High Tech Entrepreneurs Thriving in Gainesville, Florida
It seems that you can’t go a day without hearing about the need for America to nurture its entrepreneurs. This mantra was quite abstract to me until I took a trip recently to Gainesville, Florida, home of the University of Florida (UF) and a host of impressive, innovative health, biotech and social media companies.
Gainesville?! That’s no Silicon Valley, you might say. In fact, they are doing some very interesting things there, and they’re doing them right. Gainesville is home to the Florida Innovation Hub, now located in a brand new multimillion dollar facility downtown. According to its website, “the Florida Innovation Hub was created to serve as catalyst for startup companies whose technologies emanated from laboratories at the University of Florida and throughout the state. [Its] mission is to provide them with the infrastructure, logistics and resources needed to get up and running effectively and efficiently. In doing so, the Innovation Hub hopes to help those companies and others bring research discoveries to the marketplace, creating additional jobs for Floridians.”
The Florida Innovation Hub houses over 20 startups, along with the University of Florida’s Office of Technology Licensing. (The office is ably headed by David Day, assistant vice president and director.) Among its resident startups is Feathr, which has developed a smart phone application that replaces business cards with a seamless digital experience. Feathr makes it easy to share personal and professional information in a touch-optimized format. The app is currently in beta testing.
While the Hub building may be brand new, the StartUps Intiative at UF is 12 years old. One graduate of the StartUps Initiative, Sinmat, was recently recognized by President Obama at a White House event on Investing in Our Clean Energy Future. Sinmat manufactures products for the clean energy industry which are sold worldwide; it also has the distinction of being a recipient of Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program funding. Coincidentally, Chief Counsel for Advocacy Winslow Sargeant designated the fledgling startup for funding when he served as an SBIR program manager in the 2000s. Sinmat now employs 22 people.
Another outstanding University of Florida partner in high tech commercialization is the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, also headed by Mr. Day. This state-of-the-art biotech incubator is situated on a sprawling campus in Alachua, Florida, about 20 minutes from the university. There are currently seven startups in the center, and 20 companies have successfully “graduated” from their early days in the incubator. One particularly interesting resident is the biomedical company AxoGen. This startup is developing products to allow surgeons to repair and regenerate peripheral nerves more successfully, using tissue extracted from human cadavers. The company is revolutionizing peripheral nerve procedures based on scientific breakthroughs that reveal the mechanism of axon growth and regeneration.
If you’re in the Gainesville area, I encourage you to schedule a visit to one or both of these University of Florida–affiliated incubators. You’ll learn amazing things, and you may even meet the founders of the next Google, Facebook, or Genentech.
—Mark Berson, Region IV Advocate
Mark Berson is the Office of Advocacy’s regional advocate for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.