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UNF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation - Connecting Industry, Academia, and the business community to provide a pathway to success

In the News

Swisher Growth Cohort

Congratulations to the Swisher Growth Cohort Pitch Competition Winners!

The University of North Florida's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), in partnership with Swisher, held its second Swisher Cohort Series Pitch Competition for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs on Wednesday, October 27th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The UNF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation program is designed to help early-stage companies take their business to the next level by providing individuals with the resources needed to improve their business knowledge. The first pitch competition took place in April this year with ten start-ups. The second pitch competition, the Growth Cohort, consisted of nine companies, with some participants from the first pitch competition as well as new participants...(read more)
ConnectFest Chip

UNF's ConnectFest Connects University Students to Startups

If Jacksonville is to be a true tech hub, pitch meetings and networking events such as the ConnectFest that took place on the campus of the University of North Florida on Wednesday afternoon must become commonplace.


Sam Maule, a key account director for Google Cloud, said he believes the Jacksonville area's tech scene is emerging. What the region needs are stronger bonds between business -- whether startups or established entities like Google Cloud -- and the talent those companies require...(read more)  

09/23 Biz Journal

Inno Ecosystem: Get to know UNF’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The University of North Florida's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI) is Jacksonville's first equity-free, comprehensive business incubator located in downtown Jacksonville's urban core in the renovated historic Barnett National Bank building.


Early-stage startup companies are provided services, space and support critical to their development for one year at no charge. CEI facilitates this development by offering a variety of programs to nurture selected startups with services including business plan development, co-working space, support from student interns, professional advice and networking opportunities ...( read more )


The First Coast Tech Ecosystem at a Glance

The success of a startup can often rely on finding the right help when needed. That might be a key investor, accelerator program or support group that helps a young company achieve its next stage of growth. For entrepreneurs, a city's ecosystem -- the community of startups, funding mechanisms and support groups that serve that region -- matters.


This "ecosystem at a glance" guide is designed to serve as a general onboarding tool, a guide to help you quickly identify the businesses, capital resources, co-working spaces, events, resources and more that make up, support and embody the First Coast ecosystem ...( read more )      

CF Logo Biz Journal

ConnectFest at the University of North Florida is Oct. 13

The University of North Florida, in partnership with Google Cloud, MasterCard StartPath and VyStar Credit Union, will host "ConnectFest" to connect Florida technology startups with UNF students and alumni to help fill positions for early-stage growing companies.

The event is scheduled 1 to 4 p.m Oct. 13 at UNF's Adam W. Herbert University Center.

ConnectFest will bring together tech startups that need quality talent with UNF students looking for career experiences and opportunities, states a news release from the university ...( read more )  

Alexis Demo Day

UNF's Entrepreneurial Center launching Swisher Growth Cohort for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs

While there isn't a secret formula for business success, leaders at University of North Florida's Entrepreneurial Center do feel they can offer startups a platform to increase the odds.


Now, the Center is looking to expand the diversity of the businesses it works with, launching the Swisher Growth Cohort for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs.


The program builds off of an early program that focused on startups: While still aimed at early-stage companies, the free, eight-week program is built for early stage companies that are generating revenue...(read more)

Swisher Winners V4

Swisher Announces Results of its Startup for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs Program

Swisher awarded three entrepreneurs funding to support the development and growth of their businesses as part of the Swisher Startup for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs program.


The company created the program with the University of North Florida's (UNF) Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and it is designed to encourage innovators and entrepreneurs from all walks of life, according to Swisher. Through e-learning, participants gain access to university faculty and resources to improve their business knowledge and plans, and the program awards top pitch winners with funding to support the development of their business...(read more)

H&M Demo Day Group Picture

Entrepreneurs Unveil Tomorrow’s Companies

New medical and health solutions are on the horizon. In March, entrepreneurs working with UNF's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation presented what they hope will be tomorrow’s companies offering new strategies in healthcare.

Robert “Bud” Duthie has created a product that cleans and sanitizes air and surfaces killing all viruses and pathogens faster and more efficiently than sprays or ultraviolet methods. Kenyatta and Laquita Lee are co-founders of an app that provides real time hospitalization and ER information may help physicians coordinate the care of a patient. Duthie and the Lees were two of six promising startups unveiled by their founders at the Center’s Demo Day...(read more)
UNF Logo

UNF hosting Demo Day March 25

The University of North Florida's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation is hosting a Demo Day on March 25 to introduce the six startups from the center's health and medical cohort and present their companies.


A news release states the event begins at 5 p.m. with 10-minute pitches from each of the founders to members of CEI's Advisory Council and guests. Awards and refreshments will follow the presentations...(read more)

Frank V2

UNF's Karen Bowling: There's "no secret sauce" for incubating success

UNF's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation's most recent cohort of small businesses will be "graduating" from the program at the end of March and launching their businesses across the First Coast.


The Center, located in the renovated Barnett Bank building downtown, is a place with a wide range of local resources available to entrepreneurs and a spot where budding business owners, from several industries, can learn from one another, UNF faculty and other professionals. Since opening in February 2019, the Center has held three cohorts total and incubated a total of 42 startups.


"What we learned from the first cohort is that a year is a long time (for the program)," said Karen Bowling, the university's vice president of jobs... ( read more )    

Riju Startups Under 30

Startups Under 30: Riju Thomas, RNJ Tech

Riju Thomas promises that he sleeps. In bed most nights by 11 p.m. and up at 4:30 the next morning, he crams the most into every waking moment.

At 27, he is the president of RNJ Tech, a company he created in June 2017 that custom-builds computer web servers. He has two full-time sales staff and employs four to five contract workers as needed.


With sales last year of $1.768 million, that would be enough to fill a workday. Add to it that he is working on earning his MBA at the University of North Florida and at the end of this semester will have his Master of Science in Data Analytics from the University of Central Florida.


Then there are two other projects. He is co-founder or Oakheart Health, which will develop medical applications for artificial intelligence. He wants to launch this company by year-end...( read more )    

Barnett Building

Swisher backing UNF program to prepare minority entrepreneurs to launch businesses

A Jacksonville-based company that pledged to grow opportunities for Black-owned businesses is sponsoring a University of North Florida program to prepare minority entrepreneurs to follow their dreams.


Cigar industry titan Swisher is underwriting UNF's Swisher Startup for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs, an eight-week online program about the nuts and bolts of turning an idea into a business.


"This was something that we wanted to make happen," said Alexandria Deal, manager of diversity, inclusion and transformation at Swisher, which produces some of the country's top-selling cigar lines as well as smokeless and tobacco-free nicotine...(read more)

Riju Thomas headshot

Florida's Health Care Future: Riju Thomas of Oakheart Health

This interview is part of the Jacksonville Business Journal's "The Future of Florida Health Care" special section published in October 2020. In this series, the Business Journal took a deep dive into the major drivers of change in the health care industry: The state's aging population, a rising prevalence in chronic diseases, technological advancements and the advent of new health care "players" in the marketplace. This is a look at local "players" on the First Coast.


Describe what you do in 10 words or less: Using AI to help create more efficient processes in surgeries 


Describe what you are currently working on: So, say you got into an accident and you broke your jaw and they wanted to create a custom implant for you. They would take a CT scan of your face and they would send that to a medical device company that would make a custom implant. They have to do that manually through two softwares. If you use AI, that would create more accuracy and save time in the segmentation. Our end goal is to use machine language and deep learning to understand the scan. It might take a week or two weeks, but we can cut back on surgery from a three week lead time to a one week lead time...(read more)

Drew Messer Speaking

New Entrepreneurs Emerge

Several years ago, Drew Messer and Justin Dennis had a casual conversation over brunch. Little did they know that discussion would kick off an entrepreneurial journey for them both. Today they are the co-founders of an emerging business that has already earned nearly $1 million in revenue and is laying the groundwork to expand beyond Florida into other U.S. states.


The company is Urban Software Development Kit, or Urban SDK, one of six promising businesses to emerge from the UNF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation's first group of start-ups...(read more)

2019 Cohort Group shot

UNF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation hosts ‘Demo Day'

The University of North Florida Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation hosted its inaugural Demo Day on Sept. 17 at the center in The Barnett Building Downtown.

At a small ceremony because of COVID-19 social distancing, six startup entrepreneurs presented their business concepts to members of the center's advisory council...(read more)
screenshot of Kara Barber Assistant Director Press Release -more info in article

Kara Barber named assistant director of Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The University of North Florida has named Kara Barber as assistant director of UNF's Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI). She will be responsible for working with the Center's cohorts of entrepreneurs and further developing the Center's processes, marketing and operational oversight...(read more)
CEI Building

Inside UNF's new Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

The University of North Florida has established a concept for higher education that's intended to create new opportunities in Jacksonville.

“Anyone who walks through these doors has the potential to build a business — and they'll have the support here to do it,” said Karen Bowling, director of the UNF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

The center has classroom, coworking and office space on two floors at The Barnett, Downtown at 112 W. Adams St. It is the university's second urban learning resource center, joining the Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art two blocks north along Laura Street...(read more)

Center for Entrepreneurship Entrance

UNF: Barnett Bank building facility is 'wonderful for creative thought'

Up to 200 Coggin College of Business students will take classes in the 16,000-square-foot space on the fourth and fifth floors, which includes an Entrepreneurial Center, where students work with people in the business community to pitch ideas and help come up with solutions to issues in various industries...(read more)

CEI Ribbon Cutting

UNF innovation center opens at The Barnett

University of North Florida President David Szymanski, left, holds the ribbon at UNF's new Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at The Barnett building in Downtown Jacksonville.


He was joined Monday night by his wife, Maria Szymanski; philanthropists Luther and Blanche Coggin; and the center's director, Karen Bowling.


The center will serve graduate students and entrepreneurs interested in incubating business ideas...(read more).

Karen Bowling headshot collage with CEI building

Bowling appointed director of new UNF entrepreneur center

The University of North Florida appointed alumna Karen Bowling the director of its new Center for Entrepreneurship.

Bowling is an executive with more than 30 years of experience in public and private companies in the health care, government and technology industries.

Prior to her appointment, Bowling served as president of Thrive Consulting LLC in Jacksonville, where she worked with clients in the health care and government sectors...(read more)

CEI Building Construction

Work set to begin on UNF's Entrepreneurial Center in urban core

Ahead of the spring semester, a permit for the build-out of the fourth and fifth floors of the Barnett Bank Building has been awarded to Danis.

In April, the University of North Florida signed a lease for the 16,000-square-foot space. Up to 200 students will take classes at the satellite campus, which in addition to classrooms will include an "Entrepreneurial Center," where students will intern while working with people in the business community...(read more)