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Nurturing an Innovation Economy

Capital and the Corridor

[By Dave Cocchiarella]

“I’ll take Economic Development for one thousand, Alex.”

“An economic theory focusing on entrepreneurship and innovation to promote diversity, stimulate productivity and drive economic growth.”

“What is Innovation Economics?”

“That’s correct!”  Ding. Ding. Ding. Lights flash. Double Jeopardy!  Yada, yada, yada…

The Ally of Innovation

Innovation is the implementation of creativity.  All around us the Innovation Economy is producing untold benefits to society.  Time begets change. Change creates problems. Creativity provides solutions to problems. And innovation produces the processes and products resulting in a better tomorrow.

Innovation may be found in any size company, but smaller and newer may be better.  Heads of well-established companies tend to focus on finance and overall organizational health. Middle-management may seize on innovation, but more typically count on the repetition of what has worked in the past to maintain expected efficiencies.

It often takes new thinkers with new ideas to develop new products and processes for evolving societal needs.  And it’s rarely about “lightning in a bottle.” Many more ideas fail than succeed.  Recent history has shown us failure can actually teach what is needed for success.  But it takes work.

“Genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration.” Iconic American innovator Thomas Edison had the perseverance and flexibility to sort through many good ideas. Edison blended economics and innovation, choosing problems that made use of his existing knowledge. He worked to innovate whole systems, rather than just devise simple components. Not just the inventor of the lightbulb, but of the creator of entire electrical systems he then sold to light the world.

When a good idea arises it must be nurtured to its full potential. Beyond a culture of good intentions and elbow grease, the number one ally of innovation may simply be capital. Without the cash, new processes and products may merely languish and die.

So, What’s An Innovative Idea To Do?

One major advocate of the advancement of innovative ideas and products in Central Florida is the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.  Partnering with the University of Florida (UF), the University of Central Florida (UCF) and the University of South Florida (USF), the Corridor encourages high tech industry and innovation in its 23-county region, providing business owners another resource to help them succeed

Through its Matching Grants Research Program (MGRP) and other initiatives, the Corridor helps innovators leverage capital and new ideas to maximize research and development efforts, ultimately assisting to expand and diversify the local economy by helping innovative ideas reach commercialization.

Randy Berridge is the Corridor president and says he has been honored to serve in that role since its inception in 1996.  According to Berridge, the Florida High Tech Corridor “is a technology-rich region known as much for its legacy in aerospace as it is for its growing prominence in other high tech clusters of innovation, such as modeling and simulation, optics and photonics, digital media and medical technologies.”

Since 1996, the Corridor has partnered with more than 360 companies on more than 1,400 research projects in sectors ranging from agricultural technology to sustainable energy. More than $65 million in funds invested by the Corridor have been matched by $181 million in corporate and like-kind capital, generating an additional $900 million in quantifiable downstream impacts and a total project value of more than $1 billion. A 16 to 1 ROI!  Nice.

Innovation With Benefits

This trilateral relationship between the Corridor, the universities and central Florida businesses doesn’t just bring big R&D dollars to the local economy — it’s innovation with benefits.

With a new idea in hand, central Florida companies use the Corridor Matching Grants Research Program to partner with UF, UCF or USF.  The Corridor provides cash to the school for research and using their own money, or better yet money made available from the federal government through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, the company kicks in capital as well. 

Local business provides the innovative application, the Corridor provides the capital, local universities determine the commercial feasibility and their professors and graduate students perform the research.  Since its inception the MGRP has engaged nearly 3,200 students and faculty members in side-by-side research with scientists and engineers from the participating private-sector companies.

There’s the benefit: real students engaged in real research for real companies, often retained right here in our region to spur further innovation.

In this case, the poster child for shiny and full of body would be central Florida’s own RINI Technologies, Inc. Their primary product line centers around unique thermal management technologies, including cooling systems for first responders and race car drivers, as well as heating systems for Navy divers who commonly work for hours in near freezing temperatures.

Case In Point

Dr. Daniel P. Rini founded the company and has a deep personal understanding of the need for thermal management. He came to UCF from the great white north of Canada on a water skiing scholarship and stayed through the completion ▶▶

of his doctoral program in mechanical engineering and fluid dynamics. 

Rini says he wanted to be a doctor, but ended up an engineer because “I got an A in physics and a C in biology.” Engineering it is.

The idea for Rini’s original tack came from a casual collaboration with other students at UCF working on lasers.  “A laser produces ten times more heat than light,” he said.  “You want a lot of light, but you get a lot of heat and you have to figure out what to do with it.” 

Rini knew what to do.  Two disciplines coming together to solve one problem.Innovation.

“I wanted to try to commercialize my knowledge,” said Rini.  “I could get a job at an existing company in the thermal management industry or I could stay here in Central Florida and start a business.”

On the scale of one to 10 on start-up costs, laser cooling companies come in on the high side.  Rini knew he needed capital, and on a tip from a UCF professor sought funds from the military through the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program.

The first effort was a “base hit” and from there RINI Technologies has partnered with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council multiple times.  Using the Matching Grants Research Program, RINI Technologies was able to secure university professors and graduate students to engage in thermal management research right on their own campuses.  Science was advanced, innovative minds were retained and the

Central Florida economy became a bit more diversified.

A Tapestry of Innovation

“The Corridor’s initiatives create a tapestry of innovative ideas,” said Rini.  “As long as those ideas have good bones, they will bear fruit and the opportunity for an innovative idea to reach successful commercialization gets bigger and bigger.”  Like a snowball rolling downhill.

By partnering the R&D company with the university, the business gets access to great minds and the students get incredible real-world experience. The work provides the students with an excellent opportunity to get a job in their field or the tools to start their own high tech company when they graduate.

Of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, President Berridge said, “We don’t ask for the money back!  We’re not venture capital, not an angel investor, not a bank or a brother-in law.  We connect the Central Florida economy with the latest and greatest in research and development, investing in our hometown universities and, most importantly, in our students.”

Innovation Economics: Moving the focus from supply and demand and shifting it to innovation and entrepreneurialism; promoting diversity, productivity and sustainable economic growth.

“When given the space, the talent and the capital, engineers and scientists step-up,” said Rini.  “That is the American way!”

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i4 Business

i4 Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Central Florida business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders who are shaping our region.

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