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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 6, 2018 4 months ago

Entrepreneur wants to offer a head start to startups

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David Ponraj seeks to democratize access to business formation knowledge and assistance.

On June 1, David Ponraj left a highly promising career at Nielsen — at just 35, he had already become vice president of innovation — to launch his own business, Startup Space.

During his time at Nielsen, Ponraj, a Dunedin resident, had worked in a variety of roles, ranging from sales and operations to quality management. But says he most enjoyed his experience with the company’s internal business incubator, where he mentored up-and-coming tech entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, in his free time, he ran his own textile import-export venture.

“That business was happening at night and on the weekends — I was burning the candle on both ends,” he says. “It was not sustainable, so I had to pick one.”

He decided to focus on his career at Nielsen, but knew he could do more with his affinity for helping aspiring entrepreneurs. What Ponraj wants to do is not compete with the likes of Tampa Bay Wave, USF Connect and TEC Garage, but instead create supportive startup communities that aren’t tethered to one particular organization.

“How do you democratize information?” he asks. “Why do I have to go to an incubator to get the services of that incubator, which are just pointing me in other directions? When you’re a startup, unless you’re part of the [incubator] community, you’re either not getting help or the help you’re getting is free help, and how far does free help take you?”

Startup Space officially launches July 12, with the release of a mobile app and free workshop event at St. Petersburg College’s Clearwater campus that will cover the ins and outs of starting a business. Ponraj plans to monetize the app with an enterprise version that will charge a monthly fee between $9.99 and $99, depending on how many users a particular community has signed up.

The free, individual version of the app will give users access to a Q&A-type resource they can use to pose information requests to the community. The forum will be moderated by pre-selected “super-connectors” — experienced entrepreneurs who will ensure users’ feeds contain only relevant, local, highly curated content. “It’s a very niche space,” Ponraj admits, “but people will always continue to have business growth questions.”

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