Health & Business: Mayo, UNF centers boost city’s innovation ecosystem

Mayo Clinic’s Life Sciences Incubator, UNF’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, “a powerful addition” to the city.

by: Katie Garwood Staff Writer

In the six years since Jim Stallings founded PS27 Ventures, he says Jacksonville’s startup and innovation ecosystem has changed rapidly and expanded. 

He said change will accelerate with two incubators and innovation centers that opened this week. 

Mayo Clinic opened its Life Sciences Incubator on Aug. 22, and the University of North Florida Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation introduced its inaugural cohort of 14 entrepreneurs this week.

“My first reaction has been this is excellent for the community, because they are very focused and specialized in different missions, in different areas and it complements everything we’re doing as well,” said Stallings, whose PS27 Ventures is affiliated with both programs. 

“It’s almost like 1+1+1=5. Everybody brings something different and they’re bringing something new, and very much needed, for Jacksonville. It’s a very powerful addition,” he said.

Jim Stallings, the founder of PS27 Ventures.

Mayo Clinic’s Life Sciences Incubator is designed to commercialize the hospital’s internal innovations, as well as host life science, health care and biotech entrepreneurs from around the world. 

Vic Nole, executive director of the Life Sciences Incubator, said the group is looking for entrepreneurs focused on “advancing health care and well- being,” and those that also are “aligned with the Mayo mission.”

“We’re looking for mutually beneficial relationships,” Nole said. “Ultimately we would like to have a business relationship with the companies that we bring in. So those could be things like creating collaborative research agreements with them, hosting clinical trials, providing access to Mayo thought leaders in exchange for co-development of products and technologies and shared IP.”

The 75,000-square-foot incubator provides entrepreneurs access to coworking space, wet labs, business resources, networking events, academic entrepreneurial training and external partnerships with those in the community who can help design, launch and grow the companies.

Nole said the incubator already has gained attention from companies locally and outside the city, state and country. 

UNF’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation provides a yearlong development program for early-stage companies, along with coworking space and business resources.

The Mayo Clinic Life Sciences Incubator.

Collaboration is a key component to both centers, as well as to developing innovation and entrepreneurship in the city as a whole, said Karen Bowling, the director of the UNF Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. 

“It’s all of us working together to make sure that anybody who comes here and wants to start a business has that opportunity,” said Bowling, who co-founded the Solantic urgent care centers with Sen. Rick Scott.

UNF and Mayo Clinic have a formal partnership and Nole serves on UNF’s advisory board for the center. PS27 Ventures partnered with Mayo Clinic’s incubator and Stallings serves on UNF’s advisory board alongside Nole. 

Stallings said when he talks to companies outside the city for PS27, they often ask him what institutions are in place for innovators and entrepreneurs.

“When (PS27 Ventures) started five or six years ago, that was a very short list,” Stallings said. “Now, when I talk about what’s available, it’s not only a lot more investors, but it’s these institutions now like UNF and the Mayo Clinic coming online. It’s a real proud moment to be able to say we’ve got these really nice facilities and capabilities that are helping us in our community.”

Workspace inside the Mayo Clinic Life Sciences Incubator.

When Henry Brown becomes chair of the JAX Chamber in 2020, he said his focus largely will be on innovation and how the chamber can create “an innovation ecosystem” in Jacksonville. Mayo Clinic and UNF opening will help those efforts, he said.

“One of the most important things we can do from an economic development standpoint is to attract smart, hardworking young people who are going to be the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders for the city,” said Brown, CEO of Jacksonville-based Miller Electric Co.

 “They’re going to go to where they see an innovative ecosystem and see an opportunity to do new things and try new things,” he said.

Stallings said as the Mayo Clinic and UNF centers become established, along with similar centers coming along, Jacksonville could become a leading city for entrepreneurs and innovation.

“There’s this thought that the only place you can actually launch a company is Silicon Valley or New York or Boston or Texas,” Stallings said. “I think in the very near future, it’ll be very clear to everybody that no, no, no. Everything we need to launch a company is here.”