Student Entrepreneurs Will Have A New Home in 2015

By Emily Buchanan l Business Magazine 

Gainesville’s entrepreneurial spirit will have a new home in 2015.

The University of Florida has teamed up with Signet Enterprises through a public-private partnership to build an undergraduate residence hall specifically designed to bring together students who are interested in business, startups and the innovative mindset that characterizes the area.

The $20 million residence hall, known as Infinity Hall, is scheduled to be completed by fall of 2015. Construction is planned to begin May 1. When completed, it will be the second building constructed in Innovation Square, following the Florida Innovation Hub.

The UF Department of Housing will manage the facility, said Sharon Blansett, assistant to the associate vice president for student affairs.

“Future plans for Innovation Square have always included building a student housing facility,” she said. “Housing staff is excited that this facility is being built now rather than later in the planning process.”

Infinity Hall is projected to house around 300 undergraduate residents in suite-style rooms, Blansett said.

“The dorm represents a unique situation for students from all majors and programs to share ideas and create an opportunity for collaborative learning,” said John Kraft, dean of the Warrington College of Business Administration.

He said UF’s recent Big Idea Business Plan Competition, which attracted 140 participants, demonstrated that UF students have a growing interest in entrepreneurship.

“The dorm will provide work space and living space not available in other living environments,” Kraft said. “The college is supportive of this idea and any efforts that change the way we think about learning.”

Location is Key

The central location in Innovation Square places students conveniently close to startups, incubators and accelerators — an experience that cannot be duplicated on campus.

The residence hall will be located just west of the Ayers Technology Plaza (formerly Ayers Medical Plaza) on the corner of Southwest Second Avenue and Southwest 10th Street.

“I met some students just the other day that are in school for business,” said Anthony Lyons, the director of Gainesville’s Community Redevelopment Agency, which is coordinating the city plans for Innovation Square. “There are not many places for students to have an environment to get started.

“It’s exciting that the university and the community can get behind an idea where you cannot just encourage but really expect and demand that students are there to participate to design businesses,” he said. “It’s really a must for both the city and, frankly, for the nation as a whole.”

Fostering Homegrown Innovation

For Innovation Square to be successful, Lyons said, recruiting companies from the outside business world isn’t enough. It is also important to harness the power of the students while they are still in school.

“What better way then having students participate in business creation, and likely they’ll stay here afterwards to either do that business or some other one here,” he said. “All the way around, it’s the reason we proposed the idea to a developer. There has been nothing like this in the world. I’m glad it’s finally coming to flourish.”

 Recent graduate students who work closely with the university share the community’s excitement about Infinity Hall.

“The potential is incredible,” said T.J. Villamil, the co-founder of Gulejo Coffee and former UF student body president.

“UF is a trendsetter when it comes to on-campus housing,” he said. “And now, what better way to showcase innovation in a university community with a startup culture and startup job creation than to build an entrepreneurial dorm?”

In this generation especially, students lead the forefront of technology, and having a facility to foster creativity and spirit is something that is tremendously valuable, Villamil added.

“It’s kind of like the perfect storm of all things good,” he said.

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Nick Banks

Nick created Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group in 2002 and spent the first eight years developing and acquiring office and retail projects in South Florida as well as North Central Florida. In 2010 the focus of the firm was shifted to primarily serve third party clients and perform brokerage, property management and mortgage banking functions. Nick has personally developed and acquired nearly 200,000 square feet of office and retail properties in markets throughout Florida. Prior to founding Front Street, Nick was the Director of Finance and Dispositions for Stiles Corporation in Fort Lauderdale where he financed and sold over $500 million in commercial real estate. Before joining Stiles, Nick was an Associate Director at GE Capital Real Estate where he sourced over $200 million in financing throughout Florida. Nick is a graduate of the University of Florida with a degree in Finance and a concentration in Real Estate. He serves as a board member and current vice-chair for the United Way of North Central Florida where he also chairs the Development Committee. Nick is actively involved with the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce where he serves as a board member and committee member for the Council for Economic Outreach. He is also a recent graduate of Leadership Gainesville which is a year long leadership program hosted by the Chamber. He is a member of Grace United Methodist Church where he has served as finance chair and as a member of the leadership council. Nick serves as an advisory board member of the University of Florida Bergstrom Center for Real Estate Studies. Nick was recently named chair of the Gainesville committee for the North Florida chapter of Urban Land Institute (ULI). He is a licensed real estate broker in the State of Florida and is a long time member of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

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