Published: November 17, 2016

A University of Tampa study on entrepreneurial ecosystems has found that many metropolitan areas — such as Tampa Bay — lack the collaboration and vision necessary to instill an entrepreneurial mindset. As a result, entrepreneurial endeavors often bottleneck and the entrepreneurial ecosystem fails to grow.

The research, led by Rebecca White, Ph.D., director of the John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center in the Sykes College of Business at UT, was presented Nov. 15 and arrived at two main recommendations for Tampa Bay and any small metropolitan area.

First, entrepreneurial leaders must address the vision and lack of collaboration. Strong entrepreneurship ecosystems thrive on a strong mantra or brand. Secondly, education for all stakeholders in the ecosystem is critical to identify bottlenecks and build the entrepreneurial mindset. “Once the vision and an entrepreneurial mindset are in place, we believe the ecosystem will emerge,” White said.

“In Silicon Valley, investors are afraid of missing the next big opportunity. In Tampa Bay, investors are always looking for the next big opportunity,” White added. “That subtle difference encapsulates the mindset difference between successful and nascent ecosystems.”

Tampa Bay’s strengths include a strong and positive energy directed towards the development of a strong ecosystem, a diverse population, ample knowledge spillover, low cost of living, lots of incubation opportunities and an excellent international airport.

However, Tampa Bay’s ecosystem lacks collaboration, has limited corporate buyers for newly developed products or services and suffers from a splintered urban core and poor mass transit. There is plenty of investment capital available with $1.6 billion under management by local private equity firms, but entrepreneurs reported difficulty in gaining access to funding. As a result, Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is often described as “emerging, young and ill-defined,” yet “ambitious and growing,” according to the research team.

“It’s our road map to a brighter future,” said Bob Buckhorn, mayor of the city of Tampa, during his opening remarks. “We need a plan, we can't take what we learn here tonight and put it on the shelf.”

White echoed that rewards from fostering an entrepreneurial community are crucial for economic development, innovation, high-paying jobs, business creation and sustainable prosperity; but never occur without a catalyzing moment.

The yearlong research study was funded through a $150,000 grant made possible by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. The study drew from more than 40 in-depth interviews with local entrepreneurs, industry and political leaders resulting in several hundred pages of data. The Tampa Bay area was selected as the subject of the research that lays the theoretical groundwork for future work in building an entrepreneurial econometric model.

“The team sought to expand the limited current theory in entrepreneurial ecosystems,” White said. “The project sought to better understand the specific state of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tampa Bay and create a baseline for future research.”

The team, which included professors from the University of South Florida, Indiana University, American University and the London School of Economics, premiered a model that defined the dynamics and players in an entrepreneurial ecosystem providing a road map for cities seeking to become the next Austin, TX, or Silicon Valley. The model begins with the interplay of entrepreneurs (including the founders and employees of startups), stakeholders and neutral third parties called stewards.

These three parties are subject to the influence of a series of environmental factors, dynamics that have not been previously defined. The initial call for research by the Kauffman Foundation, a national leader in education and entrepreneurship research based in Kansas City, MO, proposed four factors: density, fluidity, connectivity and diversity. The current study added two more ecosystem factors: vibrancy (the energy and culture of a region), and redundancy (a measure of saturation of resources that may do more harm than good if replicated too often by too many entrepreneur support organizations or ESOs).

For a findings brief or the recording of presentation, please contact Jake Van Loon, research assistant, at (860) 716-4560 or