"Florida’s pro-business, freedom first policies make Florida the best state in the nation to do business. I appreciate those Floridians who have taken a risk to start their own ventures." — Governor Ron DeSantis
Florida Resources Shine on Startups
The Sunshine State, it seems, is also the Startup State
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida accounted for nearly 12% of all new business starts nationwide during 2021, with the state’s total almost reaching 700,000. And, even more recently, Florida was ranked as the most entrepreneurial state by researchers at The Digital Project Manager, which analyzed eight indicators for entrepreneurship. The Digital Project Manager is an online resource for “professionals looking to deliver impactful projects ahead of the digital curve." Its data revealed Florida has the highest percentage of the population that has started a business — with 13,238 small businesses per 100,000 residents, which is 3,000 more small businesses per 100,000 residents than the second place state (Georgia).
In addition, the Digital Project study found that Florida leads the nation in new business formations, with more than 2.6 million new businesses formed over the past four years.
By the way, such entrepreneurial success comes with ancillary benefits, too — namely, the creation of more jobs. Multiple research surveys point to Florida as outpacing the national rate for private-sector job growth.
Not coincidentally, the Sunshine State radiates with plentiful resources for entrepreneurs, offering guidance that extends to virtually all stages of a startup. Here’s a sampling.
Florida Small Business Development Centers
Since 1976, the Florida Small Business Development Centers network has assisted more than 1.7 million emerging and growing businesses by providing professional expertise, tools and information to entrepreneurs in every stage of the business life cycle.
For example, the network offers hundreds of live training events annually, both in-person and online. Similarly, Florida SBDCs offer access to confidential, no-cost professional business consulting on a variety of topics, ranging from strategic planning, business management and financial analysis to international trade, government contracting and cybersecurity. In addition, marketplace research is available through detailed studies and reports, such as financial, market and demographic data that can be customized by industry and geographic location. Typically, access to that type of data and information is unaffordable or unavailable to existing and aspiring small and medium-sized businesses.
Florida APEX Accelerator
In October 2023, the Florida Procurement Technical Assistance Center formally changed its name to the Florida APEX Accelerator, but its mission remains the same: to help businesses research and bid on federal, state and local government contracts. The Florida APEX Accelerator is part of the new national APEX Accelerators program, and the name change coincides with a transition nationally to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Small Business Programs.
The Florida APEX Accelerator matches businesses with contract opportunities, helps owners prepare bids and navigate requirements, and assists them after winning contracts. Also, consultants help owners apply for certifications that may help them get an edge when competing for contracts, including minority-owned, veteran-owned, woman-owned or HUBZone small businesses. Those services are provided at no-cost to businesses.
Additionally, the Florida APEX Accelerator has expanded to provide training and awareness on cybersecurity, risks of foreign ownership, control and influence, intellectual property protection, and assistance with government-led innovation programs. Last year, the Florida APEX Accelerator served 1,387 new clients, resulting in 25,919 jobs supported and helping businesses secure $246 million in government contracts.
GrowFL is the state’s only organization exclusively dedicated to support and accelerate the growth of second-stage companies. Programs provide connections with other second-stage company leaders, along with resources and organizations whose expertise, experience and products lead to the second-stage company’s continued growth and prosperity.
Second-stage growth companies have at least six employees and $750,000 in annual revenue, with the intent to grow beyond second-stage. And notably, while they account for 10% of companies, they generate more than 30% of the jobs.
Through the GrowFL System for Integrated Growth (SIG), business leaders gain access to expertise that encompasses internal issues such as human resources, fiscal management and operations, as well as external issues that focus on exploring new markets, preparing to export, sales and supply chain. The goal is to provide CEOs with Fortune 500-level data, information and best practices.
Through GrowFL and the American Academy of Entrepreneurs’ mentoring program, seasoned second-stage entrepreneurs are paired with business owners who have entered second-stage more recently. The goal is to share lessons learned, expand networks and accelerate growth. By virtue of partnership with the Edward Lowe Foundation, the program brings growth opportunities for both mentors and mentees.
Another GrowFL program, the Virtual Leadership Institute, brings together entrepreneurs for multiday learning and experience sharing. Events feature experts in finance, operations, employee relations, technology, leadership, as well as other topics important to second-stage entrepreneurs.
The Florida High Tech Corridor
The Florida High Tech Corridor spans a 23-county region and is anchored by three of the country’s largest research institutions: the University of Central Florida, the University of South Florida and the University of Florida. The corridor’s mission is to “converge and catalyze the capacity of high tech, innovation and bright minds to generate a global ripple effect” that advances lives.
One primary effort is helping small businesses obtain Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer awards, which are the nation’s largest source of early-stage startup funding for research and development. Unlike traditional venture capital, the funds are non-dilutive — participants retain full company ownership, including the rights to intellectual property.
Powered by a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, The corridor’s FL FAST initiative serves small businesses statewide with an emphasis on women-owned, rural-based, and socially or economically disadvantaged small businesses pursuing research and innovation activities in the 23-county region and beyond. Services include in-person and virtual workshops and one-on-one assistance to meet business needs in areas such as topical award identification, budget preparation, proposal review, support letters and research partnerships. The FL FAST network includes more than 40 organizations and is expected to expand in the future.
FloridaMakes is a service designed to strengthen Florida’s high-wage manufacturing sector by expanding market opportunities, developing customized business strategies, adopting best practices, and assessing opportunities for new technology and training.
One example is Connex Florida, an online capabilities database and connection platform that contains in-depth information on a broad scale, along with detailed search functions to find specific manufacturers’ production capabilities, including equipment and manufacturing processes, as well as industry certifications, material types, industry sectors, NAICS and SIC codes, and more. As a result, buyers and suppliers can search through thousands of local and national manufacturers to quickly find those that match their needs. Further, Connex Marketplace is an online platform that connects all U.S. manufacturers and suppliers into a single, accurate, searchable supply-chain solution.
35 Mules, an initiative powered by NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light, supports the growth of startups throughout Florida, as well as innovation leaders and organizations across the state. Among the chief aspects are a map of incubators, accelerator programs and coworking spaces as resources to founders.
Cohorts participate in programs of 12 to 18 months, with each program being different depending on specific needs. Startup companies receive access to subject matter experts, executive coaching, tailored business curriculum, a non-dilutive cash grant and a dedicated rent-free workspace. 35 Mules’ third cohort began in November 2023.
The National Entrepreneur Center
The National Entrepreneur Center consists of one shared facility that houses 19 resident business-support organizations and 16 local investors. Among the resources are free one-on-one coaching, low-cost seminars, loan facilitation, networking and business connections within Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Lake, Brevard and Volusia counties.
The Alan B. Levan | NSU Broward Center of Innovation (nova.edu/innovation)
The Alan B. Levan | NSU Broward Center of Innovation is a public-private partnership between Nova Southeastern University and Broward County, acting as an economic and education development engine linking the South Florida innovation ecosystem. The Levan Center's 54,000-square-foot facility offers incubator and accelerator programs; coworking and meeting space, technology certification programs, specialized workshops and more. The center serves a wide array of clients — from first-time entrepreneurs to developing tech companies.
The Tampa Bay Innovation Center
The Tampa Bay Innovation Center supports entrepreneurial success, fosters the creation of high-tech jobs, and develops new sources of technology and manufacturing capabilities by nurturing early-stage ventures. Programs are tailored to the innovator/entrepreneur and address business intelligence, planning and business formation, strategy execution and technology transition. One example is the Tampa Bay Innovation Center Accelerator, which is focused on preparing technology ventures on how to scale a company.
In a project partnership, Ark Invest is collaborating with the Tampa Bay Innovation Center on the Ark Innovation Center. Other project partners include the U.S. Economic Development Authority, Pinellas County and the city of St. Petersburg. Ark's thematic investment strategies span market capitalizations, sectors and geographies to focus on companies that are expected to become leaders, enablers and beneficiaries of disruptive innovation.