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UNF's New Entrepreneurship & Innovation Center Is Open In The Barnett

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 told our Jacksonville Daily Record partner.

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.

Currently there are two graduate-level classes meeting at the center each week. Bowling said the curriculum will be fully enrolled when the fall term begins.

“This is a startup in and of itself,” she said.

The fifth floor is devoted to traditional classroom space, as well as offices for the faculty and staff.

The fourth floor is an open floor plan coworking space designed to be an interactive learning environment and “a completely flexible space that will adapt to our needs,” Bowling said.

It’s where 15 entrepreneurs, not necessarily students, will participate in a one-year development program after their presentations for prospective businesses, products or services have been selected by an advisory board.

The participants will be partnered with UNF students who are studying subjects such as accounting, business and marketing. The entrepreneurs and students will work together to develop their concepts.

“They’ll go from an idea to ready to launch. At the end of a year, they will be able to transition to an accelerator program or start their own business,” Bowling said.

The Florida Small Business Development Center and the Small Business Administration will be available in the center to help aspiring entrepreneurs.

Becoming director of the entrepreneurial program reflects some of Bowling’s background in business. She is a UNF graduate who had her own entrepreneur experience when she and Sen. Rick Scott cofounded the Solantic urgent care clinics in 2001.

In 2006, Scott took office as governor and Solantic was sold that year.

She worked on the business plan for two years, studied the market, and surveyed potential customers. As CEO, Bowling developed a concept for walk-in medical care that grew from four clinics in Jacksonville to 34 in the state.

Part of the growth strategy for the center is outreach to all constituencies in Northeast Florida. Bowling said it’s UNF’s intent to invite the entire community to participate.

“This is not just for UNF. We want everybody involved. That’s why we’re Downtown,” she said.