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Hillsborough committee approves $200,000 in innovation grants

— Hillsborough County’s tech initiative funding program is gaining momentum.

The EDI2, or Economic Development Innovation Intiative, received 34 applications — three times as many as the program received last quarter — for its fourth funding round.

The EDI2 Advisory Committee approved grants for 31 of those endeavors on Thursday, allocating nearly $200,000 to groups planning events to help jump-start tech initiatives here. The county’s economic development staff approved another $23,266 in smaller grant requests, each for less than $5,000.

Since launching in June 2013, the county-funded program has doled out $798,580 in grants to support the local technology entrepreneurship community.

Among the large projects receiving funding during this round is the Gasparilla Interactive Festival Inc., an event scheduled for March meant to showcase cutting-edge technologies and digital creativity during two days of presentations and forums “from the brightest minds in emerging technology and interactive media.”

To date, Gasparilla Interactive Festival has raised $10,000 in private funds for the project, said organizer Vinny Tafuro Jr., president and chief executive officer of Conscious Capitalism’s Florida chapter. The networking events will be hosted by industry leaders, and will include a lineup of special programs showcasing the best new websites and start-up ideas in the community.

TechNova of Florida is also receiving $25,000 for its BarCamp Tampa Bay, an all volunteer-led conference designed around technology and the web. The conference drew 829 participants in 2013, including high school and college students, developers, designers, social media gurus and industry and technology executives.

StartupBus will receive $20,300 for an event that brings entrepreneurs from the greater Tampa Bay area together “under stressful and competitive circumstances” to build a startup tech business on a bus. It is designed to help highly driven people sharpen their skills and share their talents.

Moffitt Cancer Center requested and received $12,300 for its Business of Biotech Conference 2015. The conference includes those attempting to start tech companies as well as venture capitalists and angel investors looking to buy in to those ideas.

EDI2 funds up to 50 percent of the projects for which groups are seeking grants. That leaves room for private sector buy-in, said Lindsey Kimball, the county’s economic development director. “Otherwise, they would all just be county events.” EDI2 funds cannot be used for food, alcohol, or lodging, Kimball said.

Tekkies might call Hillsborough County a “first mover” in this type of undertaking. It is the only county in Florida with such a funding initiative for tech businesses, Kimball said. In fact, it is one of only a handful of similar initiatives nationwide, she said.

The National Association of Counties recognized Hillsborough County this year for best practices in county innovation toward economic development. Kimball said the EDI2 program was mentioned, specifically.

Applications for the next EDI2 grant funding cycle are due Oct. 31. Application information is available on the county web site.

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