In just one month since the first coronavirus case in the United States was reported in Washington State, Orange County, Florida – in the opposite corner of the country – is now under a stay-at-home order.
Theme parks normally teeming with spring break visitors are shuttered, hotels stand vacant, and hundreds of thousands are unemployed.
The COVID-19 pandemic – more than anything in our lifetimes – points to the fragility of a travel and tourism-dependent economy.
If there is a glimmer of hope for Central Florida’s tech community, it’s that when people lose jobs, entrepreneurs are born. History has shown us that during economic downturns, the number of attempted startups increases, despite funding becoming less available.
StarterStudio is ensuring that Central Florida entrepreneurs who emerge during this time of crisis will continue to have the support they need, even when we can’t convene in person.
We are working feverishly to virtualize and massively scale our programming, including bootcamps, lunch and learns, founders’ talks and accelerators. This includes the adoption of a learning management system to onboard, deliver, and assess programs using existing coaches, mentors and content.
In fact, we now aim to surpass our original 2020 goals by providing access to our a more diverse and geographically distributed community of entrepreneurs virtually.
Looking beyond the lockdown period, we are also expanding the delivery of bootcamps and idea-stage programs to other locations around the region in partnership with incubators and co-working spaces. This will enable us to increase the total number of founders touched and meet them closer to where they are. Applications for our first 100% Virtual Seed Stage Accelerator are open until April 15th.
We had already begun this shift, recognizing that the geographic spread of Central Florida creates a natural limiter for accessing in-person programs. Now we are putting that plan into high gear.
Since cost impediments make it hard to scale a single accelerator to operate in multiple locations across the region, partnerships will be key to the success of our outpost strategy. We are therefore working on future programming with our colleagues at GuideWell in Lake Nona and Groundswell in Melbourne to enable us to reach outside our traditional downtown Orlando location.
As life slowly returns to normal on the other side of the COVID-19 curve – and it eventually will –collaboration with location-based and industry-centric partners will enable us to further expand the Central Florida tech ecosystem.
We are fortunate to have partnerships and funding from governments including the City of Orlando, Volusia County, Orlando Economic Partnership, and Orange County to enable us to surge innovation, collaboration, and investment in entrepreneurship within our greater community.
Together, we will emerge from this crisis stronger, more agile and better prepared to meet the future – whatever it may bring.