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Connect. Inform. Inspire.

by AccelerateKY

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As our state—and the world—finds our way out of the throes of a global pandemic, there has never been a more opportune time for us to think differently about the future of work in our state, and collaborate to find new ways to support innovation in the Commonwealth. This gathering will host that conversation.

Connect. Inform. Inspire. will feature a keynote from Dr. Phil Budden with the MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (MIT REAP), who will talk about the program and Kentucky's participation as the first U.S. region to ever complete it. The event will also feature remarks from other MIT collaborators, as well as lightning talks from a range of innovative Kentuckians from across business sectors, across regions of the Commonwealth, and across entrepreneur, corporate, risk capital, government, research, and education sectors. Additional details about the agenda is below.

Attendees will meet fellow leaders as passionate about the future of the economy in the Commonwealth as they are; learn a range of approaches and case studies shared at the event; and return to their own work equipped with new strategies, tactics, and relationships to apply in their organization, in their community, and across Kentucky. And, together, we will think about how we can collaborate across our organizations to build an even stronger environment for supporting innovation in the Bluegrass State.

AccelerateKY’s Connect. Inform. Inspire. is hosted by the Western Kentucky University Innovation Campus, with support from the Central Region Innovation and Commercialization Center, a regional hub office of the KY Innovation network. The main conference will take place at WKU’s Knicely Conference Center at 2355 Nashville Road in Bowling Green KY.

Connect. Inform. Inspire. follows WKU Conference Services event guidelines and safety practices in light of COVID-19 in order to protect WKU’s campus community of students, faculty, staff, and guest. A mask is required at the event. The event venue will, at maximum, be filled to only half capacity to allow for maintaining appropriate distancing. We ask that all guests comply with all posted health and safety guidelines, including frequent hand washing and/or use of provided hand sanitizer. All furniture and equipment has been cleaned and sanitized prior to our conference, and all staff is required as well to wear masks and to adhere to health safety guidelines. Do not attend if experiencing any symptoms or if you have potentially been exposed to someone with COVID-19.


9 a.m.-10 a.m.: Introduction: MIT Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program

In a series of lightning talks, MIT professor Dr. Phil Budden of the MIT REAP, Dr. Alison Davis from the University of Kentucky’s Community and Economic Development Initiative of Kentucky (CEDIK), Pikeville-based entrepreneur Rusty Justice, KY Innovation Executive Director Tony Ellis, AccelerateKY’s Sam Ford, and the Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation's Maria Labreveux will talk about the MIT REAP program, Kentucky’s participation as the first U.S. region to go through the program 2018-2020, and activities coming out of that program. MIT Vice President for Research Dr. Maria Zuber will also give virtual remarks to the conference.

10 a.m.- 12 p.m.: Connect.

      A series of lightning talks will focus on the theme of connecting—across stakeholder groups and across regions of the Commonwealth. 

  • Empire Builders’ Vince Edwards talks about his work on supporting the development of a diverse and inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Kentucky.
  • Natalia Bishop from the University of Louisville is going to talk about their efforts to invest in underestimated founders and connect them with the resources they need to thrive.
  • Scott Koloms from Canopy will share his work on connecting Kentucky businesses and stakeholders around the Commonwealth becoming leaders in the business for good movement. 
  • Sheltowee’s Alex Day will talk about his experiences in risk capital, the need for connecting people across stakeholder groups to support entrepreneurs, and one of his new initiatives to do that. 
  • A team from Nova Scotia will share with us what they learned from going through the MIT REAP process a few years before Kentucky, and what they’ve done to build on that investment. 
  • Lexmark’s Luke Ramsay and Awesome Inc. Innovation Incubated’s Mike Hilton will share a case study for corporate innovation—the Great Kentucky Think-Off. 
  • And Logan Aluminum’s Vijay Kamineni will talk about what he learned from the MIT REAP process and how it applies to corporate innovation—and, in particular, the importance of cross-stakeholder industry clusters.

12-12:30 p.m.: Lunch

12:30-2:20 p.m.: Inform

A series of lightning talks will focus on informing those in attendance about interesting research, initiatives, and programs—in Kentucky, and beyond. Over the next two hours, we will hear about:

  • A banking program for entrepreneurs lacking sufficient collateral from KY Innovation’s Marilyn LeBourveau
  • The importance of Anti-Fragile Principles from MIT REAP faculty member Bill Aulet
  •  The vision for Shaping Our Appalachian Region and the central importance of access to broadband internet in rural Kentucky to achieve that vision from SOAR’s director, Colby Hall
  • Thoughts on the work of the future and Kentucky innovation from one of the world’s leading roboticists, MIT professor Dr. Daniela Rus
  • Innovation in far Western Kentucky and the work of the Kentucky Procurement Technical Assistance Center from KSTC’s Frank Bennett
  • The importance of the artisanal economy, and innovative Kentuckians working in the artisanal movement, from cultural anthropologist Dr. Grant McCracken
  • And the story of how one small Kentucky city built a best-in-class entertainment venue through vision and persistence from Beaver Dam, Kentucky, Mayor Paul Sandefur

2:20-4:20 p.m.: Inspire.

The final portion of the day will focus on inspiring stories and projects here in Kentucky that will hopefully help motivate all our work. Those presentations include:

  •  the leadership of MIT’s Open Documentary Lab, talking about their innovation work on telling non-fiction stories with new technologies and new methods—and how it all relates to the work they’re doing on exploring stories of the Future of Work in Kentucky
  • the non-profit Kentucky to the World, our media partners today, sharing the work they’ve done to share the stories of extraordinary people with Kentucky roots
  •  Dr. Elijah Jansen, explaining some of the work happening in Morehead State University’s Space Science Center
  • John Justice and Traci Tackett from CEDAR in Appalachian Kentucky, highlighting their initiatives bringing the future of work, entrepreneurship, innovation, and computational thinking to K-12 classrooms in Eastern Kentucky
  • And Western Kentucky University’s Buddy Steen, giving a preview of the innovative programs being built at the WKU Innovation Campus


This final session will culminate in Dr. Phil Budden from MIT REAP’s closing address.


4:30 p.m. 


Following the keynote, a closing networking session—with the option for ad hoc tours—will take place across the road from the event at the WKU Innovation Campus’ main facility, at 2413 Nashville Road.

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Date And Time

Friday, Oct 15, 2021

09:00 - 17:00 Central Time


2355 Nashville Road
Bowling Green, KY 42101
United States|US