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Where Tampa Bay leads and lags in support of entrepreneurs

Margie Manning

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University of Tampa's Lowth Entrepreneurship Center's 2018 report

Local entrepreneurs give high marks to support organizations in the Tampa Bay area.

But access to seed capital and entrepreneurship-friendly policies remain challenges, according to a survey of about 160 local entrepreneurs by the University of Tampa John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center and Embarc Collective.

Authors of the UT entrepreneurship study (from left): Thomas Pittz, Rebecca White and Speros Margetis

Leaders in the Lowth Center released survey results Nov. 27, when they unveiled “State of the Tampa Bay MSA Entrepreneurial Ecosystem,” a wide-ranging report that tracks dealmakers, or investors with three or more equity positions in local firms, provides an overview of ecosystem economics and examines factors that support entrepreneurial activity.

We’ve focused on six pillars of an entrepreneurial ecosystem that really matter, that we can affect to drive more entrepreneurial performance,” said Thomas Pittz, assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship.

Support systems got the highest overall approval, with nearly half of survey respondents saying the community has the infrastructure and entrepreneurial support organizations to assist in new venture creation and growth.

Entrepreneurial support organizations include Tampa Bay Wave, Tampa Bay Innovation Center, the Florida-Israel Business Acclerator, UT’s Spartan accelerator and incubator and many others.

There were 66 entrepreneurial support organizations in 2017, and that number is now up to about 80. “It’s a good asset for the region,” Pittz said.

Just over four in 10 of survey respondents said the culture of the Tampa Bay community encourages risk-taking, innovation and self-sufficiency, and about the same number said the local area is diverse and offers community networks and a strong test market for products and services.

But when asked about human capital, only about one-third of the respondents said local educational institutions offer sufficient programming to support business creation and development. “We need to do a better job in connecting and helping to develop that talent,” Pittz said.

One of the area’s biggest shortfalls is finance. Just over one in five survey respondents believe the local finance community is accessible and sufficient to fund their ventures.

The lowest marks went to local governments that promote entrepreneurship-friendly initiatives and advocate for entrepreneurs and small businesses. But the policy question was not open-ended, so it’s unclear what policies survey respondents were thinking about, Pittz said.

Figuring out how to enhance each of the six pillars would be advantageous for the entrepreneurial ecosystem, Pittz said.

“When we talk about an entrepreneurial ecosystem and the output of it, it is to create entrepreneurs and drive economic performance, but it’s also important to know it’s not the quantity, it’s not the number of startups that we’re after. It’s the quality of those startups,” he said.

“In a perfect world, we create an ecosystem where there’s high quality money going after high quality deals.”

 

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