Category Archives: Small Business

Startups in Lexington

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!


Biotech is Booming in Lexington!

Last week was the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) International Convention. Every year BIO brings biotechnology leaders and innovators together to showcase cutting edge technologies and to offer a week-long opportunity for participants to network and create partnerships. Attendee’s at last year’s convention included over 15,000 people from more than 60 countries, 300+ academic institutions, top 25 pharma companies, top 20 CROs and CMOs, and 1,800 exhibitors.

This year’s convention was held in Philadelphia, and members of the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership (BBDP) were in attendance. The BBDP includes representatives from Commerce Lexington Inc., the University of Kentucky, and the City of Lexington. The BBDP delegation traveled to BIO to advocate for Lexington and Kentucky, to meet with current prospects, and to develop new leads to bring businesses to the Bluegrass.

Lexington is an ideal location for innovative and high-tech companies, largely for its human assets. In fact, 40.1% of Lexingtonians have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is considerably more than the national average of 28.8%. Lexington consistently earns high praise for its educated citizens. In 2014, Lexington was ranked the 23rd Most Educated City by Wallet Hub and the World’s 24th Smartest City by National Geographic. Lexington has also ranked #7 Best City in Terms of Business Cost (2014), #7 Best Midsized City for Jobs (2013), and #17 America’s Top 25 High-Tech Hotspots (2013).

Over 50 biotech companies have chosen to locate in Lexington, but two have recently made the news: AntiOp Inc. and Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals.

AntiOp Inc. founder Daniel Wermeling created an anti-overdose nasal spray to help save lives from heroin overdoses and has sold the life-saving product to the biotech firm Indivior, PLC. Depending on FDA approval, it may be on the market within six months. The FDA has fast-tracked the spray because there is an unmet medical need for heroin overdose treatment and the spray offers an innovative response with several advantages over existing injection-based anti-overdose methods. By removing the need for a needle, Wermeling’s invention can be used quickly, safely, and successfully by pre-hospital responders (i.e., on-the-scene law enforcement, paramedics, or even family members), and reduces the recipient’s risk of contracting hepatitis or HIV.

AntiOp, Inc. received approximately $4.5 million in SBIR/STTR funds to create the overdose antidote ($650,000 was returned because Indivior is not based in Kentucky). Wermeling, a University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy professor, created the life-saving nasal spray with support from the University of Kentucky and over $5 million in federal and state tax workers.

UK’s College of Pharmacy is the 5th Best Pharmacy Program in the nation and is an asset to Lexington. The cutting-edge medical research on disease and drug development performed by the grad students, faculty, and staff has benefited the area and the nation. Graduates enrich the workforce and faculty members have created 25 startup companies since 1989, including Wermeling’s AntiOp.

Another excellent example is Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals, a Lexington-based biotech company that has been honored with the Tibbetts Award. The Tibbetts Award is granted for exemplary technological innovation and SBIR achievement. This year the U.S. Small Business Administration granted the Tibbett Award to six individuals, three supporting organizations, and 23 small businesses, one of which was Transposagen.

Transposagen Biopharmaceuticals is a privately held biotechnology company that specializes in genetic manipulation technologies, stem cell engineering services, and creating genetically modified laboratory rats. Altering the genetic code of rat models allows scientists and researchers to compare modified organisms with normal organisms to better understand gene functions and advance medical research on disease and drug discovery.

“We at Transposagen are dedicated to providing improvements to the nation and to the world through application of our industry-leading genome engineering technologies. Receiving the Tibbetts Award is a great honor and further fuels our drive to produce high-quality, versatile gene editing tools that play a significant role in improving the quality of human life,” said Eric Ostertag, M.D., Ph.D., founder and CEO of Transposagen, reported by Globe Newswire

Last year, Transposagen entered into a multi-million dollar research collaboration and worldwide license agreement with Janssen Biotech, Inc. to develop allogenic cells that may one day be “on the shelf” cancer treatments that will not require a donor-recipient match. Transposagen’s genome editing technologies will be used to create allogenic Chimeric Antigen Receptor T-cells (CAR-T) therapies, and Janssen will pay up to $292 million per CAR-T therapy.

AntiOp, UK’s College of Pharmacy, and Transposagen are only a few examples of Lexington’s thriving business industry and the success that entrepreneurs and small businesses can have here in Lexington.

Kentucky Proud Encourages Local Products

KYProudHopefully, this logo is familiar to you. Ever wondered how products qualify to be Kentucky Proud?

According to the Kentucky Proud Logo Guidelines, products can qualify for the Kentucky Proud program if the major ingredients are grown or processed in Kentucky and if the major ingredients were produced on a farm, production facility, or corporate headquarters located in Kentucky. In addition, all facilities must meet or exceed federal and state regulations.

Kentucky Proud program applicants can apply online or download a PDF of the application. A description of the product and the location in Kentucky where it is grown, processed, or packaged must be provided, with labels, samples, appropriate licenses, health certifications, and/or inspection records submitted in some cases.

The Kentucky Proud program is an easy way to identify products made in Kentucky and to encourage consumers to choose locally grown and locally crafted items. Purchasing Kentucky Proud products helps Kentucky farmers, keeps Kentucky dollars in Kentucky, ensures that food is fresh and nutritious, and reduces how far food and products must travel. Below are only a few examples of Kentucky Proud products:

  • Animals — beef and dairy cattle, eggs, fish and seafood, honey and bees, meat and dairy goats, pigs, poultry, rabbit, sheep
  • Plants — Christmas trees, cut flowers, fruits, hay, herbs, spices, mushrooms, hops, vegetables
  • Grocery items — baked good, beverages, sauces, spirits, wine
  • Other products — crafts, farm equipment, fuel, merchandise, timber, wood products

Kentucky Proud Members receive benefits and access to services such as horticulture marketing grants, promotional grants, free meat grading by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture, funding assistance to enter trade shows, assistance exporting internationally, winery marketing and distribution reimbursement, logo materials at-cost, marketing assistance, and other benefits.

The Kentucky Proud program is administered by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture and use of the Kentucky Proud logo is regulated by KRS 260.017. Only licensed Kentucky Proud participants may use the logo, and the law allows that violators be fined up to $100 per violation per day.


Small Business Week in Kentucky

May 4th through 8th is Small Business Week and with 300,000 small businesses in Kentucky employing almost 750,000 people, Kentucky has proven to be an advantageous and beneficial location for entrepreneurs and innovators.

Small businesses enrich our economy and support job growth here in Lexington, and two state programs have been particularly helpful to our local businesses: the SBIR-STTR Matching Funds Grant Program and the Kentucky Small Business Tax Credit Initiative.

The Kentucky Small Business Tax Credit (KSBTC) helps grow small businesses with less than 50 full time employees by providing an annual tax credit of up to $25,000 to support hiring new employees or making investments in new equipment or technology of at least $5,000.

Kentucky’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)/Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Matching Funds Grant Program aims to help technology-oriented small businesses. SBIR/STTR provides matching funds to support work that goes along with existing Federal SBIR/STTR Awards, up to $150,000 for Phase 1 and up to $500,000 for Phase II. Out-of-state applicants must relocate to Kentucky and maintain Kentucky-based status for at least five years, with at least 51% of the company’s property and payroll in Kentucky, and must spend at least 51% of the grant money in Kentucky.

Since its inception in 2006, 25 companies have relocated to Lexington because of the SBIR/STTR Matching Funds Grant Program, creating 115 new full time jobs and 12 new part time jobs with an average annual wage of $65,000.   In 2014 alone, four high-tech companies were attracted to Lexington because of SBIR grants. These companies created 17 new jobs with an average wave over $80,000.

More information about the Lexington-based organization that helps small businesses can be found here.