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What St. Pete entrepreneurs can expect to hear at the Grow Smarter summit

Margie Manning



Attendees at the 2018 Grow Smarter summit offered their ideas about the future of St. Petersburg.

A working group focused on entrepreneurial growth in St. Petersburg is expected to unveil several ideas to help startups flourish during the Grow Smarter summit on Friday.

Jessica Eilerman

Those ideas include new ways to measure entrepreneurial activity and to connect founders with existing resources, said Jessica Eilerman, Greenhouse manager and small business liaison in Mayor Rick Kriseman’s office.

“One of the things we’ve worked on this year is what are the types of entrepreneurial metrics we need to evaluate for our levels of activity in St. Petersburg. Instead of just looking at patents created – and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a great metric — but when you look at our economy, we’re not a patent-based economy in St. Petersburg, so how do we start defining a community-wide conversation on what are our entrepreneurial metrics,” Eilerman said. “We’ve created what we think is a baseline tool to at least get started on that. We’ll be taking that into 2020.”

Eilerman offered a sneak peek at the plans during 1 Million Cups St. Petersburg, a weekly event for local entrepreneurs to meet and present their startups to a peer network of founders. On Wednesday, the tables were turned, when 1 Million Cups community organizer Sean Kennedy made a pitch for attendance at the Dec. 6 Grow Smarter summit.

Jocelyn Hammer

The summit, scheduled from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Center for Health Equity at 2333 34th St. S. in St. Petersburg, will include updates from Eilerman’s working group and five other working groups, as well as a panel discussion. The bulk of the time will be spent in “hubs,” or small group conversations with the organizations that make up each working group, said Jocelyn Howard, Grow Smarter manager.

More information about the summit and registration is here.

Grow Smarter is a program for more than 90 organizations to come together to look at equitable economic growth in St. Petersburg and South Pinellas County, said Kennedy, who also is vice president for entrepreneurship and community development at the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

There are seven strategic priorities and five targeted industries, but the key is on growth that is inclusive of all and narrows the gaps that exist by race and place, Howard said.

“We know for our city to grow sustainably we need all the pieces that make up economic development to be benefitting everybody,” Howard said. That includes education, job training and health. “St. Pete is doing great in a lot of these areas and needs help in others.”

The process can be hard and messy, Kennedy said.

Sean Kennedy

“Getting the business community connected to the nonprofit and government community is not always the easiest lift,” Kennedy said, adding the businesses on the Chamber board are fully committed to the idea of equitable growth. “They know that this is the way to make this a thriving community.”

Grow Smarter already has led to several success stories, including the creation of the St. Pete Innovation District and the St. Petersburg Area Economic Development Corp. The city’s Grow Smarter Job Incentive, a financial sweetener for companies that create jobs in targeted industries, developed from Grow Smarter, Eilerman said. So did an agreement between St. Petersburg College and University of South Florida aimed at filling financial service jobs. It lets students get an associate’s degree at SPC and be automatically accepted into USF’s bachelor’s degree program, while also providing internships at local companies, Kennedy said.

Grow Smarter is a long-term play, Kennedy said. “Those good white collar jobs coming here now – maybe there aren’t folks ready to take them in our community and we have to bring people in from outside. But, can we shift the education so that when the time comes, the people coming out of our schools will be ready for them.”

Equity also means more than just filling jobs, he said. “When those 50 new high paying jobs come into our community — where is that company purchasing their bids and services? Are there businesses that could be started here to fulfill those needs? Who are they donating their money and time to? It’s about educating the community as well.”

Every metric measured by Grow Smarter is matched with a measure of gaps in the community, and whether they are widening or shrinking, Kennedy said. For instance, a map showing income gaps in the community is a close match for maps from 1937 that show “redlined” neighborhoods, where African-American residents could not get home loans.

“We keep those 1937 redline maps in our office to remind us we have a lot of work to do,” Kennedy said.

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