The first class of freshmen enrolled in the University of Florida’s Innovation Academy has been on campus for less than two weeks.
The word “innovation,” though, has been buzzing around Gainesville much longer.
The Innovation Hub is a business incubator, a space for start-up companies to grow. The hub is part of larger plan for Innovation Square, a planned 40-acre development for research and business. It is currently under construction on SW 2nd Avenue between the university and downtown.
As Gainesville positions itself to become a forward-thinking business haven, the arrival of more than 300 students interested in entrepreneurship is a step toward that goal.
Jeff Citty, director of the Innovation Academy, said the response from the local entrepreneurial community has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Everybody is on board, and we’re reaching out as we move forward to bring more partners into our network” he said.
“In order [for Gainesville] to be a hub for starts ups and for innovation, we really have to have a pipeline of talent,” said Kristen Hadeed, founder and owner of Student Maid. “I think that Innovation Academy is going to help fill that void by bringing entrepreneurial students together.”
Students register for UF’s Innovation Academy classes during spring and summer semesters. During fall semester, they will be able to take advantage of study abroad opportunities, jobs and the academy’s internship program. The internship program, currently in development, would send students to local businesses in multidisciplinary teams to solve challenges.
The program is the first undergraduate experience to provide students an entrepreneurial, cross-disciplinary curriculum. Students can choose from a list of 29 majors, from computer science to English.
Every student in the program will complete an innovation minor. All but two of the courses were created for the new degree.
The program aims to teach students applicable skills, such as how to master individual creativity, plan when nothing else exists and defend ethical decisions.
After completing an internship and graduating from the Innovation Academy, students can seek a potential job at firms in Gainesville’s Innovation Square. The Innovation Hub could house their start-up company. Once the business is ready for full retail, it could move to the Infusion Technology Center.
Beyond the goal of growing the business ecosystem in Gainesville, Citty wants students to enter the workforce ready to solve problems.
“We would love to see them grow a business right out of an idea they worked on in the Innovation Academy and made a part of the community, he said. “But what we’re really focused on is spreading innovation across the university campus, across the state of Florida and nationwide. So it’s really a mindset we’re after, not a product or a company.”
Innovation Academy freshman Mike Tamayo, 18, is studying political science. He is excited to spend his fall semester – the equivalent of other students’ summer break – in Gainesville working on local candidates’ campaigns.
“I think all of us see ourselves staying in Gainesville for a while,” he said. “There is so much we can do here that can help us, not just in our studies.”