TAMPA, Fla. -- When Vikas Bhatia moved his cybersecurity firm from New York to Tampa earlier this year, he was at the top of his game. He relocated to take advantage of lower taxes that come with running a business in the Sunshine State. 

But like so many other companies, he was unable to avoid the financial setbacks caused by COVID-19.

“It kind of hit us quite hard because we just found our groove and we were just getting ready to expand,” said Bhatia, CEO of JustProtect.Co. “Essentially all of our plans that we had for 2020 were completely disrupted.”

Bhatia is one of many startups struggling to find funding during one of the worst economic downturns in recent memory. Tampa Bay Wave Director of Development Dee Garcia spoke to one entrepreneur who was at the end of his financial rope.

“You could just see the stress all over his face,” Garcia said. “He was going to fire 140 great workers that day. He has been up all night applying for disaster loans. And l thought there’s got to be something we can do.”

What she and her colleagues at the Wave did was create the “Rising Tide Relief Fund,” an economic life preserver offering micro loans to newly-formed businesses which are often not eligible for federal disaster loans.

“20 minutes after we opened the portal, we started having applications,” Garcia said.

Bhatia was one of those applicants.

“It’s really important for us because that is our only real source of capital outside of what was available federally,” he said.

The fund, which depends on donations from members and sponsors, hopes to approve about $300,000 in loans. The loan is only currently available to companies that are members of the Tampa Bay Wave.