UCF Venture Lab's coaches speak from experience.
When Keith Caven met Kirstie Chadwick, director of the University of Central Florida Venture Lab, he was working out of his home and needed help putting together a business plan. Today, two years later, Caven's Orlando-based software company, Snapt, employs 20 and expects revenue to be "well into the seven figures" this year. "You can go there with any problem and rest assured they've been there, done that," says Caven about the lab's staff.
Venture Lab's entrepreneurial "coaches" all have hands-on experience starting businesses and funding their growth. Chadwick, for example, raised $13.2 million when she ran Digital Owl, an Orlando software company launched in 1999.
The lab offers its workshops and coaching for free. It was launched in September 2004 as a partnership between Orange County, the UCF College of Business Administration and the UCF Office of Research and Commercialization. It works with the nationally recognized UCF Technology Incubator and the school's tech transfer office to help students and professors as well as central Florida early-stage tech entrepreneurs with everything from business planning to intellectual property protection to market assessment. The lab has 25 clients and additionally assists approximately 150 students a year.
A key focus of the help centers on money. For years, entrepreneurs around Florida have complained about the lack of early-stage financing from investors, or "angels" as they are called in the investment community. So Chadwick and her team take a two-pronged approach, helping entrepreneurs polish their investment pitches, or "elevator speeches," and holding workshops designed to make wealthy Floridians more comfortable with the idea of putting their cash to work in startups.
The Venture Lab is also in the final stages of working with Pinnacle Financial Group on a fund that would invest $50,000 to $200,000 in early-stage tech companies. UCF would receive a small equity interest in the portfolio businesses.