Establishing a business requires planning, passion and perseverance – but by utilizing the expertise of professionals, one can ensure a greater chance of success. Tasked with enhancing and facilitating opportunities for fledgling businesses with high-growth potential are two leading ladies in Volusia County.
Overseeing the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program in Volusia County is associate director and site manager, Connie Garzon-Bernal. Since taking the helm in 2011, Garzon-Bernal has been a guiding force for countless businesses in the incubation program, leading them through the process from startup to sustainability.
Among the programs she is tasked with managing, the “Soft Landing” program rolls out the welcome mat for international companies seeking to expand their footprint into the Central Florida region. The UCF Soft Landing program helps international companies, and domestic businesses outside of the region, adapt to and establish a presence in Central Florida’s economic markets.
Colombia-based TechFit Digital Surgery is one of the companies participating in the Soft Landing program. As a manufacturer of medical devices, the innovative team of engineers create customized products designed to address musculoskeletal problems, focusing on orthopedics, maxillofacial and cranial reconstruction.
Working with the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce and Volusia’s economic development teams to help ensure a smooth entrée into the United States, Garzon-Bernal used many tools, including her multilingual background, to assist the company with the required program application process which secured office space for them at the Daytona incubator.
“They have their office here to do business development and strategy. This gives them access to our UCF team expertise and the network we have in Central Florida,” said Garzon-Bernal, who also helped introduce them to key players across Florida.
Through an introduction to Garzon-Bernal’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University counterpart Stephanie Miller, Executive Director of Technology Transfer and Research Park Initiatives at The John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex at Embry-Riddle Research Park, also known as the MicaPlex, TechFit was able to access needed laboratory and manufacturing space for their growing international company, through the ERAU incubation program.
“TechFit was a collaboration between a lot of people in town, including the two incubators to bring them here,” said Miller. “The Soft Landing program helped them out with the business side of it. Over here we have tons of laboratory space, so it worked out well,” she said.
Collaborations between the programs isn’t uncommon, although Miller and Garzon-Bernal often simply send a business or company over to the other should they find that it doesn’t fit their respective programs. The experience working with both incubators has been a net positive for Mauricio Toro, CEO of TechFit. “Since we decided to start our USA adventure we knew chemistry and being welcome in a technological ecosystem would be key. Last February when we came to Daytona for the first time we felt that the UCF incubator and ERAU with the MicaPlex were very well aligned with what we were looking for,” said Toro.
“We haven’t been let down! ERAU has been a great source of talent, and the researchers and professors have been very open to our ideas and collaboration initiatives. Connie in the UCF incubator has been our champion. She has opened so many doors for us in Volusia and adjoining counties. It is very helpful to have people who understand the ecosystem and are cheering you on and eliminating barriers,” he said.
The UCF incubator provides support, primarily for a technology, product or service with a high impact potential, and has been a solid launch pad for the 2016 startup Aerosapien Technologies. Comprised of several ERAU graduates, Aerosapien Technologies provides engineering services, design analysis, and helps industries to manufacture drones, among other products. Engineers from the startup utilize the “Make It Lab” at UCF to create functioning prototypes of their products, while their software and technology team, also housed in office space on site, handles the backend work. Working with Bernal at the incubator, Aerosapien has landed contracts with major companies like Boeing and General Electric.
“The Make It Lab is a great start for anyone who is in the incubator,” said Integration Engineer, Chandrahouli Vadlamudi. “It helped out with the equipment and tools. This gave us a lot of potential and (increased our) confidence level to accept more projects from clients,” he said.
Just minutes away, the ERAU MicaPlex offers an expansive field of opportunity for business creators focused mainly on applied science, aviation, business, computers and technology, engineering, the safety and security industries and space. The incubator’s most engaging feature is the laboratory space they are able to provide companies, space that can be ‘upgraded’ as a company starts bringing in more revenue.
The MicaPlex also offers opportunities for its students. Kunj Patel graduated from ERAU in 2017 and is currently working on her master’s degree while employed by TechFit as a project design engineer.
“Because it’s so close to my school, I know the connections here and my professors, so when the company needs something I can go ask them,” she said. “It’s a great relationship they have with the school and the company.”
The partnerships between the university, incubator and companies has opened new avenues for graduates who may consider starting up their own business, as well as providing a skilled talent pool to companies from outside the region considering Volusia as a place to locate their business.
“Incubators, the big thing that we do is teach how to build a business, how to get investment in the business, how to grow it, and how to get their product actually to the market,” said Miller. “At universities, we’re pretty lucky. Most of our companies come from students, faculty, or staff members right in the university.”
Program Benefits UCF Incubator Program
● Office space with flexible short-term leases
● Connections and networking opportunities with the Central Florida business community
● Domestic market research
● Access to experts concerning import/export laws
● Access to training and meeting rooms
● Intellectual property protection assistance
● Assistance with government documents and licenses
● Assistance with meeting government regulations
● Access to press release creation and distribution
● Infrastructure: furnished office space with dedicated phone and IT services
● Labs within the MicaPlex
● University resources
Conference and meeting rooms
Business/mail box address
Electronic journal collection and research librarians
Business service providers network
Fitness Center and Pool
Partners and Programming
Incubator Partners: expertise in legal, accounting, IT, and venture capital investing offering some levels of pro bono services to incubator client
Education and Training: tailored to each client and may include assistance in customer discovery, market research and intellectual property, developing business models and plans, designing timelines and milestones for R&D, investor pitch coaching, fundraising and business growth, human resource management
Events: founder talks, CEO forums, investor panel discussions, demo days, hackathons, and extensive networking opportunities