FGCU professor’s alumni shaking up the SWFL business world

Published: November 16, 2021 4:51 PM EST
Updated: November 16, 2021 8:11 PM EST

Meet Dr. Sandy Kauanui, the woman who is the “secret weapon” behind new companies popping up around Southwest Florida.

Kauanui is a professor at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Daveler and Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship, which she helped create.

“I’d heard all along, ‘We’ve got a problem keeping our kids in Southwest Florida,'” Kauanui said. “You don’t have it if you’ve got an entrepreneurial school like this.”

The school of entrepreneurship opened this semester. Its Maker Space comes with 3D printers, virtual reality development kits, a media lab and large open spaces where students can collaborate. Since Kauanui started the program in 2017, alumni have popped up all over Southwest Florida.

“We have a student that’s doing University Mates, and he’s got contracts with the university, cleaning the dorms,” Kauanui said. “We’ve got another student who has built an app for mental health.”

Dr. Sandy Kauanui

Another popular alumnus-spawned company is Cattyshack Cafe at Gulf Coast Town Center, a coffee shop where customers can play with rescue cats in hopes that they will make an everlasting connection and take one home.

“He went through the runway program as an alumnus and got some seed funding,” Kauanui said. “We were able to help and look where he is today!”

Since starting, the school says its alumni have opened more than 400 businesses, and Kauanui does not plan on stopping.

Gulfshore Life Magazine recognized Dr. Sandy Kauanui as one of its women of the year. You can read more about her in November’s issue.