Defining Success Tom O’Neal.
Tom O’Neal has always been one for seizing the day. “There’s no such thing as a guarantee,” O’Neal recalled, echoing the words of his grandfather, a survivor of the Great Depression. “You just have to get up every day, make your bed, go out there and do what you can.”
And he has: From the first company he started at only 18, to his founding of the University of Central Florida Business Incubator Program, to his current status as a champion for innovation and entrepreneurs of every kind, O’Neal hasn’t wasted a second.
After earning his Ph.D. in industrial engineering, a master of science in engineering management and a master of business administration from UCF, he earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering from the University of South Florida. All of that time spent with his head down in the books paid off. Not only did he later become an engineering professor at UCF, he also developed a passion for research and an eye for the commercialization of its developments.
As O’Neal continued his experience in academia, it became glaringly obvious to him that Central Florida had every ingredient necessary to become a center of diverse industry — including talent, education, research opportunities and demographic diversity — but it didn’t have a safe space that would help ideas grow. So, in 1991, he founded the UCF business incubator, where “those with a great idea, who didn’t know how to turn it into a business plan, could have a better chance at success,” he said.
Since then, O’Neal has dedicated his life to helping entrepreneurs succeed. After the success of the incubator program, he began to expand his reach beyond just those starting out with an idea. From his work with VentureLab, which engages children with entrepreneurial education, to GROWFL programs designed to assist second-stage companies and CEOs with growth strategies and a support system, O’Neal and his colleagues have created a network of support for entrepreneurs in Central Florida, whether they be age 5 or 65.
Most recently, O’Neal was awarded the CEO Nexus Cup, a trophy recognizing members of the group who have shown outstanding growth and entrepreneurial success. It’s a promising harbinger for O’Neal, who is getting ready for a few new ventures in the next year — one that reinforces the motivation that has seen him through decades of growth.
“Seeing someone make the most of their talent, and the success of others,” he explained, “that is the most rewarding.”