Jacksonville's First Technology Accelerator: An Open Innovation Software Development Experiment

"The most effective way to manage change successfully is to create it." -Peter Drucker


THE CHALLENGE:

Becoming Jacksonville's change agent

How can a software product development firm rethink venture strategy to engage a community around their brand while creating real social and economic impact for the greater good of Jacksonville, Florida?


In 2012, feature[23] launched a venture technology lab to help bring promising software startup companies to market. It was a successful Open Innovation pilot driven by the community, focused on social investment and economic growth.

Since the 19th century, Jacksonville, FL, has been a major military and port town. By the 20th century, our economy was globally recognized as a hot bed for banking, insurance, healthcare, construction, logistics, and tourism. Modern day, Forbes Magazine ranks Jacksonville as the second-fastest growing technology services city in the country.

PAYING IT FORWARD

In 2011, passionate about Downtown Jacksonville's revitalization, enhancing the local technology community’s competitive context, and Northeast Florida's entrepreneurial ecosystem, the feature[23] team set out to make an impact through software engineering. With a strategy to foster a culture of innovation and excellence, we needed to promote collaboration with quality and capital in order to help people invent and build technology-based companies.

If successful, we would inspire and help build momentum for the Jacksonville tech community.

INVESTING IN A JACKSONVILLE INNOVATION HUB

feature[23] developed a systematic method for collecting information through continued research of economic trends, government policy, social activities, grassroots movements, incentives, academia, media interests, buying habits, tech groups, technological developments, and the overall business community. These elements demonstrated a point-of-connection with significant potential for Jacksonville's success.

However, at the current state of 2011, the ecosystem lacked an engaged network of expert technologists, mentors, venture capital, and openness that could help put controls in place to create a vision for goal-setting and value creation.

Furthermore, in the Southeast, connecting with capital has been relatively rare and hard to accomplish, leading to brain drain to other competing geographical hot spots. Jacksonville's broader competition was any other source of funding where early-stage entrepreneurs were able to move to a new location, creating more opportunity and a higher success rate for themselves with a longer runway from higher rounds of funds raised.

feature[23] aimed to cultivate a different environment to attract and retain dynamic and ambitious professionals, entrepreneurs, investors, and organizations who were also committed to building and maintaining success, locally.

Through feature[23]'s performance measures we had the ability to process and analyze collected data quickly. We increased capacity and controls in our business model, based on improvement techniques, and initiated our venture technology lab.

The feature[23] venture technology lab was built to improve the success rate of regional startups and took a different approach to connect these fledgling companies with a community of like-minded experts wanting to support each other for the greater good. Our methods included quantitative and qualitative research, business model prototyping, technology prototyping, organizational design, and intellectual property development. We would brand this Open Innovation experiment: "The Factory".

BACKGROUND & OVERVIEW

Today, launching a software-driven technology venture requires fewer owned resources since the costs of these resources have become increasingly less prohibitive. As a result, they also require far less capital than they would have in years previously if done correctly and with the right teams in place. New tools allow for faster development with hosting and server resources to be leased and utilized on‐demand leading to reduced engineering, equipment, and employee startup costs. A community with the appropriate tools enabled founding teams to easily plan, communicate, and execute while leveraging a “use-when-needed” talent and resource pool located within a network we collectively created.

We were able to work with some of the most fantastic people and great minds in our industry. We continue to outperform our peers in the market in part through helping to build more productive, better performing, accurate, and emotionally healthier teams through validated product launches. The plan was implemented by simplifying milestone objectives:

  1. Team Validation
  2. Product Validation
  3. Customer Validation
  4. Business Model Validation
  5. Positive Revenue-Based Models

The milestone-driven program was designed around our philosophy and culture while integrating Agile Software Development, Service Design, Lean Startup, Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, and Customer Development where iterative cycles grew the businesses while minimizing expenditures and hedging risk. The accountability program accompanying our investment, product development, and on-premise coaching is one of the most important ways success was positively impacted and the area where our model was most differentiated. This process was critically reviewing progress, on an ongoing basis, to ensure continuous improvement in the context of the ever-changing landscape of business and technology.

SUCCESS

"A business has two basic functions: marketing and innovation." -Peter Drucker

Through patience, passion, care, imagination, and courage, feature[23] connected entrepreneurial technology ventures to resources and piloted change into reality. Our dedication helped to raise public awareness to Downtown Jacksonville while exciting a community around technology. The feature[23] brand continues to be recognized as the leader in software product development and technology services for Jacksonville and ambitious companies to launch quality digital business models. Our R&D Creation Lab emphasizes innovative thinking and experimentation, qualities that frequently translate into opportunities to exploit pivotal business climates, industry issues, and emerging technologies.


REAL RESULTS

Integrated components taught relevant business knowledge and "fail fast" concepts to accelerate product-market-fit. This created qualified startups capable of engaging a much larger investor pool to scale the successful founding teams to sustainability.

Visibility. feature[23] shared success stories, challenges, and opportunities. The media housed content such as articles, interviews, videos, news, and awards.

Engaged Coaching. Coaches offered diverse industry knowledge and experience to help founding teams focus efforts on executing feasible ideas and mission-critical tasks.

Partner Resources. Technologists, software engineers, IP/Patent Attorneys, CPAs, designers, marketers, writers, sales, etc. helped connect innovation with execution.

Corporate Matchmaker. If there was an overlap, feature[23] worked with corporate partners to match useful innovations to their business goals. This allowed improved contributions through collaboration, mentoring, sponsorships, and partnerships.

Capital. With a strict focus on business value, technology-based investments have attracted venture capital, angel investors, and private investors looking to diversify.

Commercialization. feature[23] brought together expertise, R&D, technology, and business to guide inventors with patentable or copyrightable technologies.

Talent Development. Training, mentoring, continuous learning, and interaction are cornerstones of the feature[23] organization. This has cultivated a productive and innovative environment.

Tech Startup Culture. feature[23] continues to host a variety of events ranging from educational workshops and roundtable discussions to networking events and conferences. These events provide opportunities to connect with the best and brightest in the region’s tech industry.

Software & Cloud Platforms. feature[23]'s innovation lab was chosen to be 1 out of 5 Microsoft BizSpark PLUS partners in Florida. Microsoft Azure for BizSpark Plus covers $120K of startup’s cloud platform costs. Through this offer, every dollar startups saved meant more money for them to spend elsewhere in their business.


PRESS

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