Orlando Where Entrepreneurial Dreams Come True – Orlando may really be the place where dreams come true, and not simply for our world renowned theme parks. With our great weather, an abundance of post-secondary educational institutions, emerging centers of medical and high tech industries, and a population with a knack for entrepreneurship and innovation, it’s no wonder that “ the City Beautiful” is home to 2.2 million residents and welcomes over 50 million travelers each year .
Recently, the national Entrepreneur Center (NEC) celebrated its 10th anniversary, having been founded in 2003 as a joint venture between orange county government, Walt Disney World, and the University of Central Florida (UCF), as a singular place for entrepreneurs to seek support. The NEC offers easy access to 11 programs, which provide business assistance to entrepreneurs. this year alone, the center has coached more than 12,000 small business leaders. In its decade-long existence, the nEc has helped and trained more than 100,000 small businesses and facilitated more than $150 million in small business loans.
In a recent ceremony celebrating the 10th anniversary of the NEC, Nancy Gidusko, Director of community relations for Walt Disney World, shared the story of one of the most famous entrepreneurs to call central florida home: Walt Disney. His early filmmaking career was fraught with failures, including the bankruptcy and loss of his first company. But after going on to make the world’s first cartoon with sound, Mickey Mouse, Walt Disney’s creativity and innovation would lead him to great success in multiple different industries beyond film. In fact, it was when Walt Disney re imagined the amusement park that he left his greatest mark on central florida. Before the opening of walt Disney world, amusement parks were not reviewed as “Vacation Destinations”. with Walt Disney World, the exact opposite was true – over- night, WDW became an instant hit. Simply by thinking differently, Walt and his brother Roy created a vibrant and successful business, and gave birth to this region’s tourism industry that has been a powerful economic engine ever since.
Walt Disney’s Story is important because it represents the permanent impact that innovation and entrepreneurism has on our state and to our economy. Today the Walt Disney company is the world’s largest media and entertainment company and Orlando is the theme park, attraction, and amusement park capital of the world. None of this would have been possible without entrepreneurs like Walt and Roy Disney.
In Orlando, we share the same belief that they did. We believe in entrepreneurs, giving them guidance and support early on help foster stronger, high-growth companies while helping them to avoid unnecessary government regulations, particularly in this recovering economy. Our natural instinct is to guide and nurture these small businesses to give them the best chance to succeed in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.
Much like Walt Disney World, The University of Central Florida shares a similar tale. When the First discussions were held regarding the creation of a University in Central Florida, the Florida legislature opted to put UCF (known then as florida technology University) on the far east side of the county, among the citrus groves and scrub pines. In the early 1960’s, the citrus and aerospace industries dominated the area. Few people opposed the creation of a New University so it seemed like an ideal place.
Like Walt Disney, UCF blazed new trails, both literally and figuratively. Since its founding in 1963, UCF has become the second-largest university in the country, recognized worldwide for its research and facilities, and continuing to grow.
UCF’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is among their most recognized efforts, receiving praise for its contribution to Innovation and Job creation across Central Florida. It includes UCF’s technology transfer services, venture lab, the UCF Business incubation Program, and the Florida Economic Gardening Institute with its GrowFL program.
The UCF Business Incubation Program (UCFBIP) and the Florida Economic Gardening Institute’s GrowFL program have helped companies create more than 7,400 new jobs since 1999. GrowFL was introduced in 2009 to assist successful small companies in growing to the next level. As the only statewide organization focused exclusively on second-stage and emerging second- stage companies, GrowFL uses strategic research and peer-to-peer mentoring to help those companies both improve their performance and expand, creating sales and jobs in the process. The organization also recognizes the top 50 up-and-coming second-stage companies across the state during its annual “Florida companies to watch” gala.
The UCFBIP partners with local governments to provide early-stage companies with the tools, training and infrastructure needed to be successful and create high-growth businesses. since its founding in 1999, this selective program has worked with more than 300 companies, which have generated more than $500 million in annual revenue since the organization’s inception. The university has provided expertise and consulting support to help local governments create nine business incubation sites throughout Central Florida. The UCFBIP has been recognized internationally for offering best practices in business incubation, most recently being named the 2013 “Incubator network of the Year” by the National Business Incubation Association, the world’s leading organization advancing business incubation and entrepreneurship.
The UCFBIP recently introduced two new initiatives: The veteran’s initiative, which works with local veteran entrepreneurs, and the soft landing program, to assist foreign companies wishing to enter the US market.
In the first initiative, the UCFBIP joined forces with Kauffman FastTrac to help central florida veterans by offering the “FastTrac NewVenture for the Veteran Entrepreneur” course. This course is available to veterans who have an idea for a new or expanding business, but need a plan and framework for successful starting a company. Participants will benefit from 30 hours of training, along with a support network of experienced veteran entrepreneurs, mentors, and advisors. The course, a value of up to $700 per person, is offered at a discounted rate to veterans.
The second initiative, the “soft landing” program, was created to help companies from other countries that are interested in doing business in the U.S. The program offers early-stage companies a variety of tools and resources, including satellite offices with flexible leases for up to 24 months, connections with Central Florida Businesses and the entrepreneurial community, and access to a network of training and meeting rooms. As a hub of international travel, it’s no coincidence that our region’s largest international trading partner, Brazil, is also our largest source of international travelers. The soft landing Program capitalizes on this valuable opportunity to attract foreign Businesses and investment to our region.
Orlando-Orange county is thrilled that so many Brazilians have chosen to visit and call orlando home. Our region’s location, vibrant and diverse culture and innovative ecosystem play a major part in the strength of our economy. If you are a business owner in Orlando, are thinking of starting a business, or have a business abroad and wish to bring it to Central Florida, we want to help you tap into the wealth of resources that are available through the University of Central Florida, our local governments, and our partnering Organizations. Together, we can help propel Central Florida’s economy and quality of life to the next level. And from my perspective, I’ll take a guess that as the story goes…. We’ll all live “Happily Ever After”.