OTC Receives EDA Grant to Fund Growth of Launch Blue

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Oct. 12, 2020) — University of Kentucky Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC), on behalf of UK Research Foundation (UKRF), was awarded a three-year $600,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration (EDA) Build to Scale Program, one of 52 projects funded from 36 states. UKRF is a recipient of the 2020 Venture Challenge Grant, which supports entrepreneurship and accelerating company growth in communities, regions or combinations of regions.

The grant will fund the growth of Launch Blue, a nonequity seeking pre-seed accelerator program that aims to launch nationally competitive Kentucky startups. Launch Blue was founded by a consortium of community partners led by OTC and comprising Awesome Inc, Base 110, Bluegrass Angels (BGA), Bullard, Commerce Lexington, Kentucky Small Business Development Center (KSBDC), Marrow, and Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation (KSTC).

“OTC is thrilled and honored to be awarded this grant by the EDA. In the same vein, we are grateful for our partners that helped found Launch Blue with us and excited for our innovators and entrepreneurs across the state that will benefit from a more robust Launch Blue program,” said Ian McClure, OTC executive director. “This type of innovation ecosystem-improving partnership embodies OTC’s mission, and we look forward to seeing the impact on the intended beneficiaries — Kentucky’s future startups.”

Eric Hartman, OTC associate director of New Ventures and Launch Blue program advisor, instructor and coach, is the principal investigator on this grant.

“We have been pleased with the community’s response to Launch Blue since its creation in early 2020,” Hartman said. “EDA’s validation of the program as one of the top new startup accelerators in the country with the ability to impact the Kentucky startup ecosystem is both encouraging and humbling.”

This funding will enable Launch Blue to meet a need for startup-focused training and support for Kentucky entrepreneurs. It will serve as a catalyst to engage the most experienced entrepreneurship resources in Kentucky’s developing ecosystem, and empower and equip entrepreneurs statewide to succeed at the next level to participate in national seed-stage accelerator programs.

The Launch Blue program consists of a 12-week accelerator and a six-month incubator along with special focus cohorts and labs. The program will also launch a Demo Day that will highlight Launch Blue’s most successful portfolio companies and create outreach and engagement opportunities for the full entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“This EDA grant will allow us to provide personalized coaching and training for technical startups founders looking to launch their business in Kentucky,” said Laura Halligan, Launch Blue’s executive director, lead instructor and coach, and a co-investigator on the EDA grant. “We are hopeful that this accelerator program will have a positive impact across the state and allow founders the training and tools they need early on to be successful.”

Launch Blue will engage statewide clients, resources, capital, mentors, industry, services, experts and programming, and provide an engaging space and community for Kentucky’s entrepreneurs. A critical element of Launch Blue’s mission is outreach and these efforts will reach prospective clients, mentors, local, regional and national investors, national seed-stage and growth-stage accelerators, and the general public.

UK has five innovator teams (Andrew Byrd, Florin Despa, Jared Hammill, Carrie Shaffer and Qingjun Wang) currently participating in the inaugural UAccel cohort operation through Launch Blue.

“We are so excited about receiving this grant from the EDA, and what it means for our ability to assist more Kentucky startups as they commercialize their ideas and add to the economic vitality of the state,” said Taunya Phillips, OTC’s senior associate director of New Ventures and Alliances and chair of Launch Blue’s Advisory Board.

Base 110 is a match partner, will serve as the home of Launch Blue and will provide coworking and meeting space for Launch Blue teams plus office and meeting space to support programming and operations.

The long-term vision for Launch Blue is to serve Kentucky entrepreneurs as a regional and national thought leader in startups and technology commercialization.

Learn more about the EDA grant here.

The Office of Technology Commercialization is the technology transfer office for the University of Kentucky. The core mission of the OTC is to advance innovations that make a difference.

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.