Innovation Kickstarters: Gainesville Entrepreneurs Get Lift from Incubators
Learn how top-notch incubators and a network of resources fuel innovation among Gainesville entrepreneurs.
Thanks to the research and development prowess of the University of Florida and resources such as Starter Space, the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, the Florida Innovation Hub, Santa Fe College's Center for Innovation and Economic Development and Santa Fe's Gainesville Technology and Entrepreneurship Center, innovation has become one of the Gainesville area's leading exports.
"It's not just the business community, but the community in general that values innovation and entrepreneurship," says Dug Jones, associate vice president for economic development at Santa Fe College. "There's an articulated commitment to support entrepreneurs and innovators."
Santa Fe College operates two incubators – the Center for Innovation and Economic Development in the heart of Gainesville's Innovation District and the Gainesville Technology and Entrepreneurship Center, which is run through a partnership with the city government. Jones says each incubator currently houses around 25 companies, ranging in specialty from the lifestyles and services industry to tech and light manufacturing. Companies receive, at no cost, access to a team of experts, including strategic planners, technical writers, grant writers, attorneys, accountants, and marketing and communications professionals. "What we provide these companies is a lot more than just a place to work," Jones says.
The University of Florida and its Innovation Hub, in particular, also have played a major role in the success of innovative companies, such as Mobiquity, a technology solutions firm, and InfoTech, a company that provides software and services that facilitate infrastructure e-construction. Info Tech partnered with the Integrated Product and Process Design program in UF's College of Engineering. A team of students along with a faculty adviser worked on a project sponsored by the company for two semesters.
Tom Rothrock, president of Info Tech, says several key products emerged from the collaboration. In addition to the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce and the Council for Economic Outreach, key supporters of economic growth and support for existing companies, UF's Innovation Hub has developed into "a terrific resource for startups like ours by bringing people and companies together to share ideas," Rothrock says. "Companies are clearly attracted by the university and the students and graduates that are available in our community. A large percentage of Info Tech's workforce is made up of UF grads."
Nurturing New Ideas
The Innovation Hub is just one of several collaborative spaces that provide learning opportunities and tools entrepreneurs need to launch a successful business. Gainesville's Starter Space has recently moved to Innovation Square, a 40-acre, live-work-play research and innovation community near downtown. Founded by two UF graduates, Starter Space offers fledgling companies a co-working environment with business amenities, such as high-speed internet service and office space, as well as business planning assistance. The nonprofit kitchen incubator Blue Oven Kitchens provides space and business startup and expansion support for food entrepreneurs. UF's Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator – one of the most recognized programs in global biotech incubation - was the International Business Innovation Association’s Incubator of the Year in 2014. The incubator has helped more than two dozen biotechnology companies get their start. Gainesville's rise as a hub for technology companies prompted UF alumni Duncan Kabinu and Josh Greenberg to establish the Gainesville Dev Academy, an educational program that teaches web and mobile app development.
"When you look at a place like Boston, you'll see the reason a lot of companies want to start up there is because they have an overabundance of talented developers. So if we increase the developer base in Gainesville, we're going to have a lot more startups and a lot more companies interested in coming here," Kabinu says. "[With the Dev Academy], we're creating this pool of homegrown talent while also highlighting all the great tech companies in town where they can work." Kabinu says Gainesville's business amenities and quality of life are also influential in attracting tech companies.
"First of all, the collaboration and networking here is ridiculously amazing," he says. "The support that you get from others is non-competitive; it's always helpful. It's definitely inexpensive to live over here. It's a great place to raise a family. You're only within 30-45 minutes from anywhere you want to go to. And then you have an abundance of talent coming out of UF that you can tap into, which makes it super easy to start something."