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Tampa Bay Innovation Center tackles the challenge of running an accelerator in a virtual world

Margie Manning

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Photo by Gabriel Benois on Unsplash

The Tampa Bay Innovation Center has chosen seven local startups for the organization’s summer 2020 accelerator cohort.

The companies will receive specific training and mentoring in customer delivery, investor readiness and leadership over 90 days, culminating in a showcase event the week of Aug. 17.

The companies chosen for the summer cohort are:

  • Ceres Engineering, St. Petersburg. An advanced analytics and decision support solution for the trucking and supply chain industry
  • elitRecruiter, Odessa. HRtech to assist recruiters with the sourcing and vetting of technical talent
  • LeaseHoney, St. Petersburg. An Agtech marketplace connecting beekeepers with landowners and real estate investors
  • Mango Signs, St. Petersburg. Digital signage as a service platform that helps event venues and merchants connect with customers
  • Paragon Cyber Solutions, Tampa. A veteran-owned, cyber security and compliance solution
  • Real Random, Tampa. A quantum-resistant, next generation, multi-factor security solution for enterprise user and data security
  • Smart Edge Tech, Tampa. Supply chain management solution for small to medium-sized retailers

It’s the second accelerator program for the Innovation Center, a nonprofit business incubator and coworking center in downtown St. Petersburg. The initial accelerator program, which started last fall and ran through January, featured in-person weekly programming. It was a success, with graduates and their companies doing well, said Chris Paradies, Innovation Center chairman.

“It was a good way to get started, but we were in an entirely different environment than we have now,” Paradies said. “This one will be virtual, with less physical interaction, so we spent a lot of time thinking about what we would do in the current environment. I think we put the right ingredients together to make this successful.”

Typically, accelerator participants will work through issues in person in small groups and they will serve as sounding boards for each other. In choosing participants for the upcoming accelerator, it was important to select companies that could still perform those functions without being physically together.

“These companies are all different but with synergies. They are working through the same kinds of issues,” Paradies said. “In their live sessions, we want them working together and helping each other iron out critical issues to help them be successful in the future.”

Companies applied for the accelerator through an online platform called Gust.com — the same process the Innovation Center used for its initial accelerator cohort, said Ken Evans, accelerator managing director. About 30 final applications were received, and the participants were chosen based on criteria such as scalability of the company and the founders’ credentials.

Evans was looking for motivated founders who are trying to solve real-world problems.

“We don’t try to judge whether the business will be successful,” Evans said.”We’re not investors and not in the business of picking winners and losers. We’re in the business of picking motivated teams that will benefit from the 12-week program.”

The accelerator will run virtually from June 3 through Aug. 19. At the showcase event, in the final week of the program, graduates will present their companies to an audience of investors, community leaders, media and potential business partners or customers.

A grant from the City of St. Petersburg seeded the accelerator program. The Tampa Bay Innovation Center is supported by Pinellas County and numerous community partners.

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