Kentucky Spurs Entrepreneurs with Funding and Innovation Network

Entrepreneur funding and support network boost startups in Kentucky.

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On Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 10:07

Kentucky is known for championing horses fast out of the starting gate. Today, that includes entrepreneurs racing to turn their ideas into commercial reality.

The Bluegrass State is in the forefront of supplying seed capital and networking support that enables early-stage companies to transform innovative concepts into job creation and prosperity.

“We were enticed with monetary compensation and in-kind services by cities in other states, but Louisville and Kentucky topped them,” says Jenny Corbin, founder and CEO of TNG Pharmaceuticals, a startup born after she and fellow MBA students at the University of Louisville’s Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship won the 2011 Global Championship at Venture Labs Investment Competition.

First in Matching Grants

Kentucky’s winning support of entrepreneurship is exemplified in its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.

“Kentucky is the only state that matches Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the federal grants for up to two years,” says Gene Fuqua, executive director of the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s Office for Commercialization and Innovation. “The program has helped lure 16 companies to relocate to Kentucky from other states.”

Another program, the Commonwealth Seed Capital Fund (CSC), an independent fund established by the state’s Economic Development Partnership Board, has awarded $7.8 million to 21 companies and $14.2 million to 11 funds that leveraged $38.2 million in additional investments in Kentucky.

Another startup draw is the Kentucky Innovation Network, 13 commercialization centers around the state that work to increase statewide knowledge of entrepreneurship, startup processes and investment practices, while providing free services to existing businesses, startups and the investment community.

Nucleus Innovation Parks

Nucleus, a subsidiary of the University of Louisville Foundation, is the economic development arm of the University of Louisville. Nucleus nurtures entrepreneurs through specialized services and facilities, as well as fostering niche accelerators.

“Kentucky has programs along the continuum of the company life cycle, offering assistance through that ‘valley of death’ stage to the other side,” says President and CEO Vickie Yates Brown.

Over the next 20 years, Nucleus Research Parks may receive up to $2.3 billion from two state-approved tax increment financing (TIF) districts, making it one of the largest approved TIFs in the country. Nucleus already has four facilities in Louisville, along with a newly renovated co-working space called iHub.

Nucleus will also help develop the Belknap Engineering and Applied Sciences Research Park adjacent to the University of Louisville main campus

Nucleus has been instrumental in the success of startups like Potentia, an early-stage biotech company acquired by Alcon; Iasis Healthcare, which owns and operates community-focused hospitals; and PGXL, a pioneer in personalized medicine.

Louisville is home to UPS’ largest health-care logistics campuses in the world, an important factor for PGXL and other health companies they recruit here, notes Yates.

Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation

Early-stage technology firms also benefit from the Kentucky Science and Technology Corp., an independent nonprofit that sponsors a variety of initiatives.

“Our systems are geared toward pushing the innovation envelope for entrepreneurs and providing solid business assistance to develop a market, capital base and initial direction,” says President Kris Kimel.

That support includes the Kentucky Enterprise Fund, a venture capital-type fund that invests up to $250,000 in high-growth, early-stage companies developing advanced technologies.

“Kentucky has a pro-business culture and attitude overall,” adds Fuqua. "We make every effort to do whatever is necessary for entrepreneurs.”