Meet Sierra Perez: A Former Bull Helping Shape Research and Innovation at USF

June 04 | insights

Among the green and gold that layers the campus of the University of South Florida (USF) is an alum helping build the school’s reputation as a premiere research institution. USF collaborates with The Corridor to accelerate entrepreneurial success through its Matching Grants Research Program (MGRP), its Early-Stage Innovation Fund and its Undergraduate Research Initiative. None of these programs would have their wide-reaching impact without the diligent work of Sierra Perez.

Perez provides invaluable support to The Corridor, as well as to her fellow Bulls, by ensuring that programming is functioning smoothly. From application, to funding distribution, to compliance, Sierra aligns USF and Corridor efforts that continue to propel the region forward.

Prior to her experience in economic development, Perez served as a receptionist for the USF Office of Research and Innovation where she gained valuable insight into university research. She now builds on that knowledge to help both USF representatives and their industry partners thrive.

The Cuban sandwich enthusiast knows that building an ecosystem is rarely linear and success can take multiple different forms. But, as Perez and The Corridor continue to foster collaboration between diverse companies and the research acumen of USF, the region has the opportunity to continue to grow.

How would you explain your job to someone who’s never heard of “ecosystem building” before?

My role as an ecosystem builder is to support the programing provided by the Florida High Tech Corridor at the University of South Florida through USF Research & Innovation. Utilizing USF and Corridor resources, I ensure that all our programming runs smoothly and that we abide by university and state rules and regulations.

What advice would you give to people who are new to ecosystem building?

Ecosystem building is not about finding a straight line to success but bringing everyone in an ecosystem together in an upward trajectory.

What has been the most surprising thing you have learned about our regional innovation ecosystem?

Florida, and our region specifically, has a much wider range of industries than I thought originally. Also, the amount of incredible research coming out of our universities.

If you could have dinner with anyone from our regional innovation ecosystem, who would it be?

I would have dinner with Vice President of USF Research & Innovation Dr. Sylvia Thomas because she is a wealth of knowledge and has wonderful ideas for the future of USF and the region.

What resource or resource organization do you wish more entrepreneurs knew about?

I wish more entrepreneurs knew about the Evolve Accelerator, housed within USF CONNECT, which integrates ideation, foundation, and creation through the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator to supply entrepreneurs with business growth and development through capacity building, access to capital opportunities, and access to networking and support. Evolve focuses on enhancing women, minority, and veteran entrepreneurs’ growing startups in Tampa Bay, in addition to startups in the bio/life sciences, biotechnology, and high technology.

In your role, which questions are you most frequently asked?

How can I apply for Corridor funding?
The Corridor offers multiple support programs that may or may not be a good fit. Our Matching Grants Research Program supports industry and academic collaboration at USF or UCF. Program staff at either University can help lead you through the process of applying for a Matching Grant or connect you to other funding resources that may be a better fit.
Can I get support even though I’m not in the Corridor region?
Yes, although some of our programs are region specific, we are happy to connect you to resources that will be a good fit for your needs.
Are the Undergraduate Research Initiative and Early-Stage Innovation Fund open to everyone?
These programs are specifically internal funding opportunities at the University of South Florida, but we hope to expand upon these types of programs in the region soon.

What do you like doing when you are not working?

You can find me on any rooftop restaurant in Tampa watching the sunset and eating a Cuban sandwich.

You can connect with Sierra on LinkedIn here