Your editor had the opportunity to attend two events covering major city entrepreneurial ecosystems in Florida. One was the result of a research study funded by the Kauffman Foundation for the Tampa MSA, a 5-county Gulf Coast region. The other was a presentation by the Orlando (National) Entrepreneurship Center about the progress made in attracting jobs to Central Florida. On back-to-back days this week, they illustrated efforts by two major cities in our third most populated state to stimulate economic growth through entrepreneurship.
The first was hosted by the University of Tampa in the Lowth Entrepreneurship Center and presented findings from a Tampa Bay Ecosystem Study funded by the Kauffman Foundation. Its purpose was to expand theory in ecosystems and to better understand the state of the ecosystem in Tampa Bay. Five talented entrepreneurship professors did the research, Rebbeca Corbin, chair of UT entrepreneurship, Diana Hechavarria from USF, Jottan Ais of the London School of Economics, Siri Tergesen, chair of the Kogod Center at American University, and Speros Margetis of UT. While Tampa has a dynamic base for new startups (climate, international airport, MacDill AFB, nationally known hospitals, low-cost of living, and good public transit), the finding found too many activities were working as “silos” independently. The community has a need to collaborate more to increase startup growth. Currently no. 2 in Florida behind Miami and 19th in the country, Tampa can improve and rival its west coast comparison, San Diego. As an example, a monthly apartment costs $2,200 to rent in San Diego vs. $940 a month in Tampa.
Tampa also has many resources such as the Wave accelerator, great universities (USF, UT, Sykes Business School, entrepreneurship clubs, SPC, Hillsborough Community College with its active veteran entrepreneurship program, and the ECC, entrepreneurship collaboration center in Ybor City) to offer wannbe entrepreneurs. The study discovered Austin, TX had a similar “silo” problem which they overcame by corporate and community support. Two other solutions are a big, annual pitch competition like the 36/86 launch Tennessee holds each year in Nashville. Many investors and entrepreneurs attend the event to compete for significant prizes.
Another solution is to look East to Orlando. The presentation the next day at the Orlando Science Center by the National Entrepreneurship Center was an example of a community working together. Titled “Small Business, Big Thinking” speakers explained how magnet centers are being developed to bring big industry to Orlando. They had Chester Kennedy speak about the ICAMR, International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research, facility being built near the International Airport for design and manufacturers to use from all over the world. Kennedy has 35 years experience in aerospace and electronics and plans to build on smart sensor applications and partnerships with industry to focus on “the internet of things”.
Dr. Deborah German, founding dean of the new UCF School of Medicine spoke about the medical schools she has steered into existence, its association with the VA, and creation of a “medicine city” also on the outskirts of downtown Orlando. By 2017 the local life sciences cluster is expected to generate more than 30,000 jobs and $7.8 billion in annual economic impact. If there was lesson to this attendee, it was that “build it and they will come”. By thinking very big, the Orlando Ecosystem has managed to create a destination for electronic and medicine by partnering with corporations to invest in health and science infrastructure in particular.
Orlando “Medicine City”
All in all both events were dynamic illustrations of the emphasis in Florida on growing jobs through startup businesses encouraged by a emphasis on strong entrepreneurial ecosystems. Florida has implemented a decentralized approach to economic development which focuses on decision-making and leadership at the local level rather than a state agency. This approach relies on local economic development initiative to provide resources, services and assistance as well as a healthy entrepreneurial ecosytem. The Sunshine state is well on its way to become the new enterprise state.