Do you remember seeing films of early attempts at flight? In retrospect, it is almost comedic watching these multi-wing contraptions collapse on themselves as they attempt takeoff, or would-be birdmen plunging to the earth like a stone as they leapt from some precipice hoping to soar like Icarus. At times, business incubation experiments can be pursued with equal passion and yet, in the end, yield similar outcomes.
It is a stark contrast to the well-documented track record of helping dream-rich entrepreneurs become seasoned and successful business builders and job creators by the University of Central Florida Business Incubation Program (UCFBIP). The program, recognized throughout the world, has for 18 years helped early-stage companies mature into financially stable, high-impact enterprises by providing resources and services that facilitate smarter, faster growth.
With all the discussion about creative spaces, one needs to remember that hanging out with runners will not make you a marathoner. Though it may provide motivation, competing in the long-run requires knowledge and infrastructure, along with a disciplined and well-coached regimen of training to make it to the finish line. This is where UCFBIP has moved the needle of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the region from theory to reality.
Created in 1999 by Tom O’Neal, a Ph.D. who serves as UCF’s associate vice president of Research and Commercialization and director of the UCF Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (UCFCIE), the success of the program was one of the reasons the National Business Incubation Association relocated their headquarters to Orlando. Ten years after the start of UCFBIP, O’Neal also launched GrowFL in 2009, the state’s leading program to support the next phase, second-stage scaling companies, which are primary generators of job creation.
High Growth, High Impact
UCFBIP’s purpose is to provide early-stage companies with the tools, training and infrastructure to become financially stable, high-growth and high-impact enterprises. Since starting, they have helped over 500 emerging companies throughout the region accelerate their growth potential through vital business development resources. As of June 2014, UCFBIP has directly or indirectly produced and sustained almost 4,700 local jobs and has had a total impact of $1.5 billion on regional sales and $2.48 billion on regional economic output.
The incubator is a partnership between UCF, private enterprises and local governments throughout the region and is one of the primary reasons Central Florida is now considered an emerging region for technology, innovation and entrepreneurship. What is most staggering is that, according to the last economic impact study conducted, the UCFBIP returned $7.95 for every $1 invested in the program.
This data is matched by the performance of GrowFL. Florida TaxWatch modeled the economic impact of the program and calculated it could help create some 1,000 jobs per year in Florida for the next 10 years. The results of this simulation show that the expansion of the GrowFL program would be expected to produce more than 25,000 total jobs, with an average salary estimated at more than $77,000, and the increase in state tax receipts is estimated to be more than $16.5 million per year.
The Unique Connection
The secret ingredient of this business incubation and growth program may be its connection with the research and talent pipeline coming out of the university and the community. Providing startups and scaling businesses with the intelligence, data and real-world experience to make strategic decisions is invaluable.
Additionally, world-class research centers, like CREOL and the College of Optics and Photonics, are on the cutting edge of technological breakthroughs that can transform industries. Rather than allowing this investment in research to be utilized by other regions or countries, UCFBIP helps local entrepreneurs develop sound business strategies to bring ideas and products to market from Central Florida.
Recently, a large multinational firm acquired the UCFBIP graduate OptiGrate, whose principals pioneered the use of technologies developed at the University of Central Florida with U.S. government funding. The company supplies holographic optical elements to more than 500 customers on six continents. This research to marketplace success is what the UCFBIP has seen repeatedly.
Another program that has been highly successful is the So Landing. This innovative program helps international firms, as well as domestic companies headquartered outside the region, quickly adapt and connect to the Central Florida business community. The goal is to help expanding companies establish a presence in one of the most thriving economic markets in the country.
What all this means is that these programs insure Florida continues to experience the end game of all economic development: JOBS! As competition increases and incentive dollars decrease, the data supports that the best option for creating high paying jobs of the future is to grow them, and no one is doing a better job at helping startups fly like UCFBIP.