University of South Florida gets $5.2m grant for new engineering research hub

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The grant will expand USF's research partnership with the US Special Operations Command.

By U2B Staff 

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The Hillsborough County Commission in Tampa, Florida, is pouring US$5.2 million into the University of South Florida’s (USF) new Institute of Applied Engineering in a bid to attract more technology players to the neighbourhood and create high-tech jobs.

The grant will bolster USF’s partnership with the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM), expanding on research and development in the school’s core competencies in areas such as autonomous systems, cybersecurity, human performance enhancement technologies, and energy and transportation infrastructure systems, among others.

The new center, to open this fall, will occupy a 4,000 sq ft space in the redevelopment plan for the University Mall in Tampa, which is part of an ongoing effort to revitalise the area. 

“I’m very excited to see a major stimulus effort … and to also see the opportunity for high-paying jobs,’’ Commissioner Kimberly Overman said at a recent meeting, according to Tampa Bay Times.

University Mall
The institute will be located at the University Mall, as part of efforts to revitalise the area. Source: University Mall

The funding will be dispersed across three years and will be used to purchase equipment for the institute, according to USF College of Engineering Dean Robert Bishop. Through the new institute, the university has committed to a more concerted and comprehensive partnership with the country’s defense establishments. It aims to provide the Department of Defense (DoD) and the SOCOM quick access to the prototypes and solutions resulting from research at the institute.


This is the culmination of a relationship that has spanned years, with one milestone being the internships programme at SOFWERX, according to Tim Baxter, director of the university’s SOFWERX operations.

SOFWERX translates to the Special Operations Forces Works and is essentially a SOCOM-funded technology incubator that started at the end of 2015. Bringing together academia, private civilian companies and other non-traditional partners of the DoD, SOFWERX works on finding solutions for SOCOM’s most challenging problems.

In fall 2016, four students from USF participated in an internship programme at the SOFWERX hub in Ybor City. This summer, 35 interns from nine institutions are helping develop affordable cube satellites for SOCOM, according to Baxter.

Chris Bowen, who is the chief development strategist for RD Management, the firm overseeing the redevelopment of University Mall, says it is this kind of collaboration efforts that will help stimulate economic activity in the area.

RD purchased the struggling mall about five years ago for US$29.5 million, and now plans to turn the area into a new, mixed-use district dubbed Uptown District. The new district, according to reports, will be anchored by a technology and life sciences park, set amid an urban-style village complete with retail and F&B outlets.

According to Bowen, the site has since received a mixed-use zoning designation, allowing for the construction of a hotel, apartment and retail spaces around the research hub. 

It is hoped that the project will attract a “wide range of compatible players” to the area, Bowen said, from military firms to other corporate entities.