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Stimulus to believe in returns

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  • | 1:13 p.m. October 10, 2011
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Local philanthropist and entrepreneur Harvey Vengroff has two distinct strategies to stimulate the economy.

One is a for-profit business incubator, a relatively simple formula of backing businesses with the right combination of promise and proven results.

Another plan, however, involves financial support of a business concept to buy farmland for sugarcane that can be converted to biofuel — decidedly more complicated. “I don't know if we will get very far with it,” Vengroff tells Coffee Talk, “but we will try.”

The sugarcane-to-biofuels plan is based on the research and writings of Roy Lunn, a retired auto industry executive and engineer who lives in east Manatee County. Vengroff says he will buy land, possibly in Central Florida or Alabama, Texas or Mississippi, to begin the process.

Vengroff says his business incubator, meanwhile, is similar to one he started two years ago. It's still the antithesis of government stimuli programs, tax breaks and subsidies. He derides those programs because he says it gives millions of dollars to companies with little in return.

“We are creating jobs and we are getting a profit for ourselves,” Vengroff says. “But certainly we are not government. We don't give away money easily.”

Instead, says Vengroff, the idea is to again provide space for a host of companies, some startups, some a little more advanced. Some of the companies will work out of space Vengroff owns near the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. Companies range from a firm that produces a device to get more mileage from a tank of gas to a business that sells a lubrication product for heavy machinery. “It's a matter of nurturing things until they get better,” Vengroff says.

Vengroff will receive a share of profits or part ownership of the company in return for incubator services. The founder of Vengroff, Williams & Associates, a Sarasota-based commercial debt collections firm with 1,100 employees and 120,000 client accounts, Vengroff last provided stimulus assistance like this in spring 2009. (See Business Review, May 21, 2009.)


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