UF’s Technology ‘Boot Camp’ Helps Young Entrepreneurs

Jamie Grooms and Jonathan Rowe were bubbling like two kids who had discovered a hidden treasure as they chatted at the first technology-minded business “boot camp” held at the Florida Innovation Hub at the University of Florida in November.

The Technology Entrepreneur Boot Camp, organized by the UF Office of Technology Licensing and UF Tech Connect, illustrates the Hub’s devotion to creating collisions like these—unexpected meetings among people involved in entrepreneurship and innovation, says Hub Director Jayne Muir. “This epitomizes the huge value of the Hub,” she says.

In addition to these lucky networking opportunities, the boot camp offered interactive classes to help entrepreneurs assess the potential of their innovations; mentors to offer advice on networking; and the chance for participants to create and present their “elevator pitch” to a panel of entrepreneurs and investors.

“I love this,” said Jamie Grooms, a guest speaker at the boot camp and a multi-millionaire founder of RTI Biologics and other successful local biotech companies. “Meetings like this didn’t happen when I was getting started. I suffered a lot.”

Rowe, a Hub tenant, is co-founder of NeuroNet, a company that provides education software that helps students learn through movement.

“It means a lot to hear what Jamie had to say,” Rowe said. “He said it sounded like we could get to $500 million in annual sales—and the difference between where we are and that figure is extremely vast.”

And it sounds like the camaraderie found when local business people help each other is mutual. “I had been sitting at home before,” says Grooms, whose company, Synogen Development Group, has an office in the Hub. “Getting involved here energizes me.”

Thirty-six aspiring entrepreneurs attended the first boot camp. Joining Rowe and Grooms were some other Hub tenants, in addition to UF faculty trying to commercialize their inventions and several UF undergrads.

Another guest speaker was Lou Oberndorf, founder of Sarasota-based Medical Education Technologies, a company that makes simulators of the human body used in healthcare education and developed at UF to teach medical students. He started with a $500,000 investment and ultimately sold the business to Canada-based CAE Inc. for $130 million in August.

Oberndorf shared the importance of capturing the brand’s value proposition in terms potential investors can understand. He explained his simulator to investors as “the dirty little secret of medicine that they have been practicing on us for 1,000 years.” The plain talk worked. “You get that air-suck,” he says. “All of a sudden, you’ve grabbed them. Your message becomes personal, and the investors can relate to it.”

Oberndorf also advised entrepreneurs to learn to adapt what they’re doing to take advantage of new opportunities. When he realized that the simulator needed to tap other markets beyond the 120 medical schools in the country, he found an extensive group of additional customers. These included training programs for community colleges, emergency medical technicians and hospital staffs.

“This is a different company today than it was when we started because of its greater reach,” Oberndorf says.

Manoj Varshney, a researcher in particle science at UF’s College of Engineering, said the boot camp was almost overwhelming. The event gave him a jump-start in building a business around his work on developing chemotherapy that will kill cancer cells without harming other body tissue.

“My whole life has been around science and technology,” he says. “It’s very good to learn something about all the people I need to help me, from venture capitalists to attorneys.”

 

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