Tampa Bay colleges see entrepreneurship interest spike during COVID-19 crisis

Posted at 5:12 PM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-12 18:02:04-04

Entrepreneurship spikes during COVID-19

  • Experts say this could be the perfect time to start a new business.

  • University of Tampa will be accepting applications this summer for a new business incubator program where they’ll work with startups for a full year.

  • USF is offering free counseling to help develop business plans and secure financing.

TAMPA, Fla. — As Florida’s economy begins to rebound, local education leaders are tracking new opportunities for people looking to launch a new product or service. Several Tampa Bay area colleges are pushing to help people start their own business and become entrepreneurs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jim Bardwell, like many people in Tampa Bay, was laid off during the COVID-19 crisis, but he quickly found a solution to help our community and get back to work.

“I kept reading stories about farmers dumping food and people going hungry, and I was just sitting in quarantine putting together how it could work,” he explained.

Bardwell is now purchasing extra produce from local farms and selling it online at, while also allowing all of us to buy food and donate it to families in need.

His story is becoming more common as entrepreneurs think of new ways to develop products or services during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Rebecca White, with the University of Tampa’s Lowth Entrepreneurship Center, says despite many people losing their jobs and businesses forced to close temporarily or permanently, there is a silver lining.

“This is an amazing time for entrepreneurs,” she said.

The University of Tampa and University of South Florida are both seeing a spike in people interested in launching startup companies with new products or services.

White even launched a new podcast, “En Factor,” to inspire innovation.

“I do believe for anybody who wants to look at this pandemic from an entrepreneurial perspective, that there are opportunities there,” she said.

Nicolle Panuthos, from St. Petersburg College’s school of business, agrees.

“The innovative nature and creative nature of entrepreneurs is a lot of times what gets us out of a crisis,” she elaborated.

The United States also experienced notable spikes in entrepreneurship after two other significant events in our nation’s history: The September 11th terrorist attacks and the Great Recession.

9/11 brought security startups. The recession brought real estate and finance companies. COVID-19 could bring innovation to the ways we work from home, get deliveries, prevent the spread of germs and innovate online education.

Yanina Rosario works with the Florida Small Business Development Center at USF and says it’s all about disrupting the status quo.

“Saying that is how we used to do it prior to COVID-19, so what can we do and how can we do it post COVID-19?”

All three schools are launching new programs or beefing up existing ones to help bring those great ideas into reality.

“It’s a challenging time, but I think there’s a lot of hope,” Panuthos said.

FULL COVERAGE: The Rebound Tampa Bay

The University of Tampa will be accepting applications this summer for a new business incubator program where they’ll work with startups for a full year. You can learn more by clicking here.

USF is offering free counseling through its Florida Small Business Development Center by helping to develop business plans and other necessities. You can learn more by clicking here.

St. Pete College offers a full range of options from a 4-class business certificate program to a Bachelor’s degree. They also work closely with the Pinellas County Economic Development Office. You can learn more by clicking here.