The University of Central Florida is getting about $750,000 in grant money to help grow the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Central Florida, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced today alongside U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and UCF President John C. Hitt.
The secretary made the announcement during a press conference at UCF and praised the university for having a comprehensive plan for taking ideas from the research lab to market. UCF was one of 26 institutions to receive a total of $10 million from the department, and one of only two universities to earn both i6 Challenge and Cluster Grants for Seed Capital Funds.
“This achievement is a recognition of the university’s leadership in using innovation and commercialization to help Central Florida recover from the downturn in this region’s manufacturing sector,” Pritzker said.
She described UCF’s approach as well-developed and deserving of both grants.
“This is an exciting day for UCF, the region and the state,” said Thomas O’Neal, associate vice president of the Office of Research and Commercialization at UCF who has led UCF’s I-Corps project, which is one of the reasons UCF was named a winner of both grants. “We are working with partners and industry to make Central Florida an epicenter for innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. UCF has had much success through a variety of programs in helping some of our students and community members take great ideas through the commercialization and marketing process. These grants will enhance our ability to help more future entrepreneurs across five counties.”
The counties are Orange, Seminole, Brevard, Osceola and Volusia. Building on the resources developed at UCF over the past 15 years, the i6 grant will support the university’s new I-Corps project’s “Proof of Concept Center,” where talented engineers from the five counties hardest-hit by changes in the local economy can translate new products – like technology for stronger and quicker prosthetic limbs – into businesses. The commerce grant is for $500,000 with another $500,000 in matching funds.
The center’s mission will be supported by a second $249,933 grant for UCF’s StarterCorps Seed Fund, which will deploy early-stage capital into innovative technology and advanced manufacturing startups across Central Florida.
This program addresses the gap in seed funding for local entrepreneurs – which is considered one of the largest barriers faced by startups around the country, and Central Florida’s tech startups are no exception.
UCF I-Corps helps teams of innovators go through all the necessary steps before taking an item to market and uses the College of Engineering and Computer Science Maker Spaces created with generous industry partners at UCF to help them through idea, design and prototyping. O’Neal estimates that in the fifth year of the program 195 companies will be created, producing 1,730 new high-wage jobs through the Maker Spaces teams.
The Economic Development Administration’s Seed Fund Grant will be used to raise, deploy and manage a $5 million evergreen StarterCorps Seed Fund that will be deployed in innovative technology and advanced manufacturing startups in Central Florida. Specifically, StarterCorps will provide the most promising and high potential teams access to incremental rounds of seed funding that will be critical in maturing these “Starter” teams into companies that are attractive to angel groups, early-stage venture capitalists and federal SBIR – Small Business Innovation Research agencies.
Starter Studio is a three-month program that surrounds technology entrepreneurs (called “Starters”) located in the Canvs co-working space in downtown Orlando with a curated educational program, constant exposure to successful technology startup founders, and the opportunity to pitch their companies in a well-attended Demo Day showcase event. Starter Studio, which was organically funded with a Kickstarter campaign, had 64 teams apply from which thirteen were selected.
The $10 million awarded Monday nationwide comes from the Commerce Department’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program, which is being run by the Department’s Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE). The program is designed to advance innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country through three different types of grants: i6 Challenge grants, Cluster Grants for Seed Capital Funds, and Science and Research Park Development Grants. Secretary Pritzker announced the recipients of the first two funding opportunities today. Recipients of the third grant will be announced in the coming weeks.