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Center provides tools to transform ideas to business

By Yvette C. Hammett
Published: April 30, 2014
A three dimensional shark is printed on a 3-D printer at the John F. Germany Library in downtown Tampa. The Downtown Partnership has teamed up with the library to create a haven for creativity, innovation and entrepreneurs. It's called the Next Gen Innovation Center and it is something of a one-stop shop for people with ideas they'd like to pursue. JIM REED/STAFF

TAMPA — Having a great idea doesn’t always translate into a great business venture. Moving from great idea, to design, to prototype, then getting a business plan and marketing a concept can be costly and time-consuming.

Come June, a 10,000 square-foot space, state-of-the-art tools and an entourage of experts will conjoin at the John F. Germany Library to ease the process for inventors, students and entrepreneurs.

The Hillsborough County public library teamed up with the non-profit Learning is for Everyone to create the Community Innovation Center on the third floor of the library, 900 N. Ashley Drive. It is scheduled to open in June.

Irv Cohen of Learning is for Everyone and who is a founding partner of the center, calls it “a critical part of building a fertile economic system. I’m here to tell you that this partnership will change the fabric and culture of our community,” he told a group attending a Downtown Partnership breakfast on Wednesday. “It’s about people finding their passion.” This same concept, based on the “maker culture,” has been constructed in several major cities around the nation. The maker culture is all about learning through doing.

The mission of the Community Innovation Center is to provide the actual space and the local expertise to help people in the Tampa Bay area realize their dreams, Cohen said. And it’s about jobs and economic production.

“Our end game is not to make money for ourselves, but for the community and to provide jobs,” he said.

Some will go to the center to learn more technological skills. Others will use it as a place equipped with the tools and expertise they need to move their business forward.

Vincent A. Tafuro, Jr., president and CEO of Conscious Capitalism’s Florida chapter said he plans to use the new center as a place to create more sophisticated webinars and YouTube quality videos, using equipment he couldn’t otherwise afford.

Tafuro said a lot of entrepreneurs simply don’t have the money for expensive, specialized equipment, like a 3D printer.

There will be something for everyone at the Community Innovation Center, said Jamie Klingman, another founding partner. Small business owners looking to increase their family income can use it, as can video game makers, inventors and trades people.

“If you have an idea, you can actually fabricate it” in the maker space at the center, instead of having to send intellectual property off to have a 3D prototype made, she said. “If your prototype doesn’t work, you can edit it right there.”

There will even be a robotics floor that can be used by entrepreneurs and by students who can learn skills for future careers.

To explain how the center will work, Klingman cited an example of a California man who used a maker space there to create a lamp based on the Super Mario video games. He put his idea on Kick-Starter — a funding site for entrepreneurs — and got an order for 30,000 lamps, she said.

“There are enough brilliant minds in Tampa Bay and this is the place to do that,” Klingman said.

There will be a membership fee associated with the center, for which details have not yet been worked out. The Community Innovation Center is funded with a mix of private donations, grants, sponsors, and county funding.

The center’s web site,, is expected to be on line within the next two weeks.

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