Wednesday, October 14, 2020

By Victoria Brito

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – UTRGV’s Center for Innovation and Commercialization (CIC) has received a more than $1.3 million grant that will strengthen entrepreneurial services provided in the RGV community through collaboration.

The CIC is one of 52 recipients in the country of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Build to Scale (B2S) program 2020 awardees, as part of the EDA’s 2020 Venture Challenge. More than 600 applicants vied for the funding. UTRGV is one of only three Texas institutions to receive this regional grant, along with Rice University and Baylor University.

The B2S program, formerly known as the Regional Innovation Strategies i6 program, is part of the EDA under the U.S. Department of Commerce and leads the federal economic development agenda by promoting innovation and competitiveness to prepare American regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy.

The program operates on two key economic drivers: innovation and regional collaboration.

As part of this grant, the UTRGV CIC, part of the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship, will work in conjunction with the UTRGV Entrepreneurship and Commercialization Center (ECC), part of Governmental and Community Relations, to become the region’s central resource for all things entrepreneurial and growth-related in the business and technology sectors. 

Laurie Simmons, UTRGV CIC director, said UTRGV, through the CIC and ECC, traditionally has provided startup services within its existing capabilities and budget.

“With these new grant funds, combined with a number of significant in-kind contributions, the two centers will grow exponentially to develop an expanded and robust menu of entrepreneurial services to RGV residents,” she said.

The ECC, led by Linda Ufland, offers comparable services, such as bolstering entrepreneurship, innovation and commercialization in the Valley. Both UTRGV centers draw community-based innovators and entrepreneurs as well as serving academic clientele.

“Together, we continuously work to create an ecosystem that will support and empower the entrepreneurship spirit of this region and beyond,” Ufland said. “This grant will allow our centers to move the needle forward and create an inclusive, resourceful network of services for all existing and aspiring entrepreneurs and business ventures seeking to innovate, create and scale.”



Funding from this grant will be used for three new initiatives that will produce necessary tools to provide a greater range of services that promote commercialization growth:


  • Assessment of Target Services will implement a custom-built assessment tool to analyze an applicant’s needs at any phase of development to match it to the appropriate training program and network resources.
  • Train to Commercialize will enable the CIC and ECC to expand their programs to enhance services offered. This also will include workshops and trainings to help budding entrepreneurs and business owners.
  • Access to the Resource Network is the development of a searchable and accessible database / directory to help entrepreneurs access resources that will help them bolster their businesses.


Both the CIC and ECC will use the new resources and make them available on their websites.

“Our diverse team is made up of experienced practitioners and academicians who are uniquely qualified to contribute to the implementation of the proposed initiatives,” Simmons said. “The combination of a strong team and quality programming will ensure that the two centers provide the services that will fill the gaps and truly benefit the entrepreneur.”

The result, she said, will be the creation of significantly higher numbers of new business enterprises and job-producing companies.

“And that will create job wealth and more prosperity in the region. This will occur while we are fomenting a culture of innovation and entrepreneurialism across the generations,” she said.

Additionally, an online platform will be implemented to help start-up companies and existing business with easy-to-use tools for creating a business plan. The centers also will provide pro bono professional services to clients in need, and host workshops, training and mentor events around the community.

“We are extremely grateful to the EDA for their continued confidence and support for our centers. We have worked tirelessly to help foster and grow our regional entrepreneurial ecosystem,” Simmons said. “They have supported our programs in the past, and now we are in a position to really make a difference in the startup community. None of this would be possible without the EDA.”

Dr. Lance Nail, dean of the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship, said the grant further validates the positive impact the centers bring to the Valley.

“The hard work of whole CIC and ECC teams to build an infrastructure that helps create economic opportunities for our citizens is recognized with the award of this grant,” Nail said. “We now have a greater ability to further that positive impact on the community."

Veronica Gonzales, vice president of Governmental and Community Relations, said the CIC and ECC collaboration contributes directly to one of UTRGV’s core values: community engagement.

"With this grant, two UTRGV centers, the CIC and the ECC, will be able to engage with and assist regional and international businesses and entrepreneurs with opportunities in venture creation, innovation and business commercialization,” Gonzales said. “We are truly appreciative to our congressional delegation for their support, as it allows UTRGV students, faculty and staff to further the economic prosperity of the Rio Grande Valley."


The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) was created by the Texas Legislature in 2013 as the first major public university of the 21st century in Texas. This transformative initiative provided the opportunity to expand educational opportunities in the Rio Grande Valley, including a new School of Medicine, and made it possible for residents of the region to benefit from the Permanent University Fund – a public endowment contributing support to the University of Texas System and other institutions.

UTRGV has campuses and off-campus research and teaching sites throughout the Rio Grande Valley including in Boca Chica Beach, Brownsville (formerly The University of Texas at Brownsville campus), Edinburg (formerly The University of Texas-Pan American campus), Harlingen, McAllen, Port Isabel, Rio Grande City, and South Padre Island. UTRGV, a comprehensive academic institution, enrolled its first class in the fall of 2015, and the School of Medicine welcomed its first class in the summer of 2016.