The hardest part of owning a startup is always the beginning: the process of turning your idea into a company with a working business model and appropriate funding. Luckily, there is a multitude of accelerator programs in the South available to entrepreneurs who want to launch their startups quickly.
For tech entrepreneurs in the Tampa, Florida, area, there’s an incredible source of inspiration and guidance. No, it’s not the beach (although you can see where our heads are), but Tampa Bay WaVE, a “for entrepreneurs, by entrepreneurs” organization that is helping fill a much-needed gap in the region with its FirstWaVE Venture Center and tech accelerator program. Since its launch in March 2013, the accelerator has helped 169 local tech startups create and retain over 700 new jobs and raise over $18 million in early stage capital, according to the organization. In September 2016, the WaVE announced the creation of the WaVE Fund, a seed fund for local startups. Initial funding is coming from a $50,000 Small Business Administration grant, but the organization expects the fund to reach $5 million by the time it’s fully funded.
Like many of today’s strongest entrepreneur support organizations, Tampa Bay WaVE started small, with a monthly meetup in 2008 that brought together local tech entrepreneurs to share ideas and challenges. In 2012, it was awarded a $1 million grant from the i6 Challenge—a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Commerce to encourage technology commercialization—and broke ground on the state-of-the-art Venture Center, which opened in 2013, and is in partnership with the University of South Florida.
Tampa Bay WaVE breaks down the various stages of the startup journey into Idea, Build, Launch and Grow. It doesn’t help entrepreneurs in the idea stage, but will direct them to resources in the area that does. Most of the organization’s work is helping companies go from build to launch.
One of its launch-phase startups is Tampa-based Trucks on Demand, an app that allows consumers to hire a pickup truck (and driver) for moving and hauling items. Grow-phase companies include Cabinets.com, SavvyCard and KiteDesk. All of these companies participated in the FirstWaVE accelerator.
Applications for the next cohort are due Feb. 1. Apply now.