Business Incubators and Entrepreneurship Programs

Inspiring a New Generation

by Allysar Hassan

An idea can be like an unplanted seed; its potential lies dormant. But an entrepreneurial spirit acts on ideas and what starts out as a small seed can with time and endurance become a great oak. Entrepreneurs are not defined or limited by his or her age or by limited work experience — oh, no — instead, without a quiver of hesitation, they stare even failure right in the eye and say, “Failure is not fatal.”

Walking into one of Glasslight Technologies’ offices you might find guys coding software in the corner, Nerf guns laying around and maybe an Xbox or two. And while this space might seem distracting, it is actually designed to cultivate innovative thinking — and what Glasslight is creating at one of its offices located inside of Florida Institute of Technology’s student business incubator is far from unproductive.

Located between a tattoo shop and a restaurant resides a 2,400-square-foot office space that boasts of ideas and innovation. On the incubator’s walls hang handwritten business plans, marketing ideas and a plethora of Post-it notes that bleed creativity from FIT’s students. Aside from the workspaces that it provides students, the space is designed to cultivate an environment that encourages thinking outside of the box, with one goal in mind – to equip students to succeed at launching a new and profitable business venture.

“We do a great job at teaching theory as to why things work. In classes, students develop critical thinking skills, but we don’t give them a chance to practice it. The incubator is a chance for them to link the theory they learn and apply it to launching their own business,” said Dr. Scott Benjamin, director for the Center of Entrepreneurship and New Business.

Glasslight Technologies

So, what does this newly launched start-up run by 23-year-old founder and CEO Hunter Gaylor do? Glasslight is a research and development company that creates innovative software solutions to solve business’ problems.

“It’s cheaper for them to have an entity solve it for them than to invest the time and resources into hiring the people that can solve the problem for them internally,” Gaylor said.

Glasslight applies its thorough research and understanding of businesses’ needs and closely partners with technology companies like Thrupoint, a recognized leader in WebRTC innovation (it creates the hardcore technology behind systems like Skype), and Cisco Systems and applies their pre-existing technology to create software solutions.

“Imagine us as general contactors. We don’t make the drywall, wires or the insulation. We just take all the different parts and pieces in the world of technology, and we put it all together and build a mash-up,” Gaylor said.

Gaylor received his undergraduate degree in liberal arts from Harvard University in May, and saw a major opportunity for technology partnerships around the Cambridge area. But having been born and raised in Brevard County, he saw business opportunities by being in close proximity to large companies like GE, Rockwell Collins and Harris Corporation on the Space Coast and aligned Glasslight with the talent that comes out of FIT every day.

“Incubation labs on campuses are valuable because of the opportunity for collaboration –bringing people together around a centralized idea. Providing an environment like this can totally change somebody’s career path forever. It’s changing mine,” said Brandon Martinez-Onstott, 23, Glasslight’s chief performance and systems officer.

“There are two models of education,” Martinez-Onstott continued, “a research model and a practitioner model. By being able to locate the practitioner closer and closer to where the research is coming from, you’re able to access research that is useful to what you’re doing and practice it, and hopefully the practitioner can influence the researcher too.”

Entrepreneurship Opportunities

A different model is inspiring and challenging the minds of young entrepreneurs at Eastern Florida State College. Its business entrepreneurship program is intended to equip any student whether he or she is looking to create a start-up or is seeking advice on how to manage an existing business. It’s designed to educate students through two efficacious models: the first is through a rigorous classroom curriculum and the second through a lecture series that brings motivating regional and national entrepreneurs to Brevard.

“The things that we teach are lifelong learning experiences. This is not like a course where you study, get a grade, pass and forget it. These courses prepare you for everyday life skills,” said Dr. Pat Fuller, professor of business and economics and business entrepreneurship program coordinator at EFSC.

Age did not deter 12-year-old Susannah Compton from starting her own business. Compton is the owner of Susie Creates – a business she launched to sell her hand-sewn and crocheted bags and accessories. Compton, now 17, boasted of the confidence she felt after participating in the entrepreneur program. She walked away from the courses not just with a conviction to better market her business, but more importantly the applicable tools to see her marketing plan through. Compton said she gained a better understanding of the role that networking plays when it came to growing her brand. After all, if nobody knows who you are, then you aren’t going to have any business.

“Dr. Fuller would tell our class that if you wanted to be known, you would need to promote yourself. People aren’t going to come looking for you… you must self promote,” she said.

Compton sells her items online at Etsy.com and dreams of someday opening up her own downtown boutique where she will be able to showcase and sell her merchandise. And while there might be challenges along the way, Susie said, “You just have to keep taking steps forward.”

The courses at EFSC teach students everything from how to write a press release to tools for negotiating contracts and how to conduct an interview, along with business management and accounting courses. Students enrolled have the opportunity to earn certificates at two levels of entrepreneurship expertise, receive an associate’s degree that can transfer to a bachelor’s degree advanced entrepreneurship program, or simply specialize in the skills they need to start a business.

“With the economy continuing to struggle, job hunters – particularly high school and college students and recent college grads — are faced with limited options, often spending weeks or months looking for a job. Yet, what many jobseekers don’t realize is that creating their own job is within reach,” said Laura Mac Minn, director of events for Empact Inc.

This year, the B.W. Simpkins Business Seminar for Entrepreneurial Development, at the King Center on November 14, will be hosted in partnership with Empact – an organization that travels all over the U.S. to speak to students with the focus on empowering and facilitating a culture of entrepreneurship in communities around the world. There will be a panel of motivating and successful local and national entrepreneur speakers as well as educational workshops that students can attend. Some of the country’s top young entrepreneurs, who have developed or sold successful companies before the age of 30, will be the event’s keynote speakers.

“The purpose of the seminar is to create awareness and participation in an entrepreneurial mindset and to ultimately and hopefully create commerce and new business from students and the public in Brevard County,” Fuller said.