(Ed Note. Dr. Tom O’Neal associate vice president for Research and Commercialization at the University of Central Florida is founder and executive director of the University of Central Florida Business Incubation Program and president of the Florida Business Incubation Assn.)
As America searches for solutions to its economic woes, one of the most innovative and productive job creating engines is being overlooked. It’s a case of not seeing the trees for the forest.
A recent national study came to a compelling conclusion nationwide, it’s the young, small startup companies that are creating the most new jobs — about three million annually. And if you look deeper, you will see that it’s a small number of small companies – usually young in their existence – creating these jobs.
Last year, the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program graduated more than 20 companies that are now succeeding with further assistance from the UCF programs such as GrowFL. And they are creating jobs.
Last year UCF accepted a record number of 64 new startup companies. Over the last 10 years, the UCF Business Incubation Program has helped more than 200 client companies that in 2011 accounted for more than 1,600 new jobs.
What kinds of businesses are these?
A St. Cloud company helps Florida ranchers and farmers sell fresh, locally grown foods to Florida restaurants and hotels. A Daytona Beach graduate company is gearing up to mass-produce its patented wind turbines that out perform anything on the market. A client company in Kissimmee recently completed filming a feature length motion picture.
In Leesburg, a client company produces award winning video series on healthcare and is doing it so well that the National Business Incubation Association awarded them the title of 2012 Outstanding Incubator Client in the Non-technology category. A client company in the Central Florida Research Park developed a GIS platform that helps disaster management agencies cope with tornadoes and hurricanes.
The UCF Business Incubation Program is one of thousands of similar programs nationwide. At UCF, client companies range from industry leaders in laser photonics, simulation technology, rapid prototyping, web development and alternative energy to a commercial delivery service for area restaurants.
America’s greatness lies in our ability to adapt to new conditions with innovation and enthusiasm. That spirit of innovation, enthusiasm combined with perseverance and an entrepreneurial culture is what made America so prosperous for so long. It continues to be played out daily in small, young startup companies all across the country.
What can we really do? Increase the success rate of these companies and you create greater prosperity. A recent study reported that five-year survival rate of Florida establishments is 37 percent. That value places Florida dead last in the US in that statistical category. That’s right, 50th. Without even passing judgment on the good or bad thing, just think of the consequences of increasing that rate by 5% or 10%. Cultivation of fertile ground wherein companies can be successful benefits everyone.
Not all companies will survive, but we should create a nurturing environment where an entrepreneur’s lack of experience can be mitigated and pure market forces can be the major determining factor in their survival rate. That’s where you’ll find the real wealth of our region and nation!
Dr. Tom O’Neal