The Tech Toybox founder Dr. Mark Davidson leads team to first place at Startup Quest™ Investor Pitch

This is Davidson’s second time as a mentor for the Gainesville Startup Quest™ program

The Startup Quest™ winners’ circle is a familiar sight for Dr. Mark Davidson, founder and president of The Tech Toybox. Davidson’s team Innovative Valves won first place at the June 3 Startup Quest™ Investor Pitch for its business plan and pitch presentation on conical seat shut-off valves. Davidson also served as a mentor in the 2013 Gainesville Startup Quest™ cohort where his team, LifeNet, Inc., won second place. Both simulated businesses were based on real technologies from NASA.

During the 10-week Startup Quest™ training program, participants form teams led by highly successful entrepreneur mentors, create simulated companies and develop business plans based on real technologies. Mentors in this cohort selected technologies from NASA, UF, Florida State University, University of Central Florida and Florida International University.

Tuesday’s Investor Pitch was the culmination of this cohort, including guest speakers Angela Pate, CareerSource NCFL CIO and Startup Quest™ co-founder, and Thomas Rambo, COO of Altavian, Inc., the Gainesville-based unmanned aircraft solutions provider which recently reached a funding agreement with the Institute for Commercialization of Public Research.

Dr. Mark Davidson (far right) mentored the 2014 winning local Startup Quest™ team Innovative Valves. This was Davidson’s second time as a mentor in the program. From left to right: CareerSource North Central Florida Executive Director Kim Tesch-Vaught; Innovative Valves team members Suzanne Tabakman, Shereka O’Neal, Tina Nguyen, Navya Mastanaiah, Gila Dikel, John Herbert, Jivana Wilhoit, Ann Angelheart, mentor Dr. Mark Davidson. Not pictured: Suzanne Ackermann.

Davidson’s 2013 team, LifeNet, is poised to sign a license agreement with NASA to commercialize a new and safer roadway barrier. A seasoned mentor and entrepreneur, Davidson recently opened The Tech Toybox, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to community improvement through education and creative spaces for the translation of ideas into their full commercial potential. Housed at the Gainesville Technology Entrepreneurship Center (GTEC) business incubator, The Tech Toybox teaches people and businesses entrepreneurship and/or technical skills on real world projects and provides memberships to use their machine shop, electronics, advanced manufacturing plastics and woodworking equipment.

Activities taking place within Startup Quest™ and The Tech Toybox point to the growing interest in manufacturing in our community. Recently the Advanced Manufacturing Association of North Central Florida (AMANCF) transitioned to the Gainesville Area’s Chamber of Commerce’s new Manufacturing Council.

The second-place winner at Tuesday’s Startup Quest™ Investor Pitch was team NanteX, mentored by Dan White, managing member of The Commerce Law Group and co-managing director at The Visuum Companies. NanteX applied a UF technology, a unique nanorod design for preventing mammalian cell adhesion to implanted devices, to coat dental appliances. The 2013 Startup Quest™ Investor Pitch first-place team nRODx used the same technology to develop nMARINEx, a proprietary marine coating system.

Maxwell Minch, principal attorney at Maxwell L. Minch Esq. P.A., mentored the third-place team. Minch’s team, ABit Corp., also used a UF technology. ABit Corp. based its simulated business and investor pitch on a structure that boosts battery efficiency with improved electrodes.

Startup Quest™ is a nationally recognized workforce development model that grows self-employment through entrepreneurship. Born from a joint effort of the University of Florida and CareerSource North Central Florida, the program was piloted in Gainesville and has since expanded with the help of a nearly $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Innovation Fund.

Startup Quest™ has programs in Jacksonville, Daytona, Brevard, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa, St. Petersburg, Tallahassee and Gainesville. Since the program’s 2013 statewide launch, 2,392 participants have been introduced to technology transfer opportunities, 1,193 began the Startup Quest™ training program and more than 900 have graduated from the program. For more information about the program and how to apply, visit

Startup Quest™ is part of an evaluation study funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. Participants are selected from among eligible applicants.