The Startup Quest® Story

Susan Powers spent most of her career as a photographer. In 2013, she decided to pursue a new path. She visited her local employment center and discovered Startup Quest®.

Fast forward, Powers is now a business development executive at a Florida-based medical tech startup providing services to some of the nation’s most recognizable colleges and universities.

So how did an underemployed photographer go from snapping shots to sealing deals?

A Bold New Path

Startup Quest® was launched in 2011 based on a simple observation: the recession was reducing jobs, the economy was changing, and Americans weren’t ready for it. Co-founders Angela Pate and Jane Muir noticed rapidly growing businesses were struggling to find talent with the skills they needed to expand. Meanwhile, unemployment was stubbornly stuck at all-time highs at the time, and underemployment continued to challenge their college town community. This mismatch led them to pioneer a new path, one that would better align the region’s workforce with the changing business economy.

The result was Startup Quest®.

The first Startup Quest® launched in 2011 in Gainesville, Florida. It brought together 83 participants through a collaboration between the regional workforce board (CareerSource North Central Florida), the University of Florida Office of Technology Licensing, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce, the UF Tech Connect® EDA University Center and 13 investors and mentors. The pilot program resulted in:

  • 20 participants becoming self-employed
  • 14 startup companies formed
  • 26 additional jobs created from those that became self-employed
  • 73 participants becoming employed by 35 businesses

The overwhelming success of the pilot program led to a nearly $12 million U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Education and Training Administration Innovation Fund grant and evaluation study over five years for the expansion of Startup Quest® across seven additional workforce regions in Florida, opening the door to more new business formations and job creation.

Meet Today’s Startup Quest®

Today, Startup Quest® is a nationally-recognized interactive entrepreneurial training program that brings together aspiring entrepreneurs, capital investors, and patentable products to teach participants the process of starting a business. Participants work with experienced mentors who are vetted executive entrepreneurs to create a simulated business plan around real-world technologies and pitch the concept to real world investor judges. The program has been held almost 30 times in nine Florida communities, yielding almost 1800 graduates with expansions in California,Texas and other states coming in 2016.

The 10-session program advances an additional model for workforce development by growing self-employment through entrepreneurship, shifting the mindset from “find a job” to “create my job.” Trainees are guided by mentors — successful, often serial, entrepreneurs — in developing a business plan, marketing plan and an investor pitch. Trainee teams then collaborate to perfect a pitch to judges with backgrounds in entrepreneurship, investing, and executive leadership.

Who is Startup Quest® For?

  • Educational institutes looking to expose intellectual property to potential investors
  • Economic development and workforce boards looking to integrate entrepreneurship into their community’s culture and development strategy
  • Municipal policy leaders, such as mayors, city councils and county commissions looking to expand job growth, increase the competitiveness of their workforce, and create entrepreneurship opportunities for residents
  • Corporations and corporate executives looking to improve the skill set of their employee teams by instilling the “entrepreneurial mindset”
  • Small and medium business-owners looking to expand the entrepreneurial mindset
    Individuals looking for professional development in entrepreneurship, executive leadership, and teamwork

Why does it work?

The success of the program lies in its focus on three key attributes.

Experiential Training & Robust Curriculum

Participants go through experiential team training and mentoring conducted in manageable 4-hour sessions, once a week, for 10 weeks. The real-world curriculum was created by entrepreneurs in partnership with the University of Florida, one of the nation’s leading state flagship institutions and a leading.

Real-World Technologies

Teams are formed around patented technologies from public research universities, federal laboratories, and NASA labs nationwide. The result is real technologies are showcased to entrepreneurs and investors who may be interested in exploring commercial development potential. Participants walk away with a better understanding of what it takes to create a startup, commercialize products, and approach investors with competitive proposals. Moreover, these skills translate well into corporate positions where employers often seek entrepreneurial skills when making hires.

Competitive Collaboration

Mentor entrepreneurs guide participants as they build business plans and present to real investors in an engaging business pitch competition. At the end of the program, participants walk away with new professional networks and broader experiences. The program allows participants to “test-drive” self-employment before committing personal resources or gives them an opportunity to hone those skills and take them to the marketplace in their job search. It also fosters the local entrepreneurial ecosystem in each Startup Quest® community.

At the end of the program, participants walk away with knowledge in:

  • Startup & business plan development
  • Financial strategies and forecasting crucial to startup success
  • Marketing
  • Legal & compliance procedures
  • Operations & management
  • Technology licensing & transfer
  • Investment strategy and funding sources