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FAU Research Park helps more businesses grow

Three decades ago, Florida Atlantic University joined with Palm Beach and Broward counties to build FAU Research Park in Boca Raton, and the tenants keep coming.

“We’ve never had to do anything proactive to find tenants,” said Andrew Duffell, president and chief executive of the 94-acre business park since 2011.

They find FAU, often from far-away places.

The entrepreneurs are often referred by other entrepreneurs. They come with innovative ideas that generate new products and jobs. They first move into the Research Park’s Technology Business Incubator, where they can get hands-on assistance building their companies. Eventually, they need to expand — some right at the Research Park and many in South Florida.

The startup incubator currently has 19 tenants and is part of the larger Research Park, which offers more traditional office space to more established companies with ties to FAU. For companies, the university campus location comes with a wide network of community connections and resources including involvement from faculty and students.

The Research Park’s 2015 report shows its progress.

Companies saw a 7.3 percent increase in revenues to $3.2 billion over 2014. Private investment rose 8.4 percent over a year ago to $53.5 million. More patents also were generated during the year: 615 patents, up 8 percent.

The companies employ 1,737 full-time workers, but direct and indirect jobs total 4,276, the report says.

Now Duffell is looking at Fort Lauderdale as the site for the Research Park’s next expansion, establishing a new incubator to provide more flexible space for startup companies. While there are no specific plans, he sees Fort Lauderdale as having an even greater density of foreign enterprises starting companies.

He has seen many young companies grow and succeed at the Technology Business Incubator. Duffell points to three recent graduates — Modti, Dixoide Materials and Be Power Tech — as examples of the innovative products and jobs that the Research Park and its incubator are producing.

Startup entrepreneur Shane Allen, 28, heard about the Research Park’s incubator in Finland, where he once lived. He moved his company Modti to the incubator last July and recently expanded to larger space in Jupiter.

“They have a pretty good reputation,” Allen said of the Boca Raton incubator. Being a part of FAU’s technology business incubator helped the company gain access to local aerospace and other manufacturers, he said.

Modti is moving into manufacturing to produce a new 3-D printer that allows manufacturers to make prototypes more quickly than currently available, Allen said.

Another graduate is Rich Masel, founder of Dioxide Materials, which has developed a process to convert carbon dioxide produced by homes and businesses back into fuels and chemicals. Masel said the technology lowers costs to produce fuel and is less harmful to the environment.

Masel, 64, began his work on the technology at the University of Illinois in Champaign, but was running out of space and didn’t want to build an office. So he moved Dioxide Materials to the FAU incubator and then leased space in the Research Park.

“I let employees choose Boca or New Jersey,” Masel said.

He recently leased 4,000 square feet at the Research Park at FAU, which Masel said will be enough space for the company’s growth over the next few years. Dioxide Materials currently has 16 employees, including three interns.

Research Park space leases for $17 per square foot, while the incubator, which has much smaller private offices and is month to month, starts at $500 month, Duffell said.

The third new graduate of the incubator is Be Power Tech, which has developed an electricity-producing air conditioning technology that is powered by natural gas. The company recently moved its 16 employees to Fort Lauderdale and expects to have 30 employees by year-end. Be Power Tech is getting ready to manufacture its BeCool air conditioner by 2018.

The product is “quite game-changing. Air conditioners take electricity and cost a lot to operate. What we’re doing is replacing the air conditioner with a new system that produces electricity as a byproduct so the air conditioner actually powers the building, said founder and CEO Daniel Betts.

Originally from Panama, Betts came to West Palm Beach to lead fuel cell company EnerFuel. He started Be Power Tech in 2013. Betts said the incubator gave him appropriate office space to meet with potential customers and investors.

The Research Park incubator was flexible with the company as well. At one point, the company’s funding dried up and the company moved out. But once the company secured $2.5 million in funding from Flagship Ventures, Be Power Tech moved right back into the incubator, expanding its space.

The incubator was “critical” to his company’s growth, Betts said. “In South Florida, there are not many spaces where entrepreneurs are welcome. … We probably wouldn’t have been as effective in the beginning or been able to hire people” without the incubator’s support, he said.

Apart from the incubator, the Research Park has both established and growing businesses that have some tie to FAU’s focal areas, which include sensing and smart systems and environmental sciences.

The companies include:

• Modernizing Medicine, an electronic medical records business co-founded by entrepreneur Daniel Cane. The business has raised $87 million and employs more than 400 people.

• Sandow, a magazine publishing company founded by entrepreneur Adam Sandow that employs 120 people.

•Mobile Help, a medical alert device company founded by entrepreneur Scott Adams that has more than 100,000 customers in 50 states.

Duffell said companies want to locate at the Research Park because they can tap the university’s resources. Many hire FAU students as interns — and later employees. Some work closely with FAU faculty on development projects, which can lead to royalty fees for the university.

Even after some companies expand and move away, those companies sometimes are sold and the entrepreneur may return to the incubator to start another business.

“Often people who have deep ties to the community end up coming back,” Duffell said.

Source: Sun Sentinel
By: Marcia Heroux Pounds on in News