Orange and Blue with Envy

Gulf Coast


Okay, I have to admit it. Yes, I received my Ph.D. from Florida State University (#GoNoles). But I may have just found the residence hall where I’d want to live if I could do it all over again—in Gainesville.

Blasphemy, I know! But for those of you still reading (Gators mostly, I bet), let me elaborate. Two weeks ago, I joined a group led by the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County to visit the University of Florida’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. As partners in the new University of Florida Innovation Station coming to Sarasota County, we went to see firsthand the infrastructure and know-how behind the engineering program that picked our community for its first physical extension.

Back in March, when Gulf Coast joined the EDC and other investors like Sarasota County and the Charles and Margery Barancik Foundation to announce the Innovation Station, I was highly impressed with UF’s knowledge of and commitment to our region. But I was blown away by what I saw in Gainesville this month.

An Innovation Hub for promising start-ups, complete with mentors in residence, pro-bono service providers, modern labs and other shared facilities—along with a wall covered in the names of alumni start-ups that have successfully outgrown it. A residence hall and living community dedicated exclusively to entrepreneurs—think dorm rooms on top of shared workspace, collaboration pods and even a Fab Lab on the ground floor. We also saw UF’s Office of Technology Licensing and learned about its institutes of Engineering Innovation and Engineering Leadership. 

So, what’s all that have to do with our community? We are now an extension of that world-class College of Engineering, with all of its academic power, innovative technology and R&D. As local innovator (and Gator grad) Trey Lauderdale of Voalte said at the March announcement, a lack of engineering resources and talent was “a missing building block” in creating a true innovation economy in this region. No longer.

The Innovation Station will bring top engineering talent from UF here to intern and eventually work for employers like Voalte. It also will provide our own community’s students with streamlined entry into UF’s prestigious engineering program. And it will connect local companies and start-ups with UF researchers too. 

The Station plans to partner with our region’s higher-education institutions as well, like State College of Florida, where students can begin coursework before automatically enrolling in UF’s engineering school. It is another key piece of the regional “multiversity” concept being advanced by SCF, USF Sarasota-Manatee and our other local colleges in the C4 consortium.

For any Seminoles still reading (with narrowed eyes and gritted teeth, I imagine), let me also tout FSU’s new medical residency program here in Sarasota. That partnership with Sarasota Memorial Hospital will provide the only internal medicine residency program of its kind between St. Pete and Fort Myers. It aims to help fill the talent pipeline in another key industry for our region—healthcare.

So, I’m not trading my chop for the chomp just yet. Instead, I suggest we continue looking outward—at all possible partners—to fill niches and leverage the amazing resources we already have here, like diverse higher education, enviable quality of life, exceptional arts and culture and active, educated retirees. That’s how we’ll provide more opportunity for all residents, enhance our region’s unique places, build a competitive workforce and realize our potential for a 21st-century, innovation-based economy.

Mark Pritchett is president and CEO of Gulf Coast Community Foundation. He received his Ph.D. from Florida State University, where his research focused on strategic planning best practices in higher education.

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