City of Tampa, THAPgroup partner to grow business accelerator for East Tampa entrepreneurs

While many small business owners transition into a New Year with lingering uncertainties from 2020, a new partnership between the City of Tampa and Tampa-Hillsborough Action Plan (THAPgroup) aims to offer the training and support necessary to move forward with confidence.

The 5508 Business Accelerator is a cost-free opportunity for entrepreneurs and microbusinesses living and operating in East Tampa to hone skills to grow their businesses. The program offers virtual learning, real-world coursework and mentorship from Tampa Bay Area marketing experts, banking professionals, and local business pros who have "lived it and understand it," says THAPgroup CEO Derrick Blue.

"Some businesses are able to get connected to things like the Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce where they can really get accelerated, and a lot of university systems have incubators that are teaching different types of skills businesses owners need to succeed. But there's also a group of businesses who are not big enough, or who don't have the access for whatever reason to those types of programs -- and they don't know where to begin to become eligible. They don't know what they don't know. That's a hard place to be," Blue says.

"That's where our small business incubator comes in, and our 5508 Accelerator program. We partner with the City of Tampa, which has a desire to make investments in low-income areas in East Tampa. One of the best ways you can develop a community is to strengthen its small business ecosystem."

The 5508 Business Accelerator is partnering with the Small Business Administration [SBA], which Blue says will offer 12 weeks of virtual training on topics such as continuity and disaster planning, and how to become certified in Florida as a minority-owned business. Other partners include the Florida Small Business Development Center Network (SBDC), Wells Fargo, and TD Bank.

"I've been hearing from each bank that works with us that a major reason why a lot of businesses couldn't receive federal government funding in 2020 is because their financials either didn't exist or they weren't in order. One of our focuses is to help implement financial systems in those types of businesses so they can have solid financials that allow them to go to banks and receive funding -- especially as we anticipate another round of [federal] funding in 2021," says Blue.

"It's a preparation so folks can get in the game. They'll be training on things like marketing and SEO, and there's a personal development portion of the training. We consider all those to be university-level trainings -- offered for free -- with subject-matter experts, including bankers who will explain what they're looking for from business owners," he adds.

The 5508 Business Accelerator mentorship component is geared to help business owners set achievable goals, which are measured monthly against metrics defined by the program.

"The idea is to provide them with the right resources, to put the right people around them, and to do our best to put them in a place where their goals can be reached -- so that by the end, businesses we work with will be better businesses," Blue says.

The 5508 Business Accelerator will roll out to two phased cohort groups. The first cohort group comprises approximately 40 small businesses housed at THAP's 30,000 square-foot startup incubator at 5508 N 50th Street. The Accelerator program will then expand to serve business owners in the surrounding East Tampa community. Blue estimates the 5508 Business Accelerator will reach approximately 100 small businesses in East Tampa in 2021.

"We're in the midst of what folks would consider an economic crisis because we're in a pandemic, and some businesses are drowning because they don't know what they don't know: how to access resources out there to keep them afloat. Our program is what I consider a door in the midst of a bunch of walls. It's access. That's what this program is about. Information provides access -- and that's extremely important," Blue says.

The 5508 Business Accelerator is accepting business applications through March 31, 2021. Trainings run until September 30, 2021.

Learn more about the 5508 Business Accelerator and apply at www.thapgroup.org/5508accelerator.

Read more articles by Jessi Smith.

Jessi Smith (she/they) is a freelance writer who is passionate about sustainability, community building, and the power of the arts and transformative storytelling. A fourth-generation Floridian, Jessi received her B.A. in Art History and English from Florida International University and began reporting for 83 Degrees in 2009. When she isn't writing, Jessi enjoys taking her deaf rescue dog on outdoors adventures, unearthing treasures in backroads antiques and thrift shops, D.I.Y. upcycling projects, and Florida-friendly gardening.
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