Leaders discuss ideas from Boulder trip

by TaMaryn Waters, Tallahassee Democrat

The start of an ongoing talk took shape Wednesday.

For the first time, in a large room at Madison Social, some of Tallahassee’s influential leaders bounced ideas and shared takeaways from their trip to Boulder, Colorado, this month. Now the question is how Tallahassee can benefit from what was seen and heard.

Answers varied from a dire need to establish an accelerator program for startups to support for innovation and cultural districts, along with connecting the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory to businesses. The group also talked about taking a national look at potential venture capitalists, or investors, willing to support local startups.

Micah Widen, co-founder and CEO of the Domi Station, a startup incubator created last year, said the mentality for the startup community differs from the business sector. He’s focused on high-end, high-impact potential startups. In comparison to Tallahassee, he said Boulder’s startup community has a national and international reach, which allows companies to create a repeat customer base and business model “for something that doesn’t exist yet.”

“That takes a different mentality from a traditional loan,” he said. “You’re not going to get a traditional loan for building something like that.”

He said startups in Boulder are thinking big. “We’re just in the beginning stages of trying to think big.”

Trip-goers were asked to complete a post-trip survey. Results were divided into five categories: University research and partnerships, downtown and urban core development, entrepreneurism and startups, art and culture and economic development.

“What I heard was that we are a little bit behind where Boulder was and that’s OK because we realize this is the direction we want to go,” Sue Dick, president and CEO of the Greater Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, said. “And we want to continue to build on this.”

How will Tallhassee benefit from a local delegation’s recent trip to Boulder, Colorado? Local leaders discussed ideas Wednesday.

About half of the 60-member delegation attended Wednesday’s debriefing. Those in attendance included Leon County commissioners Bryan Desloge, John Dailey and Kristin Dozier. City commissioners, who were on the trip, were at the commission’s regularly scheduled meeting.

The trip was sponsored by the chamber and the Economic Development Council of Tallahassee/Leon County. Within the next month, short-term goals will be created based on the five categories. Long-term goals will follow.

The trip’s theme surrounded entrepreneurs and economic development. Some believed now was a good time to take another look at proposed projects generated from the citizen-led process called Imagine Tallahassee, which vetted projects that may qualify for economic development funds generated by the Blueprint sales tax that will be extended starting 2020.

Some immediate action appears to be in motion as a result of the trip.

Leon County provides resources toward Domi, housed in the former Amtrak station across from Leon County’s Veteran Affairs office. Dailey learned that while the county’s side had access to fiber optics, the other side where Domi sits wasn’t hooked up.

He, along with Domi, EDC county and representatives, discussed a potential fix for expanding fiber optics. The commission supported the idea during a recent meeting so the high-tech, entrepreneurial program can grow.

“You need to be able to have the capacity to support all of that technology,” Dailey said.