USF SEED Tampa Bay Early Stage Investment Fund LLC aims to be the 'first money in' for tech startups

Published Wednesday, June 13, 2018
About 18 months after winning a federal grant to create an investment fund for young companies, Seed Tampa Bay Early Stage Investment Fund LLC is preparing to launch.
The early-stage fund will invest in a broad range of technologies being developed by startups in the region, said Valerie McDevitt, associate vice president for technology transfer and business partnerships at University of South Florida.
Early-stage funding is critical to growing and sustaining a strong technology sector and the employment and economic activity that comes with it.
"We don't want early-stage companies to go somewhere else because they can't find money here," McDevitt said.
Tampa Bay historically has lacked the early-stage funding firms present in other communities, but that's been changing in recent years, with the emergence of funds from TiE Tampa Bay, Tampa Bay Wave and Seed Tampa Bay, among others.
USF applied for and was awarded a $250,000 federal grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to create Seed Tampa Bay in December 2016. Additional backing to create the fund came from the Florida High Tech Corridor, an economic development initiative by USF, University of Central Florida and University of Florida.
Florida Funders, a hybrid of a venture capital firm and a crowdfunding platform that invests in early-stage technology firms in the state, partnered with USF to develop Seed Tampa Bay.
"We are at the point where we are ready to go out and raising funding. We have a term sheet and we're looking for qualified investors in the fund," McDevitt said. "It's early-stage, and will be the first money in, investing more broadly than a lot of other angel and seed funds in the community."

McDevitt wants to raise an initial $2 million before making any investments. She said she expects that to take about six months.

Companies that get funding from Seed Tampa Bay could be featured on the Florida Funders website, creating more opportunities for investment. Florida Funders announced a joint venture with the Florida-Israel Business Accelerator earlier this week that sets up a designated portal on the website for FIBA companies.

Seed Tampa Bay is expected to complement other efforts to financially support startups, including potentially co-investing with other groups.

McDevitt sees Seed Tampa Bay as part of a continuum of funding from USF.

The university already has programs to help USF-created companies. The Bull Ring Accelerator Grant program provides up to $25,000 in grant funding for companies formed on the basis of licensed USF technologies. The Seed Capital Accelerator Program is for Tampa Bay Technology Incubator-affiliated firms, also formed on the basis of USF-licensed technologies, and provides up to $50,000 in a convertible note.

Seed Tampa Bay is for companies throughout the Tampa Bay region, not just for USF companies, McDevitt said.
McDevitt officially takes the wraps off Seed Tampa Bay at a BioFlorida meeting Wednesday at Lifelink Foundation in Tampa. BioFlorida is a statewide organization that represents nearly 6,000 companies in the life sciences industry.