Mark Johnson and Harsh Thakar had a concept: Improve the cognitive abilities of children through brain exercises based upon the latest neuroscientific research. But their Fort Lauderdale-based company, Kinediq, needed a little guidance in turning their idea into a successful startup.
The entrepreneurs turned to the Innovation Hub, a business incubator at Broward College’s Cypress Creek location that opened last year to provide work space, mentoring and networking opportunities for startup companies. The Innovation Hub worked with Johnson and Thakar to fine tune their goals and connect them with key players to assist in their business.
Since then, Johnson and Thakar have received their first contract and last month, 3,000 children used their products. The entrepreneurs plan to offer their supplemental curriculum to schools as well as parent and teacher organizations for children in kindergarten through age 16. Not bad for a startup that began in January.
“You are always looking for help,” says Thakar, a former tech consultant who is also a board advisor to the Innovation Hub. “What attracted us to work with the Hub is the entrepreneurial mindset, talent and their willingness to help and get things done.”
The Innovation Hub is just one of the initiatives Broward College has created to provide training and education in entrepreneurship, technology and aviation, some of the key industries in which Broward County is looking to attract and retain employers.
“We believe that our core value is to help people find their way to economic self-sufficiency, and we do that through education,” says Mildred Coyne, executive director for workforce education and economic development at Broward College.
In May, that commitment garnered Broward College the honor of being named the Economic Development Partner of the Year by the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance.
“Broward College knows what industries the county is targeting,” says Bob Swindell, the alliance’s president and CEO. “They understand the training needed for tech and light manufacturing jobs. They always anticipate and are willing to adapt. It is very rare to find an organization as broad as they are to be so agile.”
Broward College will continue to broaden its impact in the business community with the creation of the Venture Formula, an accelerator planned to rollout next year that will assist businesses through mentoring, expertise and initial funding. The college will provide an initial investment of less than $20,000 to have an equity stake in the company, says Don Cook, its executive director of marketing and strategic initiative. The investment will derive from an auxiliary fund and not from taxpayer dollars or student fees. Cook notes Broward College investing in the companies is a big difference from other incubators that usually don’t take an equity stake in a company. There are hopes investing could produce another source of revenue for Broward College.
At the end of the 12-week accelerator program, the college along with private partners will seek additional venture funding from local businesses during pitch events.
“Without an educated workforce and a population that can staff high tech industries, Broward County will not be able to withstand the style of living that we currently have,” says Linda Howdyshell, the college’s provost and senior vice president for academics and student services. “We see this as investing in the future of the community.”
Florida ranks third in the nation in the number of technology companies with more than 25,000, and has nearly 250,000 tech workers, according to Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency. There are also low entry barriers that benefit startups with more than $1 billion in recent venture capital funding deployed in the southeast Florida region.
In May, Broward College held a groundbreaking for a new facility at its south campus in Pembroke Pines for its aviation maintenance and aircraft power plant mechanical programs, which are so popular there are 100 students on a waitlist. The facility will be adjacent to North Perry Airport. Students can obtain a two-year certificate or an associate in science degree.
“There is such high demand in South Florida for airplane and power plant mechanics,” Coyne says. “More people are flying so it is a job that this area really needs and the students will receive well-paying jobs.”
Careers that meet a community need – and that pay well – are a big part of the college’s plans for growth. This fall it is offering new programs in information technology as well as supervision and management with a focus on areas such as cybersecurity, project management and network administration. “We want to make sure students have access to the great jobs that exist in the technology world,” Coyne says. “We continue to evolve our curriculum based on what the employer demand is and to bridge that skill gap between what employers need and what the workforce has.”
Broward College is also creating initiatives to assist employers in reaching their ideal employees. This April, Broward College in partnership with Broward Workshop, Career Source Broward and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, launched an employer internship tool kit to guide employers through building internships for students.
“We hear from employers that there is a skills gap,” Coyne says. “It is really about making sure that employers have access to the talent that exists in our higher education institution.”
To aid in achieving that goal, the Corporate Alliance Partnership was created two years ago to provide a single point of contact for employers to receive access to Broward College students and to post available jobs, among other things.
“We work closely with an employer partner to help them find talent and continue to have a ready and steady (employee) pipeline,” Coyne says. “While at the same time, we are giving our students access to high quality jobs and careers in the South Florida area.”
The Disney Institute
Broward College is teaming with the Disney Institute, Disney’s professional development arm, for a one-day training course. The September 22 course is designed for employers to learn customer service “the Disney way.”
“Disney is world renowned for their customer service model,” says Mildred Coyne, executive director for workforce education and economic development at Broward College. “Training for employees is always top on an employer’s list. This is just another opportunity that we have to serve the corporate community in Broward.”
This is the college’s first time working with Disney and the training is open to the public for an early registration fee of $495 until August 15. The regular registration fee is $595. Broward College will also have a second half-day session that is free for its employees. The event is at the college’s Coconut Creek location; more information is available at broward.edu/academics/ce/corporate/disney.