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UND Center for Innovation Foundation wins SBA Growth Accelerator award


The University of North Dakota Center for Innovation Foundation is North Dakota’s first winner of the Small Business Administration’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition.

The Center for Innovation Foundation will use its winnings to launch a program called Autonomous Alley, which will be the first unmanned aerial systems (UAS)/drone accelerator program in the country.

“This SBA award is a great opportunity for the Center for Innovation Foundation … to help UAS entrepreneurs access capital, provide venture development assistance, network with other UAS industry experts, and secure customers in the emerging drone industry,” says Bruce Gjovig, CEO and entrepreneur coach for the UND Center for Innovation Foundation, in a statement. “Autonomous Alley fulfills a vision of creating new, innovative programs that help drone startups accelerate their commercialization journey thus creating new jobs and opportunities.”

The Center for Innovation is home to 24 UAS-related companies, mostly drone startups or international UAS companies working to establish themselves in the emerging UAS marketplace. “Our center already hosts more UAS entrepreneurs than any other accelerator, incubator or entrepreneur center in the nation, and we are open to help more UAS entrepreneurs as Grand Forks becomes a national leader hotspot for UAS entrepreneur activity, especially in conjunction with the nation’s first drone business park, Grand Sky,” Gjovig says.

The SBA provides Growth Accelerator awards to the nation’s most pioneering accelerators, incubators and innovation hubs. Out of more than 400 applications, 68 winners across 32 states were chosen this year, each receiving a cash prize of $50,000 from the SBA. The Center for Innovation Foundation is the first recipient from North Dakota in three years of the SBA sponsoring this program.

“The entrepreneurial ecosystem around the Center for Innovation is incredibly exciting and very powerful,” says Mike Gallagher, SBA’s North Dakota district director, in a statement. “The intent of this SBA program is to support the development of accelerators and their support of startups where there are fewer conventional sources and access to entrepreneur capital like venture and angel capital.”

Dan Daffinrud, chief financial officer of SkySkopes, a student-focused drone service company in the incubator that employs 16 pilots who are students in the UAS program at UND, will serve as lead entrepreneur coach for Autonomous Alley. “Accelerators like the Center for Innovation provide valuable resources and assistance to startups — a physical infrastructure to work in their infancy, mentoring, venture development assistance, networking, opportunities to obtain entrepreneur capital, and introductions to potential customers, partners and supplies — all critical elements to ensuring that small businesses flourish and succeed,” Daffinrud says in a statement.

Story written and published by Prairie Business

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