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05.06.2019

How Tampa Convinced Me To Stay

 

I first arrived in Tampa for my freshman year of undergrad at The University of Tampa (UT). I was an eager (and very nervous) 18-year-old from Massachusetts, and, like most people in a new city, I felt uprooted and disoriented. I was entering a time in life that has the pressure to define the personal values and passions that will guide some of life's biggest personal and professional decisions.

My immediate challenge was "where to start". I came to UT with a deep interest for community service, and I was fortunate to quickly find UT's PEACE Volunteer Center. There, I led the 16 student-staff office and immersed myself in local and global issues that were important to me — from short volunteer trips to The Sustainable Living Project in Seminole Heights to a 14-day service trip in the Amazon Rainforest focused on community development strategies. Each experience fueled my interest in experiential learning and community-building — I cultivated tactics on generating group cohesion, asking the difficult questions that push others to reflect and grow, identifying the dynamics between people and the structures they operate within, creating solutions that achieve long-term impact, and developed a comfort tackling big problems. By no means did I have the answers, but I enjoyed each moment of those experiences and knew I wanted to infuse a similar mindset in my coursework.

Academically, my interest in experiential learning and community-building led me to major in Entrepreneurship where I began to comprehend the science of understanding and testing new approaches to the problems I was trying to solve. I worked with a small handful of startups mapped to my personal passions nurtured by community service, from a consumer product designed to inspire connection with nature, to a platform for students to reduce waste and monetize their skills. I oftentimes found myself caring just as much about the strength and durability of the startup team as I did the actual success of the product. Because of this, I searched for the resources needed to support the teams I worked with, and I gained exposure to Tampa's entrepreneurial community. I saw the strengths — a network of startups and advocates offering unconditional support, wisdom, and camaraderie — and the deficits — siloed support systems, low opportunity density, and isolation from non-local markets. Combined, the energizing dynamic deepened my passion for entrepreneurship, and I knew I wanted to professionally support the areas of our community that needed bolstering.

It was at this intersection — community and entrepreneurship — that I found my fire. After 800 hours of community service and many sleepless nights working in startups, I learned that the passion for volunteerism is often times in parallel with the entrepreneurial spirit that drives the founder to throw themselves into creating a solution to their problem. With little money, you build, test, and scale your product. Both the volunteer and the entrepreneur rely on support organizations to reach towards success, and the vibrancy of our communities are oftentimes directly dependent on the strength of our respective support organizations. And it was there — in Tampa Bay's entrepreneur support system — that I realized where I wanted to exist. Not only did I find my Tampa Bay community, but, more importantly, I found my role within that community.

That's why — when I graduated in May — it was an easy decision for me to stay in Tampa. While I saw the majority of my classmates move back home or to another state to pursue their career, my roots had dug deep into the Tampa soil, and I wasn’t going anywhere. Just as Tampa had served as the medium for my personal exploration, I was ready to commit my future in my new home.

At the time of graduation, I didn’t have a clear next step, but in true Tampa fashion the city quickly manifested an incredible opportunity; enter Embarc Collective, the nonprofit that helps Tampa Bay's startup talent build bold, scalable, thriving companies. What's so energizing about Embarc Collective is that it delivers customized support that serves the real-time needs of startup teams — delivering consistent, customized, quality support — the perfect place for me to contribute to our community.

I am excited to now be part of the Embarc Collective team — heading up customer success — where I’ll blend my passion for community building and entrepreneurship to help co-create and support our energetic, disruptive, hard-working, collaborative, and embracing community. If Embarc Collective seems like a community you’d like to learn more about, drop me a line, and I’d be happy to chat.

Dan Holahan
Customer Success Associate
Dan Holahan
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