Hatching Possibilities

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LAUNCHING A BUSINESS is often filled with uncertainty, risk and stress, all of which can daunt a startup. So when a budding venture can receive a leg up with help and encouragement, chances of success are greater.

Fortunately, there are some efforts underway to support Southwest Florida entrepreneurs, including Collier County’s rapidly evolving business accelerator and research, instruction and outreach at Florida Gulf Coast University. Here are some examples of the assistance available.

Fostering Fresh Ideas

In Naples, new business growth is nurtured by incubator activity spawned via an international interconnectivity fostering fresh ideas. A 10,000 square-foot facility off Kraft Road is the epicenter, where 16 businesses from spots including Berlin and London develop new products.

“It has been what I’d describe as hugely successful,” says former state Sen. Dudley Goodlette, a member of the Naples Accelerator board. “This is a public-private partnership to entice entrepreneurs to take a long look at Southwest Florida for their startup companies.”

Goodlette took part in a Collier-based coalition that traveled to Tallahassee in 2014 to seek funding and came away with a $2.5 million appropriation. Although a portion was cut through a gubernatorial veto, it was enough to get the Kraft Road facility humming.

Now, an additional $5.5 million is pending in the state legislature with plans, if granted, to expand the Naples operation by 10,000 square feet and complete a planned Immokalee facility devoted to culinary agribusiness.

Helping to spearhead those efforts is Accelerator President and Chief Executive Officer Marshall Goodman. Goodman, who travelled with Goodlette to the state capital, led a group of 20 from Collier and Lee counties to France in September. While there, the group met with several of the country’s 100 incubators and solidified Naples as a “soft landing” for international firms. That effort includes providing international tax guidance and cultural advice.

“It’s nothing more than being an easy button to help you grow,” Goodman says. “Southwest Florida is such a great place to build a business but they [companies] are not thinking Fort Myers, they’re thinking Miami or maybe Orlando.”

That perception is shifting as pipelines are established to northern India and Europe. One pipeline to London involves Airfi, a business incorporated there in July 2015 but headquartered at the Kraft Road facility.

Chief Production Officer Dariush Zand says Airfi, which offers a cellular connection within the Internet of Things, is opening satellite offices in Toronto and San Jose, California.

“The hub of our North American operations will continue in Naples as we expand both in the U.S. and abroad,” Zand says. “I quickly realized that Marshall’s vision for the incubator in Naples was a vision I was keen to align Airfi to.”

Zand says his monthly sojourns to work at the accelerator reinforce its importance.

“The entrepreneurial journey can be a lonely one with lots of late nights sitting in front of a computer screen, frantically running around trying to raise capital,” he says. “Being located with others going through the same experience can have a soothing effect on an entrepreneur’s psyche.”

New Technologies Emerging

An atmosphere of entrepreneurs working side by side can be found as well at Florida Gulf Coast University’s recently opened Emergent Technology Institute. The 6.5-acre component of the 241-acre Innovation Hub is the sterling jewel of a broader inter-disciplinary effort involving FGCU’s engineering and business offerings.

Every engineering student is required to take a three-credit course in engineering entrepreneurship, according to Richard Behr, the dean of the College of Engineering. Additionally, the business college is initiating a minor in entrepreneurship and a center devoted to the effort.

“It will enable the conduct of research and development from various disciplines,” Behr says. “The multifaceted capability of the facility needs to be emphasized.”

A 2.5-acre solar field for technology evaluation and a machine shop will aid in efforts to explore renewable energy and environmental sustainability. It also will be a major asset as the university launches a masters of science degree in engineering.

“It’s a beautiful facility and it will draw people,” he says. “It will make them aware of environmental and other emerging technologies.”


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