When guests arrived at SMARTstart @ The Grove last month, they found a space that’s well-equipped to help entrepreneurs launch a new business, and to help existing businesses grow.
The business incubator is at 6013 Wesley Grove Blvd., Suite 202, in the Grove at Wesley Chapel — a shopping, restaurant and entertainment complex that’s in the midst of a massive refresh.
Bill Cronin, president and CEO of Pasco Economic Development Council Inc., spoke enthusiastically about the center’s potential.
“These doors that you walked through today, there’s going to be so many different companies — people, families, all different types of things are going to be coming through those doors in the future,” Cronin said.
The economic development expert noted that Pasco County has a pro-business environment, and welcomes not only companies that are transplanting from overseas, but also startup companies that are getting off the ground.
“You look at those big cities all over the United States and they’ve got headquarters — a lot of those headquarters didn’t move there. A lot of them started there,” he said.
The Pasco EDC and Pasco County have programs aimed at helping businesses that are in every stage of development, Cronin added.
Dan Mitchell, the EDC’s program director for SMARTstart, shared some statistics from last year’s activities with Pasco’s incubators.
“This is our third entrepreneur center,” Mitchell said. “Last year, even though we had to deal with the pandemic, through SMARTstart, we were able to help over 645 business owners with counseling sessions to help them with financial assistance, technical assistance and guidance that they needed.
“We served over 24 businesses in our incubators, actually helping them with workspace and guidance they need to launch their businesses.
“We have over 156 events, many of them were virtual. But we had 1,960 event participants at our SMARTstart events.
“This center is going to allow us to magnify that impact, because right now our two centers are on the far reaches of the county. We’ve got a New Port Richey Center and we’ve got our Dade City Center.
“The New Port Richey Center has a professional services feel to it. The Dade City Center supports our food businesses and food entrepreneurs.
“This center will allow us to have that impact be countywide, and have that impact the entire region as a whole,” Mitchell added.
Tracy Ingram, an entrepreneur who has been involved with Pasco’s incubators for about 10 years, offered his perspective on the opportunities they create.
“I work all of the way down to Sarasota/Manatee, all of the way up to Citrus, all of the way over to Orlando. I haven’t been able to see that level of commitment to the actual starting of companies,” he said.
Pasco has made a decision to help entrepreneurs launch companies, and provides support to help them nurture their companies so they can grow strong, Ingram said.
“Maybe you want to start a lawn service business or a bakery or something like that, maybe you’re starting an app for a dotcom company,” he said.
Pasco’s approach has been: “Can I help you where you’re at — versus trying to fit you into a mold and say, ‘No, you have to be this way.’”
Pasco EDC has helped entrepreneurs connect with business mentors to help develop companies, and CEOs to connect with their peers, to learn from each other’s experiences, Ingram said.
Mentors can help entrepreneurs find out if they have a business model that can succeed.
“Maybe you have a great widget, but does anyone really want it?” he said.
Or, perhaps you have a great idea, but don’t have a clue about how to secure financing and get it to market.
Mentors can provide guidance: “How do we take your energy and your enthusiasm and help put some meat on the bones, or put some structure underneath it, to really help you be successful.”
Ingram said he has benefitted from business mentors, and is now giving back.
“Some of the best advice I ever got is that no one really cares about your company, they care about what your product is going to do for them.
“How can I help you? If my product or company can help you, then how do I do that? That becomes this magic, when you start really looking from the customer perspective.
“You start looking at, how do I build something that people want, how do I reach that customer?” he said.
“Pasco County was the county that stood behind us. So, when we started looking at where we wanted to land, Pasco County was where we decided to land because the county was behind us. You don’t get that in every other county. You don’t get the county really stepping in to make sure entrepreneurs are successful,” Ingram said.
“There is so much value here for people who are out on their own. As an entrepreneur, you feel like you have to do it alone. But you realize, the truth is, you can’t.
“The truth is you can’t be an expert in everything.
“But if you can lean on a SMARTstart, or you can lean on an agency like this, that has a mentor network, that can help you in the areas where you’re not an expert, and allow you to be the expert where you’re an expert,” he said.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Ron Oakley assured those gathered: “The Pasco County Board of County Commissioners is very much committed to the entrepreneurship of our new businesses, and the fact that they can start their own business here in Pasco.”
Published March 03, 2021