Momentum grows to raise bar for area business startups

Published Feb. 18, 2014

Can regional momentum raise the bar for entrepreneurs? Sure feels that way given the uptick in plans to stimulate startups.

"I think it's because the economy is better and people are more optimistic and excited about technology," says Heather Kenyon, CEO of the Tampa Bay Technology Forum. "We're still working on getting the word out about Tampa Bay's growing entrepreneurial activity and the increase in the diversity of events certainly helps."

Three events stand out:

1. How about a cable TV show styled after ABC's Shark Tank for funding Tampa Bay area startups? That's the goal of "Pitch 6" – an event happening this Tuesday afternoon at the Lowry Park Zoo. Five handpicked startups from this area compete against each other for $5,000 and free cable TV advertising. Come watch from the bleachers.

The concept is the brainchild of entrepreneur Mark Swanson, whose Telovations startup in Tampa was acquired by Bright House Networks. Now Bright House and Swanson are filming Tuesday's showdown in which each business gets six minutes to pitch their business idea to three venture capital judges.

Kevin Harrington, one of the original "sharks "on ABC's Shark Tank TV show, will get the Pitch 6 ball rolling. The winning startup will be announced Feb. 27 at the Bright House Networks regional business awards gala.

"Our primary goal is bringing the region together to better operate as one economic entity," says Swanson. "The problem here is that we have a lot of diverse efforts for startups." Better coordination and sharper programs will deliver "a better way to serve entrepreneurs and make a more robust ecosystem." More information at

2. On March 2 a three-day road trip kicks off from Tampa for about 30 area entrepreneurs. Split into teams, they will start businesses from scratch on the StartupBus. This year eight buses from across the country converge on San Antonio, Texas, to compete for bragging rights for the best business idea assembled during the trip. From Tampa, three bus leaders or "conductors" this year include Lindsey Nickel-de la O, 31, who was thrilled by her experience on last year's bus. Now she's paying it back by mentoring others.

Entrepreneurs must apply to be considered for the StartupBus. More information at

"People are excited to be starting businesses," says Nickel-de la O, a director at Sarasota's Nickel Communications. "We are migrating into a generation of entrepreneurs."

3. For those skipping the bus, TampaServiceJam from March 7-9 is a global competition among teams to create the best solution to a given customer service problem. The goal is to "create a quality service experience by improving the way the customer and the service provider interact."

The beauty of this event is it requires less tech savvy but more design smarts about helping consumers receive better service under adverse conditions. More information at

Robert Trigaux can be reached at