Tech Grove launches – nearly 1 year after opening – as ‘collision space’ for startups, military

It’s not often you get to experience a launch party 10 months after an opening. Of course, it’s not often an historic pandemic gets in the way of the festivities.

However, at long last, the military community in the region unveiled Central Florida Tech Grove at UCF’s Research Park.

The program’s goal is to make it easier for small businesses, startups and any other businesses to connect with the robust military presence in the region.

The Tech Grove officially opened in September of last year.

Central Florida is home to the modeling, simulation and training arm of most military branches, a primary reason that the huge annual military trade show I/ITSEC calls Orlando home.

In remarks at the Thursday unveiling, commanding officer of the U.S. Navy’s Orlando-based NAWCTSD Tim Hill said the timing on the launch could not have been better.

“Things have shifted from where the federal government led innovation to where that is not the case today,” he told a crowd of about 100, before adding, “most innovation is being driven by the private sector. We need to tap into that.”

Hill has long been an advocate for closer relationships between the tech community and the military.

The Tech Grove is a product of military services coming together to create a pathway that can make it easier to connect and work with private industries.

Almost by necessity, military contracting processes can be important but tedious affairs, often slowed down by regulations and the need to make sure contracts are awarded to properly vetted firms.

Although past relationships mean longtime contractors might have fewer obstacles, the bidding process can mean newer businesses could be left out.

While the processes have not necessarily been stripped away, the Tech Grove could provide more opportunities for smaller businesses to connect with the military more frequently.

“It is exactly the kind of opportunity for entry and engagement with the modeling, simulation and training that we need for our young companies,” said Carol Ann Dykes Logue, the director of programs and operations for UCF’s innovation districts and incubation program. “It’s not just for (UCF incubator) clients. It’s companies that are in every area of technology because of the range of technology that underpins what Tech Grove is all about.”

The program could be a game changer for startups, which often can exist and thrive on the backs of lucrative contracts with the military.

Logue said the military’s presence in Orlando is not exactly a secret but it can be tricky to connect with them for potential work agreements.

“This is a single entry point into this multi-billion dollar industry for companies to bring innovation forward and see how they might fit in with the military,” she said.

The event at the Tech Grove brought out military leaders alongside startup founders and other more established business owners.

That was exactly the point, Hill said.

“You are all VIP because that’s what we are looking for here: collisions to happen,” he said, while also addressing the delayed opening. “We are finally here.”