The question of how to find startup funding in Tampa Bay is on the minds of many of the young entrepreneurs and would-be business owners who attend Tampa Bay Startup Week. Central Florida has not yet established a firm network of angel investors and venture capitalists like San Francisco or even Miami, but aspiring entrepreneurs can find startup funding in Tampa Bay.
A low cost-of-living, temperate climates (save a few of the more humid summer months), and relatively little competition are all good reasons for startups to set up shop in Tampa Bay. Here are a few more.
Find Startup Funding in Tampa Bay by Building a Network
Serial entrepreneur Todd Belveal, whose self-service laundry application Washlava raised $1.8 million in a private round of funding in 2016, attends Tampa Bay Startup Week events to network.
Relationships, Belveal emphasizes, are the key to securing startup funding in many cases. Pitch competitions and accelerators? Belveal, who secured about a third of his company’s funding through one private Tampa investor, is pretty sure that’s not where founders should go to find startup funding in Tampa Bay. Sitting down for an hour with one or two VCs is a much better bet, he says.
BioScanR CEO and founder Tracy Ingram, who is a member of the Tampa Innovation Alliance, doesn’t necessarily agree. Connections are important, but startup companies can also benefit from attending pitch events and weekend competitions that put founders in front of angel investors or venture capitalists, even for five minutes.
The reason: preparation. For Ingram’s first Startup Weekend pitch, years back, a mentor made him practice his three-minute pitch 46 times – in a row. Pitching isn’t really about getting money; he says: “Pitching is about ‘Will you follow up with me and have another conversation?’”
Seeking Startup Funding in Tampa Bay
- New World Angels, a private investment fund with chapters in South Florida and Tampa Bay, is one of the first places a dedicated startup or early-stage company hoping to find startup funding in Tampa Bay should begin.
- Florida Funders, whose cofounder Dave Chitester judged the 1776 Challenge Cup as part of Tampa Bay Startup Week, is another good place for Tampa Bay area startups to seek funding. The website matches angel investors around the state with promising startup companies and has already secured multiple investments. In fact, St. Petersburg-based online business card startup Savvycard, helmed by David Etheredge, received funding from three investors, including two in the Tampa Bay area, through Florida Funders.
- There's also the Florida Angels Network, which raised $1.1 million in funding in early 2016 for St. Petersburg-based online healthcare network TAO Connect, along with Florida Funders and New World Angels.
- TiE Tampa Bay angel investors have already made a mark in the region with investments in startup companies and annual conferences that bring angel investors from Silicon Valley and other tech hubs to Tampa Bay. The group is led by angel investor Ashok Kartham, CEO at M-ize. TiE Tampa Bay raised $150,000 for Gainesville, Florida marketing startup Feathr.
- At the University of South Florida in north Tampa, USF Connect’s Seed Capital Accelerator program will provide up to $50,000 in loan money to startups associated with the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator.
- Applying for space in Tampa Bay area incubators and accelerators like St. Pete's TEC Garage or downtown Tampa's FirstWaVe program can help an early-stage business find startup funding in Tampa Bay. How? By providing startups with access to resources in the form of mentors and office space as well as connections to funding opportunities.
- Seed-stage accelerator Gazelle Lab can be contacted, although their investment list is small. Even taking the simple step of searching AngelList for Tampa Bay investors and reaching out could yield a result.
- And the Tamiami Angel Fund, under the leadership of Tim Cartwright, isn’t all that far away.
Local Entrepreneur’s Guide to Finding Startup Funding in Tampa Bay
Joy Randels, a well-known entrepreneur in the Tampa Bay technology scene, cautions startups to seek funding at the right stage in their business. For easily-understood industries like hospitality and real estate aside, Randels says, there is no capital other than friends and family or grants at the idea stage. Consider crowd funding:
“The goal at this stage should be to get enough capital to launch your product and make certain you have product market fit.”
In the seed round stage, local Tampa Bay startups should seek out angel investors (“There are a lot of them, contrary to popular belief”), or apply to accelerator programs, “which not only provide investment capital but help you with your next round of funding as well.”
Be cautious when accepting money, the New Market Partners CEO says: “Not all money is green and not all investors are equal.”
Ultimately, Randels notes, “’Real’ accelerators such as 500 Startups and Y combinator don’t care where startups are located.” Complete their programs, secure funding, “then return back home to Tampa Bay.”
This article is part of a Startup Week content series brought to you by Chase for Business. Startup Week is celebration of entrepreneurs in cities around the globe. Chase for Business is everything a business needs in one place, from expert advice to valuable products and services.