The Florida High Tech Corridor and four university-based organizations won a $150,000 grant from the Small Business Administration (SBA) for their joint program aimed at aiding underrepresented women innovators succeed by preparing them to win national grants.
The SBA grant, one of only eight nationwide, came from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Catalyst competition that sought to fund partnerships that focused on helping underrepresented entrepreneurs.
Currently, only 13 percent of SBIR grant recipients are women. The Corridor will use the new funds to train women innovators how to successfully apply for these grants and then take their innovations to market.
“Even more important than winning the prize is what this effort symbolizes for the region, validating the important work of our partners to support and showcase women entrepreneurs in Florida,” Amy Beaird, cluster manager for The Corridor, said in a press release.
The Corridor is partnered on this program with UF’s Collaboratory for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, UCF’s Business Incubator Program, USF CONNECT and weVENTURE at Florida Tech.
“Just as the name of this prize implies, The Corridor is a catalyst for boundary-breaking collaboration,” said Paul Sohl, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral and CEO of The Corridor. “We welcome the responsibility to serve as a convener, bringing the expertise and resources of our partners together to fulfill a shared mission around such an important issue.”
The Corridor will also work in conjunction with the other seven winners of the SBIR Catalyst competition. The winners will hold joint meetings to share best practices and assist each other. The other winners are located in Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, New Mexico, New York and Oklahoma.
Wanda Eugene, head of UF’s Collaboratory for Inclusive Entrepreneurship, said she’s excited to begin conversations with women innovators to figure out what support is needed.
“You can have ideas for days, but without funding, then those ideas are just harder to bring into fruition,” Eugene said in a phone interview.
Eugene has worked on both sides of the SBIR grant process, as an applicant and one who reviews grant applications, and she’s a co-founder of DEEP Designs.
The SBIR grant application process is highly technical and can confuse applicants. Eugene said she wants to prepare women entrepreneurs to not only apply successfully but submit strong applications that win.
She also said mentorship among minority entrepreneurs is often lacking and hopes UF’s Collaboratory for Inclusive Entrepreneurship can fill that role, though the specifics on what that looks like is still in the works.
While this is the first year for the SBIR Catalyst competition, SBA looks to increase funding over the coming years in the area of underrepresented entrepreneurs.
This year, the SBA awarded $5.4 million to the eight Catalyst winners and 84 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition winners. Depending on President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, SBA could receive $400 million to continue the work.
The Florida High Tech Corridor started in 1996 as an economic development initiative by UCF, USF and UF. It covers a 23-county region including Alachua, Levy and Putnam counties.