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A bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce
Funding Opportunities Background

Office of Innovation and
Entrepreneurship (OIE)

University of South Florida
(a former 2012 i6 Challenge grantee)


Tampa, Florida

Project Name

FirstWaVE Venture Center Program Expansion



Award Amount


Matching Amount


Through the 2012 i6 Challenge Grant, the FirstWaVE Venture Center (FirstWaVE) was launched in March 2013 by a collaborative regional partnership that included the University of South Florida, Tampa Bay WaVE, Florida High Tech Corridor Council, the City of Tampa, and Hillsborough County, along with a network of universities, local businesses, nonprofits and public sector partners.  FirstWaVE has been highly successful in connecting high-growth startups with mentorship, early stage capital, and other resources to foster a culture of innovation throughout the region and has closed many of the largest ecosystem gaps.  FirstWaVE has been serving the eight-county Tampa Bay region and is structured to enable the replication of its model in other Florida regions.

In its first nineteen months of operations, the FirstWaVE Venture Center has supported 88 tech startups.  Collectively, these companies have created and retained 324 new jobs (including 72 contract/1099 jobs) and raised a total of $11.43 million in investment capital, $6.625 million of which has been raised since joining the program.  Even so, the region is still experiencing loss of talent and local entrepreneurs who feel the pressure to relocate to other regions where they believe the ecosystem is stronger, especially for early stage capital.

To address the remaining ecosystem gaps and further accelerate the commercialization of inventions and ideas into high-growth firms, USF and WaVE are proposing an expansion of the FirstWaVE Venture Center in two critical ways.  FirstWaVE will expand its capacity for accelerating the connections to seed and early stage capital, thus closing the funding gap for these high-growth potential companies.  Second, FirstWaVE will also increase the overall number of startups and accelerate the commercialization of inventions and ideas by leveraging local strengths and national partners to provide more specialization and better resources for specific industries and demographics, such in the IT, education, hospitality, call centers, and manufacturing industries, as well as for women-led and veteran-led high-growth companies.