Money That Moves: Funding for Central Florida’s Top Technology Ideas

Written by Adam Spafford

Progress isn’t simply the right solution to a problem; it’s contingent on the right time and place, too. That really means collaboration among the right people – those with the knowledge, funding, risk tolerance, and drive to meet besetting challenges. For nearly 30 years, The Florida High Tech Corridor’s Matching Grants Research Program (MGRP) has endeavored to do that by developing a network that brings together high-tech business and entrepreneurs, academic faculty and student researchers, and economic development resources to foster technological, commercial, and quality of life advancement in its 23-county region. The Florida High Tech Corridor’s motto is “Unleashing the Region’s ‘Expotential’” and it can do just that for Polk County businesses that are the right fit.

The MGRP, administered by Program Directors Elizabeth Nelson of University of South Florida and Jennifer McKinley of University of Central Florida, offers grants of up to $150,000 for applied research projects in areas such as agritechnology, energy and environment, life sciences and medical technologies, human performance, aerospace and aviation, and much more. There’s a broad manifestation of these applied research projects: developing prototypes, seeking solutions to industrial problems, and even commercializing technologies created at UCF and USF. To date, The Florida High Tech Corridor has invested more than $80M in 22,000 tech companies, some right here in Polk County.

“This program provides a cost-effective way for industry partners to access the expertise of renowned researchers, build relationships with students who may someday become employees, and conduct solution-driven research and development with the opportunity to solve society’s most difficult challenges,” says McKinley. McKinley and Nelson match high-tech companies with university faculty to create new products, discuss project eligibility and compliance, and give feedback during the grant application process which industry partners and academic researchers complete together.

The applications are then reviewed by an outside committee of economic development professionals and others with vested interest in the projects. If approved by the committee, the high-tech partner signs an agreement with the university and the funding—cash and in-kind—is provided to the university research team.


Photo from Florida High Tech Corridor.

A ripple effect of practical, economic, and technological benefits proceed from the MGRP’s epicenter. Students gain invaluable experience by interning with high-tech companies in Florida, and those companies develop a pool of talented innovators. The universities’ researchers match their work with commercial applications.

The accumulation of all this knowledge spreads out further to Florida communities, creating opportunities for economic progress. McKinley and Nelson shared the story of USF student Nashwa El Hadidy as an example. Hadidy, interning with Tampa-based SGN Nanopharma on a project facilitated by the MGRP, worked to develop a nano-formulation delivery system of drugs designed for neuropathic pain as an alternative to opioids.

Likewise, the grant program fueled the collaboration of Merritt Island’s Eta Space and UCF researchers to create optical imaging technology that assists astronauts in estimating the volume of liquid oxygen in storage tanks. In Clearwater, Freedom Metal Finishings worked with USF engineering students to develop new corrosion-resistant aluminum films for missions to the moon and Mars. In Orlando, the MGRP allowed doctoral student Jorge Manrique Castro to work with Primoridia Biosystems as it develops microdevices for in vitro analysis and pathogen detection. These grants are accepted on a rolling basis so perhaps in the future you’ll read in these pages about a Lakeland company that’s pushing the technological envelope with help from the MGRP.

The catalyzing work done under the Matching Grants Research Program is impressive and far-reaching. If you think you have a product or an idea that could be a match for a grant,or simply want to learn more about the program, check out