In the center of what many think is the hottest and hippest entertainment development in Wesley Chapel at The Grove, just above the office of developer Mark Gold, is a large “collab-o-space” hoping to launch the area’s next hottest and hippest thing.
That’s Dan Mitchell’s hope, anyway. The program director of SMARTstart — part of the entrepreneurial arm of the Pasco Economic Development Council (EDC) — stands in the middle of the 5,000-sq.-ft. Entrepreneur Center & Business Incubator and imagines it filled with the bustle and hustle that only enthusiastic entrepreneurs can bring to it.
“It’s going to be a great environment,” Mitchell says.
SMARTstart at The Grove held its official ribbon cutting on Feb. 18. The workspace has 10 private offices, two “huddle rooms,” 32 dedicated desks, a co-working lounge, an executive board room, as well as a classroom and other meeting spaces.
A digital media studio will offer light boxes, podcasting mics and mixers, as well as other equipment needed to produce various electronic media.
Those desks, offices and board rooms will soon be mostly filled by small business owners sporting ideas but looking for guidance and hoping to reap the benefits a collaborative setting can provide. Small businesses have a large fail rate within the first two years, but Mitchell says SMARTstart helps develop business ideas and get them to market on more solid footing.
SMARTstart at The Grove is open to anyone, but their business must be based in Pasco County. It is looking for small business owners who are in the start-up phase, or in the first year or two of their business.
Once accepted into the program, you choose your membership level and get access to not just the space — you can rent a private office for $600, or just take a desk in the open area for $100 — but also classes, roundtable discussions, workshops and mentorship. The SMARTstart team will assess the needs of entrepreneurs, and will connect them with industry experts and coaches.
“We ask people when they join, what do you need?,” Mitchell says. “What is holding you back? Do you need workspace, do you need guidance, do you need to collaborate with other entrepreneurs, do you need funding, do you need education? We offer something in all of those program areas.”
And, Mitchell adds, “If somebody needs all of it, great. They can get all of it.”
SMARTstart is funded by the Penny for Pasco program.
The Wesley Chapel location will be the third EDC incubator in Pasco County, joining the locations in New Port Richey (which focuses on professional services), and the one in Dade City (focused on food innovation).
Those in the SMARTstart program also are eligible for the EDC’s popular “micro loans,” ranging from $30,000-50,000.
Since the program’s inception five years ago, 82 businesses have started and grown in the Pasco EDC’s incubators, including 24 last year. The micro loan program has funded 57 companies, for a total of $1.8 million in loans.
So far, the new Wesley Chapel incubator has four members, with 30 more on the waiting list. Those who get in are limited to two years in the incubator, after which they must spread their wings and find their own locations.
“This is not your permanent home,” Mitchell says, but in the meantime, members can use the incubator’s address to register their business with the Florida Department of State at Sunbiz.org (found at DOS.MyFlorida.com), use the conference rooms for meetings, focus groups and more. “People come with an idea and, within six months, can get the funding and when they do launch, SMARTstart will hold a ribbon cutting for them.”
Dade City’s Johnathan McKeen-Chaff has taken advantage of multiple SMARTstart programs and he says that, as a result, his music teaching and academic tutoring business is better off for it.
He has added a handful of clients and is now ready to open his first physical location at the KRATE container park at The Grove this summer, where his team will give piano, guitar and drum lessons, as well as supplemental tutoring in math, English and other subjects.
“It was worth every penny and more,” McKeen-Chaff says. “That’s the kind of education I can get behind. Dan Mitchell and everyone there are very good at what they do.”
McKeen-Chaff, who says his company is focused on using technology to improve the way people teach and learn, also took advantage of the EDC’s micro loan program.
“They taught me how to start a business, and walked me through everything I needed to do,” McKeen-Chaff says. “I know I have a better chance (of succeeding) just having them on my side.”
McKeen-Chaff will be KRATE neighbors with SMARTstart, which also will be renting a converted shipping container. Members of the SMARTstart program will be able to rent the crate as a pop-up to sell their wares, which could be popular with the fledgling food businesses being cultivated at the EDC’s Dade City incubator.
Pasco County-based businesses interested in more information or in joining the incubator program can fill out an application by visiting SMARTstartPasco.com.