UF’s Startup Incubator, Innovation Hub to Double in Size
The Innovation Hub at the University of Florida, which houses 19 of Gainesville’s local startup businesses, will be doubling in size within the next few years after construction is completed.
The University of Florida will receive $8 million in federal funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration toward construction of Phase II of the Innovation Hub, which will include a 50,000-square-foot addition to the original 48,000-square-foot infrastructure.
The University of Florida will also be contributing $9 million toward expansion. Construction is expected to be complete within 36 months.
“I think the expansion is a sure sign of how successful the first phase has been and what an important role UF’s licensed technology plays in the economy,” said UF spokesman Steve Orlando.
The Hub, which was initially built with an $8.2 million grant from the federal Economic Development Administration and a $5 million commitment from UF, opened in January of 2012.
According to data the Hub reported to the EDA, its startups have created more than 760 jobs and drawn more than $50 million in private investment funds in its first three years.
The super-incubator, which has been operating at capacity, offers budding businesses inexpensive, state-of-the-art lab and office space for lease.
Applicants must be selected for admission and are able to choose their status as either a resident startup, which includes members housed within the office space or as an affiliate startup, which is designed for startups not yet ready to occupy an office space, while allowing access to resources and mentorship within the Hub.
Companies that start in an incubator are four times more likely to succeed than those that don’t, according to Jane Muir, director of the Innovation Hub.
As more local businesses have decided to pursue this method of business and office spaces have reached capacity, Gainesville has been ranked as one of the best cities in the US for startup companies. According to HeroPay Academy, Gainesville is listed as 39th on the list.
“It’s a wonderful recognition of Gainesville’s growing reputation in the startup world,” said Orlando. “We’re fortunate to have so much amazing talent in Gainesville.”
Feathr, a startup company providing a set of digital marketing tools built for event organizers, was one of the first companies to move into the Innovation Hub in 2012.
The company was stationed in the Hub for two and a half years before making the short-lived move to Austin, Texas. After a year, Feathr moved back to Gainesville and into the Hub.
A year later, the company relocated to a free-standing office space in Innovation Square. Feathr now has raised over two million dollars in venture capital funding.
For co-founder and president of Feathr Aidan Augustin, 26, the Hub’s network and feedback proved to be invaluable in the early days of his company.
“We found two of our first investors as well as our advisors and service providers all through the Hub,” said Augustin. “Especially as first time entrepreneurs, you don’t know what you don’t know.”
“It’s great to see their mission being recognized and further supported,” he said. “It’s going to let companies stay at the Hub longer.”
David Jones, business development manager at Verigo, hopes the expansion represents a larger opportunity for potential entrepreneurs in the area to try their hand at establishing themselves.
Verigo, a supply chain IT company housed within the Hub providing data to maximize quality and safety from farm to fork, has been at the Hub for about two years now. Previously, it was housed in the old firestone building downtown.
“The Hub offers many useful services to Verigo,” said Jones. “It has been fundamental in pairing us with investors that have had a huge impact on the trajectory of our company.”
Jones, who was childhood friends with director Jane Muir’s son, was introduced to the Hub by Muir.
“She offered me a position doing inventory around the Hub, which eventually turned into working at the reception desk, and then Verigo,” he said. ” I am naturally curious and was excited to pester the Hub residents into describing the work that they do.”
“Everybody has a few minutes to spare throughout the day, and you get to meet some very down to earth, interesting people,” he said.
Part of the appeal of the Hub for Jones is the nature of working within a startup company.
“Working for a startup allows you to see the work that you are doing and how it affects the company directly,” he said. “Your day may require you to do something that you never expected waking up in the morning. It’s exciting, and you really do get to see the fruits of your labor.”
While initially, Jones felt the construction was a bit of a nuisance due to the steamrollers generating noise and vibrations throughout the building, he now finds it to be more of an excuse to take a moment to gaze at the project and see the progress.
In the future, Jones hopes to see more dialogue between the companies that are housed in the Hub.
“There is interaction, but I would enjoy the opportunity to have many of the people in the Hub spend more time together. This concept is described as “collisions,”” said Jones. “Besides the idea of having bright people discuss business, I think it promotes a positive culture which makes the workplace more enjoyable and ultimately, more productive.”