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Innovation Ecosystem

Innovation Ecosystem



Vibrant Ecosystem Supports Startups

Since nursing students in Florida have been unable to complete work in clinical settings due to the coronavirus pandemic, a Greater Gainesville software company has been providing them the next best thing.

That company is Shadow Health, which uses robust virtual patients on whom nursing students can practice patient care.

Daytona State College’s nursing program is among the 1,800 schools (mostly nursing schools) that Shadow Health serves.

Shadow Health’s digital patient technology, patented in 2018, came from a team of cutting edge researchers at the University of Florida that included co-founders Aaron Kotranza and Benjamin Lok.

Their technology intrigued David Massias, co-founder and CEO of Shadow Health, who had been looking at the challenges nursing students had in transitioning from school to a clinical practice setting.

“Given the size of the market and the fact that the nursing profession had identified a major need that we thought we could meet with this technology, we were off to the races, and Shadow Health was born,” Massias said.





Shadow Health’s success is one of a multitude of examples of the success of commercializing UF research. That success led to UF being named as the most productive large university in the country at leveraging its research funding into new companies, new jobs and new ideas.

The university received that recognition in a report released in June 2020 by the George W. Bush Institute and the Opus Faveo Innovation Development consulting firm. “For our size, we move more technologies to the point of impact than anyone else, period,” said Jim O’Connell, assistant vice president for commercialization at UF and director of UF Innovate.

UF is the hub of a tech transfer ecosystem that has many spokes – including entrepreneurs, investors and employees.

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The ecosystem is so supportive that a company that had left town for Austin, Texas, decided to return. This scenario started when the startup Feathr received funding from Capital Factory, an incubator located in Austin, in 2014.

After one year, co-founders Aidan Augustin and Aleksander Levental concluded that the Greater Gainesville startup ecosystem was a better fit for them due to its low cost of living, the talent pool and culture.

“We were much more confident in our ability to scale up in Gainesville than in Austin or New York because in Gainesville we have the connections,” Augustin said. “We can be a big fish in a small pond.”

Feathr is flourishing in niche work, which helps more than 500 associations and event organizers market events, initiatives and member programs to more than 100 million customers worldwide. In January 2020, Feathr closed on $11 million in financing led by Atlanta-based growth equity firm Fulcrum Equity Partners.

Greater Gainesville’s startups employ more than techies. At Shadow Health, Content Developer Andrew Donovan has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Purdue and a UF Master of Fine Arts in poetry. “I write dialogue to make the patients seem more realistic — including expressing their fears,” he said.

Cory Collins is an animator extraordinaire with 20 years of experience in films and gaming — who now animates Shadow Health patients. He enables students to use an otoscope to zoom into the inner ear’s bony labyrinth, probe the nostrils (even see mucus) and view the heart and lungs in 3D. When they shine an exam light into the eye, the pupil constricts.

“This is more satisfying than anything I’ve ever done before,” he said. “I’m not just providing entertainment. At the end of the day, I know I’m having a positive impact.”

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