The Pasco Economic Development Council recently received national accolades for outstanding entrepreneurial efforts, due in part to the establishment of the Pasco Enterprise Network (PEN) in 2012. Perhaps the most innovative development to result from that community endeavor is SMARTstart, Dade City's first business incubator program.
"The Pasco Enterprise Network supports small businesses and startups along with partner organizations in the area,'' explains SMARTstart Program Manager Krista Covey. "We're all for helping the entrepreneurial ecosystem that's already been established in Tampa Bay, and helping to extend that north into Pasco County.''
Indeed, there's a little bit of something for every startup at the Dade City Business Incubator. With 2,500 square feet of office space and many times that in heavy industrial space, "we are able to provide wonderful real estate to various, mixed-use startup companies,'' Covey says.
"We've been working with startups for a long time. The incubator was the next step.''
SMARTstart Stage One Roundtable
On Oct. 31, SMARTstart and the Pasco Economic Development Council (EDC) teamed up to start hosting monthly Stage One Roundtables. Small businesses and startups that want to learn more about the incubator are invited to attend.
"The Round Table will meet once a month and offer peer-to-peer mentoring,'' Covey explains. "Come, learn about the incubator, and share opportunities and challenges with other like-minded professionals in a safe, closed-door environment.''
Weekly educational classes facilitated by SCORE and other partner organizations will include "exporting workshops, HR seminars and various topics from business professionals in the area,'' Covey says.
Along with the Pasco Economic Development Council, SMARTstart community partners include Saint Leo University, the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center and the Dade City Business Center.
Funding for the SMARTstart incubator comes from "various organizations,'' according to Covey, including the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, Dade City and Pasco County.
Services For Startups
"People who are running a business out of their garage, home office or a coffee shop can now come to a professional environment, bring their laptop and their phone, have meetings, use the WiFi, and attend different classes, seminars and educational workshops,'' Covey explains.
On-site incubator clients who claim a space in one of the handful of available office suites will pay "a nominal fee,'' Covey says. Rent for the first six months is free and for 6-12 months, businesses get a 50 percent reduction. And so on.
"It helps grow their business,'' Covey says. "Startups are typically strapped for cash, so this helps them get their business started, utilize office space, participate in classes and seminars, and rent the conference room for free. It's all included in the fee.''
Selected incubator applicants are paired with mentors and advisors. They also have the opportunity to work with interns from Saint Leo and USF.
If a startup's members don't need a dedicated office, they can opt for a different package: work with the incubator, have access to mentors and interns, attend classes, and use the coworking space for $85 per month.
Interested in coworking? Pay $35 per month to use the Internet and attend as many classes and seminars as you'd like.
Students or visitors can get a one-week pass, which allows access to the coworking space, and as many classes or seminars as they desire during the week, for "around $15,'' Covey says.
Many business resources are available for small businesses through PEN, including a microloan program.
"There are startup companies that are looking for capital,'' Covey explains, "and we have loan opportunities for up to $35,000.''
SMARTstart's business center opened in September and is currently accepting applications for offices and coworking spaces. Criteria for startup applicants can be found here.
"Companies who are not sure if they are an incubator candidate -- or if they don’t know what an incubator is -- are welcome to come check it out. Come take a tour!'' Covey says. "Our doors are open, and we're ready to go.''
The Small Business Roundtables will be held at the Dade City Business Incubator at the Dade City Business Center, 15000 Citrus Country Drive.To request an application for the business incubator program, contact Krista Covey
at or visit Pasco Enterprise Network
Justine Benstead is a freelance writer who spends her days walking her dog Chloe in her South Tampa neighborhood, drinking far too much coffee, tweeting, and taking photos with her trusty Nikon. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.