A City of Builders

Entrepreneurs that change the world aren’t just the ones with the best ideas. Instead, they are often the ones that come from communities that are intentional about nurturing, supporting, and celebrating their potential. Those kinds of world-class ideas and leaders exist in Tallahassee. And if anyone has any doubts of that, then they weren’t paying attention this past week.

Tallahassee hosted its Start-Up Week from Nov 13–17th; an international event that organizes communities to celebrate, advance, and invest in entrepreneurs from all walks of life and disciplines. From makerspaces to incubators; Women Wednesdays to VetThursdays; Momprenuers to social entrepreneurs; expansive programming brought people together to build momentum and opportunity around our community’s entrepreneurial identity. The efforts of community planning partners created an inspired sense of community around where entrepreneurs are leading our city.

We have all heard the perspectives of what our city lacks. We have been told that it is a government town, with seasonal economic boons in the form of football games and legislative sessions, and that our three institutions of higher education train and export the talent of the future to other places. The problem with this narrative is that it ignores the undeniable progress we have made to re-invent ourselves into something more.

We were the first city in Florida to embrace the sharing economy, and pass an inclusive ride-sharing ordinance that would go on to provide a model for the rest of the state. We were the first city in Florida to repeal our business license tax, to remove barriers for people to start businesses and create revenue generating activities through things like home-sharing. Last year we were ranked in the top 10 in the nation for start-up business growth by FiveThirtyEight, and named a top 50 City in the country for entrepreneurs by Livability and Entrepreneur magazines. We were also one of only two cities in Florida to receive a national TechHire designation in 2016, in recognition of our efforts to train a 21st century workforce.

These kinds of developments did not occur by accident. They have grown from intentional partnerships like those we saw during Start-Up Week. Diverse actors all working to pull the rope in the same direction, each forgoing any singular credit or praise and instead embracing collective achievement for the greater good. We have a lot to be proud of, and it is hard not to feel like we aren’t at a tipping point.

When I think of what the future holds, I think of disrupters like Drew Preston of Pasngr, a high-tech ground transportation service for travelers looking to be productive and comfortable during stretches of open road, or David Lawson of NewSci, a cognitive computing company that helps government and education institutions to utilize big data in ways that revolutionize their problem-solving ability. Two examples of home grown companies that could create or impact markets on the global scale.

When I think of how we ensure everyone has a seat at the table, I think of connectors like Barbara Wescott of SwellCoin and Darryl Jones of the Office of Economic Vitality (OEV) who fight every day to ensure that inclusivity, diversity, and equity are inextricably linked to the growth of our entrepreneurial ecosystem.

And when I think about how we continue to embrace new ways of empowering and supporting entrepreneurs, I think of thought leaders like Lucas Lindsey of Domi Station and Dean Shawnta Friday-Stroud of Florida A&M’s School of Business & Industry (SBI) as examples of how traditional and progressive partners can come together in ways that consistently challenge, rethink, and reengineer the strategies we use.

There has been a lot of discussion over the last year about what makes our community special, and how those characteristics should define our city’s brand. The ingenuity, passion, inclusiveness, and innovation that advances forward every day across our community reinforces what I have believed for a long time. We are a strong and dynamic City of Builders.