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Top 10 Things Tampa Bay Entrepreneurs Should Do in 2012

January 20, 2012
By Danielle Weitlauf, Tampa Bay Innovation Center

Tampa Bay Innovation Center recently turned its attention to what 2012 has to offer local business owners and entrepreneurs. Danielle Weitlauf, TITLE at the Innovation Center, suggests 10 things local entrepreneurs should put on the “to do” lists in the coming year.

  1. Participate in a camp - IDEA Camp, Health Camp, Bar Camp….The camps are in-depth and affordable sessions that can help you network, discuss and vet your ideas.
  2. Drop in on a Meetup group or membership organization of fellow entrepreneurs and industry professionals.  This is a great way to network and learn from other entrepreneurs. Whether it is StartUp Xchange or another industry meetup, you can find a group suited to your needs.
  3. Network, network, network.  In addition to Meetup groups and membership organizations, there are many other opportunities to connect with other innovators and entrepreneurs.  TBTF’s TECH Jam raises money to prepare Tampa’s at-risk youth to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math and is an excellent opportunity to network. In addition, TECH Talk, hosted by the Innovation Center, is a free monthly breakfast, networking and education event specifically geared to the interests of the Tampa Bay area’s innovation and entrepreneurship communities.
  4. Get out of the house and try coworking!  Coworking is the process of sharing a workspace in the community and often includes amenities for participants like meeting space, coffee, Wi-Fi and plenty of room to work. The Tampa Bay Innovation Center has the Launch Lab in mid-Pinellas and Tampa Bay WaVE recently opened a location in downtown Tampa. 
  5. Utilize local organizations and resources.  Incubators are a great and affordable resource for entrepreneurs and can give them access to resources beyond what they might identify on their own.  Both the Tampa Bay Innovation Center and the University of South Florida provide incubation and education programs designed to build successful companies.
  6. Find a good mentor.  Mentors play a significant role in helping develop your venture.  Many of the activities on this list can help you connect with potential mentors. 
  7. Cover all your bases.  From accounting to intellectual property to corporate structure to market research and social media, it’s important to understand where these fit into your business plan.
  8. Meet with clients in person.  Your office, whether it is at home or another location, can become quite comfortable and we often forget the value of meeting with customers face to face.  Be sure to regularly touch base with clients, make frequent phone calls and plan semi-annual or quarterly meetings.
  9. Get your venture funded.  There are various options for funding your startup, including personal financing, friends and family, angel investors, venture capitalists and everything in between.  Entrepreneur.com offers an Investment ROI calculator for those offering a stake in their company in exchange for funding and many organizations offer programs to assist with financing options. 
  10. Make time for yourself and your family.  Take a day to enjoy the beaches or one of the other great amenities the bay area has to offer.  Time off will help you re-energize and re-focus, which is essential for all entrepreneurs.


Venture Capital Activity in Florida in the Coming Year

January 05, 2012
By Robin Lester, Florida Venture Forum

Tampa Bay Innovation Center recently featured Robin Lester, executive director of the Florida Venture Forum, in its monthly newsletter. She discussed the state of venture capital activity in Florida and what is to come in 2012.  We’ve summarized her thoughts on where the industry is headed.

How would you describe VC activity in Florida during the past year?

2011 was a rebound year and VC firms are now reloading with cash.  Funds typically invest with a five- to seven-year horizon for their portfolio companies.  As they approach the last years, which many of them are now, they determine the exit strategy for portfolio companies, distribute proceeds to investors and raise capital for new funds.  When they reload, they are in a better position to invest in earlier stage companies. 

What were some of the more interesting trends in 2011?

There’s a lot happening in Florida, particularly in technology and bioscience.  This includes robotics, simulation, medical devices, diabetic research and a number of very specialized research fields. In addition, the growing reputation of Florida research institutions has elevated the perception of our companies, including university spinoffs, and their investment potential.  On the downside, though, we continue to see that too few investors are aware of the strength of the Florida market – something we are working hard to change. 

Which companies received funding?

Later stage companies are often edging out earlier stage firms for funding.  Technology, healthcare, life sciences, alternative energy and medical devices are at the top of a number of “shopping lists.”  An interesting trend is the emergence of strategic partnerships for growth capital.  Companies that have a strong management team, a proprietary technology that is propelling growth and a steady stream of revenues are of tremendous interest to institutional and early stage investors.

What was of concern to you?

We still have a capital gap after bootstrapping and friends and family financing.  The days of financing a start up with a second mortgage and credit cards seem to be gone, at least for the time being.  In addition, angel investors have become more leery.  What remains is the challenge of finding financing in the $200,000 to $400,000 range.

How do things look for 2012?

I think prospects for 2012 are much improved.  As I mentioned earlier, venture capitalists are reloading with cash and looking for quality investments.  Within the state of Florida, we have enormous capacity for clean tech, alternative energy and healthcare.

What advice do you have for smaller, earlier stage companies?

If these companies can assemble a strong management team, get up to revenue and build a well-connected advisory board to give them access to capital and industry influencers, at least some of them will bubble up to the top.  Organizations such as Tampa Bay Innovation Center and incubators throughout the state are invaluable in providing this sort of mentorship. 

My final thought is, “Innovation will always be funded.”  Those with the most innovative technologies and applications will be sought after, no matter where they are. 

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