Plug and Play accelerators launch in Orange, Osceola

A Silicon Valley-based accelerator program launched two Central Florida locations in the last week, indicating its belief in the region as a potential technology hub.

Plug and Play Tech Center, which operates dozens of accelerators around the world, announced on Tuesday that it would operate a cohort of smart cities-based companies from Orange County.

The announcement came six days after a similar announcement of a sensor-based cohort in Kissimmee.

Plug and Play CEO Saeed Amidi on Tuesday put it bluntly as he addressed the crowd of educators, business owners and political leaders at University of Central Florida.

“There are a lot of rich, retired people in Florida,” he said. “I want to mobilize all of them to help (the) startups we will be accelerating. Not only giving them advice but also giving them money and mentoring them to be successful.”

Plug and Play’s arrival

Plug and Play Tech Center has been connecting large corporations with startups through industry-specific programming since 2006.

Among its high-profile successful investments are PayPal, Honey, Soundhound and Dropbox.

Amidi estimated that the three-month accelerator program in Orange County could boost up to 50 companies a year.

University of Central Florida President Alexander Cartwright said building strength in an ecosystem sometimes comes down to a numbers game.

Plug and Play is expected to take a look at as many as 250 businesses over five years.

“This makes it easier for them to know the strategies they should follow to get the resources they need,” he said. “It’s not just about teaching them how to do it but it’s also about finding the funding. That is huge.”

Anecdotally, small businesses in this region that are built around funding tend to struggle in the important period just after initial funding rounds. The result is many companies don’t have the chance to grow.

The Plug and Play program aims to address that funding gap.

However, beyond that, it’s a matter of exposing young companies to networks that Amidi and others have built up through decades of investments.

Osceola County’s sensor play

In Osceola County, the arrival of Plug and Play pushes forward a momentum that has been growing in recent years as local leaders advocate for diversification of its economy beyond tourism and agriculture.

Early this year, for example, the National Science Foundation awarded the region $16 million as one of 10 innovation engines in the country. The grant program could eventually reach $160 million if the region meets certain benchmarks.

Osceola County Manager Don Fisher said Thursday the next step in what is becoming an ever-evolving gameplan for the growth of the 500-acre NeoCity campus is outside funds.

“Plug and Play is the world-class leader when it comes to startups and venture capitalists,” he said. “That’s what they are going to bring to NeoCity to bring it to the next level and into the future.”

The NeoCity campus’ Master Plan revolves around strategies for innovation that focuses on sustainable development, economic growth and job creation in the region.

Plug and Play now becomes part of that, Fisher said.

“You need to start on what’s next,” he said. “And what’s next is private investment. (That means) working with Plug and Play and Saeed to get an expansion to the fabrication facility outside of these doors with private sector investment, not public.”

A growing Orlando presence

In Orlando, Amidi said Plug and Play’s presence will grow over time.

“We want to become part of the fabric of the community,” he said. “We want to help the younger and older entrepreneur build their dream and connect them to funding and corporations. And not only U.S. corporations but corporations all over the world to offer their products and services.”

“He’s committed to how to bring investment in from other places,” Cartwright said. “How do you get venture capital into Florida? When you have someone that is so connected who can vouch for us and say, ‘You need to come to Florida and invest in those companies,’ there is so much credibility to that.”

“He’s done it, he’s lived it and people are going to believe it.”