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Pinellas officials hope local businesses will lend a hand for new St. Pete incubator

Margie Manning

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A rendering of the planned Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator

Tech businesses and manufacturers could have a role to play in funding for the Tampa Bay Innovation Center Incubator.

Pinellas County officials said they will ask area companies for help with the local $4.5 million needed to match a $7.5 million federal grant announced late Monday for the incubator, a 45,000-square-foot, two-story structure that will be built at 11th Avenue and 4th Street South in St. Petersburg.

The city-owned land is in the Bartlett Park/Harbordale Opportunity Zone, one of 16 Opportunity Zone tracts in Pinellas County created by the 2017 federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Investors in Opportunity Zone projects, working through a qualified fund, can defer and/or reduce their federal capital gains tax liability.

Tanya Elmore

The incubator will be operated by the Tampa Bay Innovation Center, a nonprofit that’s been providing incubation services for 15 years. It will foster high-tech and advanced manufacturing ventures and offer programs that provide coaching, mentoring, educational opportunities and access to investment, said Tonya Elmore, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay Innovation Center.

“This is the next step in our evolution,” Elmore said.

The U.S. Department of Commerce awarded the grant after the Pinellas County Board of County Commissioners said it would provide the local funding. But using county reserve funds for the full $4.5 million in local funds is a “backstop,” said Mike Meidel, director of Pinellas County Economic Development.

“The commission would like us to find private sector partners, or go back to the legislature to see if they would support us,” Meidel said. “We will ask the legislature to provide part of the money … but the private sector can be a tremendous partner to tenants in the building.”

Area health care providers, electronics firms and tech companies could provide hands-on coaching and mentoring to the startups in the incubator, and potentially manufacture products developed by those young companies, he said.

Private funding also could come from naming rights at the new incubator. Meidel said that would require county approval.

The incubator is expected to create more than 450 new jobs and leverage more than $65 million in private capital, said Rep. Charlie Crist (D-St. Petersburg). It will provide a critical boost for entrepreneurship by addressing the high cost of office space, which is a significant barrier for many entrepreneurs, Crist said.

The facility will have a prototype lab equipped with 3D printers, a podcast studio, educational and collaborative space, a coffee shop and space for corporate innovation partners. It will be located in the St. Pete Innovation District, a cluster of medicine, science, marine research and higher education institutions.

“St. Petersburg’s thriving Innovation District will provide the seeds for entrepreneurial growth for this new business incubator,” said Mayor Rick Kriseman.

Commissioner Karen Seel, chair of the 2019 Pinellas Board of County Commissioners, said the incubator “will help launch the next generation of entrepreneurs in our community.”

“In Pinellas, over 95 percent of our businesses are entrepreneurs and small businesses with 50 or fewer employees,” said County Administrator Barry Burton. “This commitment by Pinellas County extends our support of local small businesses and entrepreneurship to further economic growth and job creation in our community.”

This project will be designed and constructed over the next three years.

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