Q&A: Local Startup Leaders Talk Entrepreneurship

Hillsborough County's Board of County Commissioners voted recently to create a new community center that will serve as a common meeting space and resource hub for the Tampa Bay region's growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.

The Entrepreneur Collaborative Center (ECC) will be designed to provide a needed support infrastructure for the county's small businesses and entrepreneurs by offering a range of tailored classes, special events or growth services to businesses in various stages of development.

As part of Hillsborough's overall efforts to facilitate economic development in Tampa, the idea is for the ECC to cater to residents by providing entrepreneurship training, networking opportunities and more at a hub that will be home to community partners.

Innovative resources like an Entrepreneur-in-Residence program are also on the table for the new location, which will be a rebranding of the current Small Business Information Center. A location has not yet been leased, but the center is tentatively set to open in fall 2014.
 
In a Q&A session with 83 Degrees Media, community startup leaders Ken Evans, George Gordon, and Kamlesh Darji weigh in on the ECC's potential benefits for Hillsborough County residents.

83D: How do you think the Entrepreneur Collaborative Center will benefit Tampa Bay's startup community?

George Gordon, Chairman of the Board for Florida Next: A plan that consolidates all of the available resources to start a business under one roof makes a lot of sense. Small businesses are responsible for creating 40 percent of all new jobs, and in Florida, over 90 percent of businesses [each] employ less than 100 people. I would hope that over time the ECC will become a stimulus for entrepreneurs to take the leap and start a business.

Kamlesh Darji, Executive Director of TiE Tampa: The ECC will provide a shot in the arm to an increasingly vibrant startup community. There is a lot of momentum, and the ECC will show the County's long-term commitment to helping the startup community. If you look at Austin, for example, we can see how these types of centers have led to a very successful startup culture and spawned additional resources and complementary ideas.

Ken Evans, Senior Strategy Advisor at Evolution Advisors and TechNova of Florida board member: It is my hope that the ECC can build on what is already a vibrant tech community and amplify the good things that are happening in Tampa Bay. I also feel that having the ECC sends a strong message to the outside world that Tampa Bay is a startup-friendly, tech-savvy economy where we support those willing to explore new businesses and invent new products.

83D: What types of services do you hope to see at the ECC?

KD: Mentoring -- tapping knowledge and experience of seasoned entrepreneurs who are in residence to provide real life guidance and direction to motivate startups. Connections are very important, and this kind of center should seek to provide access to connections through facilitated networking. Education is definitely a must. And, last but not least, realizing the need startups have for a base or an office should be addressed by providing low cost office space or cubicle rental.

GG: Educational services in the form of an entrepreneur boot camp would be of value. Everyone has strengths and weakness, and the best thing an entrepreneur can do is understand his or her weaknesses and how to compensate for them. Understanding how to most effectively finance a business from initial capitalization through to support growth is essential to any founder.

KE: Ideas are great, but it is execution that determines likelihood of success. Unlike your average "main street'' businesses, tech founders need assistance in very specific areas that help them research and test product concepts well before they are ready to open up shop. Workshops to help startup founders identify what needs to be done and, more importantly, what activities and distractions should be avoided, can make the difference between survival and failure.
 
I would expect to see the ECC offer product planning frameworks and other tools, as well as being a resource for pointing founders to other assets around the region that have emerged over the past few years to support our startup ecosystem. This would include tech-friendly coworking offices, hacker spaces, experienced technology product mentors, or events such as Startup Weekend and BarCamp.

83D: Where would you like to see the center open in Tampa?

GG: If the plan is to provide collaborative workspace for entrepreneurs to work in their very early stages of business, I think that the "live, work and play'' concept makes the most sense -- where those three things are all in a walking distance radius. A downtown Tampa or Ybor City location would meet those criteria.

Justine Benstead is a freelance writer who spends her days walking her dog Chloe in her South Tampa neighborhood, drinking far too much coffee, tweeting @JustineinTampa, and taking photos with her trusty Nikon. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.

Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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