by Laura Layden
Naples Daily News

Collier County’s accelerator program has partnered with four colleges and universities to expand its services to new and emerging businesses.

Under the three-year agreement, experts from the University of Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University, Florida Southwestern State College and Hodges University will provide assistance to help grow businesses at the Naples Accelerator and the Florida Culinary Accelerator at Immokalee.

“This partnership of four local and state universities greatly expands the network of strategic partners and knowledge experts who are available to businesses within the accelerator project,” Fred Pezeshkan, chairman of Economic Incubators Inc., said in a news release. “This builds upon our mission of creating jobs, investment and diversity in our community.”

The accelerator program is a public-private partnership between Collier County and the nonprofit Economic Incubators, which operates the two centers.

The new agreement is expected to benefit students and faculty, as well as the local businesses involved in the accelerator program.

Robert Jones, vice president of economic development and external affairs at Florida Southwestern State College, said in a news release: “This partnership provides a tremendous opportunity for our students to obtain mentoring and coaching in a variety of areas, including business plan development.”

Established in 2014, the accelerator program is funded by the county, federal and state grants, and revenue from memberships and programs.

The Naples Accelerator opened in 2014 and focuses on helping technology-based companies, including international ones, get a footing in Collier County.

The second center, the Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee, helps food scientists, agribusinesses and chefs produce and package culinary products.

“As we continue to look for creative ways to diversify the support of these business development programs, our partnership will collectively pursue federal, state and other funding opportunities that will support not only the accelerator project but the regional economy as a whole,” Collier County Manager Leo Ochs said in a news release.

Ochs began the talks about forming the new partnership with the schools earlier this year.

The agreement builds on an earlier pact between the University of Florida and the Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee.