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This is the eleventh installment of a blog series we’re calling “Sarasota Sizzle.” What’s “sizzle,” you ask? The Blink;Tech team’s definition of “sizzle” is what happens at the local intersection of creativity, technology, and entrepreneurship. The more we look around us in Sarasota, the more we discover people, businesses, projects, and initiatives that “sizzle.” And when something sizzles, it’s too good not to share.

Most great innovation occurs due to a challenge. The challenge for Trey Lauderdale, the founder and president of Sarasota-based technology company Voalte, was a local dearth of engineers. When he sought to expand Voalte Platform™, a mobile application for hospitals that launched at Sarasota Memorial Health Care System (SMHCS), Lauderdale needed to attract people to the area to help him reach his goal.

It seems that Lauderdale may soon tap into more innovation than he bargained for. After working over the last few years with Rich Swier of the HuB and Mark Huey of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, the University of Florida (UF) recently announced they would open their first “Innovation Station” right here in Sarasota, offering the promise of some great minds coming through the area to lead our community into the future.

UF has already changed Florida’s landscape with an Agricultural Extension in each county. Through these extensions, farmers are able to get the help they need to keep Florida growing, and our collective understanding is expanded through UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. UF wants to follow a similar model with the Innovation Station, with Sarasota being the first of under a dozen Florida counties that show great promise in engineering and design.

In order to earn this distinction, a business advisory board was created to include a number of local businesses, universities (Ringling College, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, New College of Florida, and the State College of Florida), and SMHCS. It actually worked in Sarasota’s favor that we didn’t have a major university, but leaders from the local colleges realize that a resource of this magnitude will have an astounding impact on local education programs.

UF currently receives over $2 billion in research grants and submits thousands of patents each and every year. With the McKnight Brain Institute as one of the most comprehensive centers on brain operation in the country, and UF’s ability to work across departments, I’ve heard some students are now even working on how to move matter with the mind.

UF is seeding the Innovation Station project with $1 million in funding, but other partners who see the possibilities are getting involved as well. The Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation is the lead philanthropic supporter with a five-year $980,000 grant, and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation will supply a one-year grant of $63,000.

Swier says getting the Innovation Station to Sarasota was a mix of serendipity, timing, and talent. To keep the juices of innovation flowing, Swier says he hopes that students will have ideas for a product the HuB can help launch, and is heading up the “HuB Fund” in order to do just that. Throughout the summer, the HuB and real estate juggernaut Offrs are partnering up to run a contest, offering $20,000 to whoever proposes the next great real estate innovation. They hope to inspire other companies looking for innovation to run similar contests.

While the Innovation Station offers a pipeline to great talent and great technology, like most innovations, no one really knows how it’s going to work until it’s set in motion. The Innovation Station’s office at the HuB building will have a direct line to its partner schools, so professors and students can always be in communication about what is happening at the station.

Exactly what that will be is as yet unsure. As innovations come with challenges, the demand will dictate the supply. But the Innovation Station is certain to give students the ability to apply what they’re learning, and hopefully empower them to make some really great changes in the world.

At Blink;Tech, we synthesize cutting-edge web development with creative Internet marketing strategies to help businesses of all sizes and industries succeed on the web. Talk to us today about how we can make your business, project, or idea sizzle.

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