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Connection is Key for Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Published: November 17, 2017
“The research shows that this connectivity is important. It builds a community of investors who support each other and build and help with that risk profile,” Rebecca White said.
“The research shows that this connectivity is important. It builds a community of investors who support each other and build and help with that risk profile,” Rebecca White said.

Kirk Powell M.S. ’18, a graduate entrepreneurship student, wondered about the funding options in Tampa Bay for new, pre-revenue, pre-traction startups.

“It seems like there’s a gap for micro, measured, angel investing. A common problem I see from other entrepreneurs is that there is a perception they’re unable to accomplish what they want to do because of a barrier to access to capital early on in their idea phase,” Powell said Wednesday evening during the State of the Tampa Bay Ecosystem update in the Lowth Entrepreneurship Center. “But that doesn’t mean there aren’t opportunities for very strategic, targeted ways to help entrepreneurs in a much more measured sense,” with smaller injections of capital early on.

The issue isn’t money, Marc Blumenthal of Florida Funders said. It’s connectivity.

“There are seed funds – it’s happening. But it still comes down to connections. Giving you $50,000, or $20,000 or whatever you need at each stage is only one piece of the puzzle,” Blumenthal said.

Startups still need a host of factors to be viable, such as a physical location, leadership, human capital, technology development and customers willing to test the idea and prove it.

“So it still comes down to two, three, four, eight of those personas joining you on your journey, and the money will come. I promise you the money will come,” Blumenthal said. “There are people who want to put their money to work. There are people in this town who are sitting on billions of dollars of cash. It’s about good deals and about the connections across the entire journey.”

Blumenthal was part of a collaborative presentation, which featured UT professors Rebecca White and Speros Margetis. White, James W. Walter distinguished chair of entrepreneurship and director of the Lowth Entrepreneurship Center, and Margetis, professor of finance, facilitated a discussion based on improvements in Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial ecosystem being made since last year’s Kauffman Foundation study.

The Kauffman Foundation research was a year-long project that yielded a model for strengthening entrepreneurial ecosystems in Tampa Bay and other cities nationwide. The project was spearheaded by White along with a team of professors across the nation, and included in-depth surveys of entrepreneurs and their businesses in Tampa Bay.

White also discussed research that maps the dealmakers in the Tampa Bay MSMA (plus Manatee and Sarasota counties) and the area’s social capital by industry. The overall theme was connection.

“The research shows that this connectivity is important. It builds a community of investors who support each other and build and help with that risk profile,” White said.

She said financial services in Tampa Bay are well connected, but there are four additional areas that could use improvement: technology, health care, consumer discretionary and telecommunications.

“Our hypothesis is that we can improve our social connections, our social capital connectivity, which will lead to better outcomes and more entrepreneurship,” White said.

One way to do this is through a web platform called Synapse that will launch in March 2018. Blumenthal described it as a place that will curate every great company, investor, organization, educational institution, educational materials that are available for entrepreneurs and investors, intellectual property sitting at the 14 research institutions ready to be commercialized, as well as talent.

The database is part of a three-pronged approach that includes an annually published book called Innovate Tampa, which will feature the positive news regarding the business environment, as well as a conference, Tampa Bay Innovation Summit 2018, slated for March 28-29.

“The people in this room represent the 10 percent who care the most and are already engaged,” Blumenthal said. “The problem is the 90 percent of the people who would do a deal, would build a company, would stay here, would commercialize technology if they actually knew about it and understood the tapestry of our community … We’re going to give them a way to get connected.”

For more information on the research and efforts involved, contact the Lowth Entrepreneurship Center at ecenter@ut.edu.

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