Lexington and the Bluegrass Region are a great place for business to locate. Our strategic central location, highly educated workforce, diverse economy, network of colleges and universities, high quality of life, low business costs, and transportation access by road, rail, and sky have attracted major companies to the area, including Toyota, Xerox, Amazon, Valvoline, and many others. However, Lexington is also good at growing companies.
Entrepreneurs can find guidance from many sources in Lexington. To name just a few, the Kentucky Innovation Network, the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership, the Bluegrass Small Business Development Center, Awesome Inc., Lexington Venture Club, 5Across, and Lexington SCORE have helped many entrepreneurs build their startup business.
With the school year just beginning, it seems appropriate to highlight a new initiative to support innovation and encourage entrepreneurship: the University of Kentucky Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship’s Venture Studio.
Venture Studio will provide real-world startup experience for members of the UK community, including undergraduates, graduate students, post docs, faculty, and staff. During Venture Studio Bootcamp, participants will explore a problem and develop a solution — their startup. Throughout the semester, teams will work with mentors, identify customers and procure feedback, perfect an elevator speech about their project/business, create a prototype, understand intellectual property rights, and develop financial, marketing, and sales pitches and projections. At the end of the semester, teams present final pitches to a panel of community investors, who select teams to move onto local, regional, and national business plan competitions in the spring semester, including the UK Venture Challenge, the University of Louisville’s Cardinal Challenge, the Georgia Bowl, the Alltech Innovation Challenge, Idea State U, and Global Venture Investment Labs.
Venture Studio offers three unique benefits.
First, the program gives more advanced students a headstart into the economy and their chosen industry. Participants gain access to angel investors, mentors, client focus groups, financial and marketing experts, resources, and constructive feedback at every stage of their business development. These are scarce and valuable resources that other fledgling entrepreneurs may not have easy access to.
Second, Venture Studio is cross-disciplinary. A team of industry experts may have a brilliant idea but most will need people with other skills, such as finance, software, and legal expertise, to help ensure their startup succeeds. Venture Studio will bring together people of various expertise who may not have otherwise found each other, increasing their startup’s chance of success.
Third, Venture Studio has two subtle built-in advantages: deadlines and expectations. As well intending as every entrepreneur may be, life tends to get in the way. Venture Studio requires weekly attendance, sets goals, and defines tasks, leading teams down the path of creating a startup while holding each responsible for completing each step. This commitment obligates participants to prioritize their startup and sets the framework for achieving the goal of actually creating a business.
University of Kentucky student entrepreneurs have a history of success. Last year, five UK student startups placed in various business plan competitions, including Idea State U, the Alltech Innovation Challenge, Lexington Venture Club, the Cardinal Challenge, and 5Across. These entrepreneurs were MBA Candidates, Pharmacy PhD Candidates, and students from the College of Design, with assistance from professors in the College of Agriculture and the College of Engineering. Their project topics included bio-fuel, food/beverage coloring, mining dust and emission solutions, and enzyme production (Commerce Lexington’s strategic target areas are advanced manufacturing, animal and equine sciences, business and professional services, clean technology, life sciences, software and information technology, and visitor industries).
The University of Kentucky has been a valuable partner in growing Lexington’s workforce and has now created a venue for growing Lexington’s businesses. Check back in a few months for updates!