UF/IFAS Extension Faculty Win Seed Money Through New Shark Tank-Style Program

Daniel CooperResearch, Technology

By: Samantha Grenrock,



Stephen Futch

Facial recognition software is no longer a thing of the future. But what if similar technologies could one day help farmers identify pests in the field?

Steve Futch, multi-county citrus agent with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension (UF/IFAS), thinks it’s possible. And thanks to the new UF/IFAS Extension Entrepreneurship Program, he and other UF/IFAS Extension faculty now have more of the tools they need to make their ideas a reality.

“One of the missions of UF/IFAS Extension is to connect Floridians with science-based information that will improve their quality of life. Our relationships with our clientele are always evolving, so we are always reassessing and rethinking how we can better serve our audience,” said Nick Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension. “Entrepreneurial thinking can help us get out of our comfort zone and approach problems in new and creative ways.”

From January 17 to 19, UF/IFAS Extension faculty members from around the state heard presentations from several UF entrepreneurship experts, including Elio Chiarelli, entrepreneurship specialist with the UF/IFAS Center for Leadership. As a doctoral student in the UF department of agricultural education and communication, Chiarelli’s research focused on successful entrepreneurship within agriculture and natural resources.

“The UF/IFAS Extension Entrepreneurship Program derives from some of Elio’s research,” said Hannah Carter, associate professor of agricultural education and communication, interim director of the UF/IFAS Center for Leadership and director of the Wedgworth Leadership Institute.

“The final stage of the program invites participants to work on an idea that innovates an existing program or product or creates a new one,” Carter said. “They then have three minutes to pitch their idea to a panel of judges, who decide which ideas will receive seed funding.”

Futch was one of several to receive seed funding. “The easy part — developing the idea — has been done, and now the real work begins to see if we can turn this idea into a real product that growers can use,” he said.

Brent Broaddus, 4-H youth development regional specialized agent with UF/IFAS Extension, also wants to use technology to better serve his clientele — Florida youth.

“Digital 4-H is going to convert 4-H research-based, peer-reviewed subject matter curriculum into virtual interactive puzzle activities that incorporate the experimental learning model in mobile platforms where each ‘game’ is a 4-H curriculum book and the activities are the ‘levels,’” Broaddus said. “We believe that this will allow for Florida 4-H to reach more youth with an educational delivery platform that youth are familiar with.”

Heidi Copeland and Samantha Kennedy, family and consumer sciences agents with UF/IFAS Extension Leon County and South Central District, respectively, won seed money for a program that helps people start and maintain an emergency savings fund by saving as a group.

“Lending a Hand—Learning Together will be modeled after a traditional lending circle, where each member of the circle contributes a set amount of money per month. Each member then has a turn to use the entire pot of contributions to pay off a pressing obligation,” Copeland explained.

“Each participant will build a small nest egg, practice saving strategies and leave the circle with the knowledge their credit score is an asset they can bank on,” Copeland said.

Natasha Parks and Samara Deary, family and consumer sciences agents with UF/IFAS Extension Duval and Bradford County, respectively, plan to use their seed money to help others become their own entrepreneurs.

“The Home Made Entrepreneur (HME) is a program that fully packages a home business startup,” Parks said. “HME shows participants how to start successful cottage food business at home by creating a business plan, costing, developing a good product and tax requirements. The participant has the potential to gain $15,000 in gross earnings through a cottage business.”

Twenty UF/IFAS Extension faculty members attended the three-day gathering. The organizers hope to offer the program again in the future, Carter said.