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UNF and Swisher partner to help underrepresented entrepreneurs

The University of North Florida’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and Swisher are continuing their partnership program with the Swisher Growth Cohort for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs to educate and support innovators and entrepreneurs.

The free eight-week program is designed for businesses operating for three to seven years or that have a minimum of $20,000 in annual revenue.

The top pitch winners are awarded cash prizes at the conclusion of the program: $5,000 for the first prize, $3,000, second prize, $2,000, third prize... (read more)

Numerous women posing at Women's Day conference in business attire

Local Learning and Training Organizations Support Business Owners Through Challenging Times

Every business owner or entrepreneur knows that training and support are a huge part of their life – and success. As Dr. Ton O’Neal of Grow, FL, wrote for EVOLVE online last year, “Unleashing a spirit of entrepreneurship requires a specific environment where innovation, collaboration, cooperation and regionally based support systems are aligned to create economic impact.” Successful businesses don’t happen in a silo.

Like most places across the country, St. Johns County has a number of networking, education and training and mentoring groups. And, like most entrepreneurs and business owners across the country, our residents who run a business rely on them.

It’s no surprise, then, that when COVID kept everyone from leaving home, business owners and entrepreneurs looked to those same organizations to help them navigate the shifting sand. For many, the details might have shifted, but the struggle was familiar... (read more)

Headshot of Karen Bowling wearing dark blue blazer, white shirt and earrings

UNF Center exploits startup boom with its second year of underrepresented entrepreneurs

Twenty aspiring entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds will get the chance this spring to pursue a business idea through a free eight-week education program at the University of North Florida’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

This is the second consecutive year that the Swisher Start-Up Cohort for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs — sponsored by the Jacksonville-based international tobacco company — has been offered to aspiring entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds. According to Entrepreneurship Director Karen Bowling, the majority of the cohort’s members are Black women.

“The whole idea [of the Swisher cohorts] is just to kind of level the playing field and create opportunities,” she said.

The incoming cohort, which will start classes on March 2, were picked out of a pool of 58 applicants... (read more)

Headshot of Brianna K wearing a black shirt with white dots

How a Jax-based sustainable towel company aims to turn a profit

Jacksonville-based hemp towel company Anact is Brianna Kilcullen’s attempt to take on the textile industry, replacing its dominant fiber — cotton — with a more sustainable option: hemp.

Since launching her business on Kickstarter in 2020, with $41,400 pledged of her $35,000 goal, Kilcullen has been focused on establishing the dominance of Anact, whose towels are made of 55% hemp and 45% cotton, in the sustainable towel market. By one important measure, she’s succeeded: the top non-sponsored Google search result for “hemp towels” is Anact.

There have been challenges, though. According to Karen Bowling, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the University of North Florida’s Coggin College of Business, one difficulty was getting Anact’s prices low enough to be competitive in the sustainable towel market. As a 2020 graduate of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, and a member of its first cohort, Kilcullen worked with Bowling to get Anact off the ground... (read more)

40 Social Entrepreneurs to watch out for in 2022 with Brianna Kilcullen founder of Anact’s photo

40 Social Entrepreneurs to Watch for in 2022

Brianna Kilcullen is the founder of Anact. Anact is short for “an act”. The simple act of taking action and creating positive impact. Brianna’s simple act was to create a sustainable towel made out of hemp and organic cotton that is better for ALL people and the planet. In 2019, she helped legalize hemp in Florida while launching Anact.

Her passion for work first began from a trip to the textile factories in Central America where she received hands on experience working on the factory floor. She gained the utmost respect for the people who make her clothing and from there went on to draft, create, and become Under Armour’s first ever full-time sustainability position based out of Baltimore, MD... (read more)

Two male students in a study room sitting at a table with window, brick wall and tv

Startups To Watch 2022: Perspective

Perspective, a social media platform that aims to promote thoughtful discussion and reward those willing to engage across the aisle, was founded by two high school students. After receiving a round of funding in 2021, the company is seeking a second round and is preparing to release a beta version of the app to the public in the first quarter.

What was your biggest accomplishment in 2021?

I believe our biggest accomplishment in 2021 was securing seed round funding. We first secured $160,000 off a safe agreement for from nine individual investors. There is going to be a further round of investment this year.

What are your goals for 2022?

We're going to launch our beta in [February.] We are finalizing the last round of [user interface] issues. We're also adding some new proprietary features ahead of launch. Nothing is ever perfect but we are trying to get as close to perfection as possible. That's one of our biggest goals but after that, our next goal is to have 50,000 to 100,000 users by the end of the year... (read more)

Man standing by a palm tree, bush and pool wearing gray sweater and jeans

Startups To Watch 2022: Tauruseer

Jacksonville-based Tauruseer, a cybersecurity software developer, is hot off a big year of partnerships and patents. The company is planning to leverage that momentum for another round of funding and growth.

What was your biggest accomplishment in 2021?

We got the first cohort of paying customers. That was exciting. Even better, we are starting to see contract renewals for this year already. We strategically identified channel partners that aligned with our vision and we're starting to get customers through that pipeline now as well. Looking forward, these partnerships are starting to net a full pipeline of customers moving forward.

What are your goals for 2022?

We pushed our investment round into 2022 simply because we wanted to prove ourselves. We're now doing that. We pivoted towards a different client base and will be focusing on those relationships this year... (read more)

A photo of a light bulb with a brown background of gears

Meet First Coast Inno's top startups to watch in 2022

Across the spectrum of the economy, there are a number of First Coast businesses well positioned for success in the new year, with many primed to lead our economy as it continues to figure out how things will work in a pandemic.

In this special feature, we’re highlighting some of the startups that are primed for growth, for big projects or for have interesting plans in 2022.

Many of these companies are poised for major growth in the coming year, based on recently announced initiatives or capital raises. Others find themselves ideally suited for the evolving economy we’re living in due to Covid-19 and other factors.

All are worth watching as the year unfolds... (read more)

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Jax-based transportation data startup set to complete seed funding round

From the corner of Laura and Ashley streets to the world — that is the plan for local data company Urban SDK.

A recent closing of a seed funding round will help the Jacksonville-based company’s goal to grow nationwide. Urban SDK raised $4.5 million from a collection of private investors, strategic investors and venture capital funds.

“The whole idea is to take what we have built so far and expand nationwide,” co-CEO and founder Drew Messer said of a company that found its footing through a relationship with the UNF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “…We got our start in October 2018 and we’re trying to keep up with a pretty healthy growth rate, so we become a dominant player in this space across the country.”

This year, the company plans a Series A funding round. Doing so would allow Urban SDK to expand its international presence... (read more)

Applications open for Swisher Start-Up Cohort for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs

For the second consecutive year, Swisher is partnering with UNF's Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI) to assist and support underrepresented entrepreneurs in pursuing their business goals.

The first 2022 program to be offered, the Swisher Start-up Cohort for Underrepresented Entrepreneurs, is a free 8-week hybrid program designed to help individuals start a business and master their pitch. The program will teach entrepreneurs who want to obtain valuable skills to pursue their dreams of owning and operating their own business," says Neil Kiely, President of Swisher... (read more)

4 people posing with award and Swisher and UNF Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation logo

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)

Photo of William Klostermeyer standing in front of presentation Connect Fest slide

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)

Two male students in a study room sitting at a table with window, brick wall and tv

Inno Under 25: Jacksonville high schoolers look to change the social media conversation

Lyman Starmer was sitting on his front porch when the idea hit him.

It was Election Day, and the Wolfson High School senior was mulling about the echo chamber of social media, the way it drives people apart rather than bringing them together.

The result of that mulling: Perspective, a social media platform that aims to promote thoughtful discussion and reward those willing to engage rather than shout at each other.

Within months, Starmer and fellow student Kaden Powell had begun the process of turning that idea into a startup... (read more)

Headshot of Karen Bowling wearing dark blue blazer, white shirt and earrings

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)

Man standing by a palm tree, bush and pool wearing gray sweater and jeans

Inno Ecosystem: Get to know Jax-based Tauruseer

Jacksonville-based Tauruseer, a cybersecurity software developer, recently received a patent for a new technology that will ensure its continued to success. To talk about the company and further introduce themselves to the First Coast market, the Business-Journal sat down with Tauruseer CEO Jeremy Vaughan. Here is a lightly edited transcript.

What is Tauruseer? How long have you been in business?

We are a cybersecurity firm that helps companies adopt and mature the risk management practices around what the industry is calling DevSecOps, which is securing your software development processes, tools, people, everything that's used to build or maintain digital technology services software...

Downtown jacksonville riverfront with wells fargo building

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)

UNF Logo with Connect Fest in white letters with blue background and two arrows

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)

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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)

4 people posing with award and Swisher and UNF Center of Entrepreneurship and Innovation logo

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)

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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)

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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)

A male student wearing a mask and coding on a laptop with back toward camera

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 Thomas working at a desk with 2 laptops, and notebook wearing black business attire

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)

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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)

Headshot of Riju Thomas wearing suit and glasses with gray background

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 headshot

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)

3 women sitting and a man and woman standing behind them in business attire

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)

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...

Picture of a brown building with many windows

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)

UNF office lobby with 5 orange chairs and glass entrance door

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)

3 women and 2 men in business attire standing next to grand opening ribbon at UNF event

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).

Photo of building with tree and headshot of Karen Bowling in red blazer

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)

Photo of a construction site with bags, machinery and people

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)