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Tri-ED’s NKY Entrepreneurship Council gets KY Innovation RISE grant for $750k for innovation cluster

NKyTribune staff

*This story has been updated

Early this summer, Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corporation (Tri-ED) led the creation of the NKY Entrepreneurship Council (NKYEC), a new collaborative of private sector leaders who have been working in different aspects of entrepreneurship and innovation for many years.

Northern Kentucky business leaders, elected officials and stakeholders were on hand for the announcement that the region will receive a $750,000 grant from the state of Kentucky.

The NKYEC now has received a $750,000 grant to emphasize entrepreneurship and innovation in Northern Kentucky’s economic development. KY Innovation’s RISE program awarded the new funds, and the NKYEC plans to match the grant with local dollars to drive greater results for the region.

The NKYEC looks to establish an innovation cluster in Northern Kentucky, which includes Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties. The focus will be on informatics, health innovation and logistics innovation centers of excellence in the region. Northern Kentucky University (NKU) will leverage its expertise from the College of Informatics and the Institute of Health Innovation to support the council’s focus areas. Once established, the innovation cluster will serve as a resource for the entire state and the broader region.

“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.”

Tri-ED operates as the region’s economic development engine. It blends public and private funds to enhance the business climate in and foster regional cooperation among Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

The role of board chair at Tri-ED rotates among Northern Kentucky’s three judges-executive. The collaboration of Moore, Kenton County Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann and Campbell County Judge-Executive Steve Pendery has been viewed by many as integral to the growth of the region’s entrepreneurial efforts.

Kenton County Judge-Executive  Knochelmann was among the first to recognize that for Northern Kentucky’s innovative efforts to reach their full potential there would have to be some changes to the business model and he thanked the state’s leaders for the opportunity to look at partnerships in a new way.

“Really, I guess if there is one message I want to pass on as the representative that serves on the entrepreneurship council, under the leadership of Norm Desmarais, it’s that we have to remind ourselves how fortunate we are in Northern Kentucky and in this great state right now,” Knochelmann said. “What an opportunity to cooperate together, to look at innovation, to look at entrepreneurship, to look at what economic development can be in 2018. We’re going to put the past behind us, look at the future and see how we can paint this picture of economic development.”

The RISE funds were awarded to the NKU Foundation, which partnered with Tri-ED to carry out the duties of the grant. Tri-ED established the NKYEC to take a new approach to economic development that collaborates with community partners to share goals and resources. Desmarais, NKU Board of Regents’ secretary and co-founder of TiER1 Performance Solutions, serves as chair of the NKYEC.

“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,” said Desmarais. “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.”

Tri-ED compiled a regional collaboration of organizations involved in innovation and entrepreneurship to participate in the NKYEC. These groups come from the public and private sectors, as well as academia. In addition to NKU and Tri-ED, the participants include Aviatra Accelerators, Cintrifuse, Gateway Community & Technical College, Square1 and UpTech. The Commonwealth is using this collaboration as an example of how regions should approach economic development through entrepreneurship.

“We are thrilled that Northern Kentucky has brought so many great partners to the table to develop a strong, entrepreneurship-based innovation cluster focused on informatics, health innovation and logistics innovation,” said Brian Mefford, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development. “This is exactly the kind of collaboration we were aiming for when developing this new investment approach, and we know the results will show why this was the right approach to take.”

Desmarais said the goal is to identify Northern Kentucky’s greatest assets and determine how they can be best put to use for the benefit of the entire region.

“You want to combine your regional assets and strengths into something that drives productivity and innovation,” he said. “That is a model of ecosystem development around the world. Rather than focusing on 20 different things (we need to ask), ‘what are the strengths of this region, what do we have a right to own?’”

The presentation also included comments from some of Northern Kentucky’s entrepreneurs explaining how collaboration helped spur the success of their businesses. Moore said that cooperation is critical to moving innovation in the region forward.

“As we’re working on the new TRi-ED, what the next 30 years is going to look like, we know that’s got to involve much more than what it’s been in the last 30 years, we know that it’s about entrepreneurship, it’s about more private sector involvement, it’s more about teamwork,” Moore said. “The partners that are here tonight from the state, it’s about us working with you.”

The RISE grant includes matching funds from stakeholders in the region, of which Desmarais said $650,000 has already been committed.

The NKYEC plans to leverage strong Northern Kentucky partnerships to have a greater impact. NKU and St. Elizabeth Healthcare will build on their existing health innovation initiative, and NKU will also work with Tri-State Logistics Council to create a model for the logistics innovation sector. CONNETIC Ventures will work on a plan to create an investment fund, and NKYEC will enhance collaboration by establishing a digital learning and connection tool for all organizations in the region.

“It is the combination of state investment, local matching dollars and the passionate commitment of our leaders and partners that will enable us to achieve these very big goals for our region,” said Casey Barach, senior vice president for Entrepreneurship at Tri-ED. 

The NKYEC consists of:

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