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UCF is receiving close to $750,000 in grant money, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker announced Monday at a press conference on campus.

The money is part of two grants — the i6 Challenge and the Regional Innovation Strategies Program — which will help entrepreneurs grow start-up businesses. UCF is one of two U.S. universities receiving both grants.

"As America's innovation agency, the Commerce Department has a key role in supporting the innovators and job creators of tomorrow," Pritzker said.

The Commerce Department's Economic Development Administrations, Pritzker added, aims to invest in centers that help entrepreneurs take ideas from the garage and lab to production and sales, and to expand access to early-stage capital and seed funding for promising start-ups.

"From Congress to our administration, we want to ensure that all entrepreneurs have the opportunity to move their ideas and inventions from the computer screen to the market place," Pritzker said.

Julie Kirk, Director of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said the i6 grant will be used to help UCF connect its resources, such as the Maker Space and the I-Corps program, to more students and entrepreneurs.

Aptly held in the atrium of the Engineering II building, the press conference also featured speakers including UCF president John C. Hitt and Sen. Bill Nelson.

"UCF strives to be America's leading partnership university and we're proud to be a vital force for creating high-tech jobs and improving the quality of life in Central Florida and throughout the Sunshine State," Hitt said.

Pritzker referred to entrepreneurship and innovation as essential ingredients in our nation's economic prosperity.

"In fact," she said, "across a wide range of sectors and regions, entrepreneurs and small-business owners have generated more than 65 percent of new jobs over the last two decades. What that means is when start-ups succeed, our economy succeeds; our workers benefit and our families are better off."
The i6, Pritzker said, addresses the gap in seed funding for local entrepreneurs, which is considered one of the largest barriers faced by start-ups around the country.

"These grants will enable local innovators to design, develop and sell new products," Pritzker said. "These funds will be a catalyst for communities to attract broader investments to their innovation ecosystems, which will create high-wage jobs and ensure America remains the world leader in innovation."

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Alex Wexelman is a Senior Staff Writer for the Central Florida Future.

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