Bill Hortz's picture

[Successful entrepreneurial ecosystems are driven by strong community partners that create a conducive environment for entrepreneurship to thrive. These ecosystem supporters function as major catalysts by performing an almost magical alchemy of mixing and matching raw talent with powerful resources - educational institutions, corporations, local/regional/state government, and a broad range of specialized entrepreneurial support organizations (ESOs) - and transforming them to economic gold. By nurturing startups and energizing community connections, they can help spark innovation, economic growth, and job creation within a region or industry.

Interestingly, these community partners can take different strategic approaches in engaging their communities. Since each entrepreneurial market is different, as to maturity and developmental needs, they can be focused on specific industries, regional centers, innovation topics, or by stages of startup firm development and growth.

We were introduced to 2 different ecosystem supporters – Tampa Bay Wave and Endeavor Miami - each working diligently to transform and grow their local business communities. While sharing similar goals, they illustrate the difference in approach and structure they may take.

Linda Olson, CEO/President of Tampa Bay Wave – a purpose-driven nonprofit tech accelerator that helps entrepreneurs transform their innovative ideas into real-world solutions and scalable businesses.

Claudia Duran, Managing Director at Endeavor Miami – an affiliate of the world’s leading community of high-impact entrepreneurs that focuses on scaling entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ecosystems by creating a Multiplier Effect providing a platform for entrepreneurs to pay it forward. 

Through this interview we learn how they engineer their efforts around “accelerating startup companies” versus “scaling high-impact entrepreneurs and ecosystems”. We also uncover how they both learned to thicken their web of strategic connections by working together across the state to extend their reach and capabilities. Understanding the reality of today’s highly-clustered knowledge economy, they have also been active in developing through their joint efforts into a Miami – Orlando - Tampa Bay High Tech Corridor acknowledged as the 6th largest mega-region in the United States. Richard Florida, a noted academic and author, has researched and determined that mega-regions are dynamic combinations of multiple metro areas that are the real forces powering the global economy.]


Hortz: How would you characterize your purpose and position in an entrepreneurial ecosystem?

Linda: Accelerators, whether set up as non-profits or for-profit, are program-driven entrepreneurial support organizations that are designed and dedicated to helping entrepreneurs succeed and accelerate their growth. We do this by recruiting startup companies and bringing them in usually 10 to 15 at a time into a working group we call a cohort. They are put through a rigorous business program which can be between two months and six months depending on the accelerators that may have different industry or problem focuses.

We are part entrepreneur education, getting them connected with peers and mentors, but also really about providing big strategic introductions for them with investors, prospective customers, and other key opportunities and resources. We get to know their businesses and maybe help fix a few things in their business structure or strategy before we make those key introductions, so that they are ready to seize those opportunities.

To dig even further, our accelerator really has two purposes. As a non-profit in the Tampa Bay entrepreneurial ecosystem, it is our larger goal to help grow the overall volume of startups here. And ultimately, we want those successes to turn into successful exits where they come back into the ecosystem as another entrepreneur or an investor. We want that circle of life to happen.

The other part of our accelerator is we are using our accelerator program to help close some of the other ecosystem gaps. For example, our accelerator by and large recruits nationally and internationally. We do work with local startups primarily, but they have to compete with every startup that is trying to apply to come in. There is a benefit to any local ecosystem when you have a program like ours that is doing national and global outreach. You are helping brand the region saying there is something happening with tech here.

Because of the outreach that we do and the caliber of the cohorts that we have, Tampa Bay becomes very attractive to out-of-region investors and sometimes mentors and other partners as well. We have built one of the best investor networks in the country, including strong relationships with VCs across the U.S. and beyond, that is now available for other local startups as well. We also bring other strategic relationships with different partners that provide strong value back to our startups. And bringing out-of-region capital into the ecosystem means more companies are getting funded at all their different stages of growth.

Claudia: Endeavor Miami has a very distinctive model as we focus on turbocharging the journey of fast-growing entrepreneurs; not just a focus on startups, but rather scale-ups. Entrepreneurial success is often narrowly defined by growth, profit, and valuation. But that is just half the story! Our entrepreneurs know that it is only when they pay it forward - inspiring, mentoring, and investing in the next generation of founders, that they multiply their impact on job creation, innovation, and community transformation. We call it The Multiplier Effect.

Endeavor research shows that it takes just a few successful companies with a Multiplier mindset to jumpstart a whole ecosystem. These high-impact founders break mental and structural barriers that set off a chain reaction to build thriving ecosystems, even in the most unexpected places. It is like a bubble – it starts with one entrepreneur, then employees from their companies became startup entrepreneurs on their own, and many make angel investments or mentor other companies. These Founders take their knowledge and other resources to help launch or grow the next generation.

Our research has been able to visually map the impact from one dynamic entrepreneur on a whole ecosystem. It is our regional mission to position ourselves in that path of scaling growth. We help create a Multiplier Effect by inspiring high-growth entrepreneurs to dream bigger, supporting and investing in them to scale faster, and providing a platform to pay it forward.

Endeavor really dug into the Miami entrepreneurial market to help develop that thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem by giving them tools and connecting them with the people that can most help them scale. Answering questions like: Do you know how to negotiate a term change? Do you know how to raise capital? Do you know how to pivot your company? All these really important conversations did not really have a support group that they could go and talk to.

Endeavor developed a global network of experts and mentors that they can tap into. They have access to all the 2,400 Endeavor entrepreneurs who successfully helped turbocharge their ecosystems and are their peers. And they can tap into a global network of mentors, along with the 90 mentors locally that we connect them with depending on the need of the entrepreneur.

Hortz: How do you coordinate community resources to support your cohorts?

Linda: Well, we try to be really thoughtful about that. When we kick off a new cohort, we always kick it off with what we call a Welcome Reception at the front end where we bring in lots of members from the community like economic development leaders, government leaders, and business leaders. We are introducing them to this brand new cohort of startup entrepreneurs and their job is to get to know these companies and see if there are companies here that they can help. Startup entrepreneurs can really benefit from these strategic connections. We are also really intentional about trying to connect them to the right mentors in our mentor network.

We will schedule these strategic introductions around other major community events like the annual Synapse Summit at the Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa. We are working with startup founders on investor relations all throughout the cohort program and then we culminate the final program of every cohort with a demo day that is exclusively for accredited investors. So, everything is designed to get them the greatest number of strategic connections, including investor connections, as a result of our 90-day accelerator program.

Claudia: In the local office of Endeavor Miami, I am in charge of helping our local founders connect with our global network and also to our local network depending on the need of the entrepreneur. If they need legal, financial, marketing support, you name it, we have someone for them to talk to offering an entire borderless ecosystem and value chain.

Our programs are very tailored to what our entrepreneurs need. We do an x-ray of each company. What are your challenges? What are your opportunities? and we connect them to the right mentors and give them a curriculum set for the needs of their stage of development.

Now that over 140 early-stage companies have gone through our entrepreneur growth programs, we have a larger universe of growth companies and we can track all the data and understand what the challenges of these industries are, let's say FinTech. We are now able to see patterns because we are analyzing more data, more companies. And so therefore, that prepares us to bring in more experts on the types of needs that these companies are looking for. It makes us very laser-focused on building our support capabilities.

Hortz: How can financial advisors and other mature small business owners in your community best help your efforts or other key areas of their entrepreneurial ecosystem? 

Linda: There are many different ways that financial advisors and other small business owners could help entrepreneurial support programs or even their local entrepreneurial ecosystem as a whole:

Sharing their experiences & entrepreneurial advice - Entrepreneurship is hard, so there is a lot our entrepreneurs can learn from other small business owners. Even serial entrepreneurs can still learn something from other entrepreneurs, especially because the world is always changing, including technological changes. 

Sharing subject matter expertise - Financial advisors, in particular, could help these entrepreneurs think about how to protect their personal nest eggs while building a business, how to protect their business once it starts to grow (i.e., insurance products, etc.), diversification strategies, and even tax advice or other strategies when planning for their dependents.

Sharing their networks – Probably this is the most powerful way these advisors and small business owners can help. Chances are, most advisors and business owners have great networks, and sometimes a good warm introduction can lead to a new customer, investor, or other strategic relationship. Doing that for one startup is meaningful, but doing this for several will accelerate the growth of your local entrepreneurial ecosystem and economic development in exponential ways.

Claudia: In terms of support from financial advisors and other small business owners in our community, their expertise and experience can greatly benefit our entrepreneurs.

Valuable financial insights and guidance – advisors support in financial planning, how to prepare to raise capital, M&A and exit strategies, and risk management. Their expertise can help our entrepreneurs make informed decisions, optimize their financial resources, and navigate the challenges of scaling their businesses.

Wealth of knowledge and practical advice - small business owners in our local community sharing their experiences, best practices, and lessons learned can be incredibly valuable for our entrepreneurs, especially those who are just starting or facing specific industry-related challenges. Building a strong network of support and mentorship within the community can foster collaboration, innovation, and growth for all.

Ultimately, the support we seek from financial advisors and small business owners is centered around fostering an ecosystem of knowledge sharing, mentorship, and collaboration. By coming together, we can collectively create an environment that nurtures and scales the growth of high-potential entrepreneurs and our overall local economy.

Hortz: I read that you both have worked together helping create a Miami -Tampa Bay High Tech Corridor. How can ecosystems work together?

Linda: We have often shared startup deal flow. And what I mean by that is that we will often find startups in Miami who are part of other organizations we know there and those organizations will refer some of those startups up to our accelerator program, and that happens vice versa with Miami. If we think there is a program that can benefit our cohorts, just because they went through our program, it does not mean that they would not also benefit from another organization's assistance. We would certainly try to facilitate those connections, as Miami would as well, and that is how we can kind of work across the state as well.

The investor network tends to be more statewide, so it is always a good idea to work across the region on investor connections and our mentor network. We try to make sure we build and maintain relationships with ESOs, organizations, and other ecosystems around the state.

When Endeavor does events in Miami, we go down there and we cross-pollinate our community with the Miami community and vice-versa when we do events up here in Tampa. So, at the end of the day, it is not Tampa versus Silicon Valley, it is Florida versus Silicon Valley. And, as the third largest state, we still only get 2% of the nation's venture capital annually. So, we need to be working together better so that we can increase the funding activity across the state.

We just landed a big federal grant to help us launch a Latin tech accelerator. So, there is definitely some anticipation we have on our part of using this to help strengthen our relationships in Miami. They certainly have a big Latin population there and Tampa has one as well. If we use this program to strengthen those relationships between our ecosystems, there is no reason why Florida cannot be the Latin tech capital.

Claudia: We are within one state, the state of Florida. So, the more you collaborate, the more you share information, the more you understand where you are in your development, that is what is driving the development of both ecosystems. Knowing this, we can actually elevate and connect our entrepreneurs even further. Let us say our entrepreneurs from Tampa want to get into the Miami market or share key resources, or vice-versa. We can be their warm introduction or soft landing for them, as Tampa Bay does for us.

We are in the process of actually, at some point, of becoming more integrated because this is not ultimately a competition over who is doing better. It is about how we can work together to really elevate the state and position it as a true center for innovation for entrepreneurs to want to move here. And there is a big migration of so many founders moving here from Latin America. They are not only coming to Miami, they are moving also to Tampa, and to Orlando as Florida has become a major gateway to the United States.

Endeavor Miami is not limited to just Miami or South Florida. It is our goal to cover the state at some point and work more closely with Tampa Wave and all the different organizations in the state of Florida. And I think Tampa and Miami are spearheading that development beyond just the Miami- Orlando -Tampa Bay Tech Corridor.


The Institute for Innovation Development is an educational and business development catalyst for growth-oriented financial advisors and financial services firms determined to lead their businesses in an operating environment of accelerating business and cultural change. We operate as a business innovation platform and educational resource with FinTech and financial services firm members to openly share their unique perspectives and activities. The goal is to build awareness and stimulate open thought leadership discussions on new or evolving industry approaches and thinking to facilitate next-generation growth, differentiation, and unique community engagement strategies. The institute was launched with the support and foresight of our founding sponsors — Ultimus Fund Solutions, NASDAQ, FLX Networks, TIFIN, Advisorpedia, Pershing, Fidelity, Voya Financial, and Charter Financial Publishing (publisher of Financial Advisor and Private Wealth magazines).





Sign Up for Your Free Innovation Newsletter