The Unexpected Haven for Entrepreneurs

Inc. Magazine Online

With a remarkable focus on business development, St. Pete, Florida is becoming a hotspot for startups and small businesses.

When Rachel Carpenter and her partner, Joseph French, were looking for a place to relocate their Chicago-based fin-tech business, Intrinio, they wanted to find a city focused on strategic business development, with access to a deep talent and investor pool that could help them grow their company. They also wanted a vibrant place with great weather and an affordable cost of living. It didn’t take long for St. Petersburg, Florida – more commonly known as “St. Pete” – to top the list.

Nicknamed the Sunshine City, due to its average 361 days of sunshine, St. Petersburg, Florida is quickly becoming one of Florida’s most popular choices among those starting or relocating a business. The city boasts nearly 16,000 businesses in diverse sectors such as financial services, data analytics, marine and life sciences, and creative arts and design.

In fact, St. Pete is home to the largest financial services sector in the Sunshine State and has the largest marine research center in the southeast. The city’s cost of living is lower than the U.S. average, and it ranks as a more affordable option than Sarasota, Miami, and even Charlotte, North Carolina on the Council for Community and Economic Research Cost of Living Index. “There is work underway in all corners of the city, and a commitment to opportunity creation is at the core of our community,” says Mayor Rick Kriseman.

An Exceptional Home Base

Carpenter certainly knows that. She and French moved Intrinio to St. Pete in 2014. Today, the financial data marketplace, which is disrupting the fin-tech industry with their one-of-a-kind algorithm, has 11 employees and has raised $2 million in venture capital. Carpenter says she’s impressed with the talented graduates coming out of the local colleges and appreciates how hard the city has worked to create a lively music and arts community that adds to the quality of life.

The cornerstone of St. Pete’s business development efforts is offering effective ways to encourage and empower entrepreneurs and startups. For instance, the Greenhouse, an innovative collaboration between the city and local Chamber of Commerce, provides entrepreneurs, small business owners and startups with business counseling, training, networking, and access to capital, and also offers monthly workshops on topics such as raising money via crowdfunding and using SEO to improve Google rankings.

A Dream Come True

Reuben Pressman is the founder of Presence, a high-growth education technology or “edtech” startup that gives universities and colleges the power to collect and understand student engagement data to improve learning and graduation rates. He knows all about the benefits of starting a business in St. Pete. Pressman graduated from the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg in 2011 with a degree in entrepreneurship. With a strong network of contacts, along with the emerging tech scene, Pressman says it made perfect sense to launch his company close to his alma mater. But perhaps more importantly, he says he wanted to help shape the business ecosystem of the city. “St. Pete is a thriving city and more and more companies are starting up here,” he adds.

And those new companies are getting help from the city. When Presence had outgrown its original office space, the city was instrumental in helping the company find a new headquarters in the downtown area. “It’s a dream to have the city make business development a priority,” Pressman says.

A City to Celebrate

Kyle Taylor is the founder and CEO of The Penny Hoarder, the No. 1 fastest-growing private media company in the country, ranking No. 25 overall on last year’s Inc. 5000 list. About two dozen of his nearly 100 employees are transplants from other cities, and he says it didn’t take much to persuade them to make the move. “We take them out to dinner, show them around a bit, and the city just sells itself,” he says. It helps that housing prices are reasonable – $200,000 can buy a fairly large, single-family home in St. Pete – and there’s no state income tax. Last year, the city gave The Penny Hoarder $1 million in tax credits to create 165 jobs over the next three years. “They’ve been incredibly helpful and always want to know if there’s anything more they can do,” Taylor says.

All this adds up to healthy business growth. According to the Mayor’s office, business registrations have increased by a whopping 105 percent over the past several years. “One of my favorite things to do is help cut ribbons for our expanding and new firms to the area,” Kriseman says. It’s no accident that, lately, his schedule has been full of these celebrations.


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