First tenant begins move to SFC business incubator


Mark Davidson, at center, president of Florida Tech Toybox, and his son Wesley Davidson, 19, at right, move into Mark's new office at GTEC, 2153 SE Hawthorne Rd., Monday, February 10, 2014.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 at 8:23 p.m.

Santa Fe College has its first tenant at the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center, just a week into its five-year agreement to manage the business incubator.

Florida Tech Toybox, a nonprofit company that aims to help inventors create their first products, started moving into the center on Southeast Hawthorne Road this week.

Founder and President Mark Davidson said he applied to rent incubation space at GTEC, as opposed to the University of Florida's Innovation Hub or Santa Fe's Center for Innovation and Economic Development, because he wanted to serve people in the community who might have nothing to do with either college and who aren't necessarily working with technology.

“They really don't have a lot of help to get things built,” Davidson said of that population. “If I get half of my business from artists and tinkerers, that would be great.”

Last month, SF College's district board of trustees approved an agreement to transfer management of GTEC to the college, effective Feb. 1 and lasting for five years with an option to renew. Before SF College's management, the center had been called the Gainesville Technology Enterprise Center.

The city of Gainesville still is responsible for maintaining the facility, but the college now will manage the incubator program and focus on increasing the number of businesses established within, and remaining within, Gainesville city limits.

The city will provide $150,000 for the launch phase, which SF College can continue to use over the five-year period.

GTEC is the oldest business incubator in Gainesville, established about 12 years ago, said SF College associate vice president for economic development Dug Jones.

Since then, the city has seen more incubator-type programs pop up, including the Innovation Hub, the CIED Center, HackerHouse and Starter Space.

“The landscape for incubation has changed a little bit, and so has the local economy,” Jones said, so it's time to repurpose GTEC and make sure it stays relevant.

GTEC can do that by addressing workforce and business needs in the community, he said.

Ideally, the center will help grow businesses that fill needed gaps, and founders will look to SF College grads to populate the company when it takes off.

Jones said SF College was interested in taking over GTEC because of the college's commitment to east Gainesville and its mission of finding new ways to educate and interact with the community.

It's also part of the League for Innovation in the Community College.

“That makes us, just by our own genes, more inclined to be interested in something like entrepreneurship, incubation and startup companies,” he said.

Eventually, GTEC will be able to absorb 12 to 15 small companies. However, Jones said, the center won't have much space to rent out for its first six months, while an existing company occupying the second floor lives out the rest of its lease.

There won't be a vastly different selection process for startups, although the process is likely to become faster.

Previously, GTEC had an advisory board that met monthly; Jones said he hopes to have a smaller group continually vetting startups so tenants could get into the space within a matter of days.

The center also will work with tenants on leases so that if a business fails within three months — or grows so much it must move into a bigger space — tenants won't be stuck with nine more months of rent.

“Our concept here is to remove the barriers to success to the degree we can, help them succeed or fail quickly ... and, ideally, move them on to success in their own facility in the community,” Jones said.

Contact Erin Jester at 338-3166 or erin.jester@gainesville.com.

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