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Monday, June 27, 2022

The Innovative Product Development Center at Santa Fe College is aiming to help entrepreneurs and innovators in Alachua and surrounding counties develop their discoveries into commercial products. Its main focus is mentoring start-up companies.

Santa Fe received a $499,914 three-year grant in 2017 from the U.S. Department of Commerce that was used directly to create the IPDC. The grant will be used to fund eight to 15 startups per year and create 75 to 100 new jobs in Gainesville, IPDC Director Karl Zawoy said.

Zawoy said the center will work with entrepreneurs to determine if their discoveries, encompassing information technology, medical devices, biotechnology, manufacturing technology and consumer products, have commercial potential.

The center is located in the Gainesville Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at 2153 SE Hawthorne Road #101. Zawoy said the center is interested in working with anyone who has a promising idea or product.

“The goal is to help the companies in whatever stage they’re at to get to the next stage, so that they are able to be successful, grow and create new jobs in the area,” Zawoy said. “We’re building a network of investors who potentially could provide anything from investing in the company to maybe even securing some loans.”

Zawoy, who has been at Santa Fe since April, has almost 30 years of experience in the product development field. He said his experience in transferring technology from the laboratory to the market is part of what makes him qualified to lead this initiative.

After determining if the discoveries have commercial potential, the center will then connect entrepreneurs with professional advisors and mentors who know the specific market well. These experts are there to offer help with things like understanding how to form a company and create a business plan, Zawoy said.

For the Gainesville economy, he said the center will create eight to 15 startups per year and use the services and support networks in the community surrounding the growing businesses. It will offer online classes and resources for company CEOs and principals to learn how to create business plans and investor presentations.

“A startup company that has a rapid growth phase may double in size in the first few years,” Zawoy said. “You’re hiring people who are entrepreneurs who are looking to do the next big thing, and startups typically need to hire people quickly.”

Zawoy said the IPDC will have “lunch and learn” opportunities, training events and guest speakers to connect startup companies with the mentors in the community. He plans to start a social media campaign to provide the community with information about the center.

He said the first step is to get connected with the community and find out who needs help.

UF’s Innovate and the Hub is one partner of the IPDC. UF Innovate Director of Incubation Services Mark Long said the partnership will allow the IPDC access to resources and programs for community-based startups.

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“UF Innovate and the Hub already have a significant network in place for the university-based companies, and the Innovative Product Development Center really expands that to include community startups,” Long said.

The combination of the IPDC and UF Innovate will significantly increase the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Gainesville, Long said.

“What is significant most of all for startup companies is the network that they can access for support, advice, direction, capital and experience,” Long said. “I’m only as good as the people I know.”

Dug Jones, associate vice president for economic development at Santa Fe, said the idea for the IPDC resulted from a lack of support for entrepreneurs and inventors who are not affiliated with UF and who may not have business experience in the community.

“That’s the beauty of it,” Jones said. “When this works the way we expect it to, it ultimately gets a product to the market that people want.”

Follow Angela DiMichele on Twitter @angdimi and contact her at adimichele@alligator.org.

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