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Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announces $25 million coronavirus grant program in St. Petersburg

The program will give up to $750,000 in individual grants to programs that address economic and health risks caused by the pandemic.

ST. PETERSBURG — U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced a $25 million competitive grant program to spur coronavirus recovery at the Palladium Theater on Wednesday.

The Economic Development Administration calls it the SPRINT Challenge, or the Scaling Pandemic Resilience Through Innovation and Technology Challenge. Funded through the CARES Act, the new program will support projects that address the economic, health and safety risks caused by the pandemic.

“Businesses and families tend to rely on American-made products American legislation and American tech to build more resilient regional economies,” Ross said during the small, socially distanced announcement event. “The Trump administration stands ready to assist America’s innovators wishing to answer that call here in Pinellas County and across the country.”

Year-long projects and programs can get up to $500,000 in funding and those running 18 months can get up to $750,000, Ross said.

Pinellas County was selected to host the event because of St. Petersburg’s planned 45,000-square-foot business incubator, according to the county economic development director Mike Meidel. The incubator was funded, in part, by a $7.5 million federal grant through the Economic Development Administration.

Tampa Bay Wave President Linda Olson shared her story of entrepreneurship during the event. Her small meetup group grew into a startup hub after it received a $1 million grant from the Economic Development Administration in 2012.

“It helped launch new Tampa Bay Wave programs, but it also helped galvanize the region around the idea that entrepreneurship and innovation matters for long-term sustainable economic development,” Olson said.

The Commerce Department gave examples of some programs of interest to receive the new funding, including projects focused on scaling biotechnology, health security or ones that bring supply chain technologies to market. The department also said it would consider programs that develop new investment capital models to address the needs of entrepreneurs or ones that scale support models for virtual and remote work.

“This is really seed money to get things going,” Ross said.

Related: Here’s how Tampa’s startup community has been affected by COVID-19

The deadline for proposals is Dec. 3. Cities, counties, states, political subdivisions of states, Indian tribes, nonprofits, colleges, and economic department development districts are eligible to apply.

Ross, 82, said he also hopes the program will help grow and support inventors and entrepreneurs that are under-represented in the tech industry, like women and people of color.

“One of our hopes is that this will help stimulate a groundswell for both the female segment of the population and the minority segment," he said.

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