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NKY Awarded $750,000 in State Funds for Entrepreneurs

A big increase in funding is coming to Northern Kentucky to support and promote innovative entrepreneurs and start-up businesses.

Governor Matt Bevin announced Thursday that the Kentucky Innovation office selected the Northern Kentucky Foundation, Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corporation (Tri-ED), and other partners to establish a Regional Innovation for Starups and Entrepreneurs (RISE) hub.

RISE hubs are part of Kentucky Innovation's 120-county effort to modernize support for high-tech, high-growth potential businesses.

The counties involved include Boone, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, Owen, and Pendleton.

The effort will support early stage businesses through capitalization and commercialization, and develop the area's culture for supporting entrepreneurs and innovative start-ups, a news release said.

The Northern Kentucky innovation hub will receive $750,000 in state funding, a $590,000 increase in annual funding over the prior Kentucky Innovation Network office model.

“Northern Kentucky has established itself as a national leader in information technology, health care, and logistics, and the region is a key driver of our state’s economic growth,” Bevin said. “KY Innovation’s newly launched RISE hub will empower the region’s best and brightest entrepreneurs to work with these industry sectors and build Kentucky’s next generation of great businesses.”

KY Innovation, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development’s initiative supporting entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses, in August called for proposals to lead RISE hubs. RISE fosters partnerships between universities, established companies and industry sectors, entrepreneurs, business accelerator and incubator programs and various other public and private entities.

Brian Mefford, KY Innovation executive director, said the region is equipped with the tools to ensure the hub’s success, as well as that of local startups and entrepreneurs.

“Northern Kentucky is primed to capitalize on the region’s resources for cultivating even more entrepreneurs and innovative startups,” Mefford said. “Clustering assets around thriving sectors like advanced logistics and supply chain, informatics and health will lift up local entrepreneurs and attract innovative businesses to the area. Regional leaders have also demonstrated their commitment to supporting innovation through their formation of an entrepreneurship council and unification of effective private and public partners in their effort. This award will allow even more powerful collaboration on behalf of high-growth businesses.”

Jason Rainey, KY Innovation deputy executive director, said the region could be a driving force within this statewide initiative.

“The consortium has an impressive vision for the future of a region that has all of the ingredients to build a first-rate innovation economy,” Rainey said. “This award is an important step toward realizing the immense potential of northern Kentucky to be a national leader in startup culture. The RISE hub will drive business creation and growth, strengthen the entrepreneurial ecosystem and improve the regional and state economy.”

Support organizations for northern Kentucky’s RISE hub are located in Boone, Campbell, Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Kenton, and Owen counties. In addition to NKU Foundation, NKY Tri-ED also will act as lead partners. Earlier this year, NKY Tri-ED spearheaded the creation of the Northern Kentucky Entrepreneurs Council (NKYEC), a collaboration of private sector leaders and community partners to share goals and resources. NKYEC plans to match the awarded grant with local funds, as well as leverage northern Kentucky partnerships to further the impact of the program.

Normand Desmarais, secretary of the NKU Board of Regents’, co-founder of TiER1 Performance Solutions, and chair of the NKYEC, said the award will allow the private sector to drive innovation and grow entrepreneurship.

“This is a great day for all entrepreneurs in northern Kentucky. We now have the resources and a new private sector driven model to accelerate business success,” Desmarais said. “We are adopting and implementing best practices in innovation from entrepreneurial communities around the world, deploying the latest in digital and social technologies, and connecting entrepreneurs to resources specific to their business and personal needs.”

The northern Kentucky RISE model plans to lead entrepreneurial efforts in the region by increasing the number of high-growth businesses in the commonwealth with a focus on informatics, health innovation and advanced logistics. The group intends to accomplish this mission by leveraging existing cluster advantages, driving collaboration among community partners, attracting additional human and financial capital to the region and delivering measurable results that increase the economic vitality of the region and the commonwealth overall.

Partners will provide businesses and entrepreneurs a full range of services including education and accelerator programs, small and medium enterprise support, mentor and startup networking, community fund management, external investor relations, equity investment, research and commercialization and corporate innovation.

Over the course of the first year, the group aims to:

  • Partner with NKU and St. Elizabeth Healthcare to develop a Health Innovation Initiative.
  • Partner with NKADD to lead outreach to the region’s five rural counties – Carroll, Gallatin, Grant, Owen and Pendleton – to deliver entrepreneurship services.
  • Partner with CONNETIC, Gateway and Square1 on a plan to create a new $10 million investment fund.
  • Partner with all existing assets to move to a Shared Services model.
  • Establish a single point of entry into the entire entrepreneurship ecosystem.
  • Put into place a common CRM tool for all organizations to ensure collaboration.
  • Move to a focused cluster approach with informatics, health innovation and advanced logistics and supply chain as its economic clusters.
  • Establish partnerships with major industry leaders in the region on designated economic clusters.
  • Enhance digital platform to increase interconnectedness, especially in rural counties.
  • Partner with the Kentucky Blockchain Alliance to explore non-traditional funding means for startups.
  • Continue to create businesses, jobs and new entrepreneurs at an accelerated rate.

KY Innovation will announce more RISE awardees in the coming weeks. Mefford said the office plans to invest more than $4.9 million in regional efforts, more than doubling funding to the offices of the former Kentucky Innovation Network.

“We are excited by this opportunity to work together with entrepreneurs, startups and existing businesses in our region to help grow their organizations through innovation and to further establish northern Kentucky as a great place to start, locate and expand business,” said Gary Moore, Boone County Judge-Executive and current board chair of Tri-ED.  “The leaders on this new council are passionate about this work, and they will help bring our business environment to a new level. This is one of many efforts at Tri-ED focused on improving economic development and overall growth in our region.”

-Staff report