Tom O’Neal – UCF Business Incubation Program, GrowFL & the National Business Incubation Association
Relocating businesses has always been an effective economic development strategy, but to grow businesses organically in a region produces an impact that goes much deeper. Growing businesses is the approach of the Florida Economic Gardening Institute, known as GrowFL.
This, along with the UCF Business Incubation Program and now the National Business Incubation Association, have had a staggering influence both economically and on the entrepreneurial culture of Central Florida, thanks to the vision and leadership of Tom O’Neal.
“Entrepreneurship has taken over this town. When I arrived, people couldn’t spell the word.”
According to O’Neal, “If you produce successful businesses, everything else takes care of itself; they create jobs, they bring in capital; it all works when you focus on that one thing.” It is a message that for years, O’Neal seemed to sing solo. But today, there is a huge choir voicing the praises of a startup economy.
A recent study showed that since its inception in 1999, the UCF Business Incubation Program has had a cumulative economic impact of 1,993 directly sustained jobs, 1,705 indirectly sustained jobs, and generated $75.9 million in state and local taxes. “For me, the most impressive finding was the return on investment,” O’Neal said. “The study concluded the UCF Business Incubation Program helped generate an overall program return of $5.70 for every $1 of public investment since inception. If we look at the last fiscal year (2013-2014) the fiscal return is $7.95 for every $1 of public investment.”