From Jacksonville Business Journal, By Carole Hawkins
Master plans to redevelop urban cores and fill them with high-growth companies are great.
Results are better.
Two years ago the University of Florida and Gainesville business leaders envisioned a master-planned urban tech district where research and innovation would flourish. Today that idea is taking off.
Over the past 18 months, four tech companies, including software developers Mindtree of Bangalore, India, and Mobiquity, based in Boston, have moved into Innovation Square with more than 100 jobs, and promises of hundreds more as business operations expand. Two additional companies are poised to announce within weeks.
“It’s exciting. It’s happening a lot quicker than I even imagined it would,” said Ed Poppell, a former UF vice president who today oversees the Innovation Square project.
The idea of the 40-acre development, located between UF’s main campus and downtown Gainesville, is to draw top tech companies by combining access to the university’s talent pool with the synergy of a research park and the lifestyle of new urban millennials.
The district’s seed project was The Florida Innovation Hub, a $13.5 million university-owned tech incubator that opened last year and is now occupied by 25 tech startups.
A new 150,000-square-foot technology office center, Infusion, will break ground next quarter, and a live-learn apartment complex for entrepreneurs, Inspiration Hall, will follow.
In October Innovation Square’s first company, Mindtree, moved into the district’s renovated Ayer’s Medical Plaza, which once served as physicians’ offices for a university-affiliated teaching hospital.
Mindtree, which builds custom software for Fortune 2,000 companies, chose Gainesville because it wanted an onshore delivery center for its U.S. customers, said Scott Staples, Americas president for the company. It sought an affordable second-tier city with a top engineering university.
“Innovation Square was a perfect fit,” Staples said. “It’s an up-and-coming area with a good tech vibe and a good entrepreneurial vibe.”
In the new tech age, the No. 1 attraction for companies is to be located as close as possible to a university, Poppell said.
“In today’s competitive environment, whoever gets the best and brightest becomes successful,” he said.
“We believe that in order for universities to be relevant, they have to be economic drivers. Number one, they have to create technology, discoveries and inventions. And number two, we need to produce the knowledge workers that companies need.”
Indeed, Mindtree has recruited its 100 or so employees so far from about a dozen universities. But the vast majority of these have been UF graduates, Staples said.
The relationship with UF goes deeper than recruiting, though. Mindtree sits on the engineering school’s advisory board in order to discuss its curriculum and strategic plan.
That kind of collaboration occurs in other parts of the Innovation Square concept as well.
Innovation Square was designed to have office, residential, recreation and shopping and restaurant components. That’s different from traditional research parks, typically sprawling business complexes at the edges of a city. With Innovation Square, the idea is to have everyone together in a synergistic environment.
“Mindtree and companies like them can offer a comfortable lifestyle for their employees,” said project developer John Fleming of Trimark Properties. “Grad students, for example, like to work irregular hours, so they like to be close to where they work.”
Staples agreed that it was Innovation Square’s ecosystem, not just UF’s graduates, that separated Gainesville from competing cities.
“Because of Innovation Square, Gainesville will be able to attract other tech companies, and tech companies like to coexist,” he said. “As the pie of talent gets bigger, the customers and reputation that attracts get bigger.”
- October 2012: Mindtree, builds custom enterprise software, 400 jobs pledged
- May 2013: CurtCo Robb Media LLC, a digital publishing company
- June 2013: Mobiquity, builds mobile apps for business, 260 jobs pledged
- Summer 2013: Sears Holdings Corp., an integrated retailer, 25 software development interns
A master-planned high-tech district where companies and entrepreneurs can create, develop and commercialize discoveries
Collaboration to create economic development and high-wage jobs by growing Gainesville’s tech industry
“In order for universities to be relevant, they have to be economic drivers. They have to create technology, discoveries and inventions, and they need to produce the knowledge workers that companies need.”
— Ed Poppell, UF Development Corp. Director