The origin of the University of South Florida Jabil Innovation Institute is like that of many great ideas thoughout history – drawn up on a cocktail napkin by two people talking over drinks.
“I think it’s amazing. If you were just to look back at the transformational products in the world, a lot of them ended up coming to fruition being fully authored exactly in that manner, and that’s what happened here,” said Mark Mondello, chief executive officer of Jabil, a St. Petersburg-based technology manufacturing solutions provider.
On the other side of the discussion was Mondello’s brother-in-law, USF Foundation CEO Joel Momberg, who struck one final deal before his retirement at the end of October.
Mondello said the concept was simple: among the nearly 2,000 Jabil employees locally and almost 200,000 around the world are a large number of USF graduates. Mondello himself is a 1987 alum of the College of Engineering.
So, they thought, why not harness the brainpower of USF students and faculty to take on the real-world business and technology issues Jabil addresses?
“You take a preeminent university in the Tampa Bay area, you combine it with a far-reaching global company that happens to be located in the Tampa Bay area, and you get one plus one equals four or five,” said Mondello.
The Innovation Institute was formally launched at a ceremony Oct. 24, where it was also announced that Jabil is giving USF an $800,000 gift, as well as $200,000 in research support.
Jabil will also rent space for the Institute in the Tampa Bay Technology Incubator in the Research Park on USF’s Tampa campus.
The early focus will be on initiatives such as 5G, wireless communication, digital health and cybersecurity – all strengths of USF, according to College of Engineering Dean Robert Bishop.
“The real world is multidisciplinary, but you don't have innovation without engineering or without medicine or without business or without research – all those components have to come together,” said Bishop. “And so I think Jabil represents all that, and USF represents all that, and now we're connecting all those pieces.”
There are also the business issues Jabil faces, which is where the USF Muma College of Business comes in. Dean Moez Limayem says they can assist with human resources and analytics.
"We can work together on converting a lot of that data to meaningful insights that will help our students get their hands dirty with real data, but also hopefully help Mark Mondello and his team leverage on that data and use it for better decision-making,” he said.
Limayem said they’ll also rely on the college’s Wooden Center for Supply Chain Management & Sustainability, which took the name of businesswoman Monica Wooden after she donated $5 million to the center in April.
“One of the main assets and one of the critical success factors for Jabil is it's very effective and efficient supply chain so we can coordinate on this, we can work with that also," said Limayem.
From a student standpoint, electrical engineering major sophomore Kush Mathur says the experience the Institution will provide should give him and his classmates an advantage.
“Every time you go to an interview for an internship, they ask you what are the projects you've done? I feel like a lot of engineers are doing great in school, we have great GPAs, but that's where we get stuck,” he said. “I feel competing with other students, this innovation project gives us a chance to work on hands-on projects. If we actually have things on our resume like a project that we worked with a company like Jabil, I think employers would love that.”
After the announcement, Mondello sat down with USF students and faculty for a wide-ranging hour-long discussion. Finance senior Tim Davis was one of those who asked the CEO for advice on succeeding in business.
“The thing that resonated with me the most was when you enter in your career, you shouldn't be too focused on a narrow path and lumping yourself into sort of parameters that you expect to happen is your kind of be free-flowing and be open to opportunities,” said Davis.
And sophomore Tracy Pham appreciated Mondello’s message of balancing a work life and personal life – the kind of message that a computer science major like her doesn’t often hear in a classroom or laboratory.
“I learned a lot of different aspects about how to be a good engineer, how to be a good (contributor) to society, how to be a good student, and just how to merge that all (into) one to just be a good person and make a difference,” she said.
Mondello hopes that the Innovation Institute makes a difference for both his alma mater and his company – when asked during the discussion where he sees the Institute in five years, he said his hope is that, when people walk into a lab or business workspace, they can't tell the difference from a Jabil employee and a USF student.