April 2019 Articulate Featured Carousel

Working Together to Get Gainesville in GEAR


Written By: Mark Long

Much of the discussion today on building entrepreneurial ecosystems is dedicated to cooperative efforts among all the different players in the respective ecosystem. Greater Gainesville is no different.

A couple of months ago, outgoing director of the city’s Department of Doing, Wendy Thomas, suggested this community is lacking that cooperative effort.

“It was an eye-opener for me that Gainesville may not be the community I thought it was when I came here to work,” she was quoted as saying in The Gainesville Sun. “I thought there was a basis of shared values in the community, and I’m not sure we have shared values.”

Unfortunately, Ms. Thomas wasn’t aware of the Gainesville Entrepreneurial Area Roundtable (GEAR) and what it represents.

“We established GEAR because we were inspired by the collaborative attitudes here in Gainesville and the acknowledgement that coordination of our efforts would be a good thing,” said Dug Jones, associate vice president of economic development of Santa Fe College and one of GEAR’s founders.

GEAR is a working group in Gainesville that fosters a shared mission of growth and development of startup companies. Established in 2014, GEAR includes a group of individuals who represent various organizations in the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the area.

Those members represent the Cade Museum; StartupGNV; the Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce; SCORE; Santa Fe College; Working Food, Inc.; StarterSpace; Alachua County Economic Development; UF; UF Innovate; and, most recently, the City of Gainesville Department of Doing.

“We have every component needed for success here in Gainesville,” Jones continued. “It’s just a matter of fitting the pieces together efficiently.”

The members of GEAR represent a wide range of startup service providers in Alachua County and beyond. Originally meeting quarterly, the group now meets on a bi-monthly basis to promote awareness of entrepreneurial activities and share strategies about improving entrepreneurial growth in Alachua County. The members also discuss ways of improving communication around the area ecosystem.

It takes a unified effort by everyone in an entrepreneurial ecosystem to help entrepreneurs find the correct resources, best advice and most qualified opportunities to grow.

Each member brings a different aspect of startup support to the table. For example, UF Innovate and Santa Fe College both operate business incubation programs, which house new startup companies and provide extensive educational programming and support services to promote growth.

UF Innovate operates The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech incubators, and Santa Fe provides the Center for Innovation and Economic Development (CIED) and the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC).

In addition, Working Food, a new addition to the Alachua County ecosystem, operates an incubator that promotes a resilient local food community in North Central Florida.

StarterSpace is a unique coworking site that provides access to mentoring, support services and networking. SCORE provides business counseling and advising, and the City of Gainesville Department of Doing operates a seamless experience for citizens who want to start or grow a business.

StartupGNV is a relatively new organization providing a mentor network and extensive entrepreneurial networking to resources for capital, talent and guidance.

The Greater Gainesville Chamber of Commerce and Alachua County Economic Development are also connectors, providing access to quality resources that facilitate business growth such as information about workforce, talent and capital resources.

The Cade Museum is much more than a museum; it inspires and equips future entrepreneurs and visionaries.

UF Innovate provides the “Innovation NaviGator” program that assists individuals who want to start businesses by connecting them with the correct information and key support. The NaviGator responds to questions and provides answers that point to the most appropriate local organization to meet the individual’s need.

“We are often contacted by Alachua County residents looking for assistance with turning their business ideas into a reality,” said Elliott Welker, who serves as the Innovation NaviGator. “We introduce them to Santa Fe College’s three centers, which offer a continuum of services across the business life cycle. They’ve helped more than 2,000 entrepreneurs ideate, launch and grow their businesses.”

GEAR represents a concerted effort by the entrepreneurial service providers in the North Central Florida region to build a united entrepreneurial network that advances company growth. By sharing opportunities, assets and information, GEAR can provide the best possible environment for startup companies.

GEAR members share data and information about potential clients and resources to enhance the entrepreneurial service offerings in the entire region.

For instance, a UF student working on a medical device needed assistance with fabricating the device and creating a business model.

“We connected the student with the Fab Lab at Infinity Hall for assistance fabricating the device using its 3D printers and to the UF Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center through the business college to assist her with mentorship and a space to launch her business,” Welker said.

Here are more examples of GEAR
cross-fertilization:

A software application company involved in online commerce approached Santa Fe CIED. Through the GEAR connection, CIED felt The Hub’s resources were a better match to assist the company. It pointed the company to The Hub, and now the company is a Hub client.

In another example, The Hub has referred clients involved in manufacturing to GTEC, as GTEC has intense experience and expertise in manufacturing.

“We interact with a large variety of entrepreneurs who need consistent direction and guidance,” Welker said. “We are able to connect them with SCORE, which is composed of active and retired business people who provide clients with free and confidential business counseling.

“SCORE offers a diverse roster of mentors who can help entrepreneurs such as a software engineer with a SaaS (software as a service) company, a farmer with an innovative growing system or a stay-at-home parent with a web design firm. SCORE advises these entrepreneurs to help them focus on taking their business to the next level.”

There is no selfishness or competition among the members of GEAR; they are all dedicated to advancing entrepreneurial businesses in the Greater Gainesville area. This is a boon to entrepreneurs as now, when they approach any resource in Alachua County, they will be directed to whomever can supply exactly what they need.

What does GEAR provide?

Often, companies looking to relocate to the area want information about the talent pool and need to understand the demographics of the area. When GEAR meets, the members share the latest statistics, trends and corporate information among all the members, so each group is aware of the opportunities in the region.

The Greater Gainesville Chamber and Alachua County Economic Development provide regular reports on labor trends, company growth and new entries into the North Central Florida market. This enables other GEAR members to serve as better ambassadors for the area and allows each member to provide up-to-date statistics
and information to prospective site selection agents.

Companies want to be in a location that provides talent, capital and support, and the GEAR network can connect entrepreneurial startups with whatever they need!

“As a result of the high levels of communication among group members, we tend to align values and efforts very well,” Jones said.

GEAR represents the best of the best
in entrepreneurial support and startup assistance that Alachua County has to offer.

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