Start your engines: How a business super-accelerator will fuel growth in NKY
Last month, a major announcement from Northern Kentucky University had the entire region at attention -- an announcement that carried the promise of substantial economic impact, meaningful investment, and engagement with a vibrant cluster of emerging businesses across the country.
The big news? Big Ideas. No, really. It’s UpTech -- Accelerating Big Ideas.
"The overarching goal of UpTech is to lay the foundation of an informatics industry cluster in Northern Kentucky," says Casey Barach, Vice President of Entrepreneurship at Northern Kentucky Tri-ED and Executive Director of Northern Kentucky ezone.
What is UpTech? Barach calls it a "business super-accelerator." Its initial mission is to invest $100,000 each in 50 promising tech startups, along with 6 months of essential business support and free office space on Northern Kentucky’s riverfront.
UpTech may be just the kick needed in the formula that makes Northern Kentucky a prime place for start-ups.
Key ingredients? One is ezone
, Northern Kentucky’s Innovation and Commercialization Center. Since its founding in 2001, ezone has helped over 200 companies raise over $120 million in capital and create 1,200 jobs in the region. The ezone also provides mentoring, development support, and exposure for Northern Kentucky's growing community of entrepreneurs.
Another is what Barach refers to as the "secret sauce" -- the College of Informatics
at Northern Kentucky University, one of only a handful of informatics colleges in the United States. As our expanding digital universe has swamped all of us with more data than we know what to do with, a workforce skilled in informatics has become vital across industries, from journalism to IT to advanced manufacturing to business.
"The College of Informatics is a key player in the entrepreneur space," says Barach. "It's a new entrepreneurial asset to be reckoned with."
And now there’s UpTech
, which will be supported by faculty, staff, students and graduates of the College of Informatics.
UpTech will offer its investors a competitive 40% tax credit from the state and provide its businesses with more time (6 months), more support (including legal, accounting, and marketing support), and more equity investment than the average business accelerator. For those reasons -- and because of the unique resources, research capabilities, knowledge, and talent provided by the College of Informatics -- hopes are high that UpTech could be one of the country's best businesses accelerators.
"We believe UpTech has the tools to be among the nation's top tier of tech-related business accelerators, attracting passionate and creative entrepreneurs whose ideas could spark tomorrow's most dynamic enterprises," said Rich Boehne, president and CEO of E.W. Scripps Company, in a press release.
The talent is here, as demonstrated by the success of NKY Startup Weekend, a 54-hour business-building spree hosted January 13-15 at Griffin Hall and organized by members of NKY's entrepreneur community, faculty at the College of Informatics, and Campbell County Economic Progress Authority, Inc.
"Wow -- the number of folks who wanted to participate in the event was overwhelming," Barach says. "This is indicative of today's entrepreneurial scene in the region -- the overall buzz is at the highest volume that I have seen in a number of years. At Startup I saw activity, enthusiasm and excitement from the event organizers, the event speakers and the event participants."
The funding is here, too. In the past year, ezone has helped put over $1.5 million in new equity investment dollars into play for early-stage Northern Kentucky start-ups. This is in addition to previously available programs such as the Kentucky Enterprise Fund, Commonwealth Seed Capital and the High Tech Investment Pool.
"I like to say that the really great ideas always attract money, and that money is ready for great ideas here in Northern Kentucky," Barach says.
And of course, Northern Kentucky offers a high quality of life for a low cost of living, a rich cultural environment, big-city amenities, and a strong, supportive business community -- assets that have historically made Northern Kentucky attractive to people and enterprises from all over the world.
One of Barach's favorite success stories is TiER One Performance Solutions
, which started out on ezone's fifth floor. Since then, TiER One has moved out of the ezone space, hit the Inc. 5000, and bought a company in Pittsburgh.
"TiER One has participated in every program the ezone offers," Barach says. "Even last year we helped them with a matching SBIR grant."
The success of TiER One, Barach says, is mostly attributable to their incredible team. But how many dozens more companies like them could be out there? Coding in dorm rooms, hatching business plans in coffee shops, working late, getting up early, working to make Northern Kentucky a place that changes the world?
Thanks to UpTech, we may be about to find out.