| 4 minute read

The power of Innovation Districts: How to build stronger communities

Elena Galán-Muros
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During the 2023 UIIN Conference, we had the pleasure of sitting down with Sandra Marin Ruiz, the Assistant Vice President for Innovation and Business Development at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). She plays a pivotal role in connecting academia with regional economic developers to drive innovation and support small businesses in Florida.

Join us as we discover how these principles fuel groundbreaking innovation and shape the future of creative problem-solving.

In this article, we summarise part of that conversation, but you can listen to the full interview in our podcast:

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Madeline Arkins:

First off, I would just like to hear a bit about your role at FAU and what you do.

Sandra Marin:

Florida Atlantic University is one of the nine public universities that host the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in the state of Florida (USA).

This is a national program, federally funded, to support small businesses. We provide business consulting to the community, but also because we are integrated inside the university, my role includes bringing all the services to the academic community: students, faculty, …

In my role in Innovation and Business Development, I support that connection between academia and the economic developers and aid the regional economy by creating businesses, helping them grow and creating jobs in the region.

Madeline Arkins:

What sort of challenges do you see when trying to bridge this gap between the regional economic developers and academia?

Sandra Marin:

First, the gap exists initially because each academic institution is an economic development driver itself. We have economic development opportunities, programs from government, industry, communities. And then, the main challenge is usually information, communication, and how to translate the opportunities into the potential “clients”.

For example, if a business owner comes and looks at all the players, usually the main challenge is where to start, or how to jump to the next one if they are already taking services from one. That connectivity is one of the main opportunities we found to improve the collaboration, how to align in terms of data, being a one-stop shop for the community, help all the players understand what each other do, and, with that, being able to be collaborative, have more synergies and work together more efficiently in the benefit of our community.

Madeline Arkins:

What support structures, strategies, mechanisms and processes are in place that have been key to the success of this concept?

Sandra Marin:

First, we are utilising the federal funding that SBDC receives to operate in the community.

Furthermore, we are hosted by the universities, academic institutions and, in the case of districts, by the cities, so the infrastructure is already there. Those resources are coming with volunteers, we also have the consultants from SBDC, and we can bring the researchers and other schools from the university to sit together.

What we did was to bring everyone together and unite it by data. We report economic impact together and we created a website that is a one-stop shop in which the community have only one access point to those resources. We try to reduce the complexity that somebody new in the region needs to navigate what is needed to start a business there, but also to show that the university is an economic development driver.

Interested in more insights like this?

You can listen now to Anita Kocsis (Director of the Design Factory, Melbourne) delve into the remarkable world of the Design Factory and its global network, unraveling the secrets behind their success: the art of collaboration, the enchantment of ‘structured serendipity’, and the boundless possibilities of cross-disciplinary work in our episode Structured serendipity: Building success at Design Factory Melbourne. You can also read our article on the Five characteristics of successful cultural change at universities.

Stay tuned for the next episode on this series and don’t forget to follow us on your preferred podcast platform!

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