UofL, partners launch new regional hub for research-backed innovation

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By Baylee Pulliam

The University of Louisville and partners have received $15 million from the National Science Foundation to launch a new regional hub aimed at accelerating product innovation, entrepreneurship and economic development. 

The new NSF Mid-South Innovation Corps (I-Corps) Hub, one of only 10 across the U.S., is part of the operational backbone of the NSF’s National Innovation Network, which helps translate academic research for the marketplace. The Hubs are charged with providing experiential entrepreneurship training to researchers across all fields of science and engineering while working to build diverse and inclusive regional innovation ecosystems.

The MidSouth Hub is a collaboration among nine regional research universities, led by Vanderbilt University and including UofL, George Mason University, Jackson State University, Meharry Medical College, Tennessee State University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Tennessee – Knoxville and the University of Virginia. As part of the Hub, UofL will receive $1 million over five years to support focused product development and training. 

“As a top-tier, Carnegie Research-1 university, UofL has a strong track record as a driver of technological innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Kevin Gardner, executive vice president for research and innovation. “We are excited to work with our Mid-South Hub partner institutions to accelerate that work, furthering important and often life-saving technologies, launching new growth-focused companies and creating opportunity here and beyond.” 

UofL’s role in the new hub follows years of leadership as a member of NSF’s I-Corps Site Program. UofL was named an I-Corps Site in 2015, the first in Kentucky, and has since awarded product development training and microgrants to more than 250 innovative faculty, staff and students.

Those awards have supported the creation of at least 16 new companies, eight intellectual property licensing agreements and more than $8 million in follow-on funding secured to further product development. Several UofL teams also have been selected to participate in the competitive I-Corps National TEAMS program, each receiving $50,000 to further develop technologies that could improve health care through artificial intelligence, extend the shelf-life of donated blood and more. 

“Our goal is to take these brilliant research-backed ideas out of the lab and develop them into full-fledged, market-ready products that can improve the way we live and work,” said Will Metcalf, an associate vice president for research and innovation and a lead for the UofL program. “Participating in the new Mid-South Hub dramatically expands our ability to support the development and growth of scalable companies that bring ideas to life.”  

UofL’s I-Corps programming is led by UofL New Ventures in the Office of Research and Innovation, and includes entrepreneurial mentors, prototyping support and LaunchIt, UofL’s eight-week product innovation bootcamp. The office strives to launch and scale innovative companies that can bring technologies to market and solve big problems.

I-Corps is part of UofL’s unique suite of prestigious, grant-backed programs aimed at supporting the translation of research into viable commercial products. UofL is one of only a handful of universities in the country to host each of these innovation-associated programs — and it’s the only one to receive all of them.

“These programs have helped support a wide range of technologies and teams, helping them learn the product development process and lens,” said Jessica Sharon, director of innovation programs and a lead on the UofL Hub program. “Through this new Hub, we are very excited to work with our regional partner universities to train more innovators and get research-backed products to market.”

Read on UofLNews.com here.