Home to Opportunity
In the last three years, 100-plus start-ups and ventures were incubated in Tallahassee. What makes the area so attractive? Access to the business community, world-class academicians, resources and mentors, and an economy that makes it affordable to create and run a business, to name a few reasons.
In 2014, Mitch Nelson and Jason McIntosh were kicking around ideas for a start-up business for a class at the Florida State University Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship. They wanted it to be profitable but also socially responsible. “We wanted to use the social entrepreneurship model so that we could make money but also do good,” Nelson explains.
They first looked at a global issue but the logistics seemed unrealistic. At a loss, they walked into a homeless shelter and asked about its greatest needs: clean socks. They founded DivvyUp, selling cool socks from a table on campus using the 1-for-profit, 1-for-sharing model.
All the while, they took advantage of the resources for entrepreneurs in Tallahassee, from Domi Station, a business incubator and coworking space for entrepreneurs and innovators, to funding from local investors. With a self-imposed year to figure it out, they decided on custom socks, but it wasn’t until they arbitrarily put the face of someone’s dog on a pair that the business took off. This year, DivvyUp has moved into a new facility and will employ 300-400 seasonal workers in addition to the 100 employees year-round. The e-commerce company will also hit the million pairs mark at Christmas. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg even posted a picture of himself wearing a pair of their socks on social media.
An Inclusive Business Community
Despite their success, DivvyUp’s owners, Nelson, McIntosh, and Spencer Bluni, say they never intended to stay in Tallahassee. “We really thought we’d just see where the world would take us,” Nelson says, “but before we knew it we had built a business here in Tallahassee. Looking back, we were young, stupid kids — but we were never treated that way. Everyone in the Tallahassee business community valued our ideas and championed our business.”
“I’m not sure we would have been successful elsewhere,” Nelson says. “Tallahassee has good business regulations, it’s an affordable place to live and pay employees, and a $50,000 loan goes a lot farther here that it does in Miami or Tampa. Plus, we have a great year-round workforce, but also there are plenty of people for seasonal hires. And because of Tallahassee’s size, we get access to community leaders that we would never meet in larger cities.”
That access extends to world-class business experts from the city’s preeminent universities. “We’re constantly trying to figure out our next steps, and in another place, we’d have to pay hefty consulting fees,” Nelson says. “But here, we can call up a world-renowned professor and have coffee to discuss our brand and vision. Where else can you get that kind of expertise for free?”
The Florida State University Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship
Much of the excitement about entrepreneurship in the Capital City stems from the Florida State University Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship. In 2015, the Jim Moran Foundation pledged $100 million to the university — the largest gift in the school’s history — to create a school of entrepreneurship to cultivate, train, and inspire entrepreneurial leaders through world-class executive education, applied training, public recognition, and leading-edge research.
In 2018, now with 24 full-time faculty and 800 students, this pipeline of innovation was named the Nation’s Emerging Entrepreneurship Program by the U.S. Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship. And in November of 2019, the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship became FSU’s newest college and the only stand-alone college of entrepreneurship at a public university in the nation. This transition elevates the college’s prestige and profile. “For me the mission of the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship, ‘Inspiring innovation, instilling compassion, and igniting an entrepreneurial mindset in the next generation of leaders,’ says it all,” says Susan Fiorito, dean of the college.
Entrepreneurs often find a gap between having a good idea and knowing how to see it through to fruition. Tallahassee’s co-locating and collaborative incubator programs are effectively filling that gap. CoLab @ The Pod offers coworking spaces for new enterprises, while Domi Station offers space and services for business and tech start-ups.
Similarly, Tallahassee Community College (TCC) is playing a major role in providing passionate entrepreneurs with the skills and connections needed to ignite an idea and grow it into a successful business. Its Spark program provides participants with local entrepreneur- focused resources such as business planning and management skills, along with access to successful business leaders.
The TCC Center for Innovation is also ramping up its offerings in the Tallahassee Creative Core located in the heart of downtown. Scott Balog, executive director, describes the center as a convener and catalyst for business development in the state’s Capital City. Balog is connecting the center to emerging statewide and national innovation networks and establishing it as a vibrant space where entrepreneurs starting a business, relocating to Tally, or in town from other areas to do business can find administrative support, offices for lease, meeting and conference rooms, and creative and collaborative expertise and resources they need to be successful and thrive.
“As a part of much larger networks, we are a major conduit of activity supporting businesses, nonprofits, and government in the local entrepreneurial ecosystem and promoting the wealth of resources in our community,” Balog says. “Our proximity to the capital of the third largest state in the country uniquely positions us to leverage the intersection between government, education, and industry. We want our center to be the place where businesses convene meaningful conversations, engage education entities in preparing the state’s future workforce, and inform policy that impacts technology innovation and economic development across Florida.”