UK’s innovation program expands opportunities for successful research, technology

The University of Kentucky is a partner in the NSF's new Mid-South Innovation Corps Hub. Photo provided by Lauren Carnahan, Vanderbilt University.

LEXINGTON, Ky. (April 26, 2023) — A new program is working to strengthen research success and innovation at the University of Kentucky.

UK is part of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Mid-South Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Hub along with eight other institutions of higher education in the region. The hub launched in January of this year and is funded with $15 million for five years.

The UK I-Corps Program provides experiential entrepreneurial training to academic researchers across all fields of science and engineering. It expands programming offered to innovators through Launch Blue as a part of UK Innovate.

“Together, the hub aims to promote inclusive innovation and support research that can help economic growth in both our area of the country and on a national scale,” said Laura Halligan, executive director of Launch Blue and UK I-Corps team lead. “For us at UK, this means more support for impactful innovation at the university to push the entire Commonwealth of Kentucky forward.”

Innovators who complete the program will have a path to apply for the NSF National I-Corps Program and, if accepted, a team can earn a $50,000 grant and learn valuable entrepreneurial skills.

Josh Werner, Ph.D., an assistant professor of mining engineering in the UK College of Engineering, completed both Launch Blue’s UAccel program and the NSF National I-Corps program with a copper recycling technology.

Werner serves as the faculty lead for the UK I-Corps team. He stressed the importance of this opportunity to help faculty and innovators to develop the skills, knowledge and tools to build a startup or license from their research.

"This program's purpose is to take the mystery out of building a successful startup and will add a new dimension to both their research and broader impacts,” said Werner. “It also is a key tool to enable follow-on funding such as National Science Foundation's Partnerships for Innovation, which the NSF recently announced it will fund up to $1 million.”

The UK I-Corps Program will build on principles learned in the UAccel pre-accelerator program. Experiential learning of customer and industry discovery will give participants a chance to investigate industrial problems and processes first-hand while they form their business models.

In addition to science and engineering, UK’s program could also support research projects in the areas of energy, biotechnology, agriculture and manufacturing.

The UK I-Corps Program will be open to innovators at the university, others working with technology from another institution of higher education and select community startup teams.

“Launch Blue’s I-Corps program is a great educational program and an early step for innovators looking to get their research to have an impact outside the lab,” said Halligan.

Launch Blue will host a six-week summer program and a 12-week fall program. The summer program will run July 10 through Aug. 18 with applications opening in May. The fall program will run Sept. 8 through Dec. 1 with applications opening in July.

Anyone interested in participating in the UK I-Corps programming or learning more about it can visit, contact the team at or drop by their weekly virtual office hours on Fridays from 12:30 – 1:30 p.m. EST.

About National Science Foundation Innovation Corps program 
Established in 2011, the I-Corps program is designed to support the commercialization of deep technologies, which grow from discoveries in fundamental science and engineering. Since its inception, more than 1,900 NSF I-Corps teams have participated in the program.

About UK Innovate
UK Innovate at the University of Kentucky is the innovation, entrepreneurship and economic enterprise for University of Kentucky Research. Through technology commercialization, corporate partnerships, social innovation, innovation training and economic development initiatives related to UK’s research innovations, talent and community, UK Innovate works to move ideas into the world faster, where they can make the greatest social and economic impact possible. Learn more at

About Launch Blue
Launch Blue nurtures promising startup founders and university innovators through intensive accelerator and incubator programs. In addition to its accelerators and incubators, Launch Blue offers an annual Demo Day to showcase its participants and other events to contribute to the growing startup ecosystem in Kentucky. Launch Blue has a long list of organizing partners including the University of Kentucky Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC), Awesome Inc., BaseHere, Bluegrass Angels, Bullard, Commerce Lexington, Kentucky SBDC, Marrow and the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation. Its funding partners are OTC, KY Innovation and the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Learn more at

Programs reported in this publication are supported by the National Science Foundation under Award Number 2229521. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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