Bill Cronin says that when some people first hear the word “incubator,” they usually think of young chicks being hatched and raised in a confined environment.
That’s not exactly what the new incubator coming to The Grove in the fall is, however.
“The funny thing is, it’s not too far off from the truth,” jokes Cronin, who is the CEO of the Pasco County Economic Development Council (EDC).
Instead of eggs and chicks, though, the SMARTstart Entrepreneur Center and Business Incubator, operated by the Pasco EDC through its SMARTstart Small Business Program, hopes to take business start-up ideas and nurture them into successful enterprises that grow into companies that will stay in Pasco County and bring investment and jobs to the community.
SMARTstart is funded by the Penny for Pasco program.
The Wesley Chapel location will be the third incubator in Pasco County, joining locations in New Port Richey, which focuses on professional services, and one in Dade City that is focused on food innovation.
“They are all looking to build healthy businesses,” Cronin says. “Our goal is to help them become scalable, healthy and strong companies, and that they grow from there.”
The Dade City location, which opened in February, was previously located downtown, but Cronin said so many companies were graduating and then moving back to Wesley Chapel and Cronin says, “it was very clear we needed something in the Wesley Chapel area because that’s the area the demand was coming from.”
So, the Dade City incubator partnered with the University of Florida Institute of Food & Agricultural Sciences Extension and is now an incubator kitchen, and Wesley Chapel is getting its own Business Incubator.
“We are extremely excited to be able to offer our area’s entrepreneurs a place within striking distance to all that our county and region has to offer,” says Dan Mitchell, the EDC’s SMARTstart program director. “This third center will continue to allow our start-ups to have a countywide presence with just one membership. At the same time, this doubles the capacity of our impact in Pasco.”
Located directly above the current office of Mark Gold, the developer of The Grove, and his Mishorim Gold Properties, the 5,000-sq.-ft. space will offer a plethora of tools for budding entrepreneurs.
The incubator will have 10 private offices, 32 desks, a co-working lounge, huddle rooms, an executive board room, classrooms, meeting spaces and a digital media studio, for things like podcasts.
Office rental space will be provided, as well as classes on financing, marketing and legal issues businesses may encounter. Sometimes, it’s a fresh idea that needs a helpful nudge, or it can be an already established business that is stuck and looking to get to the next level.
The Pasco EDC also offers micro loans (between $30,000-50,000 are the most common amounts), and being in the incubator offers opportunities for networking and the exchange of ideas and strategies.
The SMARTstart Small Business Program also will operate a space for food entrepreneurs out of one of the re-imagined shipping crates that are part of the innovative KRATE by Gold Box project that Gold is building in his effort to revive The Grove.
Because small businesses have a large fail rate within the first two years, Cronin says the idea behind the incubator is to give businesses the tools they may otherwise lack. Cronin says it is like taking an idea and adding the entrepreneurial approach to it.
“Inventors are good at inventing things,” Cronin says, “but sometimes not as good at getting those inventions to market.”
While many businesses are struggling during the current Covid-19 pandemic, and opening something new may seem ill-timed, Cronin says times of economic turmoil are perfect for a business incubator program.
“This is when you see a big increase in start-up activity,” he says. “This incubator offers them a great opportunity.”
For already-established businesses, the EDC has helped the county provide numerous grants of up to $5,000 per business during the Covid-19 crisis.
To join the waiting list for incubator space, or get more information, visit http://smartstartpasco.com/?/The-Grove-Entrepreneur-Center.