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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Hillsborough small business center relocating, transforming

Hillsborough County is taking its small business center in a new, updated direction to meet the needs of a growing base of tech entrepreneurs.

Butchers, bakers and widget makers will still be able to come to the center for help in mapping out a business plan and getting advice. The county is not eliminating services, just adding another layer, offering advice and expertise to entrepreneurs working in the online and technical world, said county Economic Development Director Lindsey Kimball.

The plan is to relocate the center from its location on 56th Street to a more easily accessible location in Ybor City, one that will lure back private nonprofit partners that once worked with the county’s clients.

“The trend is to retool small business centers into entrepreneurial centers focusing on these tech startups,” she said. “How do we modernize? We looked at models in cities like Austin (Texas) and Boulder (Colorado) to figure out how we could do it better.”

Ron Barton, assistant county administrator for economic prosperity, traveled to Nashville last year with the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce and was “blown away” by what that city had done, she said.

What Nashville had done, Barton said, is build collaboration with its service providers. He saw the opportunity to do that here.

“A lot of the things being done up there, we had started to initiate in the Tampa market,” Barton said.

“The concept of a one-stop shop is not new in the small business world, but there were lessons to be learned about the ability to repurpose (the center) and make it more relevant to the economy of the future and the small business of the future.

“First and foremost was bringing to bear technical assistance to startups, mentoring, networking, the ability to enhance access to capital, and combining that with the business incubator and accelerator. We had all those components beginning to formulate here but needed the ability to glue all those together.”

Barton said he hopes the center can partner more closely with groups such as the Tampa Bay WaVE, an incubator and accelerator program, USF Connect, which works with people to help them make successful business connections, the Tampa Bay Technology Forum, working to grow this region into a tech hub, and the HIVE, a new collaborative center at the John F. Germany Public Library for inventors and entrepreneurs.

“In a perfect world, you would stick everyone in one space,” Barton said, “The world doesn’t work that way. But we are continuing to push ourselves together and find out how our skill sets can complement one another.”

“There is room under this tent for everyone,” Kimball said.

She said she is hoping to open the new location by October.

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