It’s been referred to as a “game changer” and touted for the high-paying jobs it will bring to the area. Seeing it come to fruition was 10 years in the making, with a price tag of $21 million. The John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex (MicaPlex), at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), which opened March 2017, has many people excited about the opportunities the research park and business incubator are providing. The more you learn about what’s going on behind the modern, two-story glass-front building, the more you can’t help but see how it’s going to benefit high-tech growth in the Daytona Beach region.
The MicaPlex Mission
“With a focus on the areas of aviation, engineering, and space, one of the main goals of the MicaPlex and its Technology Business incubator is to accelerate local economic development, scientific discovery, and technology commercialization for emerging businesses,” explains Stephanie A. Miller, PhD, MBA, the executive director of Technology Transfer and Research Park Initiatives at MicaPlex. “We want them [businesses] to be successful here in Volusia County, hire locally, and contribute to the betterment of our community.”
Already, Censys Technologies Corporation, the only company to graduate from the incubator so far has become a tenant partner, moving from the incubator to the 1200 foot tenant space to begin manufacturing and selling their products. They have also added seven jobs in the past year which is helping to address one of the concerns many have: that the area loses high-tech graduates to jobs outside of the county. The MicaPlex will help to provide desirable career opportunities in the area for both master’s and PhD-level graduates. The MicaPlex currently has five businesses in the incubator, as well as five Resident Partners, and 10 Tenant companies that are in the building.
More than Talent
Embry-Riddle has the talent pool that high-tech startups need, but until the MicaPlex was launched, there was little in the way of support. It meant that many likely overlooked investing in the area to start and grow their businesses. The MicaPlex is a research park and as such, they are able to do more than just bring tech startups to the area. MicaPlex can give businesses the tools and support they need to get established and grow while also providing them with a talent pool of highly skilled graduates. Incubator clients also have access to furnished office space, conference rooms, a business service providers network, and even a fitness center and pool. Clients also have access to partners, including expert help in the areas of legal, accounting, IT, and venture capital investing, with some level of pro bono services being offered. Additionally, incubator clients are provided educational and training opportunities specifically tailored to their needs, including assistance with market research, customer discovery, designing timelines, investor pitch coaching, fundraising and business growth, and human resource management. They can also participate in events, such as founder talks, CEO forums, investor panel discussions, demo days, as well as have access to extensive networking opportunities.
Growing High-Tech Companies
The MicaPlex, is a collaboration among business, tenant, resident, and nexus partners designed to create an integrated network aimed at helping startups flourish. Those using the incubator have access to participating companies, university faculty, students, and resident partners. The MicaPlex is currently looking for five additional Nexus Partners, and they have two tenant spaces left.
Interested companies apply to become a partner of the incubator. The applications are reviewed by faculty. They try to leverage the expertise and talent of the faculty, matching at least three technical and three business faculty members that can not only evaluate and provide an opinion on the opportunity, but can also become collaborators.
Some of the business currently under development, or soon to be joining the MicaPlex, include a patent-pending development to make drones safer; creating new grapheme and carbon nanotube batteries that will be used for next-generation mobile devices and electronic equipment; and the invention of a medical device aimed at helping to reduce healthcare-associated infections.
In addition to the companies involved in the networking, there is a signature competition held at MicaPlex called “Launch Your Venture.” This year’s winner developed a unique orthopedic knee brace; and last year’s winner established a business to reduce the high cost of keeping gas turbines healthy while increasing the efficiency of power generation. Winners of the competition, which highlights student-run businesses, claim a $10,000 prize, along with the inspiration to help lead them toward business success.
“This business pitch competition targets university student-led startups developing revolutionary concepts that will change the future of the aviation, aerospace, and engineering industries,” adds Miller.
Adding to the Economy
MicaPlex is slated to help grow the workforce by bringing more high-tech companies interested in investing in the area and hiring local graduates, both of which will add to the local economy. Daytona Beach is growing in many ways and attracting a wide variety of new businesses, but the MicaPlex is set to lead the way in helping to fuel growth specifically in high-tech areas. One of the misconceptions people have about the MicaPlex is that they believe the companies involved need to be founded by ERAU. In reality, prospective incubator companies and tenant partner companies that do not have an existing relationship with the university are considered as well.
“They do need to be high-tech companies in the aviation, aerospace, and engineering industries with an interest in collaborating and working with ERAU researchers, accessing our talent by hiring our students as interns and employees, and a need for the unique services that we offer,” adds Miller. “In short, we don’t want to be a landlord, we want to help companies grow and be successful.”
Types of Partnerships and Opportunities for Involvement at MicaPlex:
Nexus – Business leaders helping to influence, and contribute to the success of new high tech startups. They provide their expertise to help find solutions that new startups may encounter.
Resident – Co-locate their business within the MicaPlex, and support startups by providing a number of pro bono hours to the startups.
Tenant – Are part of the university community, designing their operation space within MicaPlex, using the campus facilities, and employing students.
Each level of partnership comes with advantages. Learn more and explore the possibilities and advantages of becoming a partner in the MicaPlex, visit the website at: https://erau.edu/micaplex/.