Bringing Back the Knowledge: 2015 Externships

After a whirlwind week in and around two major business and biotech incubators in Florida, senior Joshua Williams brings his observations back to the Ursinus U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies.

At the University of Florida’s Innovation Hub with alumnus Sean C. McCoy ’99, an exercise sports science major turned science and technology innovator and entrepreneur, Williams learned strategies that contribute to a successful start-up. He learned, for example, that “the people you know, the people that know you, and the people that know what you do, should be held in high esteem and respect because they can make, break, or accelerate your ideas,” says McCoy quoting his business partner.

He also learned that the surrounding community should be supportive. “The thing that has most impressed me is the city of Gainesville’s and the University of Florida’s interest in entrepreneurship,” Williams says. “The city itself and in conjunction with the university provide so many opportunities for entrepreneurs and the city really fosters entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve found that the city of Gainesville is a very supportive close community which really fosters the sharing of ideas which has led to the success of the entrepreneurs here.”

Williams is one of 37 “externs” who fanned out during the last week of winter break to Ursinus mentors matched by the Career and Professional Development staff. In its second year, the externship program launched last year with 17 students and has more than doubled.

Williams’ externship inside the renowned business incubator is supported by the Ursinus U-Imagine Center for Integrative and Entrepreneurial Studies. The University of Florida Innovation Hub provides its resident companies with office space, laboratories, conference rooms and other resources to improve the likelihood of success, enabling its tenants to devote limited initial resources to advancing their technology and market strategies. The Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator has recently won awards as the top-ranked biotechnology incubator in the nation and internationally. The Ursinus U-Imagine Center, in its early stages, supports entrepreneurship and integration as a way of thinking and acting in various contexts.

Since the goal of the INSPIRE program of U-Imagine is to connect students with entrepreneurial thinkers both on and off campus, said Carol Cirka, a faculty center director with Rebecca Jaroff and April Kontostathis, “we thought it would be a perfect fit, making it possible for a student to have an inspiring experience that likely would not have been possible without the financial support of the Center, and forge a partnership with enthusiastic alums like Sean who were working on entrepreneurial projects in science and technology.”

Williams, a senior football player from Jamison, Pa., is looking toward graduate school for physical therapy or nutrition. His externship allowed him to attend networking events with Gainesville, Fla., entrepreneurs, view the new VITAL telehealth tablet coupled with the FDA cleared Jintronix rehabilitation software being piloted at the Veterans Health Administration for future deployment of telerehabilitation services to rural veterans, review clinical demonstration projects under the Office of Rural Health, and visit with start-up companies at the Innovation Hub incubator.

McCoy, who was a Summer Fellow and swimmer at Ursinus, is a good example of someone whose undergraduate degree led him to branch out. He received his Ph.D. in 2011 from the University of Florida and worked as a research scientist for Veterans Health Administration. Currently he is vice president of uBrand Partners, a nutritional branding company; and an assistant professor at the University of Florida with research in animal and human health through therapeutics focused on bone mineral density, and accretion of muscle mass. He recently submitted a joint UF/VA patent utilizing electrical stimulation to reduce the incidence of aspiration pneumonia in patients with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other neurologic or neurodegenerative disorders. 

McCoy’s goal was for Williams to have a series of experiences that gave him a sense of what is involved in business incubation. They met with faculty at GatorNest, a program that affords graduate students the opportunity to form business and marketing plans for local start-up businesses. They toured local incubators as well as the Center of Innovation on Disability and Rehabilitation Research in the Veterans Administration hospital, and The Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (CEI), which was created to teach, coach and inspire students to be entrepreneurial in their lives. They also met with CareerSource NCFL Startup Quest mentors who donate their time to give highly motivated participants the tools and training they need to investigate an entrepreneurial endeavor and learn the basic mechanics of starting or evaluating a business opportunity.

Likening all the elements to a “30-layer cake,” McCoy thought about what Williams could bring back… “What makes incubators work, what doesn’t work?  What happens in an incubator? What is the capital requirement? What about the intellectual property, provisional patents? How do you protect a patent, building business plan? How do you bring in the Chamber of Commerce?, are questions that can be posed locally.

“Community is important,” McCoy says. “You only know the people you know, and you need other people, people who have been there, done that. You don’t get that in the classroom.”

McCoy appreciates his Ursinus education. “Ursinus gives you a strong foundation, a solid background. I learned how to think. I call it the Ursinus MacGyver effect (referring to a resourceful secret agent on television). You are presented with a problem and will come up with multiple solutions.” His early mentors, faculty members Randy Davidson, Tina Wailgum, Laura Borsdorf, and Pam Chlad, provided him with the knowledge to be successful and themselves possessed the “entrepreneurial fire” that he tries to replicate.

While Williams says his externship has not led him to focus yet on one specific path, “it has taught me that there are many opportunities to have a career and still develop creative ideas and do entrepreneurial work alongside it. In addition I have learned a lot about what makes a successful entrepreneur.”