A Message for Our BIG Volunteers on BIG’s Next Stage

More than three years after launching BIG—Bright Ideas on the Gulf Coast, Gulf Coast Community Foundation is handing off our entrepreneurial support initiative to a longtime BIG partner and booster, the Gulf Coast CEO Forum.

Both organizations shared this big news with volunteer advisors who attended our final BIG Action Team meeting last week. For mentors and other friends of BIG who weren’t there, here’s what you need to know to know about this exciting change and what’s next:

Taking BIG back to school

The CEO Forum will take BIG to a new level by doubling down on our initiative’s original strategy: BIG activities moving forward will focus on connecting local college students with experienced executives to foster business and employment opportunities. The objective is to stem “brain drain” of our region’s talented youth to other areas of the country.

“It makes perfect sense for our members to help nurture and develop the next generation of Gulf Coast CEOs,” said Matt Walsh, president of the Gulf Coast CEO Forum. 

“With other pieces of our entrepreneurial ecosystem maturing since we introduced the initiative, this is a great time to step up how BIG engages and supports our region’s students,” added Mark Pritchett, Gulf Coast’s president and CEO. “The CEO Forum has the right focus and energy to do that.”

A BIG advisor thank-you!

One of our BIGgest successes to date has been tapping an amazing but underutilized resource: the experience, insights, and connections of retired and active executives who call the Gulf Coast home. That’s you! Without your generous help, we could not have turned a start-up idea into the thriving initiative BIG has become.

Thank you for everything you have done for BIG, and for our region, to date. We hope we can continue to engage your help and interest in this next stage of BIG’s evolution.

So, what’s next?

The Gulf Coast CEO Forum will expand opportunities for area college students to engage with business leaders, particularly Forum members. Activities will include:

•    In-class talks and business-plan evaluation
•    Mentoring relationships
•    Educational and networking opportunities
•    Company site visits
•    Special events

Gulf Coast Community Foundation, meanwhile, will support these efforts as we also focus on related priorities:

•    Promoting the strategic growth sectors of digital arts, health innovation, marine science, and sports performance in our region
•    Supporting the new UF Innovation Station Sarasota County engineering extension
•    Engaging Gulf Coast donors in opportunities related to BIG and entrepreneurial support

How you can help

The evolution of BIG means a sharper focus on two key “client” groups:

•    college students, who represent the next generation of business leaders
•    growing companies with economic-development and job-creation potential for our region

While “Action Team” and “Pitch Practice” meetings as you knew them will not continue, there will be new opportunities to provide meaningful assistance.

Want to help students?
Contact the CEO Forum to learn about membership and other opportunities for BIG advisors to get involved as volunteers.

Want to help companies?
Consider volunteering for Manasota SCORE, another of our longtime BIG partners. Contact SCORE chapter chair Dennis Zink directly at zinkde@gmail.com to get involved.

BIG advisors may also wish to learn more about BRIDGE Angel Investors, a new angel investor network, by contacting Tom Gardner at tgardner@keyviewllc.com. BRIDGE was formed independently by local investors to identify and create investment opportunities for members and mentor promising, targeted companies in southwest Florida. (Gulf Coast Community Foundation has no role in the development or operations of BRIDGE Angel Investors.)


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