TAMPA — For just over a year now, Hillsborough County has been fertilizing the seeds of a fledgling technology community that local leaders believe can grow the economy through higher-paying jobs.
Business leaders on Thursday celebrated the first anniversary of the Hillsborough County Economic Development Innovation Initiative, or EDI2, pledging to move the enterprise forward.
In just its first year, EDI2 has provided nearly $600,000 to fund events held by support groups throughout the community, groups that bring together local entrepreneurs to share insights, successes, marketing strategies, even help them to find funding for their ventures.
To date, EDI2 has provided funding to 55 applicants producing 49 events and promotions for the tech community. The $2 million allocated to EDI2 by the Hillsborough County Commission comes from the county’s economic development budget.
“EDI2 is such a great demonstration of the county’s commitment” to the tech entrepreneur community, said Linda Olson, president and founder of Tampa Bay WaVE, a nonprofit supporting 150 local technology ventures. The WaVE hosted the anniversary event. EDI2, she said, is helping transform this area in to a “tech mecca.”
Among the programs EDI2 has funded are a coding camp called BarCamp, hosted by Technova Florida Inc., the Business of Biotech event hosted by Moffitt Cancer Center, a Veterans Entrepreneurial Symposium set up by the Hillsborough Community College Foundation and numerous monthly gatherings hosted by Startup Grind Inc. and by TiE Tampa Bay to help entrepreneurs climb the ladder of success.
Hillsborough County Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe, who helped launch EDI2, said it was his dream to create a community where his kids would want to stay.
“Kids want to go someplace exciting, where they can make a lot of money,” Sharpe said. Places like Atlanta or Boston or Austin or Silicon Valley.
By learning how to build a community of tech entrepreneurs, Hillsborough County is launching its own exciting place to live, he said. “There are smart, cool concepts being done all over the place. We are building something that is real.”
Ashok Kartham, president of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) Tampa Bay, and a local angel investor — he invests in promising businesses — said he started two years ago with a mission of bringing global connections and investors to the area “so we can have successful startups here.”
With the help of EDI2, he said. TiE has, among other endeavors, hosted a business conference during IFAA, the International Indian Film Academy Awards, and will soon host a start-up pitch competition.
James Zebrowski, past president of the University of Tampa’s entrepreneurship program, said EDI2 helped his group host the Southeast Entrepreneurship Conference, or SEEC, which draws students from all over Florida and several other states. Students attend workshops, network and pitch business ideas.
Joy Randels, founder and director of the local chapter of Startup Grind, said she has worked in Silicon Valley, in Tel Aviv, Boston and Austin and she believes Tampa Bay is “on the edge of building something great.” Her group features serial entrepreneurs that have been successful and share their tips for success with local entrepreneurs. The sessions are videotaped and put on YouTube, shared with others around the globe.
“EDI2 is about supporting this community, not government picking winners or losers,” Randels said.
To learn more about the program and for funding information, visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/EDI2 or contact Jennifer Whelihan with Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department at (813) 272-6217.
The latest funding cycle for EDI2 ended Aug. 1 and the applications will be reviewed and grants awarded on Sept. 11.