Tampa Bay startup businesses are making strides

Published Jan. 31, 2014

Business startups here and the Tampa Bay ecosystem under construction to support them continue to make strides. At the start of 2014, finding investors continues to be the toughest hurdle — a common complaint heard across most metro areas. Here are five examples of startup activity reflecting the latest momentum in the new year.

1. It's hard to miss SavvyCard in downtown St. Petersburg, located in a glass-walled space on the street level of the city's tallest office building. SavvyCard offers online business cards that include contact information, like old-school business cards. But the real horsepower is the potential connectivity that can link an online business card to sales, marketing and data analysis.

CEO David Etheredge laid it all out to a small group of local business folks over an informal lunch this week. SavvyCard is working with the Miami Association of Realtors, creating thousands of individual real estate agent business cards online, all linked to property listings viewable on smartphones.

SavvyCard is the second St. Pete firm (after LED lighting firm LumaStream) to win some backing (in this case, $20,000) from the St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership.

2. In Ybor City, clothing designer/retailer Black & Denim maintains its aggressive pace of product innovation.

Co-founder Roberto Torres notes his business recently became the "official licensed merchandise & apparel company" for the Gasparilla Distance Classic run on Feb. 21-23. "The fact that we are local and also made in America was a great selling point to them," says Torres.

3. The FirstWaVE Venture Center in downtown Tampa will be the site of the first Teen Business Challenge, a three-day entrepreneurial team competition for young people, over the Feb. 21-23 weekend.

Founder David Harris teamed up with the Computer Mentors Group and the 100 Black Men of Tampa Bay organization to encourage teens to try taking an idea and turning it into a potential business in three days. It's free. Teens who get selected are given an iPad mini, but they have to be nominated and interviewed. Learn more at

4. A year ago, USF St. Petersburg's business school was named the nation's "outstanding emerging entrepreneurship program." Now the award goes to the University of Tampa Entrepreneurship Center.

That makes startup programs at two universities in one metro area pushing hard to make Tampa Bay a smarter place to start and grow new businesses. Somebody's doing something right. UT program director Rebecca White says entrepreneurship is a popular program for students in all different majors. "It's really an amazing and productive trend."

5. Young Florida companies seeking venture capital gathered in Orlando this week to make their pitches to investors at the Florida Venture Forum. Among the area companies participating: CareSync of Wesley Chapel and DVR Technology Developments of St. Petersburg.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at