HIGHER EDUCATION
From Kentucky Economic Development Guide 2024
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Academic Institutions Work Together to Forge Kentucky’s Future

A statewide partnership among public universities transforms concepts into companies.

Higher Education
STEM students at the University of Louisville.
Photo courtesy of University of Louisville

by LINDSAY LOPP
U

niversities are often the backbone of a community. Within their hallowed halls, the future takes shape. Students are transformed into workers and ideas are molded into innovations. 

Recognizing the importance of bolstering both of these pipelines, the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation (KSTC) has partnered with the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education, the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville to introduce an initiative that develops academic innovations into job-creating tech companies. 

Kentucky Commercialization Ventures (KCV) spans the state, encompassing all of its public institutions. Backed by more than $1 million in state support as well as resources from KY Innovation (the commonwealth’s office for entrepreneurial and small business support), this program works directly with faculty, staff and students to develop marketable products, protect intellectual property and create connections with industry partners. 

 

“While this partnership will focus on developing and commercializing new products and services, it will also galvanize our state’s economy by encouraging some of our best and brightest to remain here as they build businesses.” 

­— Dr. Aaron Thompson, President of the Council on Postsecondary Education

 

“Kentucky colleges and universities are some of the largest economic engines in the commonwealth, and campuses are eager to unite their resources and expertise in support of entrepreneurs,” said Dr. Aaron Thompson, president of the Council on Postsecondary Education. “While this partnership will focus on developing and commercializing new products and services, it will also galvanize our state’s economy by encouraging some of our best and brightest to remain here as they build businesses.”

By leveraging the existing commercialization offices at UK and UofL and the combined resources of Eastern Kentucky University, Western Kentucky University, Northern Kentucky University, Kentucky State University, Morehead State University, Murray State University and the Kentucky Community & Technical College System, this initiative has become the most widespread and comprehensive of its kind in the nation. 

“This collaboration will be pivotal in building Kentucky’s future economy,” said KY Innovation’s Deputy Executive Director David Brock in a press release. “KCV provides the tools and expertise to launch tech startups and grow new jobs. Success here will lead to future attraction of researchers, innovators, students and research dollars.” 

Now, three years after this initiative’s inception, the KCV and the many programs affiliated with it have brought all those benefits and more to the Bluegrass State.  

REACH for the Stars 

In October 2023, UK, UofL and their partners at three other institutions outside the state were awarded $12 million from the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) Research Evaluation and Commercialization Hubs (REACH) program to establish a new hub dedicated to accelerating the development of biomedical innovations that advance human health. 

 

Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.

Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green.

Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Office of the Lieutenant Governor

 

Mid-South REACH will achieve this goal by offering education, mentorship and financial support for entrepreneurs and academic researchers looking to turn their discoveries into medical products. Vanderbilt University, Jackson State University and George Mason University will also be part of this network, expanding the program’s reach to encompass four states: Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Virginia. 

Over the next four years, the NIH will contribute $4 million with more than $8 million in additional matching funds from partnering universities, state economic development entities and public-private partnerships set to provide support.

However, Mid-South REACH is not UK and UofL’s first NIH REACH program. Alongside the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development and KCV, both universities lead the Kentucky Network for Innovation and Commercialization (KYNETIC), another hub to support health-related technology development. 

 

“This collaboration will be pivotal in building Kentucky’s future economy.” 

— David Brock, Deputy Executive Director , KY Innovation

 

While the Mid-South REACH program spans across various states, KYNETIC is solely dedicated to Kentucky public universities and colleges. Since its launch in 2019, the program has announced eight funding cycles, with its ninth currently in the pre-application process. 

Selected proposals have the potential to receive up to $200,000 for prototype development, feasibility or proof-of-concept studies. They will also gain access to early-stage development expertise and mentorship, skills development in entrepreneurism, and resources to form and accelerate commercialization strategies. 

Building a Better Kentucky 

Outside of the biomedical industry, KCV and its many partners have also established additional programs to advance other sectors of the state’s economy. The IMPACT (Innovative Mobile, Public Health, And Community-Oriented Technologies) Competition awards funding to projects that aim to improve social, health or economic conditions throughout Kentucky.

In 2023, seven innovative projects received funding, with first place going to two proposals: “Increasing Access of Fresh Produce in West Louisville Food Desert Areas Through Sustainable Production” led by Kentucky State University and “Chromatography-free Thermostable Protein Purification” led by Dr. Chris Lennon, an associate professor of biology at Murray State University. Both projects received $25,000 to bring their concepts to life. 

The other recipients from this round included various projects to strengthen communities not only in Kentucky, but worldwide. Their ground-breaking ideas range from developing cost optimization tools for Smart Integrated Renewable Energy System (SIRES) to inventing real-time translation technologies for American Sign Language (ASL). 

Concepts like the ones elevated by the IMPACT and REACH programs are transforming communities across Kentucky. By uplifting these ideas, new companies and jobs are being created throughout the commonwealth. In having an interconnected network of public universities and colleges, this success is not limited to one region. All of Kentucky’s higher education institutions are reaping the benefits of one another’s triumphs, ushering in new opportunities on and off campus. 

Lindsay Lopp
Associate Editor of Site Selection magazine

Lindsay Lopp

Lindsay Lopp joined Conway Data in 2023. She is the assistant editor of the company’s Custom Content division and regularly contributes to Site Selection magazine. In 2021, she graduated from Pratt Institute with her BFA in Creative Writing and is currently completing her MFA in Popular Fiction and Publishing at Emerson College.





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