Gatorade, Football, and a Goldmine for the University of Florida

University of Florida Century Tower

While it’s not common knowledge, Gainesville, Florida, has exported some pretty valuable commodities to the rest of the world. While Tom Petty, of Heartbreakers fame, may be flashier, no less valuable is Gatorade. The granddaddy of sports drinks is also a poster child for successful university research commercialization.

Dr. Robert Cade and several researchers on staff at the University of Florida in Gainesville developed the sucrose-dextrose drink, Gatorade, in the 1960s; their novel formula replenished the combination of water, carbohydrates, and electrolytes that athletes lose in sweat during rigorous athletic competitions. Ray Graves, then coach of the football team, requested that Dr. Cade provide the drink mix to his players. The drink was tested in football practice and later used extensively by the Gators during the 1966 season, one in which the team enjoyed one of its best records in history, 9-2, capped by a victory in the Orange Bowl over Georgia Tech. Coach Graves credited Gatorade for enabling his players to finish much stronger in the fourth quarter of that game. Gatorade was the beginning of a slew of innovative products spun out of university research that has enabled UF to collect hundreds of millions of dollars in royalties through its Office of Technology Licensing, led by David Day, Assistant Vice President & Director, and Jane Muir, Associate Director.

On March 14, I attended “A Celebration of Innovation” in Gainesville. This event is an annual conference and over 300 startup entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, academicians, and media were treated to presentations by approximately 15 emerging companies birthed at the university’s Innovation Hub and the Sid Martin Biotech Incubator. Dr. Bernie Machen, president of the University of Florida, welcomed the attendees and offered  introductory remarks. He highlighted the growth of several early-stage spinoffs including Axogen, a medical device company that has developed new ways to regenerate tissue growth by using tissues from cadavers, and Applied Genetic Technologies Corporation, Inc., a company that is developing its proprietary adenovirus manufacturing platform for the treatment of two eye conditions: achromatopsia and X-linked retinoschisis.

Dr. Win Phillips, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the University’s Office of Research, followed Dr. Machen’s remarks by relating some facts about the University’s Office of Technology Licensing and the city of Gainesville:

  • Four Gainesville entrepreneurs were honored by the White House last year as “Top 100 Entrepreneurs under 30.”
  • MindTree, a software development company that recently relocated to Gainesville announced a new center in Innovation Square and currently employs 80 of an expected 400 employees.
  • Creative Class author Richard Florida has singled out Gainesville as a leading community for the growth of high-tech jobs.
  • UF receives more than 300 invention disclosures annually.
  • In 2012, UF executed 79 licenses and options and helped start 15 new companies.
  • More than $335 million in tech transfer revenue has been generated in the past decade.

The conference concluded with the 15 entrepreneurs giving presentations of their companies to prospective funders and other interested individuals. It was my observation that innovation is alive and well in Gainesville and the University of Florida, and I anxiously await the next exciting startup to emerge from the Office of Technology Transfer. Speaking as a Gator alum, I selfishly hope that this one will benefit the Florida basketball team in the hope that they can make it to the Final Four again.

—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