UK Happenings

UK, Commerce Lexington Partner on SPARK Angel Investor Summit Sept. 28

photo of SPARK logo

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 19, 2018) Angel investors and startup entrepreneurs from across Kentucky and the midwestern U.S. will convene in Lexington on Friday, Sept. 28, for the 2018 SPARK Angel Investor Summit. The event is organized by Commerce Lexington Inc. and the University of Kentucky Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship’s Lexington Innovation Office, part of the Gatton College of Business and Economics. The Hyatt Regency in downtown Lexington is the location for the summit which will run from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Investors, entrepreneurs, service providers and government officials will give presentations related to entrepreneurship, startups and angel investing. Startup entrepreneurs from throughout Kentucky will present in an expo space at the event. A detailed agenda for the event is available here.

A session titled "Filling the Pipeline," moderated by Brian Raney, CEO of Lexington’s Awesome Inc, will review recent developments in startup best practices and the role that accelerator programs, such as the Awesome Fellowship, and university-based entrepreneurship programs play in helping startup entrepreneurs move from the idea stage to an investment-ready startup. Eric Castlen, associate director/technology commercialization and licensing team for UK’s Office of Technology Commercialization, and Warren Nash, executive director of the Von Allmen Center, will serve as panelists.

Former Lexmark executive and UK Adjunct Professor in Entrepreneurship David Goodnight will deliver the event’s keynote address, titled "The Impact of Angel Investing on the Kentucky Economy." Goodnight is an angel investor, active member, leader and fund manager of Lexington’s Bluegrass Angels investor group, and lead instructor for the “Entrepreneur & Business Startups” class in the Gatton College’s MBA program.

“My address will follow the story of Smart Farm Systems, one of Central Kentucky’s most exciting startups,” Goodnight said. “Their story was made possible by the growth of the Kentucky startup ecosystem in recent years to support an early stage, high-risk venture like Smart Farm. Additionally, with Smart Farm and other startup stories in Kentucky, the value of angel investors as active board members, advisors and mentors, in addition to financial backers, is apparent. Kentucky startups are inventing the future, and they are creating employment opportunities, tax revenue and new wealth for Kentucky.”

A Mock Fund Manager session, led by Lexington entrepreneur Brian Luftman, will provide attendees a behind-the-scenes look at investors’ decision processes in evaluating an investment in a startup company. Luftman, an active angel investor and startup mentor, is a member of Lexington’s Bluegrass Angels investor group, where he serves as a leader and fund manager.

“As directors, we invest a lot of time and effort in due diligence, learning about the company, the technology, the market and the team before we invest any money in a company,” Luftman said. “Our panel for this session has infinite experience in making angel investments, and it is exciting that the SPARK Summit audience will get a sneak peak at how those discussions unfold, highlighting the factors that ultimately lead a group of directors to make investment decisions.” 

Lexington’s Chris Young, chair of the Bluegrass Angels investor group and associated venture funds, will moderate a session about investment funds. The panel will feature two non-Kentucky investment groups: M25 (Chicago) and the JumpFund (Chattanooga, Tennessee). M25, represented by Managing Director Victor Gutwein, is a micro-venture capital fund investing exclusively in the Midwest. Melissa Aldridge, will represent the JumpFund, a regional venture fund investing women’s capital in female-led early stage and growth technology companies. The panel will also include Kentucky’s newest angel investment group, Lexington-based Base110 Ventures, represented by Tim Guthrie. All three groups have invested in Kentucky startups.

Brian Mefford, executive director of KY Innovation, the Office of Entrepreneurship at the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development (CED), will participate in a "Government and Entrepreneurship" session to share the cabinet’s vision for supporting Kentucky entrepreneurs and investors. CED’s entrepreneurship support includes funding programs of interest to university startups, such as the nationally recognized Kentucky SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) Matching Funds program and a recently announced Federal and State Technology (FAST) partnership award from the U.S. Small Business Administration.

The day will conclude with a session titled "Creating an Enduring Investment Group," which will be moderated by Dean Harvey, the retired executive director of the UK Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship. Harvey, who was pivotal to establishment of Lexington’s Bluegrass Angels investor group in the mid-2000s, will lead a discussion related to attracting new members with new ideas and experiences to angel investment groups. Lexington’s annual award recognizing contributions to the entrepreneurial community is named in Harvey’s honor. UK lecturer and experienced investor Jon Chait will serve as a panelist. Chait has C-level experience in Fortune 500 companies, practiced law for 14 years specializing in mergers and acquisitions, is a member of Chicago’s Hyde Park Angels and a new member of Lexington’s Bluegrass Angels. He will share his perspective on the Kentucky startup and investment community compared to Chicago.

“Having regional investors, startups, entrepreneurs and government officials together in one room — at events like the SPARK Angel Investor Summit — networking and sharing best practices is an essential element of the startup and angel investment ecosystems,” said Eric Hartman, director of the UK Lexington Innovation Office and one of the event organizers.

“Entrepreneurship is a key component of economic development,” said Gina Greathouse, executive vice president at Commerce Lexington Inc. “Our team works hand-in-hand with our partners at the University of Kentucky and the Cabinet for Economic Development on events like the SPARK Summit to continue to improve our startup ecosystem with companies, investors, higher education and more.”

The SPARK Angel Investor Summit costs $100 to attend the full day and is open to the public. The deadline to register is Sept. 25. Registration is required to attend. Anyone interested in the event may learn more or register online here.

Early-stage startup entrepreneurs may apply for the SPARK Entrepreneur’s Scholarship to receive a 50 percent discounted rate on event registration. A limited number of scholarships are available. Interested entrepreneurs may apply here.

SPARK, Lexington’s premier startup education and networking series, is a collaboration between Commerce Lexington Inc. and the University of Kentucky. SPARK programs are supported by sponsorships from 13 local businesses and organizations. The 2018 SPARK sponsors are: Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, Bluegrass Angels, Chase Bank, UK Coldstream Research Campus, Commonwealth Seed Capital, D3 Investments, Dean Dorton Allen Ford PLLC, Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center, Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, King & Schickli PLLC, Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC, Think Kentucky (Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development) and xMINIMUS.

UK is the University for Kentucky. At UK, we are educating more students, treating more patients with complex illnesses and conducting more research and service than at any time in our 150-year history. To read more about the UK story and how you can support continued investment in your university and the Commonwealth, go to: uky.edu/uk4ky. #uk4ky #seeblue