By Kristan Wiggins
Dan Durante, Web Developer at Fracture, listens to music while he works in the Fracture office on 6th Street. In the background, Buckbeack the parrot, perches on her cage. Buckbeack belongs to co-founder Alex Theodore and rarely misses a day of work. Photo by Ashley Crane.
Home to the country’s most unique business incubator as well as fast-growing city and community organizations Gainesville aims to inspire, foster and grow start-up businesses.
Despite the swampy weather, moss-ridden trees and glaring orange-and-blue color scheme, Gainesville is becoming a leader in business, technology and start-up development. Between, community-organized groups, city initiatives and University of Florida resources, Gainesville offers invaluable resources and unique tools for businesses to get off the ground, grow and expand.
Earlier this year, MindTree Limited, an India-based company that develops software for Fortune 2000 companies, chose to expand and create a development center here in Gainesville.
“We found a place that is obsessed with innovation and action,” said Scott Staples, co-founder and president of MindTree, to the Gainesville Sun.
The new MindTree center is expected to bring about 400 jobs to Gainesville — 160 in the first 18 months. It will likely draw employees from UF’s IT and computer science graduates.
An impressive selling point to MindTree was UF’s Florida Innovation Hub. Founded in 2010 and located less than a mile from UF, the Innovation Hub promises to attract more start-up companies and foster their growth. The Hub, boasting a 48,000-square-foot facility, is the first and only one in the country that provides a university technology transfer office as well as service providers such as accountants, attorneys, product designers and venture capitalists. The Hub currently hosts about two dozen companies.
Prospective start-ups must go through an application process and, once admitted, undergo semi-annual reviews to monitor their progress
Even before the existence of the Innovation Hub, UF and Gainesville have seen small businesses and tech companies start up from scratch and continue to grow today.
Grooveshark, “the world’s largest on-demand music streaming and discovery service,” got its start using services offered by UF through the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation and the Office of Technology Licensing in 2006. From humble beginnings, founded by three UF undergraduates, Grooveshark now currently employs over 130 people and maintains an office in downtown Gainesville.
Also founded by UF students is Gainesville-based Fracture, a company that lets customers print high-quality photos directly onto glass. Co-founders Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodore were still in school in 2008 when they started working on the idea. Fracture has not received help from UF or the Innovation Hub, but have continued their momentum here in Gainesville and are still growing today.
“We’ve been really encouraged by how the Gainesville community has pushed us and encouraged us, supporting our growth,” Lokesh said.
A fracture in the making; photos are printed directly onto glass. All product development, mounting, and packaging are done in the Gainesville office and shipped worldwide. Photo by Ashley Crane.
Business owners like Lokesh and Theodore, who may not benefit from the Innovation Hub or services provided by UF, can find resources elsewhere in the city of Gainesville. Innovation Gainesville, for example, is a citywide initiative put forth through the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce with goals to attract businesses and create a network for innovators and entrepreneurs.
The City of Gainesville was also a recent participant in a global event called Startup Weekend, the weekend of Sept, 28. Throughout the event business enthusiasts pitch their ideas, work with mentors to develop a solid business model and make a final pitch to a panel of judges, one of whom was CEO of Grooveshark, Sam Tarantino. The winners have the potential for their ideas to be turned into tangible business ventures.
Events like Startup Weekend are drawn to cities like Gainesville, cities that value ingenuity and are actively setting the stage to be a major player in the business and developing technological world of the future. And it’s working. The city has repeatedly been ranked among the smartest cities, best places to live and launch, and the best place for businesses in Florida. Gainesville may not be Silicon Valley just yet, or even Silicon Alley in New York, but businesses, tech start-ups and the like may find their southern niche here in Gainesville, the Alligator Valley of technology and business.