Public-private partnerships have been around for years, but one kind is gaining more traction — that between universities and industries.

Florida Polytechnic University, already on the cutting edge of STEM research, is now pushing forward with a new partnership to help continue to fuel innovation on its campus and in the surrounding Central Florida Innovation District.

In September 2021, the Florida Board of Governors approved a structure that will allow Florida Poly to partner with Ryan Companies USA to design, construct, finance and operate a research facility on the campus of the 12th university in the Florida system, according to minutes of the meeting. It also calls for a strategic alignment between Florida Poly and the facility’s tenant, International Flavors and Fragrances Inc. (IFF).

“Entering into a public-private partnership like this is an important milestone in Florida Poly’s history,” said Florida Poly President Randy Avent. “Not only is it our first overt step in developing a rich research park in and around the university, but it is a sign of our growing importance to industry in Central Florida and society’s increasing need to have high-tech companies working hand in hand with the academic institutions and industry-leading researchers that can help them advance their work. Our work with IFF will be the model for the future growth of Florida Poly and other ambitious institutions that watch our success.”

The proposed 33,000-square-foot, $14.3 million research facility will be located on a 1.15-acre parcel on Florida Poly’s campus, according to the minutes. The annual lease for use of the land will be $1. The project is anticipated to be completed in spring 2023.

Florida Poly and IFF will form a strategic partnership to help fill gaps in the “essential skills necessary for engineering programs supporting the citrus industry, noting that current citrus-related programs at other Florida universities with whom they partner only cover the primary industry around citrus, focusing on fruit cultivation, the fresh fruit industry and fruit juice processing,” according to minutes from the meeting. “They do not address engineering tasks necessary in the secondary industry linked to further processing and use of by-products.”

IFF is a global industry leader in food, beverage, scent, health, biosciences and sensorial experiences. Headquartered in New York City, it has creative, sales and manufacturing facilities in 47 countries.

“This cutting-edge innovation center will be a touchstone in the heart of the North American citrus belt, yet will impact IFF innovations around the globe,” Mauricio Poulsen, vice president of global innovation, creation and design, Nourish Division of IFF, said in a Florida Poly press release. “We are very excited about all the possibilities to come.”

IFF wants to improve its research using advanced manufacturing processes, data analysis, correlation, machine learning and computer modeling. To assist with that endeavor, Florida Poly will provide faculty and students who have the necessary expertise in those areas. 

In return, faculty and students will benefit as IFF:  

  • Creates internship and employment opportunities.
  • Fills the talent pipeline and technical knowledge gaps in the citrus industry.
  • Engages in collaborative or sponsored research with Florida Poly that will provide research, teaching and program development opportunities for the university’s data science, computer science and engineering students.
  • Enhances its citrus industry innovation and research and development efforts.

The relationship is much like Polk State College has with its industry partners, one reason why Polk State President Angela Garcia Falconetti thinks it’s a wonderful idea. “It’s the way we should be thinking and partnering with business and industry.”

The chairwoman of the board of the Central Florida Development Council said Polk State College will change more than 300 people in things like precision maintenance for Florida Can Manufacturing, which just moved into Winter Haven. It also trained employees to work at the Nucor Steel micromill that opened in 2020 in Frostproof. 

During a recent tour of Nucor, Falconetti talked to an employee in the control area who went through the program. “He talked to me about how it changed his livelihood. That’s the way of the future. The more partnerships we have, the better. They bring more residents to the county.”

At Florida Poly, this agreement could be just the beginning.

“Our important partnership with International Flavors & Fragrances is the first of what we hope are many such agreements at Florida Poly,” Avent said. “We envision that years from now, Florida Poly and the area surrounding campus will be a busy mix of tech-forward industry and academia, all working together to advance our interests and fuel a strong economic engine for the state of Florida.”