Cruising toward innovation: Transportation industry leaders & UFTI unite to create technology advancements through the I-STREET Living Lab

Cruising toward innovation: Transportation industry leaders & UFTI unite to create technology advancements through the I-STREET Living Lab

By: Ines Aviles-Spadoni, M.S.

Dr. Lily Elefteriadou (at left) during the venture capitalist session led by former Sen. Jeff Brandes, at podium.

The UFTI officially launched its Industry Partnership Program (IPP) on October 26, 2023, with an inaugural event at the Hilton University of Florida to establish collaboration and partnerships between the institute and companies serving the transportation technology sector. 

Visionary companies such as UrbanSDK, Atkins, Iteris, WGI, and HTNB were the first to sign on as the UFTI’s IPP partners. These companies will support UFTI’s research and educational initiatives, driving technological advances in the transportation industry. Dr. Lily Elefteriadou, professor and director of the UFTI, spearheaded this initiative along with Dr. Pruthvi Manjunatha, the I-STREET manager. Dr. Elefteriadou was pleased with how the event unfolded, including the interactions between industry leaders and researchers.

“We are thrilled to work with these transportation leaders and collaborate with them to develop and deploy advanced transportation technologies around Florida and nationally,” she said. “I am very excited about the ideas generated during the inaugural meeting, and I look forward to working with our partners internally and externally to make these a reality.”

Representatives from these companies and other guests were in attendance during the event, and each delivered a presentation related to their work to an audience comprised of UF faculty, students, staff, and representatives of UFTI’s External Advisory Board. The event included presentations from UFTI-affiliated faculty and graduate students actively engaged in groundbreaking transportation research and educational initiatives.

Lisa Nisenson, WGI’s vice president of new mobility and communities, expressed her excitement about being part of the UFTI’s IPP. She is thrilled to engage with this program and mentioned that WGI actively hires many UF graduates. WGI is a civil engineering and planning consulting firm with 11 locations in Florida and the U.S.

“Our CEO, David Wantman, is very involved in the school of engineering, and it is our pleasure to be a part of this,” Nisenson said. “You really need that partnership of the practitioners, the researchers, and the technology companies in this industry forum because that’s where we see the participation paying off; without those three together, it’s really hard to get things in the ground and workable.”

Nick Cole, director of development for the Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment (ESSIE), organized this event and was instrumental in supporting Dr. Lily Elefteriadou’s vision for creating an industry council to support the work that UFTI does, benefiting Florida and beyond.

Nick Cole (right) facilitates a discussion with representatives from the Industry Council. Lisa Nisenson, at left, engages in a fruitful discussion about the importance of the industry council.

“Already, I am hearing from the partners that they are meeting people and hearing ideas that they hadn’t considered before in terms of engaging with the university,” Cole said. “For UF, it is a big step in engagement with the corporate world. These companies are actually the ones that can bring it to scale, to the real world.”

Former Florida Senator Jeff Brandes (R-Fla.) also participated in the event. He facilitated a panel discussion that included three venture capitalists from the automated vehicles sector: Ben Patz of DeepWork Capital, Olaf Sakkers of RedBlue Capital, and Jake Wieseneck, a principal at Maniv. The venture capitalists spoke about potential investments, trends, the start-up landscape, and the regulatory environment. Sen. Brandes, who served various terms in the Florida House of Representatives until 2022, is a proponent of innovative technology and is working to bring creative solutions to the state’s transportation sector.

Also in attendance was Justin Dennis, COO of UrbanSDK. He joined as an industry partner to access university research from the I-STREET Living Lab. UrbanSDK is a planning tool that helps intelligent cities with their mobility, transportation, sustainability, and safety operations using real-time location analytics. UrbanSDK helps to connect public agencies, policymakers, and the community with better data to help them make informed budgeting and policy decisions.

“We are a data and analytics company,” he said. “Our interest is understanding the new hardware that will be deployed as well as what AI machine learning advancements are going to be taking place so that we can help our customers and better implement new and innovative machine learning into our software.”

He also says that being a part of the IPP grants him access to other companies partnering with UFTI, where fruitful discussions will take place to advance innovation in transportation.

Craig Toth, vice president and practice consultant with HNTB, also attended the event. HNTB is an engineering, planning, and construction management firm with offices across the U.S. Toth believes the IPP is a great path toward the growth potential and adoption of emerging technologies in transportation.

“It’s really going to take partnerships between the consultants, the university, and the private sector to drive change and scalability and adoption of these emerging technologies,” he said. “I think this is a great forum to collaborate.”

He added that HNTB is a service provider that helps evaluate applicability and how technologies fit into the overall ecosystem.

If you are a transportation technology company interested in accessing cutting-edge research happening now at the UFTI’s I-STREET Living Lab, join leaders like David Wantman and Lisa Nisenson from WGI, Justin Dennis from UrbanSDK, Graig Toth of HNTB, and others to work together to drive change, foster innovation, and accelerate the adoption of emerging technologies in the transportation sector.  Join the UFTI’s industry partnership program today and help to make a difference in people’s lives in Florida and beyond.

More information at

Below are additional images from the event.