Community of Entrepreneurs "ex-celerates" to the next level as its strategy pivots

Jul 23, 2015, 3:00pm EDT

Special

Colleen Michele Jones

Reporter- Jacksonville Business Journal

Like the startups it serves, the Jax Community of Entrepreneurs — otherwise known as JaxCoE — is pivoting a bit in its approach to connecting aspiring innovators across Jacksonville.

The grassroots group was co-founded about a year ago by local entrepreneurs Raquel Steffens and Kate Stewart as a way to provide peer-to-peer guidance and resources to support the growing innovation ecosystem in Northeast Florida.

Small salon-style gatherings picked up steam — and numbers — and the coalition has since expanded to bi-monthly meetings held at Jacksonville Public Library in Downtown and the organization of Northeast Florida Angel Investor Summits held a few times a year at rotating venues across the metro area.

Now, Steffens and Stewart are slightly shifting course with what JaxCoE is calling its Exceleration program, an idea Stewart borrowed from her days in Austin’s creative community.

Organizers are launching their first “beta” round of teams of five to seven members grouped according to the stage each entrepreneur is at: ideation, launch or growth. Team members — all of whom agree to sign non-disclosure agreements and make a three-month commitment — will act as a sounding board for each other’s startup ideas and ventures. JaxCoE, which is not charging participants, is also employing the help of more seasoned entrepreneurs in Jacksonville to act as advisors.

While there is a large innovative community in Northeast Florida, much of that kitchen table bootstrapping does not ever reach the next level, Stewart said.

“We want to make it accessible, for people to do the work and even fail if need be and start over again,” Stewart said at a JaxCoE meeting earlier this week.

The hope is to roll out dozens and dozens of JaxCoE Excelerator teams across the region by this fall.

The group, which is collaborating with the Jacksonville Entrepreneur Coalition, a maker and entrepreneurial space opening at The Landing Aug. 7, is also working to support other ground-level initiatives such as the Northeast Florida Stem Hub.

Colleen covers the innovation economy, focusing on technology, start ups, finance and health care.