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The Hustle

Name: Robert Blacklidge (Startup Cruise)

Posted By Jonah Hanowitz

Robert Blacklidge knows what makes Florida great: great beaches and great companies. After starting nine companies and leading an expedition with StartUp Bus, Blacklidge is creating an experience that teaches entrepreneurship while exploring the world. Everyone knows that entrepreneurship needs capital, but to raise capital, you have to be willing to take risks. Blacklidge has tried and failed, and he's learned to embrace failure as a part of the growth process. Learning to succeed in securing funding is what he wants to share with you, and StartUp Cruise is how he's doing just that. Blacklidge has turned hustle into a science, and he wants to impart that to new entrepreneurs on a Florida-tinged voyage.

Years in Tampa Bay

I grew up here, went to school here, left for a while, then came back. So, most of my life.

Hustle (job)

Founder of Startup Cruise

What do you do?  

I recently launched Startup Cruise, which is a 501(c)3 nonprofit backed event where we bring people through a five-day cruise and teach them everything they need to learn to launch a company. The really cool thing about this is that what we focus on is experiential learning, so you have to get out there and engage in whatever problem you want to solve. Find a marketplace, build a product, launch the product, and sell the product in the marketplace all while competing in a pitch competition. And it really creates a level of learning that you can’t find anywhere else, because it's such a short time frame, you’re leveraging your team’s strengths, and you take what we teach you and you will be successful in this event and in your business.

Why do you do it?

In 2017, I went on something called Startup Bus, which is a little bit less structured and a little more chaotic, but it really is what inspired me to create Startup Cruise. Prior to Startup Bus, I had started a few companies, but I was really looking to network and plug into the startup community in Tampa Bay, and over the course of three days on the bus, we created and launched a product into the marketplace, and even had sales, and then we also made it into the finals at the pitch event. The whole encompassing concept of having to be efficient and perform at your very best for the entire trip is what really set me on my current path, where I traveled the country working on this idea, ran it through a couple of incubators, participated at pitch events, that kind of thing. The opportunity presented itself for me to conduct the Florida Route on the Startup Bus in 2018, which I agreed to take on because I knew how much of an impact it had on my life, and I wanted to help the community as a whole. I identified a few things about the Startup Bus concept that I thought I could improve on, which ultimately is what developed into Startup Cruise.

What was your Catalyst? (How did you get started?)

I had twins recently, they are 7 months old, and my perspective on the world has changed. My risk tolerance went way down, and all I wanted to do was provide for them and keep them safe. My own startup, I was still looking for funding for it, had some bad experiences raising capital in Florida, and I didn’t want to continue down a path that I knew it would be years before I got traction on it. But I still wanted to give back to the entrepreneurship community using the skills and resources I had developed, so I started the nonprofit “Entrepreneurship Matter” and we started working towards our marquis event, Startup Cruise.

What’s a common misconception or unknown aspect of what you do?

I tend to operate at the 30,000 ft. level, and a lot of the times, people don’t grasp the nitty-gritty of what we are doing. Why on a cruise ship, why this, why that? The biggest aspect of a program like this is that you need to remove people from their day to day. A common misconception is that people show up and we just fix all their problems. While, in reality, we don’t fix any of their problems, we give them the tools to fix all of their problems themselves. There aren’t currently a lot of programs focusing on that. I’m not going to tell you what to do, I’m going to give you the tools to do what you want to do. My expertise is in laying the foundations of a business, then founders can build from that.

What’s the most challenging part of your Hustle?

Nothing. To be honest, I have worked on a variety of iterations of these types of startup events, and the logistics always turned into a nightmare. With the cruise, we are leveraging Florida’s greatest asset, our hospitality industry. With the cruise, they’re getting you on the boat, providing your cabin, all the food you could ever eat, they’re familiar with the ports - logistically, it is just a whole lot easier. And that allows the mentors and experts to focus singularly on helping the participants to grow as individuals, which is really powerful.

What’s the most valuable piece of business advice/insight that’s helped you?

You can learn from everybody. Everybody is a mentor, everybody is a guide. I got asked once who my mentor was, and I couldn’t answer. I don’t have one mentor that I look up to. Elon Musk, Richard Branson, people like that are like superstars. Sure, it would be great to meet them and pick their brains, but the way I see it, every engagement you have with every person is a learning opportunity. So, understanding that you can gain mentorship from everyone is important, and it took me a while to realize that.

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