Through UCF’s collaboration with the Florida High Tech Corridor, the university will be implementing an initiative funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration to help support women entrepreneurship. The Corridor was selected as one of eight winners for the Administration’s   first Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Catalyst Competition, which recognizes model partnerships addressing the gaps for underrepresented entrepreneurs nationwide.

With its $150,000 prize, the Corridor team —which includes programs at UCF, the University of South Florida, University of Florida and Florida Tech  — will elevate the role of underrepresented women-owned small businesses across the 23-county region’s innovation ecosystem by enhancing the inclusivity and participation of women entrepreneurs in the SBIR program. Nationally, women currently make up only 13% of SBIR grant recipients. According to the National Association of Women Business Owners, women entrepreneurs represent 36.2% of businesses in the U.S. and are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. economy, employing more than 13 million people and generating $1.9 trillion in sales.

UCF’s Business Incubation Program, which provides business development and operational support to early-stage, innovative businesses in eight incubators throughout Central Florida, will lead the university’s efforts with the Corridor. For more than two decades, UCF’s Business Incubation Program has facilitated smarter, faster startup growth for nearly 600 companies that has led to $2.4 billion of economic impact.

“We have a long history of helping our clients be very successful in the SBIR program including many of our women-owned clients.  This program give us resources and collaborations to provide even stronger support to our women-owned clients as well as other women-owned small businesses in the community and to learn from other organizations across the country,” says Carol Ann Logue, director of Programs and Operations for the UCF Business Incubation Program.  “This is another example of why we at UCF are so committed to partnerships.  We know it only enhances our ability to make a significant impact in our community.”

The universities will work together to establish a structured network of mentors and role models, equip women entrepreneurs to develop competitive SBIR grant applications, and streamline commercialization pathways for their resulting SBIR-funded innovations.

“Even more important than winning the prize is what this effort symbolizes for the region, validating the important work of our partners to support and showcase women entrepreneurs in Florida,” says Amy Beaird, senior cluster manager for the Corridor. “I’ve worked in STEM for a long time and have experienced firsthand the struggle of women in entrepreneurship. We know that more diverse research teams lead to more innovative outcomes and stronger companies.”

As a member of the Corridor’s team UCF will be invited to meet regularly with other winning groups from across the nation to track progress and share best practices for fostering innovation-driven entrepreneurship in underserved communities. Other winners of the 2021 SBIR Catalyst prize include teams from Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York and Oklahoma. If the inaugural competition is successful, it would be expanded significantly in future years in an effort by the Biden-Harris Administration Build Back Better Agenda, which outlined an additional $400 million investment to support start-up accelerators and incubators working with underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Through the Corridor’s signature Matching Grants Research Program, women entrepreneurs in region may have more opportunities to engage in collaborative research with UCF and USF. Women interested in generating new intellectual property with the help of university researchers or interested in commercializing existing university intellectual property may invest their SBIR or other funds to receive matching funds from the Corridor.

“I’m so excited for the opportunity to remove barriers preventing more women from securing their rightful place in our innovation community,” says retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Paul Sohl, CEO of the Corridor. “Just as the name of this prize implies, the Corridor is a catalyst for boundary-breaking collaboration. We welcome the responsibility to serve as a convener, bringing the expertise and resources of our partners together to fulfill a shared mission around such an important issue.”