We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Andrew Duffell. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Andrew below.
Andrew, looking forward to hearing all of your stories today. One of the things we most admire about small businesses is their ability to diverge from the corporate/industry standard. Is there something that you or your brand do that differs from the industry standard? We’d love to hear about it as well as any stories you might have that illustrate how or why this difference matters.
Global Ventures is our incubator, designed specifically for second-stage tech companies to scale to the next level of growth. Most incubators focus on startups, whereas we have chosen to support those companies whose products have been validated and are available in the market. Our ideal second-stage company generates approximately $1m annual revenue and employs approximately 12 people, with the potential to significantly disrupt one of the industries of key interest to Florida Atlantic University: sensors, embedded networks & smart cities; healthcare/life sciences; and environmental technologies. South Florida has been successful at creating startups, becoming the number one region in the United States for new company creation, so we have evolved to support the growth of those companies to become sustainable contributors to the regional economy’s growth and diversification.
The plan is that companies graduate Global Ventures and join the Research Park at FAU, continuing to research and innovate with FAU’s researchers and providing opportunities and inspiration to the student body.
Andrew, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
Born in England and brought up in Italy and Spain, I studied my undergraduate degree in Scotland before starting my career in Spain. I worked for an American tech company, where I met my future wife and relocated to Florida in 2002.
As soon as I arrived in Florida and had a work permit, I began my economic development career by helping graduates of Job Corps find and keep meaningful employment in southern Miami-Dade County. We moved to Atlanta, GA for an opportunity to assist US high tech companies expand into the north of England, where I honed my relationship-building skills and learned the art of business recruitment and retention.
In 2005 we moved back to South Florida for me to become the Senior Vice President of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, a position I held until the end of 2010. During my time at the BDB, I helped position Palm Beach County as a contender for life science companies. When then-Governor Bush recruited the Max Planck Society to Florida, I led the local team in landing the Max Planck Florida Institute for Neuroscience: the first location of a new institute in the Western Hemisphere, on FAU’s Jupiter campus.
I took up my current role in January 2011 and began building on the foundation of my predecessors. The Research Park at FAU is South Florida’s only state university affiliated research and technology park and has become the region’s laboratory for new ideas and innovation in important industries such as healthcare and sensors.
Throughout my time at the Research Park at FAU, I have focused on strengthening the relationship with our primary partner: FAU. Our mission is inextricably linked to the University: we exist to promote scientific research in affiliation with FAU and to foster economic development in our service region – Broward and Palm Beach counties. Therefore, every company that wants to join the Research Park at FAU must demonstrate its plans and ability to add value to the research enterprise and student experience at Florida Atlantic University.
My team and I worked hand-in-hand with the University to create the FAU TechRunway to assist entrepreneurs startup new ventures in a supportive environment. To complement this initiative, we developed Global Ventures to support the development and growth of those companies that successfully graduate TechRunway, and those of a similar size and stage of development. Global Ventures is open to second-stage companies from around the globe that want to expand in South Florida and collaborate with a major research university, for mutual benefit. Together, FAU and the Research Park at FAU have created a comprehensive ecosystem for the development and growth of companies associated with the University and the South Florida region.
Any stories or insights that might help us understand how you’ve built such a strong reputation?
Initially I think I was a curiosity: a Spanish-speaking Englishman who married a Cuban-American, working to benefit the South Florida community. This distinction has helped me to know many business leaders from around the region and always looked for ways to advance common interests. The bottom line is that recruiting or expanding a company in the Research Park at FAU is good for all of South Florida: it creates more employment for local people, it creates more opportunities for regional businesses to win new clients, it adds new intellectual capital to our region and diversifies our economic portfolio. We all win.
It’s easy to rely on first impressions and good intentions, however. I have worked hard to strengthen relationships throughout the twenty years I’ve been in the US. I try to remember small details about what interests people, their successes and their travails over the years. By relating to people on a personal level, you show that you’re interested in more than the immediate deal and value the person and their efforts. I try to respond to people quickly and not make them wait, respecting their time and needs.
Of course, successes keep you in the forefront of people’s minds as well, and in that regard, I have been fortunate that the companies I work with, and the researchers at FAU are all extremely hard working and their efforts bear fruits that I then share with the rest of the community.
Have any books or other resources had a big impact on you?
At the beginning of my time at the Research Park at FAU, I read “Startup Nation” by Dan Senor and Saul Singer. It’s the story of how and why Israel is home to so many successful new ideas, technologies and companies. Like the old saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention: Israel has needed to invent, be creative and innovate in order to survive as a country and a people. The power of that necessity and resulting mindset impressed me and made me wonder, to this day, how we can create and sustain that kind of immediate need for invention and creativity here in South Florida. Perhaps the Russian invasion of Ukraine will remind us all that we must lead the world in new technologies so we can hold back the forces that would do us and our allies evil. Perhaps the impending flooding, rising seas and more intense storms will force us to be more creative in order to survive in Florida.
During the pandemic I came across the social media posts of Gravity Payments CEO Dan Price who champions the virtue of focusing on employees versus solely profits. Price’s relentless pursuit of closing the inequality in pay and working conditions for the people who really make the economy move and the country advance, made me challenge my own positions. I began to question more of my decisions and challenge the CEOs and entrepreneurs I work with to think about business from different perspectives, which I have found more fulfilling and successful for all.