Introducing the business actuator: OPSU

Operation Startup (OPSU) is disrupting the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Tampa and the U.S., becoming the first business actuator for early-stage entrepreneurs.

Incubators and accelerators offer entrepreneurs co-working spaces with amenities usually only available after a business becomes profitable enough to afford them, at lease terms or equity shares that are appropriate considering the financial restrictions new businesses often face.

As a business actuator, however, Operation Startup serves early-stage entrepreneurs who may have not yet fully developed their business ideas and strategies. Even a modestly priced incubator is not a viable starting point for an early-stage business idea, and these entrepreneurs are a long way from attracting investors that may be available through an accelerator.

Business actuators, as described by Operation Startup cofounders Dr. Andy Gold and Mary Beth Kerly, bridge that gap for budding small business owners, and are the necessary precursor to incubators and accelerators.

Gold and Kerly are entrepreneur and business instructors at local universities and community colleges.

“There is an chasm in the entrepreneur eco-system, not just in Tampa Bay but around the world,” explains Gold. “Successful entrepreneurs do not dive into incubators until their business ideas are validated, their products tested, or their businesses have launched.”

Adds Kerly, “But those businesses fail more often than not because they were not formed strategically with a solid understanding of the market, the customers, or the cost involved in starting a business.”

“Our niche is helping early-stage entrepreneurs develop an idea, validate the idea, and learn best practices before laying down that first dollar to start a business.”

Unlike incubators that require a monthly fee or accelerators that maintain an equity stake in a company, Operation Startup offers all its services, resources, and guidance at no cost to the member. Supported in collaboration with Hillsborough Community College and Hillsborough County government, as well as private and corporate donations, Operation Startup services are free to the entrepreneur.

Members participate in workshops on pertinent business topics, from ideation validation to customer discovery to financial planning. Business advisors, local experts who volunteer their time to help entrepreneurs, help craft development plans, provide mentoring and networking opportunities, and sometimes even investor advice.

The co-working space for Operation Startup members, hosted by Hillsborough County Economic Development Council at the Entrepreneur Collaboration Center in Ybor City, is free to use, including computers, printers and meeting and collaboration space.

“We tap into local experts, business executives, investors and philanthropists to offer as many services as possible to help new small businesses get moving in the right direction with the right business model,” explained Kerly.

“Our goal,” says Gold, “is to help these business innovators launch their idea after carefully modeling the business, testing their assumptions, pivoting when necessary, and laying the groundwork for long-term success.”

Operation Startup’s business model includes serving entrepreneurs in all industries and from all backgrounds. The initial focus, however, is Veteran owned businesses (VOBs). Membership in Operation Startup is currently restricted to Veterans, active duty military, National Guard, reservists, military spouses, and civilian business partners.

Vetrepreneurs, as they are called at Operation Startup, bring military-honed skills in discipline, dedication and focused direction to most tasks. Teaching them the skills necessary to evaluate and launch a business idea is akin to basic training in the military, requiring mental endurance and physical activities to take a business from ideation to launch.

The incubator concept was born in 1956 with the Batavia Industrial Center in Batavia, New York. Joseph Mancuso purchased a large industrial business left vacant when Massey-Ferguson shuttered its business in Batavia, and renovated it to accommodate shared office services for budding entrepreneurs.

The accelerator model didn’t surface until 2005, when Y Combinator began working with tech startups in exchange for an equity stake in the company. The U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration defines a business accelerator as a late-stage incubation program for entrepreneurial firms that are more mature and ready for external financing.

While entrepreneurs may remain at an incubator for as long as five years, accelerator membership usually lasts less than six months, often as little as three months. Entrepreneurs may remain in a business actuator for one to three years.

“Five, ten years from now, Operation Startup is going to be noted as the founder of the business actuator, much like Mancuso for the incubator and Y Combinator for the accelerator,” Gold says.

Kerly adds, “Businesses developed in an actuator will populate the incubators and accelerators with more viable business ideas, stronger business planning, and businesses with a greater likelihood of success. Investors will actively compete for investment opportunities in actuator-founded businesses, because the ROI will be greater and the regional economic impact more evident.”

For more information on Operation Startup and business actuators, contact Dr. Andy Gold at 813-259-6062 or or Mary Beth Kerly at 813-253-7216 or or at

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