Tampa Bay Startup Week: Tampa’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Is Growing Fast

February 9, 2016

2:00 pm

Day one of Tampa Bay Startup Week drew to a close on a clear evening. Inside a 1920’s-era warehouse in Tampa’s small but thriving downtown core, it was sunshine and high energy at Chase basecamp for the week’s kickoff ceremony; the enthusiastic spirit of the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial ecosystem really showed last night.

Because of the Tampa Bay area’s temperate climates and relatively low cost of living, many businesses settle distribution and call centers here, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn noted in his opening remarks at the kickoff event. But for the past five years or so, Buckhorn emphasized, the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial ecosystem has grown robustly – and quickly, bouncing back from the recession. Startup Week Tampa Bay joins TEdX, Up.co’s Startup Weekend, Roboticon, Startup Grind, FUNights, county-sponsored hack-a-thons, and many other tech community-driven activities taking place in Tampa Bay on a monthly or even weekly basis.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn joins Tampa Bay Startup Week lead organizer on stage at the #TBSW16 kickoff party.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn joins Tampa Bay Startup Week lead organizer on stage at the #TBSW16 kickoff party.

Tampa Bay’s Institutional Resources

The Tampa Bay entrepreneurial ecosystem is alive and well. The Tampa Bay Technology Forum leadership board works with dozens of community partners to further expand local tech resources. Tampa Bay WaVe, the non-profit incubator and accelerator behind the First WaVe Venture Center, has been awarded $1.5 million in i6 Challenge grants since 2008, as well as a $50,000 Growth Accelerator Fund Grant from the SBA.

The Mark Sharpe Entrepreneur Collaborative Center opened in late 2014 and revitalized the city’s small business resources center into a flourishing hub of activity with counseling and mentoring resources available. On the urban University of Tampa campus, the state-of-the-art John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center offers students partnerships with Moffitt Cancer Center and Merrill Lynch. Twenty minutes north of the city, the University of South Florida is home to a Center for Entrepreneurship with a graduate program that was ranked 11th nationally in 2016. USF St. Petersburg’s distinguished entrepreneurship program won the 2013 award for Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Program in the United States. The Iron Yard St. Pete offers web development courses over a matter of weeks, and helps with local job placement after certification.

Rise in Community-Driven Initiatives

Distance and urban sprawl between bayside cities Tampa and St. Pete presents one of the area’s biggest challenges to innovative growth, but groups like the Tampa Innovation Alliance in the USF region and the St. Pete Chamber of Commerce’s Greenhouse leaders are at work every day, connecting the regions through local events like 1 Million Cups. In 2013, Hillsborough County, which includes the city of Tampa, dedicated $2 million to a special fund that helps build the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial ecosystem through sponsorship of startup or tech-driven events held within the county, including Startup Week Tampa Bay. Local groups developed from community interest – like Tampa Hackerspacehost weekly meetings; ‘Geekends’ and Geek Breakfasts are held monthly at a local barbeque joint.

On a smaller scale – the kind that builds a framework for a community driven by common interests – coworking spaces in Tampa Bay have tripled since 2012. Tampa’s libraries host regular coding events for kids and teenagers- CoderDojo is one; and the library’s downtown branch houses a large, revamped makerspace known as The HIVE, a tech-centric area where would-be entrepreneurs, students, and small business owners can take advantage of resources like a robotics center and a recording studio.

Attracting Outsiders

A regional round of the 1776 Challenge Cup for VC funding will be held in Tampa this Wednesday during Startup Week Tampa Bay; a regional round of the Hult Prize is hosted at the UT each year. And, speaking of capital, Florida Funders is making strides to bring VC attention from South Florida to local Tampa businesses.

Startup Week Tampa Bay

There are almost 80 events to choose between during the four remaining days of Startup Week Tampa Bay. An interest in tech is not required for many of them. That’s one of the standouts about Startup Week in Tampa Bay: startup diversity. Panels and networking events at Startup Week Tampa include the obligatory Developer and Design themes. Those interested in learning more about Tampa itself can check out the Everything Local track. There is also opportunity for more niche businesses to set up shop in town, as reflected in Tampa-centric tracks like Craft Beer.

Startup Week Tampa Bay attendees will see many of these resources listed as sponsors or after the names of speakers and panelists. The Tampa Bay entrepreneurial ecosystem is a tight-knit one, where members foster connections and build relationships through collaboration and casual meet-ups. Startup Week Tampa Bay, which is expected to draw thousands of attendees over the next few days, places entrepreneurs in the same airspace as many of the available resources in the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial ecosystem that can help to grow a startup business.

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. Follow the Startup Week action here as we head to 7 cities in the coming months.

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Freelance writer and Innovation & Job News Editor with 83 Degrees Media living in sunny Tampa, Florida. Loves reading, her dog, planning her upcoming wedding, and Amazon Prime.

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