When Dan Mitchell sees entrepreneurs coming through SMARTstart programs in Pasco County, he says there’s one factor that gives him a good idea of whether or not that business creator is going to succeed or fail.
That ingredient, he said, is the individual’s level of grit.
“Are they willing to either figure out how to do it themselves, ask for help, pay for help?” asked Mitchell, program director for the Pasco Economic Development Council’s SMARTstart program.
“What doesn’t work is either making an excuse, or deeming it impossible, or saying that the circumstances are beyond their control,” Mitchell added.
Having a successful business isn’t just a matter of having an idea and figuring out a way to finance it, he said.
Businesses that survive and thrive have faced adversity and overcome obstacles, Mitchell said.
SMARTstart, created in 2012, has a suite of programs intended to benefit companies of all sizes, from start-up to established businesses.
The program offers low-cost workspaces, educational resources, guidance, a collaborative environment for area entrepreneurs, and microloans to help businesses that can’t secure traditional financing.
The Pasco EDC program got its start with seed funding from the Florida High Tech Corridor, and then four years later received a boost when Pasco County dedicated a portion of its Penny for Pasco proceeds to support it.
“One of the missions of the Pasco EDC is to build a diversified economy. We take that to heart, with how we’ve organized SMARTstart,” Mitchell said.
“We have not pigeon-holed ourselves. We’ve listened to the communities and we’ve changed how we deliver, and the spirit in how we deliver it, and the style in how we deliver it — while still maintaining the original objectives we set out,” he said.
“We just listen to the people we’re serving and see what they need.
“We don’t think we’re the arbiters of ‘Know-it-All-ness,” Mitchell added.
When he meets someone new to SMARTstart, Mitchell will ask: “What’s holding you back?’
“It’s usually the workspace, funding, education, guidance or collaboration.
“Those are the five areas that we offer support in,” he said.
SMARTstart schedules classes based on what people say they want and need.
Learning sessions it offers can cover topics such as cybersecurity, crowdfunding, YouTube and social media marketing.
It also provides an array of ways for people to learn.
“We recognize that not everybody necessarily learns well from the same voice. That’s why we offer so many different voices,” Mitchell said.
“They have the one-on-one coaching with us. Or they have the SCORE mentoring. Or they can work with our entrepreneurial residents. Or they can do a class or workshop. Or they can lean on each other at a roundtable,” Mitchell said.
The roundtables give entrepreneurs a chance to discuss business challenges and learn from each other.
SMARTstart also offers microloans to businesses that qualify but are unable to secure a traditional loan. But Mitchell is quick to point out that it takes more than an idea and financing to create a successful business.
“Funding definitely comes into play, but a lot of people aren’t ready for the funding until they have a working proof of concept. You might want to open a coffee shop, but have you sold a cup of coffee yet?”
He advised: “Talk to some potential customers. See if there’s really a demand there.”
One of SMARTstart’s programs, called CO.STARTERS, provides both seasoned and aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights and tools they need to turn ideas into action in the pursuit of a sustainable and thriving endeavor.
Mitchell said that SMARTstart, itself, also is open to learning and evolving.
When it launched its East Pasco location, for instance, it began with a professional office, co-working space — much like the one it has established at the Grove in Wesley Chapel, he said.
But after learning more about the Dade City community, he said, it became clear that the primary interest of entrepreneurs was in food-related businesses.
That led to the SMARTstart commercial kitchen at its East Pasco Entrepreneur Center, 15029 14th St., in Dade City.
The commercial kitchen initiative is a result of a partnership between the Pasco Extension Office, which is part of the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, Pasco County and Pasco County Economic Development Council Inc., with assistance from Welbilt, an industrial kitchen company.
SMARTstart at the Grove, another incubator location, is at 6013 Wesley Grove Blvd., Suite 202; and, there’s a new center under construction, as part of the AmSkills Innovation Center, in Holiday, at Darlington Road and U.S. 19.
Besides the other resources it offers, SMARTstart also opens the door to more business-to-business connections for its participants, Mitchell said.
Some of that networking occurs through entrepreneurs meeting each other in SMARTstart programs, but other connections may be made through Pasco EDC, which has ongoing partnerships with local chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, CareerSource and other organizations throughout the region.
NOTE: SMARTstart, a program which aims to help entrepreneurs succeed at every level, is offered through the Pasco Economic Development Council. The Pasco EDC is a private, nonprofit organization that promotes countywide economic development. Funding for Pasco EDC comes from corporate and public investors who are focused on the economic vitality of Pasco County.
To find out about Pasco EDC, visit PascoEDC.com. To learn more about SMARTstart’s specific programs, visit SmartStartPasco.com.
Published January 04, 2023
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