Awesome Cities for Entrepreneurs: A Spotlight on St. Petersburg, FL

The Sunshine State has an abundance of natural attractions and beautiful scenery, and St. Petersburg, nestled near Tampa Bay, always seems to make it on those “Top Cities” lists.

There are many reasons people enjoy living or visiting St. Pete besides the lovely location and exceptional weather. There is a Salvador Dali museum, which holds the largest collection of Dalí’s works outside Europe. The city also offers world-class fishing, a thriving arts district, renowned restaurants, a major-league baseball team, and the world’s largest shuffleboard club.

The entrepreneurial spirit that organized the world’s largest shuffleboard teams and competitions back in the 1960s still is around today. St. Pete remains a place where good ideas are encouraged to flourish thanks to a variety of business organizations that take great effort to stimulate growth, invite creativity, and connect people to encourage success.

Continue reading for examples of the activities and efforts taking place in St. Petersburg to promote entrepreneurship.

Fast Facts: St. Pete, FL

St. Petersburg civic leaders are serious in their efforts to stimulate residents to try their hand at entrepreneurship or to recruit outside businesses and encourage them to set up shop. The community is tourist-based, but, just as people can come and enjoy the sunshine any time of the year, there is also a year-round population of a quarter-million that also wants to work and play. Below are some reasons why the city could appeal to new businesses.

  • Young, and young at heart – Though the area, like the state, has a reputation for being filled with Baby Boomers or senior citizens, recent demographic data shows that all ages converge in St. Petersburg. The average resident is now in their early 40s, a figure that continues to drop annually—it was 48 in 1970 and 42 in 2016.
  • Living large – Of the ten larger cities and metro communities in Florida, St. Petersburg has the lowest cost of living at about 95. A score of 100 is considered the U.S. average. This means wages go further, basic needs are not as expensive, and there tends to be more money available for extras, rather than having to spend all of one’s income on necessities and debt load. This is why the city is attractive to both artisans and entrepreneurs. Of the other communities ranked under 100, Jacksonville, Pinellas, and Atlanta were at 98. For comparison, the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale metropolitan area ranked 113.
  • Must love dogs (or cats) – Budding pet product or service entrepreneurs should consider St. Petersburg. In 2016, the site Zumper designated St. Petersburg at one of the country’s most pet-friendly cities. More than 90 cities nationwide were ranked based on benefits for pets and their owners, such as the number of pet-friendly rental properties, walking paths, and dog parks, as well as good weather.
  • Two-wheeled fun – Bicycles are perfect for environmentally friendly go-getters who also like being fit. The generally flat and scenic St. Petersburg has an abundance of safe bicycle opportunities, from trail systems to online maps to marked paths and signage. The city received a Bronze ranking from the League of American Bicyclists in 2006 for all of its efforts. This was recently upgraded to Silver status due to an even greater commitment from city officials and bike enthusiasts since then.
  • Focus on service – St. Petersburg has active programs to connect businesses with people in the community who need support. For instance, the Mayors Mentors and More project helps raise money for teachers and schools—an effort led by city officials and school board members. This initiative includes everything from funding scholarships and faculty stipends to volunteering in schools to work with students or improve facilities.

Five St. Petersburg-Based Businesses to Watch

St. Petersburg has a lot to offer new businesses. Here are a few companies based in this Florida city to watch.

Presence – Location: 100 7th St South

Everyone knows Facebook. It’s a place where people from around the world, of all ages and all walks of life connect. But what some might not be aware of is that Facebook began as a platform just for college students. Presence is taking a page out of Facebook’s book. The St. Petersburg-based company works with colleges around the country to organize their outreach efforts, get more students and staff involved in campus activities, and better track data and spending. It has a philosophy of “engagement drives achievement.” Clients receive ongoing access to proprietary software, plus the services of software specialists, a campus development team and a “happiness expert” who specializes in customer service. Today, more than 100 schools in 30 states are Presence partners.

The company’s founder, Reuben Pressman, is a St. Petersburg native. As a student at the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, he was surprised and disappointed that so much money was spent on programs and activities on the student side and the administrative side, but attendance was always uncertain. As a longtime programmer, he came up with a software solution schools can use to better manage data and resources through mobile technology. He entered and won several pitch contests, and in 2016, he raised more than $1 million in angel funding for his company. It was originally called “Check I’m Here” before it rebranded. Pressman is a big proponent of technology and encourages other entrepreneurs in the area.

Intrinio – Location: 600 1st Avenue N

You can never have enough financial data—or can you? The downsides of always having too much information at one’s fingertips encouraged this startup to provide quality data rather than quantity. While larger investors may want all of the numbers, smaller investors prefer to focus on a few reliable streams to guide their decisions.

Intrinio offers customized streams of data which can be integrated into a company’s software through an easy API. With a philosophy of “data feed is data freed,” payment is à la carte, where some items are free, and the rest can be chosen individually or with a flat fee, rather than paying a lot for information that one might not need. It can also be quickly and easily accessed through an innovative process that includes chat support, promotional help, and other assistance.

Rachel Carpenter (CEO) and Joey French (CFO and president) have focused on ways to make financial info more accessible and affordable, including stock prices, market fundamentals and other forms of data while changing the entire model of how to access financial data. They both studied business at University of Wisconsin–Madison, and together, created the Intrinio developer program. They continued to create similar services and encouraged others to follow suit. This effort has turned into a financial tech incubator with more than 50 participants. Rachel Carpenter has also become a popular guest speaker at industry events around the country, where she regularly encourages women to go into business, science, and technology.

The Penny Hoarder – Location: 490 1st Avenue South, Suite 300

“Hidden Money” is the message of this site designed to encourage people to save better and reduce debt load. Rather than massive and complex “get rich quick” schemes, the popular personal finance site presents hundreds of strategies for anyone trying to save a few bucks, starting with saving change. There are many other tips designed for all kinds of people, from those with time and no income to those already working who want or need extra revenue. The site attracts viewers from around the world.

Kyle Taylor started “The Penny Hoarder” by creating a blog about his personal debt and how he was digging himself out it. In the process, he gained an audience of people in similar financial circumstances who not only needed encouragement but also financial tools to turn things around. In 2010, Taylor decided to turn this into an actual online business and today, he is CEO and a self-made millionaire who still loves sharing strategies to beat debt.

Three Daughters Brewing – Location: 222 22nd St. S

Hospitality skills and general business acumen have come together for this successful restaurant, brewery, and tasting room in the city’s warehouse and arts district. Mike Harting worked more than 25 years in the hospitality business, including operating restaurants and revitalizing underperforming ones. Leigh Harting had her start in hospitality management and training but then worked in marketing, IT, and development in the corporate sector. Together, they started 3 Daughters and brought other trusted friends and family members with skills in beer and cider making, quality assurance, and logistics.

The family-owned restaurant makes food and also sells its craft beer and ciders at retailers around the state. It puts on community events and yoga lessons and donates to local charities. Though Three Daughters is known for its beer, it received a “Good Burger” award from the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce. Three Daughters is also active in the brewing arts program at University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

SquareMouth – Location: 4355 Central Ave.

The goal of SquareMouth is to make travel insurance less confusing and more affordable. Its function is to help potential customers compare rates and features of different policies to find the one that works for them. It tries to provide neutral information and does some unusual things in terms of customer service. The staff does not receive commission and is encouraged to downsell if policies can be found for less money or fewer features. Customers find this refreshing, as do insurance clients.

Chris Harvey worked in the insurance field for years before founding Squaremouth. His philosophy is that happy employees make happy customers. He developed the “Zero Complaint Guarantee” and does not push for annual goals or incremental percentage growth like some sales structures. Instead, he encourages his staff to focus on doing well and helping people, and the rest will fall into place.

SquareMouth has done well over the last five years, with $21 million in sales in 2017 and recognitions such as making it on the Entrepreneur 360 and Inc. 5000 lists, as well as being ranked as one of the best workplaces in the country in 2017 by Fortune and Inc. magazines. The company is well-known in the St. Petersburg community and offers an annual presentation of cash to people working in customer service for other local companies.

Local Resources for Entrepreneurs in St. Pete, FL

The Greenhouse

The City of St. Petersburg and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce have combined resources to make growing a new business as easy as possible. This joint venture operates out of a building where business owners or those with ideas for businesses can access training, networking, group and individual business counseling, capital, and guidance. The location on Second Street also includes a variety of seminars for different industries and customer groups, as well as information about how to relocate an existing business from another community.

St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation

The St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation (EDC) tries to make business people and their families feel excited about relocating or starting fresh. With messages about “the right people,” “the right peers,” and “a sense of purpose,” followed by the region’s high points (weather, economy, etc.), the EDC’s goal is to convince everyone that they have a place in St. Pete.

1 Million Cups

A cup of coffee can bring people together, which is the foundation of 1 Million Cups, an international program that encourages entrepreneurs to gather and discuss current news and opportunities. Though unofficial coffee klatches have played a role in business for years, the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation came up with the idea of volunteer-driven weekly business-focused gatherings, and today they take place in 180 communities. The St. Petersburg one occurs every Wednesday morning at 9 at the Greenhouse, and includes introductions and the opportunity for guests—especially startups—to provide business presentations.

BB&T Entrepreneurial Academy

Have a good idea but don’t know how to get started locally? Try this inexpensive ten-week course that provides an overview of doing business, including some of the local legal requirements, accounting needs, marketing suggestions, and tips on creating a business plan. Each three-hour session includes a dinner, and making it to seven of the nine sessions qualifies participants for a free year of chamber membership at the “Startup” level.

Entrepreneur Social Club

Since 2009, NOVA 535 Unique Space has hosted a weekly gathering of business professionals who want to compare notes and share strategies for doing well. No registration is needed, and membership is open for anyone willing to keep things productive and fun. Guests have included leaders, students, start-ups, and veterans. Each person can give a 15-second introduction that includes any “wants and needs” that maybe someone else can supply or recommend. As the meetings have evolved, some people have a pre-meeting dinner at a different restaurant or a post-meeting after party at a local nightclub.

Joe Butler
Joe Butler
Writer

Joe Butler is an accomplished writer and editor in the Northwest with more than 20 years of experience publishing in newspapers, magazines, and specialty websites. He graduated from Central Washington University with a degree in mass communications and has worked with a variety of clients nationwide. Joe lives near Spokane, WA, where he writes, reads, and collects spoons as well as the cheapest, plastic snow-globes he can find.

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