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Kentucky Wagers on Entrepreneurship, Biotech, and Alternative Energy Development

Mali R. Schantz-Feld (Aug/Sep 08)
When John Hindman joined the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development in June 2007 as secretary, he recalls being "impressed by the number of progressive incentives and programs that Kentucky offered for business, especially those that benefit high-tech startup companies. We have tried to expand many of these programs and to implement new programs where there had previously been some gaps in the state's support for high-techs."

One of the state's most successful programs has been the SBIR-STTR Matching Funds program. "We are the only state in the nation that currently matches both phases of the federal SBIR-STTR awards dollar-for-dollar - up to $100,000 for Phase 1 awards and up to $500,000 per year for up to two years for Phase 2 awards," says Hindman. As a result of this program, an existing or relocated company in Kentucky, after receiving federal Phase 1 and Phase 2 federal awards, can potentially earn an additional $1.1 million. The state has already awarded more than $7 million among approximately 36 high-tech businesses.

With the goal of identifying and supporting the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, the state implemented its first student business plan competition, called Idea State U, in April 2008. The winning teams were awarded nearly $100,000 in prizes for their innovative business concepts and business plans, which makes the Kentucky statewide competition one of the nation's top state-sponsored business plan competitions.

The Cabinet for Economic Development also launched the Kentucky New Energy Venture Fund (KNEV) to support the development and commercialization of alternative fuel and renewable energy products, processes, and services. KNEV goals include growing alternative fuel and renewable energy companies in Kentucky, stimulating private investment in these companies, establishing an alternative fuel and renewable energy industrial knowledge base, and developing a support network for individuals and companies operating in this industry. "We're seeing a lot of companies applying for this funding, featuring technologies ranging from wind energy to biofuels, which proves there is a significant amount of renewable energy research being conducted across the state," says Hindman.

Clusters of biotechnology research are forming through collaborations between companies and universities across the state. One cluster is in Owensboro, in the western portion of the commonwealth. "Leading the way in the biotech research in the area is Kentucky BioProcessing, which maintains a state-of-the-art plant sciences facility," says Hindman. The company uses plant-based gene expression technologies to produce compounds for pharmaceutical companies. Kentucky BioProcessing was established by the Owensboro Medical Health System (OMHS).

"Another part of this cluster is comprised of Owensboro's farmers, who have demonstrated experience and enthusiasm in producing crops for use in developing biotechnology products," says Hindman. These farmers have formed the Owensboro Biotech Alliance, which fosters partnerships between agriculture, higher education and the region's life science industry, as well as providing training and compliance with USDA regulations.
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