A group of state academic and economic development officials last week opened the Florida Institute for Commercialization of Public Research, which they termed a “one-stop shop” for venture capitalists and companies to consider technologies available for commercialization from state universities.
The institute, which will be housed within the Florida Atlantic University Research and Development Park, will serve as a launching pad for commercializing academic research across all industry sectors, but will in particular seek to tap into Florida’s burgeoning life sciences research capabilities, officials said.
Enterprise Development Corporation of South Florida, a non-profit organization that assists emerging science and technology companies in the state and manages an incubator at the FAU R&D Park, will initially manage institute operations.
The new institute will be a collaboration between technology transfer offices at the 11 schools in the University of Florida system: Florida A&M University, Florida Atlantic University, Florida International University, Florida State University, the University of Central Florida, the University of Florida (which will serve as lead institute), the University of North Florida, the University of South Florida, the University of West Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, and the New College of Florida.
“We’ll be developing an inventory of all of the available technologies” with commercial potential at Florida’s universities, Jane Teague, executive director of the EDC, told BTW this week.
“This doesn’t in any way replace or duplicate what they’re doing,” Teague said. “The problem in Florida historically has been that it’s a very big state for investors to come to, and it’s hard for them.
“The idea was to make it easy for investors and large companies to come in, and to invest in and/or license the technology — to make it easy to see what the state has, and make it easy for [investors] to commercialize what we have,” Teague added.
Steve Nappi, interim director of the tech-transfer officer at FAU, said that the institute will serve as a “launching pad” for technologies at FAU and other state universities.
“If we have a startup opportunity, we have [only] two licensing professionals and one business manager,” Nappi said. “We do not have the capacity to actually build out the appropriate marketing strategies and business plan; and to make the connections to investors.”
Nappi said that FICPR will assign business mentors as needed and help develop companies’ business plans “so it will attract the necessary investment to launch it or further advance it. [Florida universities] can apply to this institute with opportunities they think can be launched into new startups.”
The FICPR was created last year with $1 million in funding from the state as part of a $31 million initiative called the Florida Opportunity Fund to increase the availability of seed and early-stage venture capital for emerging technology companies, particularly those derived from research conducted at the state’s universities and non-profit research institutions (see BTW 6/4/2007).
Of that $31 million, approximately $30 million was to establish and operate a “fund of funds” to invest in seed and VC funds from qualified VC firms around the US; while the remaining money was earmarked for FICPR.
“The idea was to make it easy for investors and large companies to come in, and to invest in and/or license the technology – to make it easy to see what the state has, and make it easy for them to commercialize what we have.”
Enterprise Florida, the state’s primary economic development agency, was appropriated $100,000 of that money for startup costs associated with the institute. The remaining $900,000 was provided to EF to support operational costs for the institute in fiscal year 2007, which ends on June 30.
Enterprise Florida selected the FAU R&D Park, an office and laboratory complex located adjacent to the FAU campus in Boca Raton, as the physical location for FICPR primarily because the EDC was already housed there.
Teague said that the new institute’s goals mesh nicely with the EDC’s mandate to assist entrepreneurs of any kind throughout the state.
“This dovetails very well with what we are already doing: helping to commercialize technologies,” Teague told BTW this week. “We’re a small organization but have a vast network of business and academic partners throughout the region and state. The institute will be working exclusively with technologies developed within the university, whereas we help any entrepreneur in the state.”
In addition, the geographical location was crucial for making air travel to and from the institute as easy as possible for investors and company representatives visiting from outside the state.
FAU’s Nappi noted that Boca Raton is within striking distance of Palm Beach International Airport, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, and a private airport located adjacent to the FAU R&D Park.
“Some of the other advantages of this area are that the EDC already located here managing an incubator … and [angel investors group] New World Angels,” Nappi said. “Certainly the research park provides additional opportunities should companies grow out of the institute and need larger office space, and you have [FAU], which has a very active tech-transfer program. The ingredients were just really here.”
Nappi stressed that despite FICPR’s location, FAU would not receive any preference or direct benefit in terms of commercialization assistance for its technologies. “The institute itself is going to select the best proposals no matter what university or institution they come from,” he said, adding that FAU would receive indirect benefits in that the institute could serve as a “magnet for entrepreneurs, investors, new companies, and jobs that maybe even students would have access to.”
Bio Top of Mind
Although the new institute will provide commercialization assistance to a wide range of university-developed technologies, its activity will likely reflect the growing biosciences research activity and industry within the state.
Teague said that this trend can be seen at EDC, which serves as a reliable gauge for entrepreneurial activity within Florida. When the non-profit was founded in the early 1990s, approximately 70 to 80 percent of the companies it provided assistance to were in the IT sector – “people that left IBM or Motorola, and wanted to start their own companies,” Teague said.
Currently, however, Teague said that percentage has dwindled to around 55 to 60 percent, with life sciences entrepreneurs comprising the remaining 40 to 45 percent.
Nappi said that FAU and several Florida universities that in past years have made a “strong commitment to biomedical research.” Examples include a recently announced partnership with the University of Miami School of Medicine to offer a four-year medical degree, and a collaboration with Boca Raton Community Hospital that could lead to the construction of a research hospital on the FAU campus.
Additional regional life-sciences developments include the January 2004 establishment of Scripps Florida, the temporary facilities of which are located on FAU’s Jupiter campus; and the 2006 expansion of California’s Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies into Florida, a move supported in part by FAU. Scripps Florida and Torrey Pines plan to move into new permanent facilities in the region by early 2009 and late this year, respectively.
In addition, Nappi said that FAU and other regional schools are already establishing links with German nonprofit research network Max Planck Institute, which is currently building its first US research site adjacent to the Scripps Florida campus under construction in Jupiter. MPI said that it expects to complete its facility later this year.
“As there is more of a focus on life sciences research here, we’ll see more and more IP come out of it,” Nappi said.