EDA I6 Grant Process – A Positive Learning Experience

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Regular followers of this blog recognize that it routinely critiques the local entrepreneur ecosystem (or lack thereof)  and its need to be improved.  Rather than sitting by pushing for improvement and change through the blog, the author along with three local businesspersons formed a team that set out to take a more proactive approach to improving the ecosystem.  When United States Economic Development Agency (EDA) issued its i6 request for proposals (RFP), it afforded an opportunity for the region to make a step change improvement in the ecosystem.  However, the regional groups contacted by the team were unwilling to respond the RFP; Not enough time!; Don’t have the money.; Don’t have the resources; Can’t do it.; etc.

This attitude just motivated the team even more to submit an application of their own to EDA (see We Are Out to Catalyze Company Births – Want to Join Us?) to fund an expanded accelerator for the Pensacola Ferry Pass MSA region.  The team completed the application including all of the attachments, raised the cost share, and obtained the necessary political support.  Even if the team’s proposal did not win, it could serve as a platform and jumping off point, leveraging the team’s experience, for one of the reluctant established regional organizations to submit a proposal in 2019.  Unfortunately, the team’s proposal did not win one of the 24 awards given out by EDA.  The author is not complaining, instead is very impressed by the winners and appreciative of having the opportunity to compete and knowing the region has to step up its game.

The team’s biggest drawback to the team’s proposal was that even though technically qualified under the RFP as a non-profit, the applicant as a private charity was not a regional organization as preferred by the RFP.  As a private charity, the team was at a disadvantage to demonstrate long term sustainability as required by the RFP.

The RFP appeared focused on three types or organization as applicants: (1) Government affiliated (City, State, Regional, County) entities, (2) University and University affiliated entities, and (3) externally funded regional non-profits.  Of the 24 awards given by EDA eight (8) were given to each of the three types of entities.  A breakdown (Figure 1) of the applicants and awards compared to the team’s Startup Springboard proposal can be used as a as a learning guide.  The Startup Springboard was competitive on key metrics with jobs promised above average and cost per job below average.  The data show that like many activities, the private sector and universities are more efficient in creating jobs than government.

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interesting analysis is awards by city size (Figure 2), showing no bias on size which encourages regions like Northwest Florida.

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A geographic slice of the awards analysis (Figure 3) shows little or no regional bias.

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Another way to examine the award results is to look at the actual states that received awards (Figures 4 and 5) and compare that distribution to the states ranked by strength of their startup ecosystems (Figure 6) Innovation Index (see Innovation Index) based on www.Indeed.com data for December 2018 an relative need for support (Figure 4).  Only one struggling state (Missouri) received an award out of the seven (7) struggling states or 14%.  As is often the case the neediest states in the South are left out (Figure 6). However at least 10 awards are to the neediest cities (Figure 7)!

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