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Innovation’s Impact on Economic Development

Innovation’s Impact on Economic Development

It is blasphemous to suggest, but could it be time for Florida to replace its iconic “Sunshine State” motto?  Ok, I didn’t think so. But, when you realize how much innovation shines as the sun throughout the state, it is easy to see why Florida is positioned to become the “Innovation State.” Such a proposed switch does not disregard Florida’s abundance of sunshine, but instead reflects Florida’s powerful status as a national leader when viewing innovation’s impact on economic development.

Recent progress means that innovation shines as a key driver of Florida’s economic development activities. Florida’s collaborative efforts for economic development saw the adoption of a statewide, innovation-centric economic development engine that extends to all facets of the state economy. At the crossroads of this economic development engine is Orlando-based Enterprise Florida, Inc., which is the state’s comprehensive development organization.

Enterprise Florida represents a dynamic partnership between Florida’s business and government leaders.  Its mission is to facilitate job growth for Florida’s businesses and citizens and to prime the engine of a vibrant, innovation-driven development engine across the state while involving all sectors of the economy. In fulfilling its mission, Enterprise Florida works closely with a network of economic development partners including business leaders, community stakeholders, government officials, problem-solving innovators, risk-taking entrepreneurs and engaged citizens.


And what a job Enterprise Florida – along with its colleagues and collaborators in economic development – is doing.  Look at the accolades that have piled up for Florida during 2013 alone:

  • No. 1 State for Innovation (Fast Company; May 2013)
  • Second Fastest Growing City in the Nation (NerdWallet; June 2013)
  • No. 10 State for Starting a Business (Entrepreneur; April 2013)
  • World’s Best University Biotechnology Incubator (UBI Research Group; July 2013)

But wait – there’s more: innovation’s impact on economic development reaches beyond Florida to benefit the entire nation. Florida Secretary of Commerce Gray Swoope should know, as he also serves as the President & CEO of Enterprise Florida.

Swoope’s insights are timely and seemingly on point.

“Innovation may be the single most important key to economic recovery in our nation today. We are seeing more and more small businesses start and succeed across all sectors thanks to some amazing advances. We are very fortunate to have two of the top incubators in the world – the UF Sid Martin Biotech Incubator and the UCF Business Incubation Program – in our state to help our homegrown innovators. Florida’s recognition as the best state in the U.S. for innovation by Fast Company earlier this year points to a bright future for innovators and entrepreneurs in our state.”

Statewide benefits have had a strong impact locally, as evidenced by Gainesville’s growth of all things involving innovation and entrepreneurship; the continued progress burnishes the region’s reputation for attracting and retaining innovative problem solvers and entrepreneurial risk-takers. These advances enhance the reality that the region is evolving into a highly livable, adaptable and sustainable community. All signs indicate that Gainesville will continue to strengthen those characteristics.

Credit for this evolution is given to the region’s economic development stakeholders, which include the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, Innovation Gainesville, the Gainesville Area Innovation Network and the many economic development initiatives affiliated with the University of Florida and Santa Fe College. Business incubators like the UF Innovation Hub and Santa Fe College’s Center for Innovation and Economic Development are also major contributors to the area’s success. New businesses launch in Gainesville for the same reason so many highly educated – and talented – people move here: This is a smart city.

Gainesville’s residents are so smart that it was ranked among the Top 25 of the Smartest Cities in America, according to Forbes. Not to be outdone, Popular Science named Gainesville the Top Tech City in Florida, and Florida Trend ranked Gainesville as the No. 2 Hot Spot for Research in Florida.

Gainesville is home to the University of Florida, one of the nation’s leading research universities, as well as one of the nation’s premier healthcare systems at UF Health Shands. The city attracts smart people who stay here to form innovative, early stage companies; the presence of a “creative class vibe” also goes a long way to retain aspiring young talent. It is the vibrancy of Gainesville’s creative class that most likely spurredNext Generation Consulting, a marketing research firm, to cite Gainesville among its recent 10 Hotspots for Young Professionals to Live and Work. Alachua County itself was listed among the Top 100 Communities for Young People compiled by America’s Promise Alliance in 2011.

I believe Gainesville’s secret ingredient, when it comes to economic development, is collaboration among generations.  It’s evident when older people (like myself and scores of my friends and business associates) invest our time, effort, money and patience in the region’s younger people. We repeatedly demonstrate our readiness and willingness to coach, mentor, guide and invest capital in the community’s younger innovators and entrepreneurs. Doing so has jumpstarted advanced economic development in the region and has set us apart from other areas in Florida. Nothing lasts forever, of course, but I hope us older people never stop supporting the innovative passion and entrepreneurial aspirations of the region’s younger people. We may not always get rich in the process, but the legacy we leave will be priceless.

No one person or group is responsible for Gainesville’s economic success. This is why Tim Guiliani, who serves as President & CEO of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, defines the area’s success as “part of the economic development equation.”

I asked Tim to elaborate on this equation, and he mentioned Gainesville’s collaborative effort to deliver win-win outcomes for those participating in the area’s creative class initiative. He said combining innovation and entrepreneurship is a winning economic development strategy in the 21st century.

But again, economic development is a statewide phenomenon and can count many committed leaders who have contributed to Florida’s success.

One of those leaders is Enterprise Florida’s Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Louis Laubscher, who uses the catchy alliteration “Products and processes in pursuit of profits” to describe innovation’s impact on economic development.

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His definition of innovation’s impact on economic development captures the fact that new processes and business models are just as important as new products. He also recognizes that new ideas need to have a market that generates cash flows and profit streams; without those, ideas are merely interesting – they are not commercially viable without a foundation for growth or a platform to create and grow companies.

Those successes run through innovation’s impact on economic development, which can be found in Florida’s colleges, universities and other publicly funded research institutions. The strongest indication of success is in the progress made by the statewide Florida Institute for the Commercialization of Public Research.  Gainesville-based Jamie Grooms serves as CEO and Jane Teague is Chief Operating Officer based in West Palm Beach.

Teague offers a definition of innovation’s impact on economic development based on her experience working with both early and growth stage companies.

“Innovation is providing an environment in which promising entrepreneurs and companies have the resources they need to grow and achieve greatness,” she said. “Such resources include experienced management, seed capital and an overall climate of celebrating that which is new and different.”

Florida Institute’s statewide success is similar to that of one of its economic development partners from Central Florida. Fran Korosec and his GrowFL team at the University of Central Florida’s Office of Research and Commercialization follow an innovative, entrepreneur-centered economic growth strategy for getting second-stage businesses to the next level.

According to Korosec, “Innovation in economic development comes from intense focus on business retention and expansion. Keeping our economic development activities targeted at companies helps them grow their revenues; once their revenues grow, jobs will come.”

This intense focus relies on a pragmatic and actionable plan that yields meaningful measures:  grow revenues, expand companies, create jobs, spin off operating divisions and then start new companies. And then repeat the process. The process builds a stronger, more vibrant innovation economy within the region and throughout Florida. Follow this blueprint for success and before you know it, Florida’s successful innovation will be as well known as its sparkling sunshine.

David Whitney serves as the Entrepreneur in Residence for the University of Florida’s College of Engineering. Whitney teaches an Engineering Innovation course to both undergraduate and graduate students at UF. In addition, Whitney is the founding Managing Director of Energent Ventures, a Gainesville-based investor in innovation-driven companies.

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