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Orlando entrepreneurship: You don’t know the half of it

In order to better understand the functioning of entrepreneurship ecosystems, Kauffman researcher Colin Tomkins-Bergh has been investigating entrepreneurship ecosystems from a ground-level perspective along with aggregated datasets.

Orlando is all about Disney and theme parks, right?

Although the Orlando area does feature 7 of the 10 most visited theme parks in North America (5 of the top 10 in the world), the city’s new slogan is “You don’t know the half of it,” which especially applies when it comes to entrepreneurial activity.

Orlando is a world leader in simulation and gaming, with more than 150 companies, as well as the University of Central Florida and multiple federal agencies. I learned this, among many other surprising facts about the Orlando entrepreneurship ecosystem, from an interview with 1 Million Cups organizers and entrepreneurs.

Increasingly so, entrepreneurship is viewed and studied as a local phenomenon that varies from industry to industry and one geographic region to another. For these reasons, it’s important to understand entrepreneurship through the lens of specific, measurable units. In this series of posts, I will explore entrepreneurship ecosystems by their Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

At the Kauffman Foundation we are on a quest to understand entrepreneurial ecosystems from all angles. Every time we make progress (Kauffman Firm Survey, Kauffman Index), we realize how many more dimensions there are to understanding an ecosystem. In order to better understand the functioning of entrepreneurship ecosystems, I have been investigating them from a ground-level perspective. Because the gap between ground-level personal experience and aggregate data is rarely bridged, I want to bring existing information together to see if it can help us all better understand select MSAs across the country.

Follow this series of posts to see how I explore six MSAs across the country using a mix of aggregate datasets and ground-level perspectives by using:

  1. The 2015 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity – MSA
  2. Survey Responses from 1 Million Cups Entrepreneurs
  3. Interviews with 1 Million Cups Organizers

Orlando Ecosystem

I chose Orlando for one of the initial posts because of the data that we have available for the MSA. In order to fully understand entrepreneurship ecosystems, it’s important to explore both aggregate data and personal observations (survey of startups and interviews with 1MC organizers).

One of many important stories of the building of the Orlando ecosystem was the founding of 1 Million Cups Orlando. In the fall of 2013, Shea Glenny and Ron Ben-Zeev founded 1 Million Cups Orlando, an educational and community building program for entrepreneurs that exists in more than 70 US cities. Shea Glenny had recently moved to Orlando from Kansas City in January and upon arrival found it “difficult to find the entrepreneurial community in Orlando.” As a result, she wanted to create a community of entrepreneurs, and teamed up with entrepreneur and Professor Ron Ben-Zeev to make it happen.

The two worked tirelessly to start the program; Ron even personally brewed 100 cups of coffee each day for a year. “Shea was the spark and Ron was the fire,” fellow organizer Angela Kendall says of the founding pair.

Ever since the fall of 2013, 1 Million Cups Orlando has met every week for the past two years, attracting around 60 entrepreneurs each week. The drive and energy of the organizers and the persistence of the audience has educated and supported nearly 200 entrepreneurs. 1 Million Cups is one of many programs within the Orlando ecosystem that works tirelessly to provide support, connections and resources for entrepreneurs.

Orlando still is the king of entertainment parks and is home to the emerging sector of simulation and gaming. But startups in Orlando are entering into a diverse set of industries. In the 1 Million Cups program alone, there are companies in industries that span the fashion, agriculture, education, transportation and health sectors. Ron described 1MC as the “only agnostic platform for entrepreneurs — tech, maker, profit, or non-profit — in central Florida that gives voice to any entrepreneur.”

For a more in-depth look of what kind of companies and founders are starting up in Orlando, explore the interactive map below by clicking on Orlando:

One of the ways that 1MC Orlando is able to attract entrepreneurs from so many sectors is by collaborating and connecting with other entrepreneurial support organizations in the region. 1MC Orlando collaborates with:

 In fact, because so many organizations wanted to leverage 1MC’s captive audience, the organizers started an “ecosystem resource day.” Here, instead of two entrepreneurs presenting their companies, local entrepreneurship support organizations each get three minutes to present what they provide and how they can help entrepreneurs.

The number of entrepreneurship programs that are connected with 1MC Orlando is one indicator of program connectivity throughout the rest of the Orlando ecosystem. Program connectivity is important because “a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem is not simply a collection of isolated elements—the connections between the elements matter just as much as the elements themselves.”

Kauffman Index of Startup Activity

The 2015 Kauffman Index of Startup Activity brings together the latest data available on entrepreneurial trends on the national and state levels as well as for the 40 largest metropolitan areas of the United States.

In 2015 the Orlando metro area, which includes the cities of Kissimmee and Sanford, dropped from being ranked 21st of the largest 40 MSAs in the index to 33rd. The main change for Orlando from 2014 to 2015 came in the drop in Rate of New Entrepreneurs (percent of adults who became an entrepreneur) from 0.22% in 2014 to 0.16% in 2015. In fact, Orlando’s startup density (number of startups/100,000 residents) rose from 187.5 in 2014 to 196.1 in 2015.

Although Orlando dropped 12 ranks in the Startup Activity Ranking (index of all three indicators), Orlando is ranked 13th for startup density for all metros in the U.S. and 5th of all MSAs in Florida:

Metropolitans highlighted in blue are those included in the Kauffman Index: Startup Activity

For a policymaker or leader of an entrepreneur support organization, there are a number of strategies that research suggests can bolster the rate of new entrepreneurs in ecosystems. A recent Kauffman Policy Digest about “The Dos and Don’ts of Local Entrepreneurship Promotion” suggests three strategies to bolster local economies:

  1. Let Entrepreneurs In (Reexamine Professional & Occupational Licensing)
  2. Let Entrepreneurs Compete (Simplify Tax Codes and Rethink Non-Compete Agreements)
  3. Measure Progress (Collect Data to Track Progress & Inform Policymaking)

What This Means

While Orlando’s aggregated data shows a drop in ranking this year, it by no means that all startup activity and growth has ceased. These rankings are all relative to the other top 40 MSAs and don’t include any of the ground-level perspective that uncovers the important emerging dynamics of the Orlando ecosystem.

The interviews and growing number of programs and startups are all indications of a growing and strong community that is ready to build on what they have and focus on what they need. “Four years ago you could have shot a cannon through the Orlando environment and not hit anyone. Now, there is a coalescence for making Orlando a thriving ecosystem for entrepreneurs,” Ron says of Orlando’s entrepreneurial evolution.

For more innovative ideas on how to increase entrepreneurial vibrancy in your ecosystem, check out the Entrepreneurship Policy Digest, Policy Dialogue on Entrepreneurship blog, and our recent paper, Enabling Entrepreneurial Ecosystems.


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