory of small tech businesses, investors and others who can help people figure out how to take an idea for a new tablet application, for example, and turn it into something consumers would buy.

Doing so could "create that conversation and help change the culture," said Joy Randels, who owns four technology companies and serves on the boards of three others.

In other action, commissioners:

• Voted unanimously to name a new shelter for girls and their Lake Magdalene foster child center for Mary Jane Martinez, wife of former Gov. Bob Martinez and a child welfare advocate.

• Voted to name James Tokley their poet laureate. Tokley has served as the city of Tampa's longtime poet laureate, named by former Mayor Dick Greco.

Hillsborough commission sets $2M fund to help tech startups 02/20/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 11:32pm]
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