Startup Grind Founder Ignites Entrepreneurial Fever

Joy Randels knows a little bit about just about every startup or entrepreneurial-minded event in town.

She sits on the board of Technova, the company that organizes popular local startup events Ignite Tampa Bay and Barcamp. She was one of three jurors at the national crowd-sourcing startup event in Jacksonville, OneSpark, in April 2014, and she runs Startup Weekend Sarasota.
But people outside of Tampa don’t always realize that the Bay area is a growing startup community, Randels says. With events like Startup Grind Tampa Bay presented in a low-key “fireside chat” format, she hopes to change that.
A serial entrepreneur, Randels took on the Startup Grind role after the group’s founder Derek Anderson, who grew up in Carrollwood, convinced her that his hometown should have a chapter.
“But it was twofold,” says Randels. “I think people here see lots of pitch contests, lots of ‘rah-rah’ stuff. That’s all well and good, but it’s not particularly educational for an entrepreneur who actually needs some help building a company.”
There are already organizations in the community offering up contests and networking get-togethers, Randels notes. “You don’t want to compete with them -- you want to bring something new to the table,” she says.
“The goal is to have people make real connections, not just exchange business cards,” Randels emphasizes. “And hopefully for young entrepreneurs to find someone who can act as a mentor and coach them along the way.” 
With her endeavor as chapter director for Startup Grind Tampa Bay, Randels has achieved a balance between creating new business enterprises and teaching members of her community how to achieve the same success.
No Pitching, No Prizes
Startup Grind Tampa Bay launched in August 2013 with monthly meetings. Randels introduces and then interviews the featured guest in an informal armchair setting. A diverse range of around 50 students, area entrepreneurs and the occasional venture capitalist typically attend – but these tech meetups are not typical. 
“There’s no pitching. There’s no prizes,” says Randels. “You’re coming to learn. It’s all about education and inspiration, not about being the person promoting their company.”
Startup Grind sessions are more like life lessons, where entrepreneurs discuss the things they’ve learned along the way. While many speakers tend to highlight their success stories, a key component that distinguishes Startup Grind Tampa Bay from other local  networking events is the focus on failure that Randels says is fundamental.
“In our town, everyone wants to say everything is a rousing success -- but failure is a part of the startup community,” she explains. “A lot of it is just people learning that people are going to fail. The real challenge is, ‘how do you pick yourself up and move on from that?’ ”
Startup Grind Tampa Bay strives to answer this question.
A Broad Appeal
Randels aims to make events diverse to appeal to a wider range of entrepreneurs and attendees. Marvin Scaff, John Morrow and Blake Casper are just a few of the broad mix of people coming in or out during any given monthly meeting, she says. 
In March 2014, Jonathan Cordeau from Launchtrac spoke to the crowd about his experience starting the ticketing platform company, which was accepted into the 500 Startups accelerator program.
Daniel James Scott spoke at February’s meeting. Scott has started five companies, including Gazelle Lab and Alorum. He is a co-founder of the Entrepreneurship program at USFSP.
“Giving visibility and a voice to Tampa Bay's entrepreneurs is important. This isn't just about ‘startups,’ ” Scott says. “It is about people and their unique stories. Allowing entrepreneurs to share their stories allows us to maintain perspective as to why fostering entrepreneurship is so critical for our community.”
Crowdfunding startup Citizenvestor founders Tony DeSisto and Jordan Raynor spoke at the group’s event onThursday, April 17, at the Oxford Exchange at 420 W. Kennedy Blvd. 
“Hopefully it’s inspiring to people that there’s all types of entrepreneurs (in attendance),” Randels explains. “We’re really excited that we’re starting to see more people come out.”
Mayra Harley, SMC Software CEO, began attending Startup Grind meetings after searching for a group to join where she could feel connected and inspired. 
At her own cost, Harley, along with nine other Tampa chapter members, attended Startup Grind’s national conference in February 2014, where speakers from well-known companies like Intel and Guitar Hero shared their stories. 
“The talking points at each local event really resonated with me, so I felt that the sessions in Mountain View could possibly be just as compelling and motivational,” Harley explains. “It was more encouraging then I even imagined.”
Inspiring Local Entrepreneurs
“I thought, ‘if I could do something that would help show the outside world that there are really good serial entrepreneurs here, who are either building another company today or giving back and helping the community, then we could get other people interested in coming to Tampa,’” Randels explains. 
Another benefit that she sees is retaining more of the local student base. “We lose the vast majority every year as they graduate,” she says.
Students do, in fact, attend the group’s monthly meetings at the Oxford Exchange at 420 W. Kennedy Blvd. After Randels served as a judge at the University of Tampa’s Southeast Entrepreneurship Conference in February 2014, even more UT students started asking around and showing up.
All Startup Grind Tampa Bay events have a fee, which covers professional videographer services, food and beer, marketing, and dues to StartupGrind. The Hillsborough County Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2) subsidizes much of the cost of each meeting.
“We’ve had one company who has gotten an angel investment, and another negotiating a meeting based on people they met at the event -- pretty good ROI for 6 months time,” says Randels of Startup Grind. “And we’ve got people who have made inquires about startups who have come through, like Launchtrac, who were at 500 startups.”
A Serial Entrepreneur 
Randels has raised over $350 million in venture capital throughout the course of her career and has owned or invested in companies across the United States and in Europe. She is CEO of New Market Partners.
“After I sold my last company in New Jersey, I spent some time at the beaches. And after about six months of doing that you’re like, ‘OK, I should probably go do something else with my life,’ ” she laughs. 
“Something else” included investing in nine startups, seven of which are tech companies in Florida.
Her extensive resume includes leading two IPOs; launching or helping launch more than 75 companies; leading 17 acquisitions; launching and running an e-trust division of a company; starting a wireless security company; and more.
Randels also has an impressive educational background, having attended the MIT Sloan School of Management, Harvard Business School and the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. She moved to Florida in 2000 from Atlanta.
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.
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Justine Benstead is a feature writer for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.