On Wednesday, the University of Florida and FloridaWorks presented the second Startup Quest investor pitch competition at the UF Emerson Alumni Hall. The event was an afternoon of presentations by local individuals divided into teams and paired with a technology from the Florida university system, federal labs or NASA that they were tasked with creating a company around.
The 10-week program, according to FloridaWorks, provides the entrepreneurial training needed to start a business to qualified, degree-holding professionals who are either unemployed or underemployed. 175 people attended the introductory workshop, 107 participants were chosen, 14 teams were formed with 14 mentors, and 90 completed the program, according to Stephanie Gocklin, the director of communications at FloridaWorks.
After a successful 2011 pilot program, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded FloridaWorks a $12 million grant to create the Business Advocacy and Self-Employment Consortium (BASEC), a consortium of eight Florida workforce regions to replicate the success throughout Florida.
Angela Pate, Startup Quest co-founder, said that of the 73 participants in the first competition, a follow-up revealed that 65 were employed and 19 companies were formed. She said they knew they had a winning program so they went to Washington to ask for funding.
“People all over tell me we have something special here in Gainesville, and a rising tide raises all boats,” she said.
Jane Muir, Startup Quest co-founder and director of the UF Innovation Hub, addressed the crowd and said that when she and Angela were plotting the program they had no idea how many people it would end up affecting or how many people it will affect in the future, and that she was amazed at the number of Gainesville entrepreneurs — from companies like NeuroNet Learning, RegisterPatient.com and Xhale SMART — who volunteered their time to make the program possible.
After all of the pitches were over and the judges handed in their scores, Team Skelegro, which used a new therapeutic compound to combat osteoporosis took home third place; Team Lifenet, Inc., which used a new road barrier to capture a colliding vehicle in a net took home second place; and the overall winner was Team nRODx, which used a proprietary marine coating system to inhibit the growth of organisms on marine vessels.
Karl Zawoy, the mentor for nRODx, said that everyone on his team contributed and deserves equal credit, and the he enjoyed developing new relationships with a group of talented people.
nRODx chose their “Killer App,” he said, because of team member Fred Chapin’s background in the boating and shipping industry. He and team member Susan Powers knew several boat owners that they were able to survey to gauge interest in their product, and several paint companies offered to pay for beta testing research.
“When they were calling us back every week saying ‘Do you have it yet?’ we knew we were onto something,” Zawoy said. “Now we need to regroup, but our business plan is doable.”
Powers said she felt like a rocket sitting on the launchpad, ready to take off. After owning her own photography company for over 35 years, she said that the career field was just unsustainable so she had to make a change.
“I signed up and made the cut,” she said, “and now I have this whole new skill set I didn’t have 10 weeks ago; such a specific set of skills that you need for a startup.”
Kim Tesch-Vaught, the executive director of FloridaWorks, said that the event was a great success.
“This is awesome,” she said. “The motto for Innovation Gainesville is ‘We make cool things happen,’ and you can’t get cooler than this. And the results are going to change how we look at the workforce.”
“We’re actually training in entrepreneurship, so that the participants can understand it from an in-the-trenches view,” she said. “That’s the magic. And that’s something that we, as a community, should celebrate.”
FloridaWorks is already at work on the next session, and the next Introductory Workshop will take place in March 11, 2014. To learn more about the program, contact the team at StartupQuest@FloridaWorksOnline.com.