Florida Polytechnic welcomes corporate partner to the campus

LAKELAND -since its inception around ten years back, Florida Polytechnic University has been planned as a research-oriented university which would draw and work with corporate partners that are grouped on Lakeland campus.

While Florida Poly officials await the creation of a research area close to campus, they are welcoming a Fortune 500 company onto campus. The university hosted an event on Tuesday to mark the opening of the Citrus Innovation Center, a almost 30,000 square-foot research facility that will be used by International Flavors & Fragrances, Inc.

IFF is a publicly traded company with its headquarters within New York, has an international presence, as the name suggests, and has over 150 production centers as well as more than 50 additional facilities in at least 65 countries. International accents including French, Belgian, German, Mexican — filled the air on Tuesday morning, when a procession of IFF executives spoke enthusiastically about their partnership that IFF has with Florida Poly.

The university’s officials as well as IFF leaders met beneath a white tent at the campus’s southern end and separated by a screen-covered fence from the location which is undergoing land preparation in preparation for The Citrus Innovation Center. The construction is expected to be completed in the coming year.

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Marcus Pesch, a Global Vice President at IFF said he received “a warm greeting” as he threw on his shirt in the balmy morning. While IFF isn’t a common name, Pesch and other executives revealed that the company is responsible for flavor and scents that are a part of people’s lives Americans with products like shampoos and perfumes, sodas, potato chips, yogurt as well as probiotics.

Despite its global presence, IFF leaders decided the company should invest more in encouraging the development of new technologies, Pesch said. The proximity to universities aligns with a target the company had set years ago to encourage the development of new ideas.

“And the idea was to build a holistic system isn’t it?” Pesch said. “We are looking to be seen as an open partnership in innovation. We’d like to build an environment that allows us to invite — along with the university, obviously and the talent here – additional research centers.”

Florida Polytechnic welcomes corporate partner to the campus

Florida Poly will benefit from the presence of IFF in numerous ways, the president Randy K. Avent said.

Avent told IFF executives have talked about hiring some of their employees to be adjunct professors in addition, Florida Poly students will be allowed to utilize the facility for internships as well as to complete final capstones for senior students.

In the event on Tuesday, IFF officials announced plans to offer a $25,000 student scholarship as well as a research fund of $100,000 to fund research projects of faculty.

Avent has described the Citrus Innovation Center as “hugely important” to Florida Poly.

“I believe that this is the start of us fulfilling our responsibility for the State, that is to create a university that will attract the high-tech industry, and expand it in the state, and, in turn, provide jobs that are high-skilled, well-paying,” he said. “And that’s why I believe that this is only the beginning. We’ve made it to the end.”

Karel Coosemans, Director of IFF’s Global Innovation Program Manager, stated that the site at the Florida Poly campus will give the company access to students who could later become employees, and faculty members who can collaborate in research.

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Coosemans explained that IFF executives began looking for the best location to build the new research facility in 2019 and decided that they wanted it to be located in Central Florida. The company was seeking an address close to Florida Poly when he learned that the university was seeking public-private partnerships to bring facilities to the campus.

Coosemans stated that he had visited Florida Poly in February 2020 in the days prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 that stopped international travel. The visit was part of discussions on the possibility of the project. He added that the first phase of construction was “a wonderful trip” for the company.

It will be built entirely through private financing and will be managed and maintained by private companies, Florida Poly spokesperson Lydia Guzman stated. Ryan Companies, based in Minnesota is the principal contractor on the construction.

“So getting the foundations for this building obviously is a significant step in the process,” he told the crowd. “You will notice next to you that there’s (construction) cranes. There are indeed spades in the soil according to our lore. We also established the foundation for our partnership with the university , in the type of collaboration we hope to build with the faculty as well as its students.”

The Citrus Innovation Center will be able to fulfill five primary roles, Coosemans said: research and development as well as training as well as customer experience and business acceleration and evaluations of products that are finished. The facility will house laboratories that can be used for the study and analysis of botanicals and testing of scents and flavors

The center will feature what IFF describes as a full-immersion virtual reality to train and test products in a variety of settings.

One of the areas of focus of IFF, Pesch said, is reducing the amount of waste generated during the process of developing products. The company is looking into other uses for the peel and the skin of citrus fruits following their juices have been extracted for scents.

Florida Poly is the only state-owned university that is dedicated to STEM (science technology engineering and math) disciplines. Coosemans stated that IFF officials are seeking people with backgrounds that aren’t in the conventional biotechnology and chemistry areas,

“This could be the ideal model,” Avent said. “The potential of a technical research school is in the way that it draws industry. Industry attracts many of them because they want access to faculty members, but plus, they would like access to students. In reality they would like access to even more advanced students.”

Avent pointed out his observation that Avent pointed out that the Citrus Innovation Center isn’t the only planned project in the near future by Florida Poly. He pointed out an area facing the newly constructed Applied Research Center, where the engineering building will be built.

In addition, Florida Poly plans to construct a third dormitory for students as well as a center for student achievement

The guests were Florida senators. Kelli Stargel of Lakeland who was recently elected Florida Rep. Jennifer Canady from Lakeland as well as Lakeland city commissioners Phillip Walker and Stephanie Madden. They left the event with bags of gifts that contained small plants of citrus and a scent, Citrus Extraordinaire, designed for the event and created by Yves Cassar, IFF’s vice president, senior perfumer.


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