As a newcomer to the Tampa Bay region, I’ve had the opportunity to spend the past year immersing myself in the entrepreneurial community that has been growing here. Locals understand that Tampa Bay is a great place to live and get to experience that life each day. However, beyond the functional benefits: weather, economy, etc., there is a mindset advantage that exists here. This community is open to growth, optimistic about this region’s potential and “all in” to help in this effort. This is distinct to Tampa Bay and should not be something we take for granted. It should be celebrated and leveraged, as many regions resist the type of growth and change that we embrace.
While we have the mindset and many functional benefits on our side, there is a still a great amount of work to be done to make Tampa Bay a prime destination for startup talent. From my vantage point, there are three main challenges to address:
1) Building Our Regional Startup Brand: Outside of Tampa Bay, we aren’t known as a viable place to grow a startup business because we aren’t telling our story outside of our region. Promoting the latest rankings about Tampa Bay stories won’t change the perception. What will change the perception is telling the stories of the people and the companies at the forefront of change, much like what this book does. It’s sharing these teams’ successes, but also showing how they remain resilient through the face of inevitable startup hardship, supported by a community that backs them during the ups and downs. These people and companies and their successes shape the story of our region’s startup identity.
2) Increasing the Density of Startup Opportunities: Building a startup is incredibly difficult. 75% of venture-backed startups fail. That means even if you’ve created a company and are one of the few who successfully manage to raise investment to scale your business, you still only have a 25% chance of success. If a region’s startup identity is formed by its notable success stories, we need to build a bigger pipeline so that more companies can make it through and beat the odds against them. It’s simple math – the more we can get into the top of the funnel, the better the chance that one company will make it through the funnel and achieve success. That means increasing the volume of new ventures that are founded in Tampa Bay and the volume of companies that grow in Tampa Bay.
3) Being Patient and Persistent: People often look to Austin as a non-Silicon Valley startup region success. The reality is that SXSW started 21 years ago. Building a regional startup identity takes patience and persistence. Even Boulder has been at it for well over a decade. Since moving to Tampa Bay, I’ve been excited by all the activity occurring through groups including the Tampa Bay Wave, which is helping startups with mentorship and readiness for capital raises through its accelerator program; the Florida Israel Business Accelerator, which is bringing Israeli startups to Tampa Bay and in turn, creating global connectivity for our region and a soft landing for companies that are looking to grow in the United States; and Synapse, which is digitally connecting members of the innovation community to opportunity through their growing platform. We need to keep at it and continue to support these efforts to build and grow our entrepreneurial community.
The mission of Embarc Collective, the newest supporter of the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial community, is to help make Tampa Bay a prime destination for diverse startup talent to make an impact. This is a big vision and takes all of us, the collective – entrepreneurs and their teams, investors, supporters, prospective startup talent and the broader Tampa Bay community to make this happen. But if there is one region that can make this vision a reality, it’s Tampa Bay.