Center for Innovation Wins State's first SBA Growth Accelerator Award for UAS Entrepreneurs


Bruce Gjovig

Document Type

News Article

Publication Date


Campus Unit

College of Business & Public Administration


Autonomous Alley to launch first UAS/Drone accelerator program in nation.

The University of North Dakota Center for Innovation Foundation is the state of North Dakota's first winner of the Small Business Administration’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition.

“This SBA award is a great opportunity for the Center for Innovation Foundation to launch a program called Autonomous Alley that is the first UAS/drone accelerator program in the nation to help UAS entrepreneurs access capital, provide venture development assistance, network with other UAS industry experts, and secure customers in the emerging drone industry,” said Bruce Gjovig, CEO and Entrepreneur Coach for the UND Center for Innovation Foundation. Autonomous Alley fulfills a vision of creating new, innovative programs that help drone startups accelerate their commercialization journey thus creating new jobs and opportunities,” he added.

The Center, under the UND College of Business & Public Administration, is the home for 24 UAS-related companies, mostly drone startups or international UAS companies working to establish themselves in the emerging UAS marketplace. “Our Center already hosts more UAS entrepreneurs than any other accelerator, incubator or entrepreneur center in the nation; and we are open to help more UAS entrepreneurs as Grand Forks becomes a national leader hotspot for UAS entrepreneur activity, especially. in conjunction with the nation’s first drone business park, Grand Sky," said Gjovig.

“The entrepreneurial ecosystem around the Center for Innovation is incredibly exciting and very powerful,” states Mike Gallagher, SBA’s North Dakota District Director. “The intent of this SBA program is to support the development of accelerators and their support of startups where there are fewer conventional sources and access to entrepreneur capital like venture and angel capital,” he added.

SBA provides Growth Accelerator awards to the nation's most pioneering accelerators, incubators and innovation hubs as major players driving America's technology startup ecosystem. There were 68 winners across 32 states, each receiving a cash prize of $50,000 from the SBA. The Center for Innovation Foundation is the first recipient in North Dakota in three years of this SBA award program to serve tech entrepreneurs. There were over 400 applications in 2016.

“Accelerators like the Center for Innovation provide valuable resources and assistance to startups: a physical infrastructure to work in their infancy, mentoring, venture development assistance, networking, opportunities to obtain entrepreneur capital, and introductions to potential customers, partners and suppliers—all critical elements to ensuring that small businesses flourish and succeed,” states Dan Daffinrud who is the lead entrepreneur coach for Autonomous Alley with the Center for Innovation. Daffinrud also serves as CFO of SkySkopes, a student-focused drone service company in the incubator that employs 16 pilots who are students in the UAS program at UND.

Each winner will receive a cash prize of $50,000 from the SBA. In accepting funds, the accelerators will also be committing to quarterly reporting for one year. They will be required to report metrics including jobs created, funds raised, startups launched and corporate sponsors obtained. This will allow SBA to continue building upon its database of accelerators and their impact, and to develop long-term relationships with the startups and constituents in these innovative and entrepreneurial communities There were 138 Growth Accelerator winners from 2014 and 2015 – resulting in 5,000 companies that have raised $1.5 billion and employ nearly 20,000 people. With the addition of the 2016 winners, the number of SBA supported program is at 200, resulting in more entrepreneurial activity.