Meet the team making Boca Raton a global startup launchpad

An enterprising group based out of Florida Atlantic University has the ambitious aim of making Boca Raton a force to be reckoned with on the international tech scene.

The city, which has just under 100,000 residents and is located between West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, has two universities, its city hall has an innovation office, and it is home to scores of major startups and scaleups. It is located about an hour away from Miami, but soon it will be even closer to the Magic City thanks to its forthcoming link to the superfast Brightline train.

Andrew Duffell is leading the charge. As President of the Research Park at FAU, he is responsible for executing the organization’s mission to foster economic development in Broward and Palm Beach counties. 

“We bring innovative technology-led companies together with the university to advance common areas of research,” Duffell told Refresh Miami. Through that process, he explained, “new discoveries can be made, and new tech can be commercialized.” The goal is for this innovation to lead to job creation and, ultimately, wealth creation.

Andrew Duffell, President of the Research Park at FAU

The Research Park is headquartered on a 56 acre campus in Boca Raton, with an additional 14 acre location in Deerfield Beach. The organization was established in 1985 as an independent special district created by FAU in conjunction with Palm Beach and Broward counties. FAU Tech Runway, one of South Florida’s long standing accelerator programs, is based out of the Research Park.

The international reach of the Research Park is best embodied by its Global Ventures program, which it launched right before the pandemic. “The aim of Global Ventures is to nurture and facilitate the growth of second stage companies,” said Duffell. The program is open to startups from around the world with six or more employees and around $1 million in annual revenue. Duffell and team help the startups expand their business in the US.

“We look for companies that can take advantage of the strategic location of South Florida,” explained Duffell. They are particularly interested in companies that are aligned with FAU’s areas of strength. That includes healthcare; computational science; marines science, ocean engineering, and environmental sciences; and sensors and embedded networks. So far, Global Ventures has welcomed 26 companies from nine countries including Israel, Brazil, Ecuador, and Canada (Global Ventures entrepreneurs are pictured at top of this post). 

The Global Ventures team helps these companies assimilate, with the goal of “building deep roots for the company in this region,” according to Duffell. The startups are provided with subsidized office space and connections to the university and broader South Florida business community. The transplant companies are encouraged to become involved in the community and give back.

In an era of virtual meetings, Duffell underscores the advantages of in-person business building: “The spontaneous collision of people when you’re getting coffee or playing ping pong is extremely important in building relationships between entrepreneurs.” That’s particularly important in the context of innovation, he asserted, because oftentimes “new ideas bubble up” during these coincidental stop-and-chats.

Duffell has worked in economic development around South Florida since the mid 2000s and sees the recent international press around the Miami tech boom as a reflection of the work that local officials have been doing for years. “What’s in the news right now is not necessarily a surprise, but it’s welcome to see South Florida being noticed as a good place to do business.”

Read more South Florida tech stories on Refresh Miami:

Riley Kaminer