Friends and family knew about his geeky side long before he took the leap into computers and web design as a full-time job.
As a teenager, Thomas Giella Jr., built his own computer.
“I always helped out people on the side with their computer issues,” he said.
He launched his web design and marketing business, Gear Spinners, more than a year ago. Now he has two offshoot companies, Techsoft Academy and i-gent, and a $1,000 check pinned to a calendar in his office with a paper clip.
“I plan to get a frame for it,” Giella said.
The check is his prize for winning third place in the inaugural SMARTstart Business Challenge on Jan. 29. The Pasco Economic Development Council, the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce, the New Port Richey Economic Development Department and SCORE sponsored the contest to celebrate Business Development Week.
The SMARTstart incubator program is an initiative of the Pasco EDC, with locations in Dade City and New Port Richey.
About 20 businesses, both on and off site, are members of SMARTstart. They include technology companies, sales and marketing, and new attorneys. One company completes personal assessments to reduce company turnover.
“We have a pretty diverse membership,” said Krista Covey, the managing program director at Pasco EDC and director of SMARTstart.
Giella competed against about 20 companies to earn one of five spots in the finals that were held at the SMARTstart incubator site in New Port Richey. Judges included representatives from Pasco’s business and academic community.
First place winners were Brian Anderson and Janel Norton of Veterans Alternative Therapy Center in Holiday. Second place went to Greg Smith of Savealator in New Port Richey.
The competition was modeled after Shark Tank, the television show where contestants make a pitch to a panel of investors.
The pitch can be a nerve jangling trial, but Giella kept it simple.
He had 10 minutes to “sell” Techsoft Academy to a panel of judges including representatives from Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative and Pasco-Hernando State College. Judges then had 10 minutes to quiz Giella.
“I tried to think like a customer,” he said. “I thought about all the stories I’ve heard from my clients. It was an awesome learning experience.”
Giella earned office space at SMARTstart’s incubator site in Dade City about five months ago. He works out of a small office at the Dade City Business Center, at 15000 Citrus Country Drive, Suite 103.
His services with Gear Spinners include web design, development and web hosting. Techsoft Academy can help bloggers and businesses go a step further by offering classes that teach more advanced skills. And i-gent caters to Realtors who need website management.
“Some people are go, go, go,” said Giella, and they likely don’t have time to spend on a website. But others, he said, want to do more of the work themselves.
Giella also helps organize Tampa Bay Word Camp, a group that offers conferences to teach skills in Word Press for blogging, business and social media.
Recent clients include the owners of the Yeoman’s Cask & Lion, a British-style pub that will open soon on Morgan Street in downtown Tampa. The pub is a new location and a rebranding for the former Yeoman’s Road Pub on Davis Islands, south of downtown Tampa.
His contest prize money will help buy new equipment to enhance his business, including a DSLR camera and microphone.
Giella started working on a business plan in 2013 to turn his hobby into a brick-and-mortar reality. A few months ago SMARTstart approved his application, and he moved into the business center.
Membership fees for on-site businesses start at $100 a month with tiered increases based on profitability. In return, fledgling entrepreneurs get office space, mentors, seminars and classes.
“They want to see what you’re up to, how much you’re making, is it going to create jobs,” Giella said. “It’s great the amount of stuff we talk about. It’s not common that you can talk about business in front of others and actually get good advice back.”
Giella graduated from Saint Leo University with a degree in business management. He launched a profitable business selling LED lighting for motorcycles, but sold the company two years ago.
“Everyone kept wanting me to build websites,” he said.
Gear Spinners and Techsoft Academy are gaining traction. Giella has a handful of proposals that could increase his client portfolio. If business picks up, he could be hiring his first employees in the next months.
“I can’t wait until I can hire people,” he said. “But I’m taking it one step at a time.”
He credits SMARTstart with giving him a chance to prove his new business has potential.
“My confidence level is boosted,” Giella said. “That’s key. People can see that.”
For information on Gear Spinners, contact Giella at (813) 235-0554, or visit GearSpinners.com. For information on SMARTstart, contact Covey at (727) 478-0670, (352) 437-4861, or visit SmartStartPasco.com.
Published April 1, 2015