WORK LIFE PROFILE

The 'go-to' exec

GTEC's new chief Booker Schmidt will get a chance to nurture high-tech start-up firms


Booker Schmidt, the new executive director of the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center, sits atop an Evo - made by Assistive Excercise Technologies Inc. - in the lobby of the facility that caters to start-up high-tech companies.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, March 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, February 29, 2004 at 9:45 p.m.

Booker Schmidt, the new executive director of the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center, is the "go to" guy for start-up companies in residence at the Hawthorne Road facility.

Facts

PROFILE: BOOKER SCHMIDT

  • PERSONAL: Married, 2 adult children

  • CAR HE DRIVES: 2002 Volvo S60

  • LAST BOOK READ: "The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.," edited by Clayborne Carson

  • LAST MOVIE SEEN: "Big Fish"

  • BEST ADVICE RECEIVED: "Words once spoken can never be recalled," his father

  • HIS GUIDING LIGHT: His wife Kim. "She keeps me balanced."

  • The Tampa native brings with him 19 years of experience working with start-up companies and years of working in his family's fabricated building parts business in Tampa.

    Schmidt, 52, who began his new job at GTEC on Jan. 26, has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Vanderbilt University, and a law degree from the University of Tulsa, Okla.

    He practiced law in Tulsa for about five years. Then he switched gears and started on a career path that included serving as manager of technology alliances for UTEK Corp.

    After returning to Tampa, he resumed his law practice in 1991, then began working for the University of South Florida's division of patents and licensing. About 10 months ago, that job led him to Gainesville, the town where his wife, Kimberly White, grew up.

    As executive director at GTEC, Schmidt sees an opportunity to use his skills and years of experience to once again help nurture high-tech start-ups.

    Schmidt's experiences are what the GTEC advisory board was looking for in its search for an executive director. The facility, at 2153 SE Hawthorne Road, is a joint venture of the city of Gainesville, Alachua County and the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration.

    It is managed by the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and is home to nine high-tech businesses in various stages of development.

    "Booker has just a wealth of experience as an entrepreneur himself and in assisting entrepreneurial companies, helping them to grow and succeed," said Brent Christensen, president and CEO of the Chamber.

    "He has a strong track record and that is exactly what we were looking for in a director. And on top of everything else, he has experience working with universities and technology transfer efforts," Christensen said.

    An advantage of an incubator is that when resident start-ups need help with something specific, there's a "go to" person to help them find the various resources needed, according to Schmidt.

    "I see myself as a resource. If you need expert help, we have the resources both inside the incubator and we have access to outside resources," Schmidt said.

    The objective of an incubator is to get, grow and graduate successful companies that are self-sufficient and will stay in business, Schmidt said.

    "One of the missions of GTEC is to graduate businesses, and then these businesses can go out in the community and develop high-paying jobs in the community. The businesses will benefit and the community will benefit," Schmidt said.

    But Schmidt knows about the high casualty rate for start-up companies.

    "The No. 1 reason for a start-up company to fail is undercapitalization," he said. "A start-up company always has to keep a tight rein on their money." Another reason for failure is lack of focus, Schmidt said.

    "One of the things I'm trying to do is meet with all the resident start-up companies to help them develop a 90-day plan," he said. A plan is an essential part of starting and operating a business, and keeps the focus where it should be, Schmidt explained.

    People start a business for any number of reasons.

    "A lot of people just want to be the owner of their own business. A lot think it's going to be a hobby. But in doing a start-up company, they're giving a lot of their life to get the baby walking, so it's going to be their central focus for the next two to three years," Schmidt said.

    That first year of operating their own company is a wake-up call for many owners, he said, when they find out that it's a lot harder than they had thought.

    "The entrepreneur has a very strong ego, and they need that or they're not going to succeed. There also are the elements of perseverance and tenacity that every entrepreneur has," Schmidt said. "But that can be a double-edged sword. It can lead you in the right direction and help you succeed when others might fail."

    A large factor in determining the success of a company is money.

    "All companies need money. With venture capital, maybe one of a thousand plans submitted gets money. We try to help people do that. We try to explore multiple places to get money," Schmidt said.

    The GTEC building also serves as a community resource by opening its doors to provide a meeting place for various community groups.

    "We're part of the community," Schmidt said.

    In addition, twice a month, Schmidt holds open house at the facility from noon to 1:30 p.m. on the second and third Fridays of every month.

    To tour GTEC, call - (352) 393-6006 - or fax - (352) 393-6015 - or e-mail contact@gtcflorida.com to make a reservation.

    Doris Chandler can be reached at (352) 374-5094.

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