Two years ago, just a few months before the debut of the Alan B. Levan | NSU Broward Center of Innovation at Nova Southeastern University, Alan B. Levan told SFBW, “As I asked our board members to join in this initiative, I had no turndowns. Even when I approached the county commission, not only was it unanimously approved, but each commissioner wanted to speak in favor of it. It’s one of those ideas whose time had come.”
By now it has become clear that Levan’s dream has come to fruition, as evidenced by a recent CEO Connect panel discussion hosted jointly by SFBW and the Levan Center.
John Wensveen, Ph.D., the Center’s chief innovation officer and its executive director, assumed hosting duties, eliciting insights from Levan—who is also the chairman of BBX Capital and the CEO and chairman of Bluegreen Vacations—along with George L. Hanbury II, Ph.D., president and CEO of Nova Southeastern University; Bob Swindell, the president & CEO of Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance; and Kathleen Cannon, president and CEO, United Way of Broward County.
The event carried the encompassing theme, South Florida Impact: Innovation, Technology & Entrepreneurship, and Levan reinforced his mantra of right time, right place. “When you create a business, and this is a business—these 54,000 square feet represent a startup business—you have to determine whether a need exists,” he said. “What’s the opportunity for your business in your locale or that you’re marketing to? So, I would ask, if we took all these lofty aspirational goals but we were in the Dakotas, would it be the right time, and would we have the opportunity? I would say no. What we determined by research is that Miami-Dade and Broward County have the largest number of startups, every single year, of any region in the country, but it is not a good place to scale up. They start but they don’t finish. That tells us that the entrepreneurs are here and hope springs eternal, and what they need is help to get to the next stage so they can take these dreams and put them into viable businesses that are commercialized.”
Wensveen noted, “Our goal is to have local, regional, national and international impact, and just to put that into perspective, we have entrepreneurs who are now leading other cities across the country and other cities around the world and they’re incorporating right here at the Levan Center, creating their LLC’s using this as their home address. We’re now proceeding with what we call the country desk model, and the country desk means we negotiate with innovative nations from all over the world that have strong entrepreneurial ecosystems that we can link together. We signed our very first country, which is the Cayman Islands, and now we have access to the whole international network of the Cayman Islands.”
Wensveen, who oversees the Center’s day-to-day operations, said that being the Center’s chief innovation officer is the best role of his career. “I have to thank Dr. Hanbury and Alan Levan for the opportunity, because when we started here, I kind of remember saying there was one rule: There are no rules. And that’s what spurs innovation, and it’s been an exciting journey to date and we have so much more to do. We thank the community for its support because we wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you.”
Photo by Eduardo Schneider