BY SHARON HILLSTROM
As economic developers seeking to diversify our local economy, we know that growing our own talent is a reliable way of generating both workers and new businesses. That’s why part of our multiyear strategy at the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC) includes a focus on fostering a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The Kauffman Foundation, a leader in supporting entrepreneurism in communities, explains that a thriving ecosystem allows for the fast flow of talent, information, and resources that help entrepreneurs quickly find what they need at each stage of growth.
According to Kauffman, ecosystem building requires attracting, retaining and cultivating talented people, including entrepreneurs, potential employers and other supporting partners. Strong entrepreneurial ecosystems tend to have substantial linkages between schools, universities and the private sector to efficiently match talent supply and demand.
That’s why we collaborate with local educational institutions to address workforce development needs, including entrepreneurism. I’m encouraged by what we’re seeing.
The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee (USFSM) is strongly focused on developing entrepreneurial, innovative and “soft” workforce skills local businesses need. One of those skills is critical thinking, which is embedded throughout USFSM’s courses. The campus recently made that learning available to members of the community through a series workshops.
Engaging with the local business community is a key component of USFSM degree programs. This semester, teams of undergraduate students are working on special projects with local businesses through a student consulting class. Additionally, MBA students have supported entrepreneurship through research into new product development and employee turnover, and their final projects have helped businesses develop strategic plans.
The Bradenton Area EDC’s collaboration with State College of Florida (SCF) to facilitate local entrepreneurship opportunities is a natural alignment, working through SCF’s Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation (CATI) and its Coding Technology Academy.
CATI’s Technology Incubator & Accelerator will help entrepreneurs achieve rapid development and growth of their emerging businesses. Participants will benefit from SCF’s wide range of programmatic offerings, including the entrepreneurship degree and certificate programs.
To date, more than 750 have enrolled in the Coding Academy and other CATI programs and activities at SCF. A $3.6-million Florida Job Growth Workforce Training Grant from the Department of Economic Opportunity funded CATI and the Coding Academy.
Starting next school year, the School District of Manatee County will pilot an ambitious entrepreneurial program at two high schools. Teachers from Lakewood Ranch and Southeast high schools will attend training on INCubatoredu, a full-year course that offers an authentic entrepreneurship experience as students build a business.
Students make mistakes, take risks and learn to pivot. They develop their own product or service startup to gain investment funds in a final shark-tank style pitch event. Real entrepreneurs and industry experts serve as volunteer coaches and mentors guiding student teams through the processes of developing hypotheses about a business concept, testing those hypotheses, adapting, and continually learning and improving.
Students leave the course having completed a Business Model Canvas, competitive analysis, financial model, minimum viable product, pitch deck, future communications plan, and future funding plan.
Educational programs like these provide exciting pathways for students to explore, create and commercialize their innovations. It’s a process that not only benefits students, but also has incredible potential for the local economy as we work to expand and interconnect an entrepreneurial ecosystem in our region.