In an effort to expand Broward County’s burgeoning startup and technology sector, the Nova Southeastern University Board of Trustees has unveiled plans for the NSU Broward Innovation Center, a 60,000-square-foot incubator and accelerator project.
The goal, they said at a gathering of about 100 local business leaders Monday, is to elevate Broward County as a national technology hub.
The project would require an initial investment of $20 million, including $13 million to construct the center at the Alvin Sherman Library on NSU’s Davie campus. NSU said the project would help attract and retain talent in the technology sector and assist new, innovative companies to grow locally. The initiative is also expected to benefit large technology companies already based in Broward – such as Magic Leap, e-Builder, Citrix Systems, Motorola Solutions and Hotwire Communications – that are adding to their workforces.
“We’ll know we’re successful when the dollar level of angel investors and [venture capital firms] go up in this community. That is what will identify us as a technology hub,” said Alan Levan, chairman of the NSU Board of Trustees. “As that word gets out and people want to be here to help create this, then the entrepreneurs will take hold and they will open their own innovation centers, and it becomes a massive community effort.”
The NSU Broward Innovation Center would include an “Innovation Space” that would operate as an incubation and accelerator area to develop high-tech prototypes and software. It would also include a pitch room. The center’s “Collaboration Space” would include space for events and co-working units, and its “Showcase Space” would house bootcamps, conference rooms and mentoring services.
The center is expected to be self-sustaining within five years, with an annual operation budget between $2 million and $3 million. Revenue opportunities include patents, licensing and research projects; multiple bootcamps annually, each with 15 enrollees who pay $10,000; community incubator offices that would bring in $126,000 annually; and co-working spaces that would create an annual revenue stream of $360,000.
The community incubators will host up to seven early-stage businesses. Applicants will be vetted by NSU staff and attend complimentary bootcamps and seminars on campus. They would also receive free legal counsel.
For the “Shark Accelerators,” the center’s accelerator program, the application process will be competitive and provide selected NSU startups with the resources to develop business plans and investment presentations. The center will help those startups secure funding, and their founders will attend bootcamps at the center and receive legal counsel.
The center will have full-time staff consisting of an executive director, administrative coordinator, and departments in events and marketing, PR and liaison services, which NSU says is not offered elsewhere in Broward County.
NSU plans to put $5 million toward the project, and will ask the county for $5 million. Federal and state funding, along with corporate and individual donations, are expected to fund the remaining $10 million required to complete the project. Ideally, the NSU Broward Innovation Center would open by fall 2019, Levan said. It needs to get on the Broward County agenda for further funding approvals.
“We believe that NSU can be a catalyst for attracting recognition to Broward County as a technology hub,” Levan said. “It requires branding, and it requires dedicated incubator space and a focal point for technology in the county. The interesting thing is so much of this technology already exists here, but it’s just not recognized as being here in any of the metro studies that are being done. It’s our objective to provide that catalyst.”
The executives in attendance were asked to give their input into the project and potentially lend their expertise in some way to the venture.
Andrew Duffell, president and CEO of the Research Park at Florida Atlantic University, said he sees potential for collaborations with his organization, which serves as a hub for startups, research and development. The Research Park already partners across county lines with local universities for initiatives such as marine research.
“This is really exciting,” Duffell said. “The more resources we can offer for entrepreneurs, the better.”
Kareen Boutros, executive director of the Broward Workshop, said the more than 100 CEOs who belong to her nonprofit business organization need this project to come to fruition.
“These CEOs are major supporters because they’re looking for this. They want to invest in startups and scale ups,” she said. “It’s long overdue, and this will hopefully put us on the map as a technology hub, where we rightfully belong.”
NSU President George Hanbury said the project needs the support of South Florida’s business community.
“This can’t just be a project with NSU and Broward County government,” Hanbury said. “The angels need a place to come hear the presentations, the VCs need to know where they can come and see presentations, and entrepreneurs need to know where they can go for resources or patent development.”