UF showcases huge growth in local tech firms
Published: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:40 p.m.
How much of an economic engine is the University of Florida?
Over the past 12 years, 140 companies were created to sell UF research inventions, including a record 15 last year.
Within the past six months alone, two of those — AxoGen and Applied Genetic Technologies Corp. — received nearly $60 million in financing. Another, Pasteuria Bioscience, sold to Swiss agribusiness giant Syngenta for more than $100 million. All are based in Progress Corporate Park in the city of Alachua.
Since the UF Innovation Hub business incubator opened less than two years ago, 25 tenant companies have created 200 jobs.
The activity is drawing venture capital firms to open offices here. India-based Mindtree opened its U.S. software development center in UF's Innovation Square last year to be near campus and has already hired 80 of an expected 400 or more employees.
UF officials listed those among the highlights of its economic development activities during its seventh annual technology showcase called Celebration of Innovation on Thursday at the Hilton UF Conference Center.
"When you see what's going on around here, you'll understand why we're celebrating," UF President Bernie Machen said. "It's grown way beyond the University of Florida. … The real celebration of innovation is the creativity and entrepreneurship that's shooting up all over this North Central Florida area."
While starting the conference by touting UF accomplishments, the purpose of the event is to promote up-and-coming UF-affiliated companies to investors and entrepreneurs.
About 300 people registered for the event, on par with recent years, according to Jane Muir, associate director of technology licensing and director of the Innovation Hub.
Biomedical companies made up half of the 14 companies on display at the conference, with the other half being technology companies.
For the first time, the event included companies located in the Innovation Hub that do not license technology from UF, including Feathr, which makes a digital business card mobile app, and NeuroNet Learning, an education software company.
Kristi Taylor is a former Gainesville real estate developer who founded an online gift registry called MonkeyWish.com with seven employees in the Hub. She said they are in negotiations with several large corporations to use MonkeyWish.com.
Taylor said the company is self-funded so far but she hoped to make connections with investors at the showcase as they are at the beginning stages of fundraising.
Muir said companies that presented at the showcase in the past have raised $500 million in investments.
Two companies at the showcase are developing treatments for hypertension based on UF research and are led by people with experience in drug development companies.
Allen Davidoff of Calgary, Alberta, CEO of XORTX Pharma, said he has strong interest from several large pharmaceutical companies in Korea and Japan and is trying to close on financing in a month.
"We're hoping the contacts we make here will help drive those investments," he said.
Pulmokine, based out of a lab in Rensselaer, N.Y., is developing treatments for pulmonary hypertension.
"I'd like to see if there's any interest from potential investors and establishing relationships to accelerate the drug development process," said CEO Lawrence Zisman.
Vinny Olmstead is managing director of Vocap Ventures, a Vero Beach venture capital firm that invests in early-stage technology companies.
He was attending his first UF tech showcase after he said he heard a number of venture capitalists talking about it at the Florida Venture Forum and about the number of startup companies and funding deals here.
As part of the showcase, UF presented the S. Clark Butler Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Lou Oberndorf, founder of Medical Education Technologies in Sarasota.
Oberndorf licensed an anesthesia simulator used to train medical students from UF in 1996. The company grew to 240 employees with simulators in more than 2,000 institutions worldwide before it was bought by CAE Healthcare in 2011 for $130 million.
"You are very fortunate in this room to be part of this community," Oberndorf said during a panel discussion on $100 million acquisitions. "The degree of help in this community, through the University of Florida, the Hub, that absolutely did not exist 20, 18 years ago."