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Jax Daily Record Monday, May 20, 201905:20 AM EST

University of North Florida center a ‘front door’ for entrepreneurs

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North Florida Business Roundtable looks at how UNF and Mayo Clinic are offering incubators for innovation.
by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

Having an idea is great, but without the proper guidance and enough money, it can be impossible to turn an idea into a viable business.

How those latter two elements of success are coming together in Jacksonville was the topic of the North Florida Business Roundtable presented by the Holland & Knight law firm.

The panel for “Harnessing Innovation 2.0” was Sean Barkman, principal of Ballast Point Ventures; Mark Dawkins, dean of the Coggin College of Business at the University of North Florida; Kevin Kennedy, principal of corporate development and strategic investments at GuideWell; and Vic Nole, director of the Life Sciences Incubator at Mayo Clinic Florida.

UNF will serve as an idea-vetting place for companies wanting to start in Jacksonville, Dawkins said.

The university in January opened its Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Dawkins described it as a 13,000-square-foot “living, learning lab,” at The Barnett, Downtown at 112 W. Adams St., the restored historic Barnett National Bank Building.

The panel for the North Florida Business Roundtable presented by the Holland & Knight law firm.

The center is guided by Director Karen Bowling and an advisory council that will select entrepreneurs that will be invited to participate in a business development program. 

“Our students will learn about entrepreneurs and we’ll help entrepreneurs get off the ground to start and/or grow their business,” Dawkins said.

Scheduled to open this month, the Life Sciences Incubator at the Mayo Clinic also will help people transform their ideas into businesses, Nole said.

He said Mayo is working with entrepreneurs who want to develop health-related businesses.

“We’ll help the Mayo innovators bring their products to market with education and networking them into the external environment. We’ll take them from paper to prototype to business model to product,” Nole said.

Kennedy said that business development in Jacksonville hasn’t historically focused on technology startups, but with UNF and Mayo each opening their centers, that appears to be changing.

“We are moving in the right direction,” he said.

Having two entrepreneur incubators can make the city more attractive to investors, Barkman said.

“Innovation centers are helpful for us. We usually have only one day to spend in a city. When you can find clusters of entrepreneurs, it’s more efficient. Jacksonville has piqued my interest.”

He said there’s quite a bit of potential venture capital already in place in Northeast Florida.

“There are a lot of successful executives that are retired or nearly retired. They have deep pockets and they’re sophisticated, but they’re under the radar. That’s a resource that other areas don’t have,” Barkman said.

“There’s no shortage of great ideas” in Jacksonville, Nole said.

“The challenge is putting together good management teams and then getting them funded,” he said.

Dawkins said UNF opened its center to provide a resource where potential business developers can get the guidance and support they need to turn an idea into a product.

“There needs to be an entry point where entrepreneurs can be shepherded. We volunteer to be the front door,” he said.

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