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Startup Quest gives under- and unemployed professionals new opportunities

startupquestclrlogoAfter 10 weeks of preparing and training, ten teams comprised of under- and unemployed degree-holding professionals pitched their business ideas for new startup companies to a panel of nine judges as part of Startup Quest, a program that is one of the first of its kind in the U.S.

Startup Quest is a partnership between Florida Works, the University of Florida, the JAX Chamber and WorkSource and is among the accomplishments achieved during the first year of the Innovate Northeast Florida strategy. Innovate Northeast Florida is designed to spur growth in the region. The Startup Quest program increases the availability of highly technical assistance.

“Startup Quest drives economic transformation by providing opportunities for entrepreneurs, innovators and the investment community to assess and develop the commercial potential of new ideas,” said Bruce Ferguson, CEO at WorkSource (First Coast Workforce Development, Inc.). “The Startup Quest program provides vital support and innovative training to the professional workforce while supporting the local economy with business growth and job creation.”

With ideas ranging from augmented reality eyeglasses to seal testing, the teams were judged on their business plans and their pitch presentations. Three teams won and were awarded cash prizes.

Airvolution, the world’s first real-time, handheld, airborne pathogen identification device won first place. Second place went to Unforgettable for its diagnostic tool that is a noninvasive, easy to administer, and inexpensive way to detect Alzheimer’s disease in less than 10 minutes. Hydro-Gen was the third place winner. It uses hydrogen generation and fuel cell technology to generate on-demand electricity to power or recharge small electronics when grid power is not available

“Startup Quest was an amazing program,” said Brad Whitchurch, the Airvolution team’s mentor.  “Our team learned so much about entrepreneurship.  More importantly, we identified a viable technology that we can commercialize for the benefit of society.”

Startup Quest began with 10 mentors selecting licensed technologies from Florida’s universities and federal labs, including NASA. The teams of participants worked with their mentors to learn the process of commercializing these technologies in a simulated environment. The program teaches entrepreneurial and enhanced job skills. Each week, the participants learned about a particular component of business in a curriculum designed by the University of Florida. Some of the topics included market analysis, the commercialization process and financials.

“Startup Quest offered participants a unique opportunity to learn about different technologies while gaining newly developed skills in entrepreneurship, management and the technology development process,” said Suzi Lemen, CEO of Dynamic Corporate Solutions Inc., past chair of the JAX Chamber Entrepreneurial Growth Advisory Board and a Startup Quest facilitator. “They worked together on a team to create a viable business that they then pitched investors.”

The Chamber’s Entrepreneurial Growth Division provides mentoring, entrepreneurial education, consulting and networking opportunities to advance the success of entrepreneurs at every stage of business development. The Division’s Small Business Center, JWBC and GrowJAX departments serve the region and each offer unique services to drive business growth.  For more information on the programs and services of the Entrepreneurial Growth Division, visit and select the “Start or Grow a Business” tab.


About Startup Quest

Startup Quest is part of an evaluation study funded by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration Workforce Innovation Fund. Participants will be selected from among eligible applicants. Data collected will remain confidential and will be used for statistical purposes only. Startup Quest is an equal opportunity program. Auxiliary aids and services are available upon request to individuals with disabilities. Participants will be randomly selected from among eligible applicants.

About JAX Chamber

The JAX Chamber is the business membership organization dedicated to driving quality economic growth in Northeast Florida to make this region the best place to live, work and play. Membership provides the opportunity to connect with and buy from other Chamber members. The connections result in business growth and a more prosperous economy.

About JAXUSA Partnership

JAXUSA Partnership is the regional economic development organization comprised of almost 200 top private sector investors in Northeast Florida, including the Jacksonville Office of Economic Development, JEA, JAXPORT, JAA, JTA, WorkSource and the regional county partners – Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties. A division of the JAX Chamber, its purpose is to facilitate the creation and retention of quality jobs and significant capital investment, resulting in a higher standard of living and better quality of life in Northeast Florida.

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