TAMPA — Promising Florida startups in technology, engineering and life sciences could get a boost at a critical early stage, thanks to a new investment fund launched by Florida Funders and the University of South Florida.
The Seed Florida Early Stage Investment Fund has its roots in a $250,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to USF to help support seed-stage companies — often, very young startups that have not attracted any investors beyond their founders, family and friends.
Florida Funders, which provides early-stage investment to companies statewide, will manage Seed Florida in conjunction with a $23 million fund that it also manages for the nonprofit Institute for Commercialization of Florida Technology in Boca Raton.
Startups seeking early-stage investments from Seed Florida have to be based in Florida. It’s good if they’re affiliated with a state university, but that’s not a requirement.
USF will help establish Seed Florida, but all of the money in the fund will be raised privately by Florida Funders from the 1,300-plus accredited investors in its network. Investors in Seed Florida already include Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, ConnectWise co-founder Arnie Bellini and former WellCare owner Dr. Kiran Patel.
Seed Florida probably will be a $5 million to $10 million fund, and is likely to select 10 or more companies a year for investment, Florida Funders general partner Marc Blumenthal said.
But Seed Florida’s funding could be coordinated and combined with early-stage funding from other sources. For example, Blumenthal said, a startup might end up with, say, a $500,000 package consisting of $100,000 from Seed Florida, $100,000 from the Institute for Commercialization of Florida Technology and $300,000 from individuals within Florida Funders’ investor network.
USF will promote the fund to other public universities. Companies supported by Seed Florida will be eligible to become affiliate members of USF’s tech incubator and could arrange for student support, interns or other assistance through the university.
“There’s almost a concierge-level of service that they can get if they so choose,” said Michael Bloom, USF’s assistant vice president for corporate partnerships and innovation. “All companies will be able to connect with the university and take advantage of our resources.”