Greenhouse Gives Green Light To Entrepreneurs

Nestled inside St. Petersburg's City Hall Annex on Second Avenue North is a a quietly active center for business.

Thanks, in part, to a partnership with the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce recently announced by Mayor Bill Foster, the city-run Business Assistance Center is now known as the Greenhouse.

The Mayor led the movement, explains Economic Development and Greenhouse Manager Sophia Sorolis. "Mayor Foster came up with the idea that with the Chamber as a lead partner, the Greenhouse could be a place where we can expand services and provide different outreach options to businesses -- take it up a notch or two.''

The new name, which was also developed by Foster, inspires the idea of "a place to grow.''

The move will place the City in a Memorandum of Understanding with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber. The City and Chamber will partner with more than 10 business service providers initially, including educational institutions Eckerd College, St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg.

The center, which provides case management and places emphasis on connecting entrepreneurs and businesses to education and growth resources, will be home to a full range of business support services.

"There will be something for almost every small business,'' says Sorolis.

Services For Businesses

Small business training, a 10-week Entrepreneurial Academy and other services will be brought to the Greenhouse, says Sean Kennedy, Economic Development Specialist at the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

"We have the advantage of having over 1,000 Chamber members, and all of them are very focused on the community and helping advance the business climate,'' says Kennedy.

Services also include the Mayor's Business Support Line, at 727-893-7000, which is staffed by city and business professionals who help callers assess and develop business solutions.

Other benefits?
    •    Become certified as a small business through the Small Business Enterprise (SBE) Program, or seek economic development counseling.
    •    Liaise with businesses and city services and seek financial or technical assistance.
    •    Learn how to research and write an effective business or marketing plan.
    •    Interact with some of the businesses already housed in the space, such as Tampa Bay Black Business Investment Corporation (TBBBIC), to find a mentor.
    •    Schedule an appointment with a business consultant from SCORE or The Florida Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida (USFSBDC).

Through the Business Corridor Program, interns have the opportunity to gain real world business experience by working alongside Business Corridor Coordinators made up of city staff and business owners.

Access to capital and credit for business startups and expansions is also available as one of the center's many incentives.

Grow Locally

To foster an entrepreneurial environment, the Greenhouse is home to the Business Resource Center (BRC), which is stocked with computers, a business reference library, interactive videos, planning and research materials -- and, the penultimate entrepreneurial necessity, free Wi-Fi. 

"You have the opportunity to stay productive'' between meetings or while seeking business planning advice, says Kennedy.

The resources -- and the Wi-Fi -- are available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Businesses that seek assistance or resources are not required to be located within the city of St. Petersburg.

"We're trying to be inclusive,'' says Sorolis. "We're opening this to everybody.''

Kennedy echoes the sentiment. "It's a Tampa Bay-wide effort. Our partner organizations stem from all over Tampa Bay.''

Partners also include Tampa Bay WaVE, Encore Tampa Bay and the Tampa Bay Innovation Center.

"Through these partnerships,'' Kennedy explains, "we're able to serve a much broader group.''

Within 24 hours of its launch on July 9, the center's Facebook page garnered more than 100 "likes.''

A grand opening event in scheduled for September, says Sorolis, but "the Greenhouse is open, every day. We're in the beginning stages, but the services that have always been there are there, and we're looking forward every day to adding additional ones.''

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, and taking photos with her trusty Nikon. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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Read more articles by Justine Benstead.

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