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Startup City: Activating partnerships, curating a community of support

Kim Vogel



Branding House's four-week training course was administered by the St. Petersburg Greenhouse, one of its collaborative partners. File photo.

This is a series of perspectives from local leaders who support startup businesses and social ventures, or who have started one themselves. Each is invited to envision what a world-class startup ecosystem would look like in St. Petersburg and to share their ideas for how we get there.

It’s easy to build lists of what is needed to become an entrepreneur. I wish it were just as easy to actually build the ideal ecosystem to support startups and business development.

In 2020, St. Pete, like most communities across the country, was faced with the glaring realization of the gaps in our entrepreneurial ecosystem. We witnessed businesses struggling to qualify for PPP if they lacked banking relationships. We witnessed the confusion our businesses experienced as they were negotiating local, state, federal mandates. But what was incredibly striking was the vulnerability our business owners displayed daily to start, grow, maintain and survive in their search for answers.

Entrepreneurs are on a constant and consistent path of unknowns, the not knowing what they don’t knows, yet they continue hustling, risking and plunging head long to make their concept work.

“Entrepreneurship is deeply personal,” says Jessica Eilerman, Small Business Liaison, Office of the Mayor, St. Petersburg. “We can’t make our ecosystem better/stronger/more competitive until we start with the knowledge and agreement that it is so.”

We always knew vulnerability and loneliness were present, but rarely addressed as a crucial piece of the entrepreneurial journey. In defining vulnerability, we turn to Brene Brown: “Vulnerability is not winning or losing. It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.” The ecosystem must acknowledge this vulnerability, be willing to sit in the uncomfortable and be present when our business owners show up. 2020 forced us to innovate and, dare I say, we all pivoted more often than we would like to acknowledge. For those of us charged with supporting entrepreneurs, the events of the past year also encouraged us to leave our silos, face our own vulnerability, build trusted partnerships, and formalize new roles to achieve greater impact.

Here are important roles we must fulfill collectively as organizations and individuals committed to entrepreneurial success – as well as considerations that will help us all grow stronger as a coordinated support system:

Key Roles Needed

Translators – Navigators – Connectors

When founders are overwhelmed by the business jargon, our role as Translator is to make the information relatable, easy to understand and use.

When business owners struggle to determine next steps, our role as Navigator is to listen, find appropriate resources and support including mentoring, advising, education, technical assistance and cultural support.

When business owners need credible information, advocates and a trusted network. We are Connectors, being a conduit to people, money and training.


If we put the entrepreneur in the center wrapping all possible support around them, what opportunities arise?

  • An accelerated learning opportunity for business trying to scale with business advisors
  • Peer-to-peer network, giving entrepreneurs opportunities to build solutions together
  • Encourage spaces for businesses to collaborate

Do we know who are the Translators, Navigators and Connectors?

  • Build a community-wide network of resources (will be launched in September)
  • Recruit business leaders willing to advise and establish a process for access and matching

Are we willing to make community-wide decisions by strengthening partnerships, having honest conversations and embracing the ecosystem gaps?

  • Challenge the standard understanding of access to capital and demystify the process
  • Make equitable access to capital a community priority
  • Promote microlending

Can we agree on what organizations are willing to fill each gap and take the lead, while others work collectively, providing bandwidth and financial backing to make sure it happens?

  • Strategically inventory our system’s strengths and weaknesses and create multi-sector partnerships

St. Pete naturally offers a sense of belonging, and a great quality of life. The community has intentionally focused on equitable economic development through the Grow Smarter Strategy. Let’s activate all levels of partnership to curate community and build the ecosystem necessary to support business growth.


The Creation of Inclusive Entrepreneurial Ecosystems – How Technology and Data Can Help Communities Thrive,  Copyright 2021 – Startup Space

Dare to Lead, Brene’ Brown Copyright 2018


Kim Vogel is a creative community builder, connector and collaborator. In her current role, she serves as Vice President – Entrepreneurial Advancement & Business Growth with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce and The Greenhouse co-manager.

The Greenhouse serves as St. Pete’s home of small business empowerment, encouraging the entrepreneurial mindset and creating opportunity. Comprised of an expert team from the City of St. Petersburg and St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, along with a wide network of partners, The Greenhouse is committed to the economic growth and development of St. Petersburg’s economy. In collaboration, Kim is overseeing a new pilot of creative space, strategic partnerships and established resources by expanding the footprint of entrepreneurial outreach with Thrive DTSP.













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