The UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS) is working with several community partners to raise $750,000 to help propel innovation and commercialization in Central Florida.
Harris Corporation, the City of Orlando, Crossroads Investors, Canvs, Rollins College College, Starter Studio, Creative Village Orlando among others are raising the money, which will match funds the U.S. Economic Development Administration recently award to UCF. That means that together, $1.5 million will be leveraged to to help foster the culture of innovation throughout the central Florida region.
UCF was one of 24 institutions to receive the EDA money as part of the 2014 Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program. The program is a new initiative designed to advance innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country. UCF was one of only two universities to earn both an i6 Challenge Grant and Cluster Grant for Seed Capital Funds that are part of the program. UCF and its partners are eager to get started by enhancing a variety of opportunities available to the community to help create the innovation landscape.
i6 Challenge funds
The i6 Challenge was launched in 2010 as part of the Startup America Initiative and is now in its fourth iteration. i6 is a national competition that makes small, targeted, high-impact investments to support startup creation, innovation, and commercialization. Now that the i6 Challenge is included in the new Regional Innovation Strategies Program, the funding will support more than just Proof-of-Concept Centers. Investments will also go toward the expansion of existing centers and in later-stage Commercialization Centers, which help innovators fine tune and scale their innovations to bring new products and services to the market. The total amount of funding for the i6 Challenge under RIS is nearly $8 million.
The i6 Challenge funds will be used to extend the UCF I-Corps pilot program across the five economically challenged central Florida counties (Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Brevard and Volusia), and to help transition the region’s engineering workforce into high growth technology companies that design, manufacture, and export innovative products through the Maker Spaces Proof Of Concept Center (POCC).
This Center will also leverage both the statewide Florida Cleantech Accelerator Network (FL-CAN, which was created through a former i6 grant) and the Osceola County Advanced Materials Research Center once it is opened.
The Starter Corps Fund will directly address the critical gap in seed funding that is the largest barrier faced by the region’s technology entrepreneurs. The same five counties referenced above will be directly served by the StarterCorps Seed Fund. UCF will set up the StarterCorps fund structure, in the first six months, raise a minimum of $1,000,000, which is enough to fund 12 companies through the first year. Ultimately it will raise, deploy, and manage a $5 million evergreen StarterCorps Seed Fund to launch innovative technology and advanced manufacturing startups based in central Florida.
StarterCorps’s evergreen fund structure means all investment profits will be returned to the fund to be redeployed in future investments. StarterCorps will provide equity-based funding in a series of milestone-based investments. Milestones will be based on a team’s aggressive progress in transforming commercially viable prototypes (which were developed in Starter Studio and I-Corps programs) into viable technology companies that gain early market traction, have a complete founding team (business and technical skills), secure IP, and can prove they are addressing an urgent market opportunity.
“The StarterCorps Seed Fund addresses the funding gap by developing stronger teams prepared for Angel investment, said Michael O’Donnell, founder of the Florida Angel Nexus CEO and executive director of the UCF Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE).
“We want to ensure that all entrepreneurs have access to the tools they need to move their ideas and inventions from idea to market. The Regional Innovation Strategies Program competition is designed to advance this mission across the United States, strengthening our economy and our global competitiveness,” said Secretary Pritzker.
UCF I-Corps helps teams of innovators go through all the necessary steps before taking an item to market and uses the UCF College of Engineering and Computer Science’s new Maker SpaceLab Complex, created with generous industry partners to help them through idea, design and prototyping. Thomas O’Neal, director of UCF’s CIE estimates that in the fifth year of the program 195 companies will be created producing 1,730 new high-wage jobs through these teams.
“The UCF Engineering Maker Spaces have already proven their value for our students in developing prototypes and testing ideas. These grants will enable us to provide this value to more students and to the community,” said Michael Georgiopoulos, Dean of UCF’s CECS.
“We are working with regional community partners and industry to make Central Florida an epicenter for innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. These grants will enhance our ability to help more future entrepreneurs across five counties. The awards are a validation and recognition of the Central Florida ecosystem and UCF’s role as the partnership university,” said O’Neal.