Crist said the efforts of UCF and GrowFL to help small businesses create jobs have been “phenomenally successful.”

“Small businesses are vital to Florida’s economic recovery, and we are wise to ensure they have access to the resources and assistance they need to grow and reach their full potential,” Crist said. “Entrepreneurs have created new jobs, and Florida’s economy is stronger as a result of Florida’s economic gardening.”

GrowFL is the centerpiece of Florida’s new entrepreneurial strategy of “economic gardening,” which focuses on cultivating companies with the potential to grow into the powerhouses of the state’s economy. In 2009, UCF was selected to administer the statewide program. After tracking the creation of 327 new jobs by client companies, UCF is anticipating an additional $2 million from the state to expand GrowFL’s services.

At a roundtable meeting held at UCF’s Office of Research & Commercialization in the University Tower, Crist listened as CEOs of some of GrowFL’s 157 client companies praised the program for offering them technical services they would have been hard-pressed to find otherwise.

Pete McAlindon, CEO of Maitland-based Blue Orb Inc., graduated from UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science and started a company based on his vision of creating computer tools to help those with little or no use of their fingers. While the company quickly grew and graduated from the incubator, McAlindon recalled a near-crisis when the e-commerce company that processed his online sales went bankrupt. Because of his contacts with GrowFL, he was able to get online sales back up and running within 48 hours – at no charge.

The continuing challenge for GrowFL is to recruit from the 7,000 companies in Florida that fit the specific criteria of second-stage growth companies. These for-profit, privately held businesses each employ between 10 and 50 people, generate $1 million to $25 million in annual revenue, demonstrate growth in number of employees and gross revenues during three of the past five years, and qualify for the tax refund program for qualified target industry businesses.

GrowFL is seeking 300 such companies to take advantage of its free growth services, which include everything from market research to web and social media strategy to capital and labor referrals.

Crist, who introduced the economic gardening plan to the Florida Legislature in 2009, thanked UCF’s GrowFL team, including Tom O’Neal, associate vice president for Research and Commercialization and executive director of the Economic Gardening Institute, and Fran Korosec, director of Client Services, for making the program a success.