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Boom in the Bay: Could Tampa’s Business Incubators Become a National Model?

By: Morgan Sims



As the economy begins to slowly recover from the turbulent decade it’s had to endure, cities like Tampa are thinking of ways to stimulate and propel it. With at least nine incubators in the city—places where entrepreneurs can find free or affordable workspace, peer support, startup expertise, and sometimes even funding—and five proposed, Tampa’s case of business incubator fever continues.

With this sudden boom in business incubators, many local residents and people around the nation are wondering: Is this new trend good for startups or is it just a fad? Here are some things to consider.

The Economic Impacts of the Business Incubator

There’s no doubt that the economy needs all the help it can get to stabilize itself and slowly begin its rise to prominence. Business leaders have stated that startups will lead the way to more jobs and eventually have an impact on the nation’s economic growth in the long run.

Although traditional manufacturing operations were once the backbone of the U.S., they aren’t anymore. The new entrepreneur-based economy that has replaced it is growing, and several nonprofit groups are taking initiative to offer entrepreneurs expert guidance and cheap workspace to help them establish a loyal customer base or land outside investment.

The Supply of Entrepreneurial Help Spots

In St. Petersburg, Fla., Mayor Bill Foster recently announced the construction of a small business center called the Greenhouse. This building will be a place where advisors from the city, chamber of commerce, and other groups help new entrepreneurs obtain anything from permits to loans. Other business incubators, like the FirstWaVE Venture incubator in downtown Tampa, are more high-profile and prefer a bottom-up style of supporting entrepreneurship.

Whether in St. Pete or in downtown Tampa, many area business incubators have specific missions. While both the St. Pete and downtown Tampa incubators focus on innovative health care startups while working closely with the hospitals in the area, others offer so-called “preincubator” services to various student bodies pursuing certificates and degrees in entrepreneurship.

The Increasing Popularity of the Program

Nicolle Panuthos, who heads St. Pete College’s business and entrepreneurship program, discusses the popularity of these incubator programs: “There is most certainly a movement under way in our county toward effectively supporting and encouraging startups and early-stage entrepreneurs.” Others like her say there’s a buzz in the Tampa Bay area for startups and that the competition between entrepreneurs is a great thing.

Many who support the program say that the market will sort out the best incubators from the weak ones. Whether it’s from a lack of leadership or a shortage of funding, some incubators will fail while others will thrive because of the backing they receive from people in the community.

The Benefits to Startup Businesses

One of the biggest things that most startup businesses lack is money and support. The business incubator program offers entrepreneurs many benefits including empty spaces where entrepreneurs they can start their companies for a low-cost of rent and loans so that they can efficiently start their business ventures without financial obstacles holding them back. Many even have high-speed FiOS Internet in Tampa so that businesses can operate online and engage with their customers.

As the businesses grow, the rent increases as entrepreneurs are able to afford it. Also, the businesses are able to create jobs for those outside of the program. Once the businesses have established themselves and are considered successful, they will move out of the incubator program only to have another young startup to take its place.

The Incubator Program across the Nation

People who doubt the business incubator program ask three questions of it:

  • Are people in the Tampa Bay area suffering from a case of “Incubatoritis”—a looming oversupply of entrepreneurial help spots?
  • Will too many incubators lower the startup bar, consequently hurting the quality of new businesses and diluting the lean funding available to run incubators?
  • Are incubators starting to dot the city landscape because they have become eye candy on its wish lists?

Although these questions may pose valid concerns, they aren’t answerable without at least trying this new program out. As the country finds every possible way to build the economy back up, many people will back the claim that supporting the nation’s entrepreneurs will help during the process. Because of the distressing job losses in the recent recession and the weak recovery, it’s safe to say that a program like this could easily spread and become popular among big cities in the country.

There’s no telling how big the business incubator program can grow. One thing is for sure, though; if you’re a startup company looking for some help, Tampa is the city start in.

Published: October 28, 2013

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Morgan Sims

Morgan Sims is a freelance writer who loves all things tech and social media. When she's not trying out new gadgets and tweeting she spends most of her time with her dog, cooking and staying active. Follow her @MorganSims00.

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