By Cammi Clark
FAU has created a robust ecosystem for entrepreneurship, an environment that empowers business professionals to grow and helps their unique ventures flourish.
“We see entrepreneurism as an extension of the academic research mission, and we want it to be a continuum,” said Daniel Flynn, Ph.D., vice president for research. “So we start from the earliest phases where a person has an idea and help them turn that idea into a company, and then see it translate into the real world and grow.”
FAU has strategically positioned numerous programs to assist entrepreneurs at all steps of their journey, creating an atmosphere that has already helped more than 70 companies go from idea to success. From offering undergraduates attainable funding, mentoring and physical space to develop ideas that address real-world problems to providing critically important resources, the university is on the forefront of the effort to develop companies capable of bringing solutions, jobs and economic growth to market.
Candidate.Guru is one venture company that has optimized FAU Tech Runway’s resources. Since graduating from the venture class program, the company has acquired Elevated Careers by eHarmony, raised $2 million, expanded its product offerings and hired employees nationwide.
Another example is Neuro Pharmalogics, which is developing a novel way to test drugs to treat migraines and other disorders associated with pain.
Potential entrepreneurs can take advantage of entering the ecosystem at any point, but optimal incubate in Tech Runway, access the Florida Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at FAU, then move across the hedges to the Research Park to continue to grow regionwide. “And, then maybe they become research partners with FAU, and help us to advance our mission,” Flynn said.
Over the past five years the Florida SBDC at FAU has helped entrepreneurs in Palm Beach and Broward counties access more than $130 million in capital, increase general and export sales by more than $795 million and win more than $105 million in government contracts. “Having faculty take their ideas for research and develop companies is something that’s been around for about 35 years. But integrating that with FAU Tech Runway and its mentoring mission, and then bringing in the SBDC at FAU, and then linking graduating companies to the Research Park, that’s all new; the pieces are not new, but putting all the pieces together is,” Flynn said.
“Anyone who comes in with a company idea, we can lay out a path for them. Of course, it all comes down to the quality of the idea – do they have customers and how are they going to find their market? FAU Tech Runway does a good job of helping them with that.”
FAU is an equally ripe ecosystem for students. Currently, students are developing companies with missions that include creating prosthetic devices inexpensively through 3-D printing, encrypting and protecting data, and even building software that can detect if a person taking an online test goes off the page to a resource to get answers.
“At the end of the day, students are amazing, because they see novel solutions to problems,” Flynn said. “They’re not inhibited; they don’t feel there are any barriers to solutions. And they just come up with really great ideas.”
Roland Kidwell, Ph.D., College of Business, agrees. Kidwell is the director of the Adams Center for Entrepreneurship, which hosts a business competition that can lead successful student teams to eventual placement at FAU Tech Runway.
“We mentor students of all majors who want to start businesses. The Adams Center is a kind of community for people to start their own business, but, the overarching goal (of entrepreneurship education) centers on nurturing an entrepreneurial mindset,” Kidwell said. “You really have to think about how you can innovate in your own business or in a company where you might work. Being able to turn an idea into a product or service for your business or for somebody you’re working for – that’s a pretty marketable skill.”
Kidwell praises FAU’s ability to connect all elements of entrepreneurship. “The entrepreneurial ecosystem and working together with that community are very important,” he said. Community engagement is “a continual extension of our education and research mission … Some of the student companies (that enter Tech Runway) are successful; they grow, graduate and become big enterprises.”
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