University of Florida’s Innovation Station program wins another $1.2 million in County Commission grant funds

Among program’s goals are to support growth of high-tech, high-wage jobs in the county

Image courtesy University of Florida

On June 3, the Sarasota County Commission unanimously approved spending another $1.2 million, through 2027, for the University of Florida Innovation Station program in Sarasota County (UFIS-SC).

The university will match that contribution, a University of Florida (UF) news release noted.

Established in 2016, the Innovation Station became the first physical extension in the state of the University of Florida’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, a county staff memo explained. The program was developed to strengthen the region’s innovation economy; support the growth of high-tech, high-wage jobs; increase technology transfer and employee retention; and foster start-up opportunities in the Sarasota area,” the university news release explained.

“The internships and co-op programs offered to students encourages them to establish their careers within Sarasota County,” the county staff memo said. “The success of this collaboration [with UF] facilitates workforce development and economic development within the County,” the memo added.

Commissioner Mike Moran expressed his support of the project in the UF news release: “We know local industry is hungry for talent. It’s exciting to see University of Florida making a direct contribution to providing that talent.”

Since its launch, the Innovation Station has placed more than 100 UF engineering interns at more than 40 local companies, and it has “arranged 12 capstone projects with companies in the region,” the UF news release continued.

The Innovation Station operates out of a facility located at 1468 Boulevard of the Arts in Sarasota. Image from Google Maps

During its first three years, the news release pointed out, UFIS-SC also ushered 41 students majoring in computer engineering, computer science, electrical engineering, and digital arts and science into the Gator Engineering program at the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota. Additionally, this year, those majoring in aerospace and mechanical engineering were eligible as well, “to continue boosting the talent pipeline,” the release added.

“The Gator Engineering at State College of Florida program has grown each year thanks to the support of the UF Innovation Station in student recruiting and internships,” said Carol Probstfeld, president of the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, in the release. “Our partnership will continue to expand and educate even more of the engineers that help Manatee and Sarasota Counties grow and prosper,” she added.

Moreover, the UF Innovation Station’s K-12 outreach has reached more than 3,000 students in the region’s elementary, middle and high schools through classroom support and outreach efforts, the news release noted.

More than 450 local students have participated in field trips to University of Florida-Gainesville for hands-on activities, demonstrations and lab tours in the College of Engineering, the release said.

Recognizing the importance of supporting teachers in an effort to build a talent pipeline, the University of Florida also is providing professional development for teachers, training 28 in Sarasota County, thanks to a grant UF received from the U.S. Department of Education.

This is the Innovation Station staff. Image courtesy University of Florida

“This is my first year teaching coding classes, and it is so helpful to be able to incorporate sensor and probe technology into all of my courses, especially for students who really benefit from the hands-on approach to learning,” said Booker Middle School science teacher Karen Hart in the release.

In March 2016, the county staff memo pointed out, the commission approved a five-year, $1-million grant for the Innovation Station, “to assist with costs relating to [its] implementation …”

To date, the memo said, the county has paid $450,000 in grants to the project.

The funding agreement was to continue through March 31, 2021, the staff memo said, unless either party sought to terminate it.

The commission had asked staff to prepare a second agreement, the UF release noted.

The document that won commission approval this week explained that the first grant funds were allocated “to help fund the initial creation, capitalization and operation of the Innovation Station, [especially in regard to] hiring staff and leasing and equipping the Sarasota County facility. The Sarasota County Grant represented approximately 33% of the initial 5-year budget for the Innovation Station,” the agreement added.

Cammy Abernathy, dean of the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering, said in the release, “As we near the four-year anniversary of the launch of UF Innovation Station, we are proud of what we have been able to accomplish with the support of Sarasota County and great partners like the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation.”