Carol Ann Dykes Logue is the site manager for the University of Central Florida business incubator in the Central Florida Research Park in east Orlando. UCF’s nine incubators throughout the region house emerging or growing companies and help them “be smarter, grow faster and stay alive,” she says. Research from the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows only about 50 percent of all new businesses survive past the five-year point. Clients at the UCF incubator program, which started about 20 years ago and is led by Dr. Tom O’Neal as executive director, have a 90 percent survival rate including the nearly 300 graduates. Today, about 140 companies are clients of the UCF incubator program, which provides support that includes mentoring, coaching and networking along with office and lab space.
I wanted to be a doctor. That was my passion. I graduated from a small school system in Arkansas, and I’d sometimes be the only girl in math and technology- related science classes.
I went to the University of Arkansas and was majoring in biology. My last year at the university, I was working in the library part time and was fascinated at what I was seeing happen in innovation in information management, knowledge organization and information retrieval. That was in the early days of online databases before the word “internet” was really known. I was confused. I thought, “I really love healthcare and medicine, but this is a fascinating area, too.”
After a little research, I realized I could combine the two. I discovered there was such a thing as information and library science with a specialization in healthcare. So I looked around to see where I could pursue that, and it was in either Tennessee or Louisiana. I applied to Louisiana State University and ended up getting a master’s from there.
My first job after college was at the medical school at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock for four years. I went into that position with what, at the time, were somewhat unique skills in online information research and retrieval. Eventually, I ended up at the University of Florida. Most of my career has been in academia, although I was with a start-up for a few years in between stints at UF. That got me exposed to and interested in the entrepreneurial world. It made me realize I don’t really want to be an entrepreneur, but I love this environment. I love the chaos and the dynamics and the possibilities, and I’m really good at functioning in this environment. I have a lot of skills that are useful in supporting entrepreneurs.
What kind of start-up did you work with?
Most of my time on the faculty at UF was with a center in the College of Engineering. One of the prime contracts we had was with the Defense Intelligence Agency supporting a program started out of the White House.
The objective of the program, called Project Socrates, was to assess the impact on the U.S. defense industry whenever a non-U.S. company wanted to buy part of, or all of, or do a joint venture with any company that had militarily critical technologies. We were the only unclassified information source for this program. Our responsibility was to do an assessment of the impact on U.S. capabilities of the foreign company’s engagement with the U.S. company and provide that assessment to the Pentagon or the White House or whoever was asking for it.
This program was closed down by the administration that came in afterward. The director of the program decided to take it private. He moved to Florida, got some investors, set up the company in South Florida and recruited me as vice president of information services. I had been doing all of the unclassified research for the program at the center at UF, so we knew each other well and I knew what the objectives were.
The company did similar work for companies in the defense industry. When they had a technology they wanted to pursue, we would assess the state of that technology capability globally. We would provide in-depth detailed assessments for the client. It was fascinating work.
What led you to your position at the UCF incubator?
After a few years, I was approached by the same center I had worked for at UF to come back. The center focused on technology transfer and commercialization support primarily for NASA, but we also worked with the Department of Defense, the Centers for Disease Control and other federal agencies. We looked at some of the technologies coming out of their labs and helped find commercial companies to license and develop them into products the government could buy or for the commercial market.
They had asked me to come back to manage a regional network of subcontractors. We were responsible, on NASA’s behalf, for covering nine Southeastern states and had 14 subcontracted organizations. Some of them were in universities in Florida including UCF. At UCF, we had an office at the College of Engineering that I would come down and visit to meet with our director and spend time in the community.
Through all of that, I got to know Dr. Tom O’Neal. I watched the incubator get started and even worked with some of the early clients. After a couple of years, Tom approached me about joining the team because the incubator was growing a lot faster than he’d anticipated.
I’ve rarely actually looked for a job. So many times in my career, I’ve been just going about having fun and focusing on what I’m doing, and God has given someone else a vision for me. They see a place where I could add value or be helpful in some way or make a contribution. That’s happened to me multiple times in my professional journey. Most of us don’t end up where we think we’re going to.
What are the top three qualities someone should possess to be an entrepreneur?
If you’re going to go down this road on this journey, you need to have a certain level of humility about who you are, what you’re good at and what you’re not, and be OK with asking for help and admitting you don’t know something or how to do something. That is so, so critical.
You also need to balance that with a strength of conviction about your ability to persevere and push through the tough times and maintain that vision you have for your company because it’s going to get really hard. There are going to be days when you wonder, “Why do I continue to do this?”
The ability to be observant would be the third one I’d put on the list. Being observant means really listening. They need to listen to their employees and customers and advisors. There’s just listening and there’s really hearing, and those are two different things.
What qualities do you look for in a company that would make a good fit for the incubator program?
The top thing we look for, aside from the business aspects, goes back to those three qualities I just talked about, and that’s coachability. If entrepreneurs are not willing to ask for help and take advantage of opportunities to get input, then this is not the partnership for us or them.
We look for a company that is solving a problem that really exists, and a problem that is pretty big or getting bigger. That means there is a lot of potential for growth in the marketplace. We want to see in the solution they’re offering to solve that problem — whether it’s a product, a service or both — that there’s some kind of competitive advantage that can be identified that will make it possible for the solution to stand out above others that are already out there.
We want to see they have some relevant experience in the industry they’re going into. That doesn’t mean they need to have run a company before, but they’ve had some exposure to what they’re doing.
Also, they need to have enough financial resources to sustain them for several months. We don’t have the ability to bring them into the program and help them get money next week. Very critical is the potential for job creation and a vision and desire to grow a substantial company. We are funded to nurture and support those companies that can make a significant impact on the local economy.
One of the less-tangible things I ask about is their support system. Is their partner or spouse supportive of this? Do they have young kids, and if so, how is the life of an entrepreneur going to affect their ability to be part of their kids’ lives? We want them to understand what they’re getting into. I don’t think enough entrepreneurs consider that. This will be a difficult and harrowing ride. It will take a toll on them and their family and friends. But it will likely be the most rewarding thing they ever do.