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Business Incubator Series: An Interview With Dr. Tom O’Neal, Executive Director, University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program — Orlando, Florida (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Mar 3rd 2011

By guest author Irina Patterson and Mridula Velagapudi

I am talking to Tom O’Neal, executive director of the University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program which is a University-driven community partnership that provides training, infrastructure, and professional services for entrepreneurs in central Florida.

Since 1999, the UCF Business Incubation Program has helped more than 140 emerging companies (including nearly 100 current clients) create over $500 million in annual revenue and more than 1,600 new jobs with an average salary of $59,000. With seven locations now open across the metro Orlando community and one in the building phase, the Business Incubation Program is a collaboration in economic development between UCF, Orange County, the City of Orlando, Seminole County, the City of Winter Springs, Lake County, the City of Leesburg, the City of Sanford, Osceola County, the city of St. Cloud, the city of Kissimmee, and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.

Irina: Hi, Tom. Let’s start with a brief overview.

Tom: The UCF Business Incubation Program has eight different locations, and we are getting ready to open a ninth one. So, we have one incubator with multiple sites.

One at the Research Park, which is where my office is, adjacent to the University of Central Florida, and there is one on the campus of UCF. We have one in Kissimmee, one in Leesburg, one pretty close to downtown Orlando, one in Sanford, one in St. Cloud, and one in Winter Spring.

We are a nonprofit. Actually, it is a part of the university. I am the executive director of the program and the associate vice president of research and commercialization at UCF.

Irina: When was the incubator founded?

Tom: We opened our doors in October 1999, and in early 2000 we got started.

Irina: What kind of entrepreneurs you prefer? Are there any specific industries you favor?

Tom: We like to serve clusters in the community, if you will. We have a lot of IT Web services and products, we have a lot growing in environmental health, we have digital media, education, and training technology, which is mostly IT-based engineering products and design services. We have a couple of materials companies, we have some in optics and lasers based in Orlando. We had about dozen of optics companies and we have modeling and simulation training in air-force and environmental energy products and services.

Irina: You take in entrepreneurs from your local community as well, right? They are not only from the university?

Tom: Right. Only about 30% come directly from the university, the rest are from the community.

Irina: At what stage would you suggest companies apply for incubation in your program?

Tom: Typically, we would like to see at least a working prototype. They don’t need to have revenue, but they need something that they are ready to sell. They need to be serious; we require at least one full-time person. We are looking for companies that are serious, that they will raise something out of their idea and turn it into a legitimate business opportunity.

Irina: Would you describe an ideal company that could benefit from your services?

Tom: Maybe someone who just got a small research grant. They don’t have a place, but they do this out of a garage. We bring them in here and really start to working on their business plan. And if they get to a phase two, they already have a million dollars’ worth of money coming in the company, we can help them scale up. We can help them leverage the resources of the university. These are the ones that have worked out the best so far.

We look at companies that could be investable, and that is why we want to see a legitimate business plan and somebody who can really make a significant commitment of time and effort to make it become successful.

Irina: How many companies have been incubated to date?

Tom: Probably close to 200; we have about 100 current clients.

Irina: What are the core benefits that your incubator provides?

Tom: We use a simple expression here. If you met one entrepreneur, you met one entrepreneur. So we do what is similar to if you were sick and went to a hospital – an emergency room. We are really trying to determine how it is we can help these companies.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Business Incubator Series: An Interview With Dr. Tom O’Neal, Executive Director, University of Central Florida’s Business Incubation Program -- Orlando, Florida
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