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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Hillsborough plans business center to aid tech startups

— Hillsborough County is planning to create a new small-business help center which will emphasize technology-oriented startups.

County commissioners voted 6-0 to create what will be called an Entrepreneur Collaborative Center, where enterprising residents can meet to share ideas and get help in starting new firms or growing existing businesses. Assistant County Administrator Ron Barton said the center will require doubling the county’s small-business program budget to nearly $1 million. Part of that money will be spent on leasing a building, probably in Ybor City. But Barton said he also wants to fund a “entrepreneur in residence” position, which could be an individual or group with experience in starting new businesses and raising venture capital.

“This is where we bring in folks who are serial entrepreneurs,” Barton said. “This is really the mentoring aspect.”

The new facility came out of Commissioner Sandy Murman’s request that the county find a centralized location for its Small Business Information Center.

The county provides workshops and one-on-one consulting for small businesses at the center, 7102 N. 56th St.,

but several nonprofit partners have left for other sites, citing the inconvenience of the location north of Sligh Avenue.

Barton said the center’s budget is significantly funded by nonprofit organizations connected with business development. The county’s share is between $400,000 and $500,000, he said.

He asked commissioners to double that amount for the new entrepreneurial center.

In addition to providing space and mentoring, Barton broached using public money to support a loan pool for small businesses. That idea drew fire from Commissioner Kevin Beckner, who said he could not support appropriating taxpayer money for loans to private businesses.

“I would have deep concerns about government entering into venture capital and funding that type of idea. ... That would take some convincing,” Beckner said.

In response, County Administrator Mike Merrill said Barton had not discussed the loan pool idea with his boss.

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