Mayors of Tampa, St. Petersburg Say Cities Will Cooperate to Help Start-Ups

The mayors joined forces with leaders of the Tampa region’s technology incubators and discussed how to become a place young entrepreneurs will want to call home.

by Kevin Wiatrowski, McClatchy News Service / April 23, 2014

Mayor Bob Buckhorn talks a lot about turning Tampa into a hub of technological innovation, moving away from the staples of real estate and tourism.

He talks about changing the city’s “economic DNA” and making it a place young entrepreneurs will want to call home.

Tuesday morning, he took that message to people who are trying to do exactly that.

Buckhorn joined St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and the leaders of the Tampa region’s four technology incubators at a forum focused on how to pump more support -- both monetary and moral -- into the region’s growing market of tech start-ups.

“There’s no question that an innovation economy will spur growth in the 21st century,” said George Gordon, head of the Florida NEXT Foundation, a non-profit created by former state Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink to promote innovation among young entrepreneurs and small businesses.

About 130 people gathered in the offices of Tampa Bay WaVE, a technology incubator housed in the Rivergate Tower. The crowd included public officials, middle-aged business leaders and the 20-something owners of start-up companies.

One of those owners was Saxon Baum, the 23-year-old founder of WeVue, an iPhone app that consolidates photos from multiple users at the same event. Baum and his business partner moved to Tampa from New York to develop their company and have settled in here.

The forum focused on recruiting Millienials -- the nation’s most diverse demographic -- but the event was comprised mostly of middle-aged white males, many of whom said they were providing seed money to fund start-ups. Baum said that showed people with experience and money are interested in helping companies like his move forward.

“I think that everyone has the right mindset here as far as where we want to go,” Baum said. “I just want to see action.”

Kriseman said Tuesday’s forum, which brought together the mayors of the region’s two biggest cities, was a step in the right direction.

“A few years ago, this type of meeting wouldn’t have occurred,” Kriseman said.

Tony DiBennedetto, chairman of the 6-year-old Tampa Bay WaVE incubator, urged Buckhorn and Kriseman to use their bully pulpits to get the word out about Tampa’s embryonic tech sector. Doing that will bring the deep-pocketed investors those start ups need, he said.

“One of the things we don’t do is market this region well,” DiBennedetto said. “We need acceleration. We need steroids. We need people to step up.”

Small-scale private funding is becoming vital to start-ups as Silicon Valley-style venture capital moves on to bigger companies, and government funding dries up, Gordon said.

Buckhorn told crowd members they can’t expect financial support from the city but can expect efforts to improve Tampa’s quality of life, with a focus on downtown living.

“We’ve created an environment where young people want to be,” Buckhorn said.

©2014 the Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Fla.)

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