Fort Myers – In a move designed to enhance the skill sets of entrepreneurs in Collier County, Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) will begin offering its celebrated entrepreneurship training at the Naples Accelerator. Led by the faculty and staff of FGCU’s Frank and Ellen Daveler & Sandra Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship, the new curriculum will help entrepreneurs cultivate their businesses. The collaboration was endorsed by the Collier County Board of Commissioners in late May with applications for the program now open to entrepreneurs.
“Accelerators are designed to speed up the entrepreneur’s startup so it will grow faster,” said Sandra Kauanui, director of the Frank and Ellen Daveler & Sandra Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship. “We are looking for validated startups who would like to accelerate the growth of their businesses. The training sessions and mentorship will enable first-stage entrepreneurs to propel their businesses to the next level.”
The Naples Accelerator opened in 2014 with a similar goal – to help entrepreneurs develop businesses and, in turn, expand the Southwest Florida economy. But something was missing. Sean Callahan, executive director of corporate business operations for Collier County, said the agreement with FGCU is exactly what is needed to advance the fledgling accelerator.
“Most successful business accelerator programs spring out of a strong relationship with higher education,” he said. “That relationship has always been one of the missing pieces at the Naples Accelerator. This partnership with FGCU’s School of Entrepreneurship gives us the ability to connect aspiring businesses with the tools they need to grow out of our program and put people to work in innovative jobs in Collier County.”
A major coup for the county and its citizen entrepreneurs will be regular access to the university’s brain trust.
“We will have training sessions as well as mentorship from entrepreneurship faculty and staff. We will also reach out to other faculty at the university who will be able to provide valuable support in a variety of other areas, including engineering, health and the sciences,” Kauanui added.
Timing is essential as the restrictions put in place because of COVID-19 continue to wreak havoc on the Southwest Florida economy.
“I believe that the economic downturn leads to increased entrepreneurship,” said economist Aysegul Timur, FGCU’s vice president and vice provost for strategy and program innovation. “This may be ‘opportunity entrepreneurship’ with a perceived business opportunity or ‘necessity entrepreneurship’ due to economic stress – job loss or pay cuts. We have seen evidence – of both types – from the past recessions that great ideas are born from economic challenges.”
Callahan said, “The ongoing COVID-19 health emergency has demonstrated the need to diversify the economy in Southwest Florida now more than ever. Traditionally strong sectors in hospitality, tourism and agriculture have come to a standstill – while other industries have successfully weathered the pandemic and continued to work. A successful program at the Naples Accelerator will help attract, create and grow businesses that move us toward the goal of diversification.”
Timur, who led FGCU’s efforts to form this collaboration, said the work would create jobs in Collier County.
“The primary goal of the Naples Accelerator is to develop the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Collier County with the specific purpose of diversifying the economy and enhancing the employment opportunities and careers of Collier County citizens,” she said. “As a regional and comprehensive university, FGCU is committed to providing expertise and services through partnerships in the Southwest Florida region.”
“We require more innovation than ever before to rebuild our economy. The good news is that many individuals who have an entrepreneurial mindset see opportunities in a world of disruption while others only see problems,” said Kauanui. “It is in the midst of a crisis that entrepreneurs find new ways to come out of difficult times.”
Callahan is already setting benchmarks to determine the effectiveness of this working arrangement.
“The first goal of this program is to assess businesses to connect them with the training, services and mentorship they need to be successful. This will take time to implement and grow. Given the county’s investment in the FGCU program, we would like to see a future goal of graduating at least 10 businesses out of each cohort that effectively establish a business here in Collier County.”
Kauanui shared that the agreement allows FGCU alumni to apply to the Naples Accelerator providing their business is started in Collier County.
“We have several interested alumni. Alumni entrepreneurs who are accepted into the program will receive free office space for the six month program as long as they agree to run their businesses in Collier,” she said.
In the last five years, entrepreneurship has become a significant focus for Florida Gulf Coast University. The recent naming of the school by Frank and Ellen Daveler (and in honor of Kauanui) along with a new campus entrepreneurship building, which will be named in honor of a donor later this year, exemplifies the community’s commitment to FGCU’s entrepreneurship initiative. The agreement with the Collier County Board of Commissioners is perfectly timed, said FGCU President Mike Martin.
“This will become a major outreach effort of the Frank and Ellen Daveler & Sandra Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship, and it will provide an opportunity to project FGCU into the Naples community,” Martin said. “It will also allow us to bring FGCU expertise to citizens beyond the campus.”
Entrepreneurs interested in joining the Naples Accelerator program led by FGCU’s Frank and Ellen Daveler & Sandra Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship should call (239) 590-7433 or visit https://fgcu.edu/naplesaccelerator.