Innovate May 2019

IPDC at Santa Fe College


Written By: Somila Dayile

Startups Praise New Program That Helps Them Grow

A new incubator program has joined the existing ones in Greater Gainesville in the past year – the Innovative Product Development Center at Santa Fe College. IPDC, housed at the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center, operates through a three-year, $500,000 federal grant.

IPDC offers a high level of support for businesses ranging from one that’s sketched out on a napkin to those that have strong sales, noted Director Karl Zawoy.

“Wherever you are, we’re here to help get you to the next step,” he said.

IPDC is serving 33 clients.

“We’re adding one every two weeks, and we expect to reach 50 or 60 by the end of the year,” Zawoy said.

The program has attracted 36 partner companies that offer expertise to the clients. The assistance includes lunch and learn workshops on topics including finance, marketing and patents. Mentors also offer one-on-one help.

Client Julie Johnson has been working in the lighting industry for more than 18 years. She came to a turning point as LED lighting became the norm. She was frustrated that vendors hadn’t kept up with changes in the business.

“I would compare the industry problems to planning a Thanksgiving dinner for 100 people,” she said. “You go to the store to purchase goods – after planning the meal and drawing up a budget – but you don’t find any price tags, and there aren’t any of the ingredients for the stuffing.

“At checkout, you decide to exchange the turkey for a can of Spam as you stand a chance of being above budget, but after paying, you realize that you have actually saved $10,” Johnson said.

IPDC offers a high level of support for businesses ranging from one that’s sketched out on a napkin to those that have strong sales.

Karl Zawoy

Johnson founded LiteSwap, which bills itself as providing “services and tools to help you transform architecture with amazing light designs.”

IPDC has helped her with finances, management practices and making presentations.

“Starting a business requires multi-tasking,” she said. “I’m not only responsible for production, but also with ensuring that clients are happy and many more things that IPDC resources have helped me with.”

Everything IPDC offers is free to member companies.

“Someone argued with us, saying it couldn’t all be free,” Zawoy said.

Client Safa Amiri founded NiekAab Desal, a Gainesville-based company that provides a way to desalinate water in remote areas and on islands. Although he acquired the technical skills he needed while earning his doctorate in chemical engineering from New Mexico State University, he needed the business coaching that IPDC provides.

Zawoy serves as Amiri’s mentor.

“I can approach him with any business-related problem I face, and he can help,” Amiri said. “If he can’t provide the solution, then he will connect me to someone who can assist me with my problem. He’s great.” 

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