UCF's Innovation and Economic Engine Success Catches National Attention

The University of Central Florida is a finalist in a national competition that recognizes institutions that are leaders in innovation and spurring economic prosperity.

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities named six universities finalist for the first APLU Innovation and Economic Prosperity Awards.

The association recognized UCF’s several programs that stimulate economic growth in Central Florida and for aggressively pursuing partnerships that benefit the region.

The university also was lauded for recruiting top students and faculty members in fields that are vital to the region’s economy, promoting a campus culture that can adapt quickly to meet regional needs, and for effective leadership.

“I am proud that Central Florida exemplifies for the nation how local and state governments, businesses, communities, and higher education can unite to advance prosperity,” UCF President John C. Hitt said. “Together, we help to create new companies, grow high-paying jobs, and boost the tax base. We are setting the standard for reinventing Florida’s economy.”

Other finalists include: Northern Illinois University, the State University of New York, the University of Cincinnati, the University of Memphis, and the University of Michigan.

Collaborating with local partners, UCF has achieved significant milestones recently in the areas of innovation and economic development. Among them:

  • The university’s Business Incubation Program, which recently graduated its 100th company, was named Incubator Network of the Year in 2013 by the National Business Incubation Association.
  • GrowFL, administered by UCF’s Economic Gardening Institute, has helped more than 400 Florida companies grow at a rate three times faster than their peers, adding more than 4,100 direct and indirect jobs.
  • The Blackstone LaunchPad opened last month to empower UCF students who have ideas for businesses with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed. The LaunchPad, based in the Student Union, provides one-on-one coaching, seminars and access to a network of mentors and experts who can help students start successful businesses.
  • The Florida High Tech Corridor Council, conceived by President Hitt in 1996 as a partnership with the University of South Florida, University of Florida and economic development organizations, has created an estimated 4,000 jobs and served more than 375 companies. The Council also has provided hands-on research experience for 2,500 students.

UCF also offers several academic programs focused on industries vital to Central Florida’s economy. Those include the College of Medicine, Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy, College of Optics and Photonics, Institute for Simulation and Training, and College of Engineering and Computer Science.

“Public universities have a responsibility to take their wide array of expertise and put it to work in their region by helping to grow businesses and strengthen the economy,” said APLU President Peter McPherson. “The institutions that are finalists for APLU’s inaugural Economic Prosperity University Awards have all demonstrated a clear commitment to economic engagement and have followed through by delivering results.  APLU will continue to serve as a resource for public universities to expand their economic engagement activities and help advance their regional economies.”

The application that universities submitted to be designated as an Innovation & Economic Prosperity University served as the basis for selecting award finalists. The case studies that each institution developed were especially central to universities’ demonstration of their best practices and were critical in determining award finalists, officials said.

Economic engagement efforts include universities working with public and private sector partners in their states and regions to support economic development through a variety of activities — innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfer, talent and workforce development, and community development.  The awards will recognize specific emphases in these areas.

The “Talent” award will honor an institution with exemplary initiatives in education and workforce development; the “Innovation” award will honor an institution demonstrating outstanding work in technology transfer, entrepreneurship, and business development; the “Place” award will recognize a university that is excelling in community, social, and cultural development work; and an “Overall” category will recognize an institution that is making connections between all of these university-engaged economic development areas.

“The APLU Innovation and Economic Prosperity Award process has given us the opportunity not just to take stock of our strengths but to identify key areas where we can improve our role as an economic driver for the region,” said M.J. Soileau, UCF’s vice president for research and commercialization. “Recognition of UCF’s innovation strengths by the APLU could not have come at a better time.  As we celebrate our 50th anniversary this year, we are delighted to see our strategy for serving the Central Florida city-state selected by some of the nation’s most respected university leaders as a finalist for this distinguished award.”

A national winner will be announced in November at the APLU’s annual meeting.

APLU is a research, policy, and advocacy organization representing 219 public research universities, land-grant institutions, state university systems, and related organizations.  Founded in 1887, APLU is the nation’s oldest higher education association with member institutions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories.