Thanks to its emphasis on helping small businesses and startups grow and succeed, Kentucky offers some of the best accelerators and incubators around.
When Brian Raney started his first business, APAX Software, he ran into a few issues. Eventually, he decided Kentucky needed a resource where entrepreneurs could learn alongside one another about how to build a business. To fill that role, Raney created Lexington-based Awesome Inc. in 2009 with the goal of creating and growing a high-tech startup community.
“The Cabinet has had a focus on entrepreneurship over the past several years,” Raney says of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. “We approached the Cabinet in 2013 to partner on a program that evolved into the Awesome Fellowship program, which is our current flagship entrepreneurship program at Awesome Inc.”
Through the fellowship program, Awesome Inc. already has charted great success in helping entrepreneurs transition from their idea stage into a functioning business. Since partnering with the Cabinet, Awesome Inc. assisted 14 companies. Combined, those companies raised nearly $2 million in funding and created 38 jobs.
In Northern Kentucky, UpTech also focuses on accelerating tech startups. Since its 2012 opening, 22 companies passed through UpTech’s six-month informatics accelerator program. The Covington-based venture invests up to $50,000 in each company and operates September through March.
“If you look at how entrepreneurs get funded annually — or even at the early stage — there’s really nobody there that can provide that funding except for an accelerator,” says JB Woodruff, commercialization director for the Kentucky Innovation Network at Northern Kentucky. “It’s too early-stage for an angel (investor), so we really provide a much-needed boost economically around the region.”
While UpTech makes waves in Northern Kentucky, Louisville’s XLerateHealth established quite a name for itself in just over two years, ranking as one of the nation’s top 50 accelerators. The accelerator targets healthcare companies, hosting two programs: an intensive three-month lean startup boot camp for younger companies and a multi-year virtual incubator for more mature companies.
XLerateHealth aims its boot camps at startups in healthcare-related IT and services, medical devices and diagnostic service and equipment companies. To date, 21 companies have graduated from the lean startup program, and XLerateHealth’s work continues with 26 affiliate companies as part of its virtual incubator.
These and other incubators and accelerators across the state work to build a pro-business culture and a mentality of entrepreneurism. With programs like these, Kentucky startups can receive the guidance, training and connections they need to succeed.