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Summit Celebrates USF's Innovation and Economic Development Efforts

USF and business leaders dedicate time capsule, tour new Florida Inventors Hall of Fame exhibit

The University of South Florida’s 4th Annual Innovation and Economic Prosperity Summit on May 16 culminated with the dedication of a time capsule to contain artifacts highlighting the research and inventions of USF faculty and students.

The capsule, a large metal box, will be buried this summer on the grounds of the Sanberg Family Inventors Commons in the USF Research Park. The plaque to mark its spot comes with the instructions: “To be opened in 2067.”

From left: Ed Schons, new president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council; Randy Berridge, the Council's founding president; Paul Sanberg, senior vice president of research, innovation and economic development at USF; and Elizabeth Nelson, director of the Matching Grants Program, USF Connect. 

“In 50 years we hope future generations will be intrigued to find some of the artifacts we are leaving so they will know what a special era of technology transfer this was in USF’s history,” said Paul R. Sanberg, USF senior vice president of research, innovation and economic development and distinguished university professor.

Some 125 attendees, including USF and community leaders, gathered in the Interdisciplinary Research Building’s Galleria for the summit. They had the opportunity to check out the nearby Tampa Bay Technology Incubator coworking space and the new Florida Inventors Hall of Fame Exhibit. The exhibit’s glass display cases, contain inventions by several inductees, including a modern replica of Thomas Edison’s first practical light bulb created in 1879 and an original can of Gatorade, the successful scientifically-formulated sports drink invented by the late James Robert Cade.

Of the USF-founded Florida Inventors Hall of Fame’s 28 inductees, whose  inventions representing more than 2,100 patents in fields spanning medicine, engineering, computer, science, electricity, telecommunications and automobile, five are from USF. The new exhibit features an interactive kiosk with videos that profile all the inventors and celebrate their achievements.

The new Florida Inventors Hall of Fame exhibit is located off the lobby of the Interdisciplinary Research Building in the USF Research Park.

Each year, the summit updates participants on USF’s research, commercialization and technology transfer efforts. Achievements over the past year highlighted by Sanberg included:

- The USF System’s innovation and economic development efforts generate more than $400 million in statewide impact each year, sustain more than 3,000 jobs, and return more than $52 million in local, state and federal tax revenue, according to a recent Washington Economics Group analysis commissioned by USF and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council.

- In 2016, USF earned designation as the state’s first Emerging Preeminent University from the Florida Legislature.

- Led the nation in the number of Fulbright Scholars for 2016-17.

- Ranked seventh best public university in America and 34th best university worldwide among “Golden Age” universities founded from 1945 to 1966.

- Tallied a record-breaking $458.5 million in research grants and contracts during fiscal year 2016.

Sanberg updated university and community leaders on USF's research, commercialization and technology transfer accomplishments over the last year.

- Ranked 19th in the nation among 200 universities analyzed by the prestigious Milken Institute for technology transfer – the process of turning laboratory research into technologies, products and companies.

- Based on USF technology, nine new startups launched in 2016. USF has 65 products on the market, 12 technologies in human clinical trials, and 35 products at the preclinical, development or prototype stages.

- USF’s Innovation Enterprise is partnering with Florida Funders to launch Seed Tampa Bay, a $5-million early-stage seed fund to invest in high-growth potential technology start-up companies in the Tampa Bay region. USF was among a select number of organizations in 19 states receiving grants through the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Regional Innovation Strategies program to support the project.

The summit's keynote speaker was Richard Gonzmart, president of the Columbia Restaurant Group and long-time supporter of USF and its students.

Sanberg also reported that, to accelerate economic development in the region, a USF System Office of Corporate Partnerships will open in the coming year. This collaboration, teams the university’s research side and its foundation with companies in the community. It will enhance opportunities for faculty and students to work with regional businesses through internships, collaborative innovation, and corporate philanthropy, while providing businesses with new avenues of research and support, Dr. Sanberg said.

The summit’s keynote speaker was Richard Gonzmart, president of the Columbia Restaurant Group, member of the USF Foundation Board of Directors Emeritus Society, long-time supporter of USF and its students, and a marathon runner. He shared how he applies the lessons learned from his family business history to future projects.

Gonzmart, a fourth-generation member of the acclaimed Columbia restaurant’s founding family, said graduating high school was challenging because he had attention deficit disorder and dyslexia. Nonetheless, he persevered in his dream to re-invent the beloved family business and open new restaurants positioned for a successful future, all while still honoring the city’s past.

Sanberg points out some of the artifacts contained in the Florida Inventors Hall of Fame exhibit.

“Sometimes I felt stupid, because I think a little differently. That’s because when you’re an innovator, you think differently, you think outside the box -- and that box isn’t square, it’s round,” he said. “It was challenging when I inherited a 70-year-old restaurant. I thought, how do I make it relevant? How do I make it the most modern, yet the oldest restaurant in Florida? How do I make it one of 14 restaurants still owned and operated by its founding family?”

Gonzmart said he did it with the help of outstanding employees, including a vice president of marketing, chief financial officer and other key people he knows, respects, and has worked with for many years.

“It’s not just one of us that makes a difference, it’s the team of people we surround ourselves with,” he said.

Brick columns lining a walkway on the USF Research Park grounds display plaques summarizing the innovation of each of 28 Florida Inventors Hall of Fame inductees.

Hard work, persistence and the determination to “never give up on your dreams” also helps in a business where only 8 out of 10 restaurants make it through their first year, Gonzmart said.

Ulele took several millions more than originally budgeted to construct in a 6,500-square-foot historical building on the banks of the Hillsborough River in Tampa Heights, Gonzmart said, but now nearly three years from its opening, the destination restaurant does more in food and beverage sales than the Tampa Convention Center.

To succeed as an innovator, “you have to be passionate, you have to care, you have to dream,” Gonzmart said. “Sometime the dreams don’t work, but it’s OK to make a mistake because that’s how you learn. As long as you don’t make the same mistake again.”

At the dedication, summit participants browsed some research artifacts and inventions that will be included in the time capsule.

After the formal program, guests gathered on the grounds of the Inventors Commons with Sanberg and Randy Berridge, founding president of the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, for dedication of the time capsule.

Lining a table on the outdoor stage were some artifacts to be added to the capsule, including letters from USF System President Judy Genshaft, Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and several legislators, as well as several patented inventions by USF faculty and students. Among the inventions was the Puff-N-Fluff dog drying system invented by Marissa Streng, winner of the 2011 USF Young Innovator Competition.

Puff-N-Fluff, a patented dog dryer system invented by the winner of the 2011 USF Young Innovator Competition, is among the faculty and student inventions to be added to the time capsule. 

Story by Anne DeLotto Baier, and photos by Freddie Coleman, USF Health Communications and Marketing

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