I spend a lot of time on these pages advocating for an entrepreneurial economy in East Kentucky. If (when!) that comes to fruition, what will it look like?
Last week in Ashland, we saw a few hints when the Kentucky Innovation Network held the first of a series of statewide angel competitions. The event was intended to promote entrepreneurship and angel investing. Angel investment is the nickname for equityinvestment by fairly wealthy individuals in small business, start-ups. Participants competed for cash prizes and the opportunity to attend a final contest for winners statewide.
First up was Charlie Black. Black is a retired military veteran who cut his cooking-teeth in mess halls, “D-Facs” (military dining facilities) and commercial kitchens. As anyone who’s ever spent any time in the military can tell you, soldiers are always looking for shortcuts and solutions to pressing problems. Frustrated with the standard baking sheet, Black began experimenting with a newer version. Ultimately, he designed and patented a sheet with special dimples interspersed throughout. Those dimples allow cookies to be easily removed, thus creating, per Charlie, the perfect baking sheet.
Following Charlie was a team from Evolving Innovations, a company featuring a patented device that counts pills and capsules as a pharmacist or tech fills a given prescription.
One entrepreneur, Brian Endicott, formerly of Inez, but now working as a graphic designer in Lexington, pitched a business for a new moonshine and bourbon business in Winchester. Brian’s idea would link whiskey with historical familiarity of Daniel Boone. Absent a product, his focus is on marketing and brand design, something he excels at.
Another wanted to spin off a brand of sunburn cream that would build on existing name ID of a standard burn cream.
The most out-of-this-world tech on display last week was a proposed venture by Professor Kevin Brown of MSU’s Space Science Center. Brown pitched the idea of creating a series of ground control stations around the world that would interface with the growing universe of small satellites orbiting the earth.
A few common themes jump out at anyone trying to understand these businesses similarity.
First, all the businesses mentioned above rely heavily on intellectual property — patents or trademarks — or highly specialized knowledge. Whether you’re creating a new brand or commercializing a new product, you have to defend it, lest you lose it to whomever can get to market before you.
Another feature is the lack of geography for these ventures. Most Eastern Kentucky businesses are retail and rely heavily on location. These did not, which means they can easily leave if dissatisfied with the region.
Finally, each of the above ventures is highly collaborative. That last feature may pose the most striking difference with the existing business climate in our region.