As a preeminent research university, the University of South Florida has received over 100 U.S. patents annually since 2016 and enjoys strong ties throughout the Tampa Bay business and entrepreneurial community.
With the unveiling of a new state-of-the-art research center Thursday, the university hopes to strengthen those connections and increase innovation efforts that already generate over $582 million throughout Florida each year, according to a 2019 analysis. A study released in December showed that USF provides a total economic impact of over $6 billion, with $443 million stemming from the St. Petersburg campus.
The $42 million facility encompasses 120,000 square feet over three stories, and the university hopes it will further fuel the regional tech and innovation economy. The building is the latest addition to the USF Research Park on the Tampa campus, currently home to over 65 companies and dozens of student-led startups. The research park has reached capacity in recent years, and the new center increases available space by 34%.
“The new research park building … will help the university and community by bridging the research that we’re doing with innovation through existing companies, community organizations – as well as bring jobs to the community,” said Sylvia Thomas, interim vice president for research and innovation.
She added that in addition to helping grow the regional economy, research and innovation emanating from the facility would also address societal challenges.
The opening of the expansive building comes at an opportune moment for both the university and the Tampa Bay region, said Thomas. In November, the Tampa Bay Economic Development Council reported that it recruited 60 companies to relocate or expand operations in the area – creating over 8,000 new jobs and generating more than $876 million in capital investment. Craig Richard, president and CEO of the Tampa Bay EDC, credited USF’s strong pipeline of diverse talent as a leading factor in attracting tech CEOs and companies to the region.
“We’ll be partnering with our faculty, students and staff to make sure that we’re going to have an economic impact,” said Thomas. “Not only on the university, the community and Tampa Bay region, but hopefully the state and the nation.”
While Thomas expects the new facility to increase local research, job and internship opportunities in the short term, she hopes USF’s Research Park becomes a model of innovative success for other institutions across the country.
“They say, ‘build it, and they will come,’ so we want to have a national reputation,” she said. “So, we’re going to be engaging large companies, small companies and startups to create that enterprise and an ecosystem where we can support from concept to product.”
The innovation center represents the first new building in the university’s research park since 2005, and it features advanced laboratories, office and meeting spaces, coworking areas and a rooftop terrace. Large glass panels comprise the facility’s walls, which Thomas explained was an intentional part of its design.
Thomas said campus leadership wanted the surrounding community to see USF hard at work addressing pertinent challenges as they drive past the building on Fowler Avenue. She said the unique insight would spur connectivity between residents and their local university.
“It’s almost like a looking-glass,” she added. “A young child or student passing by could imagine themselves as part of that community.”
Thomas said the research park and new facility are open to students, startups and entrepreneurs throughout the entire region and noted an innovation office on the St. Petersburg campus works closely with the student incubator site in Tampa. Now that the building is officially complete, she said, the next step is customizing spaces to fit the needs of its future occupants, and flexibility was another intentional aspect of the design.
The university has not announced any tenants for the new facility. However, Thomas said the school is actively engaged in talks with several companies and utilizing a world-renowned recruiter for biotech firms.