The Rise Of Tallahassee's Entrepreneurial Scene
From Elon Musk’s SpaceX, to the simple photo sharing app Snapchat, entrepreneurs seem to be making headlines across the nation. Silicon Valley and New York City are two of the best-known hubs for blossoming companies.
Campers at Florida A&M University’s Creative Innovation Summer Academy are singing about their entrepreneurial venture, a Lemonade business. Camp director and FAMU professor, Rashada Turner says the camp is three weeks long, each week focusing on a different topic of academia.
“The first week is STEM, which is science, technology, engineering, and math, and the second week is journalism and communication. The third week is business and marketing, which is affectionately known as ‘Lemonade Week’,” Turner said.
Tallahassee had its annual Lemonade Day earlier this summer, a nation-wide event that teaches youth how to start and operate their own business – a Lemonade Stand. FAMU Professor Jason Black says the Creative Innovation Summer Academy applies that model to its final week of camp.
“We continue that in our summer camp by giving the students who are a part of that third week an opportunity to participate in a lemonade day week-long structure," Black said. "So they have to create a business plan. They have to do market research. They have to do competitive analysis. They have to come up with a budget. They have to go out and get investors, and then they have to set up their stands, sell the lemonade, and then tally up the money they’ve earned, and that sort of thing,” Black said.
In addition to working with the camp, Jason Black is the Director of the Interdisciplinary Center for Creativity and Innovation or ICCI. He says FAMU is creating its own incubator program and aiming it at the city's south side.
We all have pockets of reach in town. Domi has a community that they service, Florida State has a community that they service, and there's not a lot going on down here on the south side. So our dean's idea is to reinvigorate the whole, what we call the south side corridor.
Black mentioned Domi, an abbreviation for domicile. Domi Station was founded in 2014 as the first formal incubator in Tallahassee. Executive Director, Lucas Lindsey says Domi arose from a need in the community.
“It really started just out of the need from the founders themselves who were four guys that were entrepreneurs, [they] had started companies wanted to start more companies. They looked around Tallahassee, and they didn’t feel like they had a readily accessible community or peer group of people who were interested in the same thing, and they certainly didn’t feel like there was a place that aggregated resources and access to resources that assisted entrepreneurs,” Lindsey said.
One company that has come out of Domi Station is NASDANQ.com, a website that lets Internet users buy and sell memes in the same way people can buy and sell stocks. CEO, Kyle Stratis explains how it works.
“You say, this meme is going down. Sell it now, and all that. And there isn’t an actual place where that can be done, and since this is all based on popularity, we’re like well we have access to that data. We can scrape that data and derive a price for a meme based on how popular or how much it is being used,” Stratis said.
NASDANQ derived from a sub-community on Reddit, known as memeeconomy. It has more than a quarter of a million subscribers. Lindsey says that’s the biggest strength of NASDANQ’s.
What's cool about NASDANQ is that it has so many things that other tech companies would kill for, and sometimes can't even buy. Just like that organic, engaged, cult following, it's hilarious, and everyone who sees it thinks it's funny.
Lindsey says another thing that helped NASDANQ grow is a program that Domi Station offers, for budding companies.
“We push people into a ‘Get Started’ program which is a 6-month long incubator program. That’s what NASDANQ and Kyle went through. It starts off, the first three months in the classroom with curriculum, a business facilitator that leads you through a business planning process. The second three months is all implementation and then trying to hook you up with other resources you might need,” Lindsey said.
One startup mainstay that began in Tallahassee and harbors a relationship with Domi is known as Penny Delivers. A food delivery company that delivers food from local restaurants for just a penny.
Quentin Proctor is a delivery driver for the company.
“Usually around like 6 or 7 it starts pick up a little bit, gets a little more hectic. When that happens the tips start to roll in a little more, so it gets to be worth it," Proctor said.
Penny Delivers derived from another Tallahassee startup, Z-Baked – a cookie delivery service. CEO and co-founder Bryant Joseph explains how they took Z-Baked’s platform and applied it to all sorts of food.
“We surmised that you could, if you were efficient enough, basically deliver lots of other kinds of food, not just cookies. Given if you were pretty efficient you could do it for essentially free delivery, which is what he was doing, and that’s what we do now with a whole bunch of restaurants around Tallahassee,” Joseph said.
Domi doesn’t just foster relationships with other companies, as about one-third of their occupants are local college students. Director of Florida State’s Jim Moran School of Entrepreneurship, Dr. Susan Fiorito says the whole community needs to get involved to help develop and keep talent within the city.
“The chamber of commerce and the city and county commissions are very anxious to have our students stay in Tallahassee. To be innovative and create businesses here, and to keep the talent that we’ve nurtured in our Universities here. And I think it takes a whole community to do that," Fiorito said.
And Jason Black agrees. He says partnerships are the key to continuing the city's entrepreneurial momentum.
The more we can do to get partnerships going, not just amongst ourselves as institutions but with the companies in the city, as well as other small businesses in the city on all sides of town. That's what really does it. That's when you see the entire community take off.
Tallahassee may not be the first place that pops into the minds of future entrepreneurs, but through the unification of investors, the Domi Station, local businesses, Florida State, and FAMU, perhaps that could change. The capital city might create a recipe perfect for entrepreneurial adventure.