UCF team wins grant for clean technology
Published: Saturday, October 8, 2011
Updated: Sunday, October 9, 2011 17:10
UCF faculty and staff are leading the state's only winning team in the nationwide i6 Green Challenge, a national White House competition, and recently won a $1.3 million grant for their efforts in driving technology commercialization and entrepreneurship to support a green-innovation economy.
UCF took the lead role in the challenge, but partnered with the Technological Research and Development Authority and the University of Florida's Florida Energy Systems for its first time participating in the challenge to ensure the best possible outcome and will split the grant equally.
"[A green-innovation economy] is the future, and we need to be leading the charge so we can position ourselves as a market leader in this high wage, high value industry," said Tom O'Neal, associate vice president for UCF's Office of Research & Commercialization and the lead investigator on the project.
The i6 Green Challenge is led by the U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration in partnership with the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Science Foundation, the Commerce Department's National Institute of Standards and Technology and U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. It is an important component of President Barack Obama's Startup America initiative to promote American innovation.
"The challenge is important for a number of reasons. First being, that at the early stages of trying to create commercialized technology, is trying to figure out if the idea will work and then if people will buy and utilize it in their business," said Paul Corson, EDA's acting director for the office of innovation and entrepreneurship. "We, as a federal government, want to help local businesses understand local economies. We want to focus on the energy and talent to help science and business understand if they have something, then how to get that product out into the market."
The competition builds on the success of last year's inaugural i6 Challenge by focusing on the nexus between economic development and environmental quality. It encourages communities to employ the characteristics of Proof of Concept Centers to accelerate technology-led economic development in pursuit of a vibrant, innovative clean economy by rewarding innovative, groundbreaking ideas that enable technology commercialization, new venture formation, job creation and economic growth.
"The goal is to be a catalyst that increases the commercialization of technology into the marketplace," O'Neal said. "We have various techniques, ranging from cataloging technology and labs, to creating a gap fund, to connecting entrepreneurs to technology and entrepreneurial support organizations."
UCF's winning project, titled Igniting Innovation Cleantech Acceleration Network, is a unique distributed proof-of-concept model with intentions to accelerate the commercialization of innovative clean technology research into new technology companies or to license into existing firms. It puts a particular emphasis on research in areas in which Florida excels, such as solar energy, biofuels, green building technologies and smart grids.
The I2 CAN will provide commercialization resources to entrepreneurs, scientists and established companies that are interested in commercializing clean technology research conducted within Florida's research institutions.
"We are excited about this project for a few reasons," Corson said. "There has been a lot of change in the Central Florida region, and we are excited to be able to help the Central Florida economy and focus energy into the science fields and take advantage of some of that talent. Then we hope to augment priorities and processes to help these ideas to better [the Florida] economy."
According to Metro Orlando's 2009 Cleantech study, the Central Florida region is ideally situated for the cleantech industry, and O'Neal suspects the same thing.
"There is a lot of competition for this though," O'Neal said. "We have a bright sunshine, good for photovoltaic and solar thermal applications. We have a good supply of bright, well-educated folks that can contribute and a great entrepreneurial environment."
With these conditions, O'Neal also believes the UCF community will benefit greatly from the I2 Cleantech Acceleration Network.
"It helps us build capacity for our region in an area that pays higher than average salaries and create wealth for our community by increasing the amount of new discoveries that make it to the market," O'Neal said. "Hopefully that will create lots of jobs to Florida and position UCF as a center of excellence in this area."