March 14, 2018
“The talent is here. It’s present. Men and women. It’s about enabling, enlightening, bringing out of the woodwork … It’s time that we all start working in the same direction and make this all happen together.”
- Brian Kornfeld, Synapse
American Dreams Symposium hosted by HSN & the University of Tampa
January 23, 2018
The University of Tampa was buzzing with excitement in late January when more than thirty leaders from across Florida joined HSN for the American Dreams Symposium. The discussion focused on “Cultivating Small Businesses in the 21st Century and was sponsored by Quirky. It followed a similar conversation that HSN and the University of Tampa held in Washington, D.C. this past November to coincide with National Entrepreneurs Month.
The business leaders in attendance came from the private sector, non-profits, universities, government and business advocacy groups throughout Florida. They shared ideas and experiences while discussing some of the most significant challenges and achievable solutions for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Participants also had the opportunity to hear directly from HSN President Mike Fitzharris, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor and Todd Reid, a representative of U.S. Senator Marco Rubio. Randi Zuckerberg, the Founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media also joined the discussion.
You may be wondering, what could these seemingly different individuals have in common? While they came to the symposium from different sectors and walks of life, they share a passion for supporting entrepreneurs and helping small businesses overcome challenges both large and small.
One common theme that emerged out of their conversation is the notion that entrepreneurship is more likely to thrive in a community when people come together to build a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem.
Randi Zuckerberg, an entrepreneur, investor, bestselling author, and founder and CEO of Zuckerberg Media explained that when she first moved to Silicon Valley 15 years ago, it was effectively the only place to start a tech company because of its unique tech ecosystem. It was one of only a handful of regions where venture capital was flowing and students were coming out of elite tech programs.
Today, communities of all sizes, in every corner of our country, are working to build their own entrepreneurial ecosystems. They’re forming networks, encouraging venture investment, enhancing STEM education and training, dialing up mentorship initiatives, providing resources to up-and-coming entrepreneurs, creating incubators, and advancing other forums for collaboration.
The Florida business leaders at the American Dreams Symposium agreed that the communities that do the best job in these endeavors will be more likely to cultivate and incubate successful startups and small businesses.
To grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Florida, Rep. Castor called for “a new commitment to our young people” that would span from pre-K all the way to community colleges, universities, and the workplace.
MSNBC’s JJ Ramberg, the host of Your Business, told a story about a recent trip to Bulgaria, where she met a successful tech entrepreneur. At first, he had been reluctant to join an organization of fellow entrepreneurs that was geared at providing support to one another. Then he realized that in order to truly succeed in his city, he couldn’t be the only game in town. “I need a whole bunch of ‘me’s’ and I need to help a whole bunch of the ‘me’s’ coming after me,” he told her.
This led JJ to a powerful conclusion: Cities and neighborhoods have the ability to create a certain culture that is conducive to small business success. JJ calls this an “ethos of entrepreneurship.”
“It’s not a one-man band,” said Mike Hartin of Three Daughters Brewing. “Even if you are the only person in your company, you have to have support systems around you.”
Many entrepreneurs are unaware of the tremendous support and resources available in their own communities.
Carol Minor, of the Florida SBDC (Small Business Development Center) at University of South Florida, Hillsborough County, reminded her colleagues at the American Dreams Symposium that SBDCs like her organization exist to help them.
“There are a number of organizations like ours that are out there for that purpose, so that you don’t have to be alone and you don’t have to feel like you’re crossing the bridge by yourself,” she said. “We can go along with you.”
While many of the business leaders at the symposium spoke highly about the entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Tampa Bay region, others suggested there is more work that needs to be done in order to provide more assistance and coordination to fellow small businesses and their owners.
“It’s a very wide, very disconnected area,” said Brian Kornfeld of PopKorn Apps LLC and Synapse, an organization working to strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Florida. “A lot of the problems actually stem from this lack of connection,” he continued.
Following the symposium, nearly 100 entrepreneurs attended a two-day American Dreams Academy, an interactive, educational and experiential scholarship-supported summit for emerging entrepreneurs looking to launch or expand their businesses.
HSN and The University of Tampa’s John P. Lowth Entrepreneurship Center, Sykes College of Business are hosting similar academies on a quarterly basis across the United States. They consist of two full days of instructional, informational and educational programming designed to help entrepreneurs understand important lessons in the areas of manufacturing, legal, quality assurance, branding, marketing, pitching/presenting concepts, and social media. To be eligible, applicants must have a product or business concept either in development or already established.
Like the American Dreams Symposium, the academies are sponsored by Quirky, a free community-led invention platform that brings real people’s ideas to life.