Since 2016, the University of Florida Innovation Station program in Sarasota County has placed 138 engineering interns with 51 companies in the county.
That’s a trend that both school and county officials hope will continue now that the Innovation Station has been granted another $1.2 million in county funds to continue through 2027. The university will match the funding.
Established in 2016, the station became the first extension in UF’s Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering. The program, which launched with a five-year, $1 million county grant, was developed to strengthen the county’s innovation economy and support the growth of high-tech jobs.
The innovation station has two goals: growing engineering innovation technology companies in the region and recruiting students to the UF College of Engineering and those graduates back to the area.
Innovation Station employees work with the Economic Development Council to bring companies to the area and create programming to help recruit middle and high school seniors to UF.
“A lot of the companies that want to move here, the first question they ask is, ‘So what does your engineering pipeline look like?” Regional Director Allen Carlson said. “And that’s where we can provide a connection.”
The station has provided K-12 outreach to more than 3,000 Sarasota County students to teach them about opportunities in the engineering industry.
“If you don’t start thinking about engineering as a career at fifth or sixth grade and begin taking classes in middle and high school, you will not have the content that you need to get admitted to a school like the University of Florida,” Carlson said.
The Innovation Station recruits area students for direct admission or for admission to a Gator Engineering program at State College of Florida’s Venice campus, which allows students to take courses at a lower cost. To date, 53 students have taken Gator Engineering courses.
As the students work their way through school, the Innovation Station works with students and local companies to fill paying internships in the area.
“If you don’t provide internship opportunities for these students after they leave high school, they don’t come back,” Carlson said. “If they intern in Atlanta or Chicago or New York, they’ll probably end up working for those companies in those cities and not back in Sarasota.”
The station also helps arrange capstone projects, such as research into arenas that are robust enough to host indoor monster truck rallies, and connects Sarasota County students with local employers.
Carlson, a former CEO of Sun Hydraulics, said it is best to recruit candidates from the area because they tend to stay long-term.
“If you’re an existing company, and you have to recruit outside the area, it’s expensive,” he said. “The scalability and the success rate is very risky.”
The commission unanimously supported the station’s renewal, which Chair Mike Moran said he was proud to do.
“We know local industry is hungry for talent,” Moran said. “It’s exciting to see University of Florida making a direct contribution to providing that talent.”