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First look: What Embarc Collective is learning about the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial community

Margie Manning



Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Customers, workers and money are top of mind for startup founders in the Tampa Bay area.

About three of every four founders who took a survey by Embarc Collective said an upcoming milestone was to grow their customer base, while nearly two-thirds of the founders said raising funds and hiring more team members also were areas of focus.

About 42 percent of founders said all three categories were upcoming milestones, and were bigger concerns than launching a product or finding working space.

Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO, Embarc Collective

The findings are similar to needs of entrepreneurs in other communities, such as Austin, Chicago and Miami, said Lakshmi Shenoy, CEO of Embarc Collective, the Jeff Vinik-backed organization that aims to elevate the profile of the startup community.

“That said, these findings further validate our hypotheses on how to support the Tampa Bay startup population,” Shenoy said.

Embarc, which plans to open a downtown Tampa facility early next year to bring together entrepreneurs, funders and academic resources, asked for direct input from the community in order to build offerings and partnerships that best meet their needs. More than 250 founders, employees, investors and others responded.

Embarc has begun releasing the results, beginning with what founders said they need, and the St. Pete Catalyst got a first look. Click here for a blog post from Embarc about the survey.

Founders’ needs echo their upcoming milestones, with about two-thirds saying they need better connections to investment prospects and sources of capital, and just under half saying they need corporate customer introductions. About 29 percent need better access to talent or recruiting strategy services, the survey found.

Fabio DeSousa, Embarc Collective

Capital is a key distinction between the startup founders who took the survey and the small business owners who responded, said Fabio DeSousa, Embarc’s data and insights manager.

“The vast majority of small business owners believe Tampa Bay has a sufficient number of banks who are willing to lend to entrepreneurs while very few startup founders believe that to be true. And that falls in line with the startup culture we see nationally, as most don’t even consider traditional bank loans as a viable funding possibility and would instead turn to personal savings, friends and family, credit cards and angel investors as a first option,” DeSousa said.

Making connections and getting the word out about the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial community emerged as important needs from the initial findings from the founders who responded to the survey. Fifty-one percent of founders said they needed a like-minded community of entrepreneurs, and 43 percent said they were looking for press coverage and brand-building.

Sharing success stories does more than bring recognition to a specific company, according to Embarc. It helps build Tampa Bay’s “regional brand.”

The report from Embarc included a quote from one founder who urged the organization to “continue building the innovation culture and marketing this within other regions in the Southeast. That will draw resources and talent here.”

It’s a message that many cities are hearing, in the highly competitive environment for the high-skills jobs created by tech startups, in particular, but Shenoy said the Tampa Bay area has an attitude that some other communities lack.

“Tampa Bay has what I like to call an ‘advantage mindset,’” Shenoy said. “Unlike other communities that talk about an innovation culture but in action are resistant to change, the collective Tampa-St. Pete community is truly open to growth, optimistic about the region’s potential, and ‘all in’ to contribute in any way possible. It’s a true differentiator for us as we build our regional startup identity.”






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