Kentucky launches fresh approach to supporting state’s innovators, small businesses

FRANKFORT, Ky. – To better serve, attract and develop innovators and startups, Kentucky will deploy a new regional approach to developing high-tech, high-potential-growth businesses, while continuing to assist small businesses seeking support.

KY Innovation, the state’s recently launched initiative supporting businesses founders and growing companies, will soon begin implementing 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 state’s outgoing model for supporting startups, the Kentucky Innovation Network, will dissolve July 1.

“By clustering regional assets we will strengthen the statewide economy and startup ecosystem,” said Brian Mefford, executive director of KY Innovation. “This allows the state to move past its current prescriptive approach, developed nearly two decades ago, toward a model that capitalizes on each region’s resources, preferences and distinct sector advantages. At the same time, we will continue to provide services for small businesses both directly and through cooperation with organizations throughout the state.”

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. Mefford said the method results in a collaborative, sustainable system for entrepreneurs. 

“An example would be an agricultural technology startup with an idea for competing in that growing sector,” Mefford said. “The founders might come from or have access to a local university where they can begin to develop their intellectual property through research and a fast-tracked commercialization program. They could then find office space and other resources at a business incubator/accelerator in a region most conducive to ag tech. They would benefit from mentorship through a consortium of entrepreneurs and heads of local companies and eventually have access to loan assistance or angel capital on their way to market. There is no ‘one size fits all’ version, but each regional cluster will ultimately strengthen the overall economy by valuing high-growth companies and attracting top-flight jobs.” 

The state will continue to help small businesses through existing programs and closer alliances with groups like Kentucky Small Business Development Center (KSBDC). Co-sponsored by the US Small Business Administration and housed at the University of Kentucky, KSBDC and its affiliates have provided a wide range of consulting, training, research and financial services for more than three decades. Although state assistance through the prior Kentucky Innovation Network offices will no longer be offered after July 1, Mefford said Kentucky will provide necessary resources to existing small businesses through closer collaboration with partners such as KSBDC.

“We stand ready to support small businesses in the short and long term,” Mefford said. “Additionally, by seeking to be innovative in how we support the business ecosystem, we will create even more effective ways to render and receive assistance through existing partners and newly developed online resources. This saves small business owners time and money, but also allows us to remain laser focused on building out a regional cluster model that will benefit all of the state’s entrepreneurs and the economy as a whole.”

Alison Davis, interim director of KSBDC, said she looked forward to assisting the state’s small businesses and contributing to the transformation of Kentucky’s economic culture. 

“KSBDC has always been devoted to providing the highest quality, most comprehensive services possible for our small businesses and doing so with the utmost integrity,” Davis said. “Working more closely with KY Innovation empowers us to continue providing that same level of service to a wider pool of aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners looking to take the next step in their maturation. We are thrilled to play a role in determining the future of communities, regions and our entire state.”

Many local business leaders are embracing the chance to participate in a strategy that takes into account regional identity in shaping the ecosystem for startups and small businesses.

“This plan allows every individual and group with a stake in driving innovation and business creation to work together and play more active roles in developing an effective regional framework,” said Tammy Zimmerman, owner of Payment Plus Inc. in Paducah. “There has never been a greater opportunity for new and growing companies in Kentucky. This has the potential to fuel an entire generation of businesses that will strengthen our local and statewide economies.”

More information about the state’s initiative supporting and connecting companies, collaborators and investors, visit KYInnovation.com.

Kyndle would like to thank The Gleaner and Union County First for the use of images throughout this site.