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KY pivots to new innovation model

July 19, 2018
By: Ellen Marrison

After 20 years of a program that had supported innovation in the state of Kentucky, the governor said he wanted to consolidate the funding to support entrepreneurs and become more strategic in the state’s efforts. This month, the state unveiled a new program — Regional Innovation for Startups and Entrepreneurs (RISE), a strategy that unites each area’s most powerful economic drivers, prioritizes commercialization and promotes rapid scaling.  The new strategy is designed to decrease duplication of efforts and get investments more directly to entrepreneurs, said Brian Mefford, the executive director of KY Innovation.

Mefford said the state is determining where to invest more, and where to pull back and that the state’s regions were asked for input on regional investments that the state could amplify. Mefford noted that the state enjoys strong sectors such as advanced manufacturing, aerospace and ag tech, supply chain and logistics, and food services, and they plan to “lean into those regional advantages” in areas of growth. This RISE approach fosters partnerships between universities, established companies and industry sectors, entrepreneurs, business accelerator and incubator programs and various other public and private entities. 

When the state first began its innovation program 20 years ago, Mefford said the field was relatively new and the approach was prescriptive and the same for each region. However today, with the benefits of knowing what has worked combined with the greater technology and mobility of resources, a resource that may be available in one part of the state can be made accessible to others in different areas of the state instead of relying only on regional efforts.

Jack Mazurak, communications director for the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, said being able to tailor services to the individual will enable the state to more fully take advantage of the areas of expertise.

“We will be able to more quickly match entrepreneurs with resources that are more custom tailored,” Mazurak said. For instance, Mazurak noted the University of Kentucky in Lexington has depth in agribusiness and biomedical research, which will be more accessible to anyone across the state who needs assistance in that area. “So someone in Murray can access that bank of knowledge,” he said.

Although there is no set timeline for full implementation of the program, Mefford said they are on a fast track to implement their first cluster efforts. While the state had dedicated $2.5 million a year over the past several years to support the former KY Innovation Network, Mefford said the state expects to fund the KY Innovation program $10 million in direct support, establishing regional cluster offices and capital investment over the next 18 months.

Mefford said the feedback they have already gained from the different regions of the state, and entrepreneurs and investors has been helpful. Eventually new regional offices will be in place, but until those are fully functional, entrepreneurs can contact the cabinet’s office in Frankfort.

Kentuckyinnovation, economic development