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Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Playing it SMARTstart

DADE CITY — Teaching English at Pasco High is Stephanie Reed’s primary job, but about 20 years ago she launched into photography on the side.

Trying to make a home-based business grow is no easy task, though, so when she learned that the Pasco Economic Development Council planned to start SMARTstart Dade City, the county’s first business incubator program, she signed on as one of the first clients.

“This has really helped me get the marketing out there,” Reed said Friday afternoon during an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the SMARTstart office facility at 15000 Citrus Country Drive.

The program’s aim is to assist startup companies or businesses undergoing a transition by giving them round-the-clock access to office space, along with wireless connections, a mail box, conference room space, seminars and classes, and one-on-one mentoring.

SMARTstart has 2,500-square-feet of space that can serve up to five businesses that need an office suite. Two additional SMARTstart businesses operate off site, but have access to the incubator services.

A helping hand can be important because new businesses have a notoriously difficult time making a go of it. SMARTstart notes on its website that, according to the Small Business Administration, just 20 percent of businesses last five years. The 80 percent failure rate is attributed mainly to under capitalization and a lack of management skills.

Those statistics are nearly flipped for incubator companies, 87 percent of which are still around five years after their start.

The incubator relationship isn’t meant to be long-term. The businesses must prove they can make it on their own. The startups must provide a viable business plan before entering into an agreement with SMARTstart, and they are expected to make continual progress, said Krista Covey, the program director.

Basically, it’s a two-year program broken down into six-month chunks. The business owners put together a plan for six months and SMARTstart, through mentors, classes and workshops, helps the businesses stay on track with those plans.

The businesses pay a reduced rate for the services that increases with each six-month period. SMARTstart moved into its facility in September, and all its office spaces were filled by Feb. 1, Covey said.

In addition to Stephanie Reed Photography, the other on-site businesses are the Busy Buddy, Arielle Management Group, Innovative Payroll Services and H.B. Whitaker.

The off-site businesses are Computers Etc. and Flying R Group.

Covey said the seven businesses are creating a combined 32 new jobs for the area, and that is projected to grow to 60 jobs in two years. A second incubator program is planned for New Port Richey.

Kellye Dash, owner of Busy Buddy, which provides a variety of administrative support services to businesses, said she also began her business as a home-based enterprise, but felt isolated and didn’t have the resources and knowledge base available to her through SMARTstart.

In addition to the mentoring and workshops the incubator program provides, the businesses also share ideas with each other.

“We’re all growing,” Dash said. “We collaborate and offer input. We help each other in that way.”

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Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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