Win Phillips: Why Gainesville is the Innovation City

Published: June 21 2010


This op-ed appeared June 20 in the Gainesville Sun.

By Win Phillips
Win Phillips is the vice president for research at the University of Florida.

The University of Florida’s new Innovation Hub will spur new startups, high-paying jobs and outside investment in our community.

Here’s something equally important: This week’s groundbreaking for UF’s second technology incubator heralds another addition to a city with solidifying sense of place.

A place with a thriving technology economy, but also a diversity of businesses, arts and nature, of day trips to local springs and an annual astronomy night that draws thousands.

A place that, if thoughtfully nurtured, can be distinctive enough to win over the scientists, investors and creative types who can also choose to settle in Boulder, Austin, Chapel Hill or anywhere else.

The launch of the Innovation Hub, GlaxoSmithKline’s purchase of NovaMin, the use of AxoGen’s nerve grafts in Afghanistan: The local technology community is nothing if not dynamic.

Florida’s unemployment rate tops 12 percent, but UF and growth in innovation has helped keep Alachua County’s rate among the lowest in the state, at just over 7 percent. UF start-up companies created 100 high-tech jobs in the first half of this fiscal year alone.

Just as refreshing are the creative people and fresh ideas that make up the tech community. The 20-something who started the paradigm-shattering music sharing site Grooveshark. The university engineer who figured out that miniaturized sharkskin could repel disease-causing bacteria in hospitals. The battery company executive whose startup was lauded by President Obama last year as just what the country needs to pull out of the recession.

Sam Tarantino, Tony Brennan, Deepika Singh; they are emblematic of the diversity and creativity of the local innovators behind dozens of startups and more mature companies here.

If the technology community were an island, cut off from the city and local culture, it could easily wither. But that is not at all how things are. The community of innovators is one of the many elements of today’s most vaunted progressive cities that seem to be coming together here.

As UF President Machen said at Monday’s groundbreaking, Gainesville is a “place where more and more people work at a start-up in the morning, enjoy a lunch made with locally grown produce, cool off at the springs on the weekends … and fuel it all with coffee roasted locally.”

Dozens of artists here have banded together in the group Florida’s Eden to protect our water and other natural amenities while supporting sustainable growth. Gainesville Regional Utilities is the first in the nation to implement a solar feed-in tariff. So many people bring visiting family members to Paynes Prairie’s La Chua Trail on holidays to gape at the lolling alligators, there is barely a place to park.

No other community has these things. Not to mention, of course, the Gators of the athletic variety.

Just a few years ago, promoters of economic development and environmental protection clashed frequently. To be sure, there are still sometimes divisions along these fault lines, but they are fading.

Partly this is a result of the sea change in favor of all things green. But the growth of the technology community is a gathering unifier.

As the Chamber of Commerce’s economic development plan Innovation Gainesville implicitly recognizes, everyone can support local entrepreneurs – especially when so many are trying to market a new green technology or product.

Just this month, Gainesville Sun readers learned about local startup Evolugate LLC and its plans to develop designer microbes that clean up oil spills.

The Innovation Hub will serve as a bridge to unite downtown and the university through the technology economy. As such, it is a valuable addition to the hubs of nature, arts, education and health care also coalescing in Gainesville. If we value and support this diverse, unique mix of people, causes, cultures and opportunities, the creative leaders who can live anywhere will increasingly choose to live right here.


Media Contact
Aaron Hoover