SOAR to lead new regional innovation effort for East Kentucky

Shaping Our Appalachian Region, Inc. (SOAR) was chosen as the first leader of one of Kentucky’s newly established hubs to serve, attract and develop more innovative entrepreneurs and startup businesses, Gov. Matt Bevin announced on Tuesday, October 16, 2018.

KY Innovation selected SOAR to head a Regional Innovation for Startups and Entrepreneurs (RISE) consortium as part of its 120-county effort to modernize the way the Kentucky supports high-tech, high-growth potential businesses. RISE Appalachia establishes eight offices throughout the region to leverage technology and the digital economy across creative industries, remote employers, and technology consumers in small business, advanced manufacturing and healthcare/telemedicine. The initiative will receive $456,257 in state funding, which will be matched with $321,739 in cash and $134,517 in-kind services.

“Kentucky is taking a major step forward in the way we support and encourage entrepreneurs to fuel overall economic growth,” Gov. Bevin said. “These new regional clusters, under the leadership of KY Innovation, represent a fresh, innovative approach that will help us to realize our commonwealth’s full potential. Whether you are a small business person with a great idea, a researcher developing a groundbreaking invention or someone poised to solve a challenge for one of our large companies, Kentucky is the best place in America for you to excel at what you do.”

KY Innovation, the state’s initiative supporting businesses founders and growing companies, put out a call in August for proposals to operate a RISE cluster. In all, 13 groups submitted proposals.

Brian Mefford, executive director of KY Innovation, said SOAR was an ideal candidate to help lead the state’s entrepreneurial renaissance in eastern Kentucky.

“RISE is the start of something revolutionary for innovators and small businesses across Kentucky,” Mefford said. “Regional clusters, like the one being led by SOAR, represent a significant shift from a model that treated each part of the state identically to one that recognizes unique strengths and needs of each regions while connecting entrepreneurs to the resources they need, regardless of county boundaries. We are thrilled to launch a new era for Kentucky entrepreneurship in eastern Kentucky. SOAR’s vision stood out because it truly unifies vital resources – from education and workforce development to capital investment and industry engagement – to form a new framework that is built around serving those who will build our future businesses.”

“By clustering regional assets we will strengthen the statewide economy and startup ecosystem,” said Jason Rainey, deputy executive director of KY Innovation. “This allows the state to move past its current prescriptive approach, developed nearly two decades ago, toward a model that capitalizes on each region’s resources, preferences and distinct sector advantages. RISE also represents an unprecedented investment by the state in supporting entrepreneurs and giving them access to expert guidance, capital investment and other resources they need to be succeed and grow.”

This RISE approach fosters partnerships between universities, established companies and industry sectors, entrepreneurs, business accelerator and incubator programs and various other public and private entities. SOAR’s hub includes a consortium of regional leaders from finance and economic development (SBDC, Ky. Highlands Investment Corp., Southeast Kentucky Economic Development, Mountain Association. for Community and Economic Development, Community Trust Bank, Forcht Bank, BB&T), training and talent development (KCTCS colleges, University of Pikeville, Morehead State University, Eastern Kentucky University, Eastern Kentucky Concentrated Employment Program, Inc., and Digital Careers Now), digital marketing (Symbiosis and Bit Source) and media (WYMT, East Ky. Broadcasting, Fairway Outdoor and Forcht Broadcasting).

Jared Arnett, executive director of SOAR, said RISE Appalachia will provide access to resources never before available on this scale in the region.

“We are grateful for this opportunity to partner with the Cabinet for Economic Development and KY Innovation on this project,” said Arnett. “We believe the people of Appalachia Kentucky have the ingenuity, desire, and potential to thrive in a digital and global economy. From advanced manufacturing, arts and creative services, to programming and coding, Appalachia Kentucky is on the right side of the digital divide and stands to benefit greatly from this collaboration. This partnership represents a collaboration unlike any other in rural America. Our approach is about leveraging existing resources and identifying new opportunities to create a unified, responsive, and open environment for people to thrive and for ideas to be nurtured.”

Congressman Hal Rogers, co-founder of SOAR, said coordination with KY Innovation will help both organizations meet their goals and create even more job opportunities.

“SOAR is an ideal partner for Kentucky’s RISE consortium. For the last five years, SOAR has been leading an effective grassroots movement to drive innovation, economic diversification and high-tech opportunities in our Appalachian region,” Congressman Rogers said. “The future is bright in eastern Kentucky and this added partnership with KY Innovation will fast-track business growth and job creation where it’s needed the most.”

Working in collaboration with its consortium partners, SOAR and its business and innovation champions in Pikeville, Ashland, Cumberland, Harlan, Hazard, London, Morehead, and Richmond will provide business development, talent identification and development and visibility through a network of media partners. SOAR’s hub will focus on the following objectives:

Broadband: Making high-speed broadband available to everyone.

Talent: Developing the region’s workforce to be competitive in the digital economy and other emerging industries.

Small Business: Creating more and expand existing small businesses within the region by taking full advantage of the digital economy.

Health: Reducing the physical and economic impact of obesity, diabetes, and substance abuse.

Industry: Increasing the amount of employment which includes advanced manufacturing, aerospace, and other emerging sectors.

Local Foods: Creating a local foods movement by connecting local producers to markets for their products both within and outside of the region.

Tourism: Establishing Appalachia Kentucky as a tourism destination.

KY Innovation will continue to announce awardees in the coming weeks. The office plans to invest more than $4.7 million in funding the regional efforts, more than doubling the funds allocated to the 12 offices of the former Kentucky Innovation Network.

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