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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 1, 2019 2 weeks ago

College plans center to further link school with area business community

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SCF's Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation will be built inside the school’s former library building on its Bradenton campus.
by: Grier Ferguson Sarasota-Manatee Editor

What was once a library will undergo a transformation into a center for another type of learning and development, one for advanced technology, jobs, and, officials hope, economic development. 

Grier Ferguson. The former library building on the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota’s Bradenton campus, where a Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation will be established.

Officials from State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota recently revealed details about their plans for the project, the Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation. The center will be established with a $3.6 million job growth grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

It will be built inside the school’s former library building on its Bradenton campus. The two-story, 45,000-square-feet building will be repurposed into a facility that will serve several purposes, among them a coding technology academy; a technology incubator and accelerator; and a video production studio.

The school built a new Library and Learning Center that opened in early 2018, paving the way for a revised use for the old library building. When completed, SCF President Carol Probstfeld says there will be a good connection between the Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation and the new library, with companies involved in the incubator encouraged to use the library facilities.

Courtesy. A rendering of the exterior of the Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation, a concept that’s planned for the former library building at State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota’s Bradenton campus.

The center aims to further the school’s goals in several ways, including by diversifying the college’s offerings and presenting experiential learning opportunities. But there’s also a broader goal in mind: address the needs of the area. “Part of our mission is to serve our community,” Probstfeld says.

That means, in part, economic needs. Todd Fritch, executive vice president and provost of SCF, says it’s important for the school to be an economic driver. “This is an extension of that,” he says. 

The center, Probstfeld says, is the result of two years of conversations with internal and external groups as well as visits to other incubators statewide. The process involved gathering ideas from faculty members and holding discussions with economic leaders such as Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. Probstfeld, a past chair of the Bradenton Area EDC, and Hillstrom aligned their strategic plans.

“Part of our mission is to serve our community.” — Carol Probstfeld, president, State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota

Hillstrom says the EDC’s strategic plan includes what the organization refers to as a “village of innovation,” an incubator concept that would provide a place for entrepreneurs to come together. She says Probstfeld told her, “We have this old library." Hillstrom’s response? That would be a great location for an incubator.

The EDC will continue to be engaged with the center in whatever way it can be most beneficial, Hillstrom says. She sees the center helping to create high-skill, high-wage jobs.

To decide on the areas the center would focus on, Fritch says SCF looked at a long list of interests. Technology, he says, became a common theme. Also on the list? Business plan development and how companies can generate more business. To further those interests, the center, according to a statement, will focus on four main elements:

  • A coding technology academy will include courses, certificate programs, seminars, social events and gatherings;
  • A technology incubator and accelerator will help entrepreneurs build viable business models and help early-stage startups grow; 
  • A video, augmented reality and creative studio will provide video and creative services for entrepreneurs, nonprofits and others; and
  • A university partnership center will link SCF students with university advisors who can help them choose courses.

The building that will house the Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation will have movable wall systems so the four elements within the center can expand and contract as needed.

The timeline for the project, officials say, relies on the renovation schedule of the building. Because of that, officials don’t have a specific date for the opening of the center yet, though elements of the coding academy are expected to be ready in the fall.

“The resources here for entrepreneurship are vast,” Hillstrom says. The center, she says, will be a way to pull it all together. “This center will serve as glue.”

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