Alexander Blanchette is a 2020 FSU Tech Fellow interning at StarterStudio in Orlando, FL.
One of the things entrepreneurs ought to be able to learn is how to appraise the entrepreneurial ecosystem in which they live. Identifying weaknesses in your area makes you better prepared to help your community, while also giving you ideas for your personal goals. Spending the last couple of months talking to people in the Orlando area has given me enough information to talk about the entrepreneurial ecosystem and how it compares to Tallahassee and Ocala. The places where I go to school and grew up, respectively.
For starters, let us get it out of the way, Orlando’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is much more mature than Tallahassee and Ocala. The amount of money and supplemental resources allocated to the creation of new businesses is apparent. Orlando has access to everything an entrepreneur needs. Educational programming, local events, incubators, accelerators, and access to young talent from multiple universities. In summation, Orlando gives you access to everything you need and like any good ecosystem it is self-sustainable. Startups are consistently created, scaled, and sold to larger corporations. The same could not be said for Tallahassee and Ocala. If I had to rank them, Tallahassee would come in second to Orlando with Ocala in last.
On to second place
Being the state capital is the biggest thing Tallahassee has going for it and the state government labor force that comes with it. This has contributed to rapid growth in the city and is one of the biggest contributors to its success. In addition, the city has potential access to young talent from two universities and a state college. But unlike Orlando, there is not a lot to keep college graduates in Tallahassee meaning a significant portion of the talent pool leaves. It is not all doom and gloom though, as there are accelerators and incubators in the area with programming to help lay the groundwork for a fledgling ecosystem. Furthermore, Tallahassee’s location means it can serve North Florida and Georgia sense it is less than 80 miles from the border. From the perspective of a college student, the biggest thing holding the city back is that there is nothing for college-aged students to do from a lifestyle and career perspective.
At last we have…
Lastly, we come to my hometown of Ocala (if you can’t point it out on a map I wouldn’t blame you). I jokingly like to say: It’s in the middle of nowhere, but next to everywhere. The city is located directly in the middle of Orlando, Daytona, and Tampa (about a 1 ½ hour drive). Ocala’s claim to fame is that it is “the horse capital of the world”. A title with which there is merit as I vividly recall being amazed with my classmates when we asked the new students why they moved here from Europe or Canada. Horse industry aside, from an entrepreneur’s perspective, Ocala doesn’t offer much unless your business ideas are related to logistics or do not require you to be geographically close to your customer base. It can be exceptionally harsh to novice entrepreneurs as Ocala lacks accelerators or incubators. Ocala is a relatively rural city with lots of small businesses that support that economy and lifestyle. There is little interest from larger companies (with the exception of Lockheed Martin) to expand in the area. Which is a shame because it is directly in the middle of three big cities, and only 4 hours away from South Florida and North Florida. The city would be favorable to the logistics industry, as well as any other company that wants to be within feasible driving distance to major population centers.
All in all, these are not in-depth analyses. More so, they are an oversimplification of my thoughts when comparing these three cities. It is interesting to see how different areas have different challenges and unique strengths. In some ways, I cannot help but think of it as a strategy game of sorts. Different areas have needs that dictate what business ideas can and cannot work. It has led me to wonder more about the specific cities I visit, and what they are good at and where they could go in the future. Part of me is very curious to see where Ocala goes in the future specifically. If only because I want my hometown to provide more opportunities for the people who live there.