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Thursday, Apr 17, 2014

New entrepreneurs group launches in St. Pete


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ST. PETERSBURG — If Shaun Rubrecht can hook an investor, he thinks his mobile app Eyecrawler could be the next craze in social media. The app allows people to scan a map of the city and find user-generated photos of places and events as they’re happening.

Rubrecht pitched his idea to a room of fellow entrepreneurs at the St. Petersburg Greenhouse Wednesday morning, the first gathering of a weekly meetup called 1 Million Cups.

With no marketing budget, Rubrecht has relied on a small cadre of volunteers to pop into bars and event venues across town to snap photos called “blinks” that populate the Eyecrawler map.

“We just didn’t have enough people doing it,” he said. “It’s a critical mass issue. And, again, it comes back to money.”

Rubrecht estimates he’ll need about $10,000 to send a half-dozen people out every day for two months before Eyecrawler is generating enough blinks to catch on.

While it’s not a venue to attract investors, organizers hope 1 Million Cups will help solidify St. Petersburg’s identity as a hotbed for tech startups.

Each Wednesday morning at 9 a.m., two entrepreneurs will get a chance to make their pitches and take questions from the community.

Rubrecht was followed by Kostas Stoilas, creator of CauseToFund, a website that helps local charities raise funds online. It’s like a localized version of KickStarter.

Organizers say 1 Million Cups could give an important boost to local startups.

“It’s really to help entrepreneurs with their pitch and refine their enterprise; but at the same time, it’s to get the community in here to see what kinds of cool startups and new innovations we’ve got going on in St. Pete and Tampa Bay,” said Sean Kennedy, an economic development specialist for the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, who heads up 1 Million Cups.

Eventually, organizers hope deep-pocketed investors who traditionally stay in places such as Boston or Silicon Valley will take notice.

The original 1 Million Cups gathering in Kansas City has started to draw curious investors, Kennedy said.

The first 1 Million Cups was started last year by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and has become a weekly occurrence in 17 U.S. cities.

At the St. Petersburg gathering, which happens at the Greenhouse, 440 Second Ave. N., the cups are filled with free Kahwa coffee each Wednesday morning.

For information about future meetings, go to StPete.sites.1millioncups.com.

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277

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