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  1. Business

Statewide coalition Launch Florida introduces itself today in Tampa to help propel startup economy

TAMPA — In the spirit of boosting Florida's still-juvenile support system for entrepreneurs and innovation, a new statewide group called Launch Florida was unveiled Wednesday to encourage better coordination and more networking opportunities.

The organization was introduced during Tampa Bay's Startup Week of events celebrating this region's business startups and entrepreneurs.

Consider it one more piece of the "entrepreneurial ecosystem" that Tampa Bay and Florida are trying to knit together into a more coherent and muscular support system.

"We felt there is a gap at the state level for investing in entrepreneurship and innovation as an economic strategy," says Lucas Lindsey, one of the founders and now a co-chair of Launch Florida. The group's mission is to "foster collaboration between entrepreneurs, policy makers, business leaders, venture capitalists, and other stakeholders in order to catalyze the innovation economy throughout the Sunshine State."

Lindsey says he knows many folks via social media in Florida's widespread entrepreneurial sphere, but like many of his young peers has yet to meet others face to face. He hopes Launch Florida can help improve ties among Florida's widespread major markets that include Tampa Bay, Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Jacksonville, among others.

Lindsey, 28, is also executive director of the Tallahassee startup incubator Domi Station. Launch Florida's other co-chair is Joe Russo, executive director of Palm Beach Tech Association in West Palm Beach.

Launch Florida has a web site (www.launchflorida.org), an initial group of ten backers (in name if not money) that in this metro area includes Tampa Bay WaVE and Florida Next, Alex Sink's pro-innovation economic group. Among other involved leaders are Tom O'Neal, director of the University of Central Florida Technology Incubator and Blaire Martin, director of Orlando's Florida Angel Nexus, an investor organization.

Launch Florida formally debuts at a statewide summit it will hold in Orlando, dovetailing with the May 18-19 Florida Venture Forum early stage conference. Florida Venture Forum CEO Kevin Burgoyne is listed as one of Launch Florida's "coalition leaders."

"We want to support this economic sector and take steps to help Florida in the future," says Ned Pope, who volunteers as president of Florida Next while working at Nielsen in Oldsmar.

"Technology is the biggest industry in the world and we can't afford to wait around."

The group, conceived in discussions over the past six months, is effectively brand new. Launch Florida received some modest initial financial support from the Florida High-Tech Corridor but, as Lindsey notes, it's just starting to spread the word that it's here and eager to see how it can help. That's the best kind of start.

Contact Robert Trigaux at rtrigaux@tampabay.com. Follow @venturetampabay.

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