Partnership Awarded $1 Million Grant

The federal grant, awarded to USF-led partnership, will be used to launch new companies and create jobs.


Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 19, 2012) – A regional partnership led by the University of South Florida has been awarded $1 million by the U.S. Commerce Department to support new web and mobile app ventures, a project designed to launch new companies and create hundreds of high-wage jobs in the greater Tampa Bay region, Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank announced Wednesday.


Tracey Swartz, (left) asst. director of USF’s innovation and incubation program and Linda Olson, founder of Tampa Bay WaVE.

The grant is one of just seven i6 Challenge grants awarded nationwide this year—the only one awarded this year in the southeast. An estimated 245 high-wage jobs totaling more than $15 million in annual salaries will be created as the project pairs selected ventures with dedicated mentors and supports the fledgling businesses with an array of resources and services.


“We are proud to be partners with Tampa Bay WaVE, the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, Tampa Bay Technology Forum, the City of Tampa, Hillsborough County, the University of Tampa, various private companies, and many others in this exciting regional effort,” said USF President Judy Genshaft. “This grant will help support tech entrepreneurs in those fragile first years as they take their new ideas to market.”


The i6 Challenge grant - working through Tampa Bay WaVE - will help at least 50 Florida-based startup companies secure early-stage funding to grow into viable high tech companies.  In addition to the $1 million grant, another $1 million in cash and in-kind contributions is provided from members of the partnership.


The grant will be used to establish and operate The FirstWaVE Venture Center, an innovation and incubation center to be headquartered in downtown Tampa.  The Center will initially serve the eight Florida counties that make up the greater Tampa Bay area but is designed to create an innovation ecosystem that can be replicated in other Florida regions.


The project is led by Tracey Swartz, assistant director of USF’s innovation and incubation program; Sudeep Sarkar, USF’s associate vice president for research and innovation and professor of computer science and engineering; and Linda Olson, founder and executive director of Tampa Bay WaVE.


“In establishing the collaborative, USF is partnering closely with the local community, building on each other’s expertise to promote and enable entrepreneurship in the region,” said Swartz.


Founded in 2008, Tampa Bay WaVE is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping entrepreneurs turn technology ideas into high growth business ventures in Tampa Bay. Currently, WaVE has a membership of more than 80 technology ventures at various stages, 10 percent of which have reached more than $1 million in annual sales or outside investment.  One member venture was acquired for $35 million in 2011.  In 2012, WaVE was named “Entrepreneurial Organization of the Year” by the USF Alumni Society of Entrepreneurship.


”The i6 Challenge grant was a result of unprecedented collaboration between the academic, governmental, and business communities of Tampa Bay,” Olson said. “Tampa Bay WaVE is excited to work with USF and our other regional partners to establish a one-of-a kind facility and program to help technology entrepreneurs create and grow thriving technology companies.”


A one-day conference for the i6 Challenge winners will be held at the Department of Commerce in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2.  President Genshaft also has been invited a day earlier to participate as a panelist discussing student and faculty innovation and entrepreneurship in a conference hosted by the Department of Commerce at the White House.


The U.S. Economic Development Administration reports the i6 Challenge has provided $24 million over the last two years to 12 winners across the United States to create their own centers for innovation and entrepreneurship. In addition, these centers have raised another $1 to $2 million from the private sector to support their efforts.


In announcing the competition last June, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Matt Erskine said: “Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses, and innovation is the driver. The i6 Challenge will reward innovative concepts for Proof of Concept Centers that can accelerate innovation from 'lab to market' of breakthrough technologies and unleash business opportunities in new industries."


 “We know if we can get these companies through their infancy, they will change the face of our economy and create hundreds of high-paying jobs in Tampa Bay,” said Genshaft.