Ever wanted to create your own business or startup?
If you do, the Pasco Economic Development Council’s (Pasco EDC) SMARTstart program may be able to lend a hand, or two.
Essentially, the program is designed to assist entrepreneurs — through a combination of guidance, collaboration, funding, education and workspace opportunities.
SMARTstart program manager Dan Mitchell detailed many of those offerings, at last month’s Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting Seven Springs Golf Club in New Port Richey.
Mitchell told those gathered: “If you’re an entrepreneur somewhere in the startup phase, or first couple years, we probably have a program that can help benefit you at some point during that journey. You just have to ask.”
Pasco EDC is a private, nonprofit organization that promotes countywide economic development, and is partnered and funded by corporate and public investors focused on the economic vitality of Pasco County.
Through SMARTstart, it operates two business incubators. One is in Dade City and the other in New Port Richey.
Each offers its own set of unique features, along with affordable desk spaces and professional meeting spaces with Wi-Fi connections.
One of the newer features at the Dade City site, for instance, is an incubator commercial kitchen. It aims to help those looking to launch a food business beyond farmer’s markets and vendor fairs.
Operating at 15029 14th St., the facility features a six-burner range, a single-door refrigerator, a single-door freezer, an under-the-counter ice machine, shelving, and stainless steel work tables. Mitchell said it helps food entrepreneurs facilitate wholesale distribution “to grow to that next level.”
Pasco EDC’s location in West Pasco offers its own digital media studio for podcasting, recording commercials and so on. It comes furnished with a high-quality sound board, four boom mics, green screens and white screens, which can all be used.
In Mitchell’s words, it’s “super neat.”
SMARTstart also offers educational classes, workshops and coaching to aspiring entrepreneurs. The learning sessions cover such topics as cybersecurity, crowdfunding, YouTube and social media marketing. There also are monthly entrepreneur roundtables, often facilitated by retired corporate executives who share their expertise.
Mitchell underscored the value of sessions where fellow entrepreneurs brainstorm, receive mentorship, and discover they’re not alone in their problems or roadblocks of starting a business.
“We know that being an entrepreneur is hard,” he said.
SMARTstart also opens the door for more business-to-business connection for startup entrepreneurs.
The Pasco EDC’s ongoing partnerships with local chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, CareerSource and others, Mitchell said, so it can help business owners make a variety of connections.
In other words, the Pasco EDC’s deep ties throughout the community gives entrepreneurs a chance to network with people they otherwise would never meet.
“We can’t force business to happen, but we can set the table,” Mitchell said.
SMARTstart even has a microloan business financing program, designed for those that can’t secure a loan from a typical bank.
Loans are available for up to $50,000, coming from a revolving fund that must be paid back eventually. To qualify, an entrepreneur or small business owner must demonstrate the experiences and resources to be successful, Mitchell said.
Microloan proceeds may be used for working capital, inventory, supplies, furniture and fixtures, or machinery and equipment.
The program has loaned out a total of $1.5 million to 57 businesses since being established about five years ago, Mitchell said.
The microloan program helps fill a needed niche in business financing, Mitchell said.
“If you’re a startup and the bank says, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to give you money, you’re brand new,’ come to us. We’ll talk to you, we’ll walk you through the process. You still have to have what it takes, but maybe it’s not what the bank is looking for, and just call me and we’ll talk about that,” Mitchell said.
Pasco EDC and SMARTstart also have other initiatives in the works.
They recently sponsored a free mobile application called Startup Space, for Pasco County-based entrepreneurs. It’s similar to a Facebook group, Mitchell said, but just for local entrepreneurs, where they can communicate with one another in real-time, seek advice, post business events and more.
He said of the app, “You can get a little more granular with your questions, and help each other out, ‘Hey, does anyone have a good CPA?’”
The Pasco EDC also is organizing a new event called, “Grow Pasco,” that will bring together about 200 entrepreneurs on May 9 at the Hyatt Place Tampa/Wesley Chapel.
The event’s keynote speaker will be Kevin Harrington, who’s credited with creating the television infomercial and was an original panelist on ABC’s “Shark Tank” hit television series.
The event also will have other guest speakers, panels, workshops and breakout sessions.
For more information, visit PascoEDC.com, or call (813) 926-0827.
Published February 05, 2020