Florida High Tech Corridor Collaboration Wins National Prize to Elevate Underserved Women-Owned Businesses

September 21 | news

University-Based Entrepreneur Support Organizations Collaborate to Encourage Women’s Involvement in Florida’s Research and Innovation Economy

The U.S. Small Business Administration selected a multi-institutional collaboration led by the Florida High Tech Corridor (The Corridor) among eight winners of its first Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Catalyst Competition, established this year to recognize model partnerships addressing the gaps for underrepresented entrepreneurs nationwide.

With its $150,000 prize, The Corridor team aims to elevate the role of underrepresented women-owned businesses across the 23-county region’s innovation ecosystem by enhancing the inclusivity and participation of women entrepreneurs in the SBIR program.

Four university-based entrepreneur support organizations across the state are partnering with The Corridor to establish a structured network of mentors and role models, equip women entrepreneurs to develop competitive SBIR grant applications and streamline commercialization pathways for their resulting STEM innovations. Available data shows just 13% of SBIR grant recipients nationally are women – a statistic The Corridor team eventually hopes to change through this intentional partnership approach.

“I have met and worked alongside many fiercely talented women entrepreneurs and tech industry leaders since joining The Corridor, and I’m so excited for the opportunity to remove barriers preventing more women from securing their rightful place in our innovation community,” said retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Paul Sohl, CEO of The Corridor. “Just as the name of this prize implies, The Corridor is a catalyst for boundary-breaking collaboration. We welcome the responsibility to serve as a convener, bringing the expertise and resources of our partners together to fulfill a shared mission around such an important issue.”

Collaborators on The Corridor’s SBIR Catalyst Competition team include:

  • University of Central Florida (UCF) Business Incubation Program – The UCF Business Incubation Program provides business development and operational support to early-stage, innovative businesses in eight incubators located throughout Central Florida. Since 1999, this award-winning program has supported hundreds of companies, which have collectively generated more than $400 million in sales and more than $100 million in outside funding.
  • USF CONNECT at the University of South Florida (USF) – USF CONNECT is a business and economic development initiative of the university that provides support for companies by facilitating access to top-tier research, programming, faculty, students, supporting organizations and funding sources. Its Tampa Bay Technology Incubator’s 67 companies have collectively generated more than $4 million in revenue and secured more than $1.8 million in outside funding in the past year.
  • Collaboratory for Inclusive Entrepreneurship at the University of Florida (UF) – The Collaboratory for Inclusive Entrepreneurship (formerly the Collaboratory for Women Innovators) seeks to inspire, educate and empower minority and women entrepreneurs to attain leadership in all phases of the innovation lifecycle. It aims to overcome the diversity parity by supporting participants at various stages of personal and professional development with a varied portfolio of resources, from structured programming to mentorship and more.
  • weVENTURE WBC at Florida Tech – Since its establishment in 2007, the weVENTURE Women’s Business Center (WBC) has trained over 13,000 clients and helped over 140 business owners increase their revenues by an average of 40%. Services to ignite the power of women entrepreneurs include one-on-one consultations, low-cost business education seminars and workshops, the IGNITE360® mentoring program, peer groups and purposeful networking.

“Even more important than winning the prize is what this effort symbolizes for the region, validating the important work of our partners to support and showcase women entrepreneurs in Florida,” said Amy Beaird, Ph.D. She joined The Corridor as cluster manager in April 2021 and has since been leading its work with Orange County Government to establish the region as an epicenter for world-class industry clusters. Motivated by her own career experiences as a research director for university spinouts and an adviser to over 50 small businesses, research institutions, nonprofits and government agencies in their federal funding pursuits, Beaird volunteered to lead development of The Corridor’s winning SBIR Catalyst Competition proposal. “I’ve worked in STEM for a long time and have experienced firsthand the struggle of women in entrepreneurship. To serve as a member of The Corridor’s SBIR Catalyst team and have the opportunity to support other women innovators in STEM is very meaningful for me personally. We know that more diverse research teams lead to more innovative outcomes and stronger companies.”

As a member of the SBIR Catalyst Competition’s inaugural cohort, The Corridor team will be invited to meet regularly with other winning groups from across the nation to track progress and share best practices for fostering innovation-driven entrepreneurship in underserved communities. Other winners of the 2021 SBIR Catalyst prize include teams from Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York and Oklahoma.

The SBIR Catalyst Competition was introduced this year as a component of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s outreach to ensure newly piloted regional collaboratives represent the diverse potential of the U.S. innovation ecosystem. If successful, this important initiative would be expanded significantly in future years in an effort by the Biden-Harris Administration Build Back Better Agenda, which outlined an additional $400 million investment to support start-up accelerators and incubators working with underrepresented entrepreneurs.

As more of the region’s women-owned businesses receive SBIR awards, The Corridor also has an opportunity to increase their participation in its signature Matching Grants Research Program. Among other mechanisms for maximizing small business grants, the Matching Grants Research Program may be leveraged by women entrepreneurs in The Corridor region to facilitate collaborative research-based relationships with UCF and USF. Women interested in generating new intellectual property with the help of university researchers or interested in the translation of existing university technology may invest their SBIR or other funds to receive matching funds from The Corridor.

Since inception in 1996, this model has generated more than $1 billion in economic impact for Florida’s innovation economy, resulting from technology commercialization, new patents and stronger industry partner positioning to attract federal funds, among other drivers of business growth. It has also created a workforce pipeline, empowering student researchers with the hands-on training and knowledge they need to land a high-wage job with companies in The Corridor.

For more information about the SBIR Catalyst Competition, including a list of winners, visit https://www.sbir.gov/accelerators.