KU Innovation Park wins $50,000 award from U.S. Small Business Administration to support inclusive entrepreneurship

On September 16, 2021, the U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman named KU Innovation Park one of 84 winners of the Growth Accelerator Fund Competition. The award recognizes entrepreneur support organizations that provide targeted assistance to launch, grow, and scale high-tech small businesses. Winners were selected based on proposals for innovative ideas that inclusively support entrepreneurs researching and developing STEM-related innovations.

“This award recognizes KU Innovation Park’s commitment to supporting and growing innovative companies in a manner that proactively supports entrepreneurs from underserved and underrepresented populations, including women and people of color, within our region,” says LaVerne Epp, Executive Chairman of the KU Innovation Park. “SBA has been a great supporter of our efforts to build an engine of economic growth, and we’re grateful for their continued support.”

Funds from this award will augment KU Innovation Park’s provision of business services through its existing incentive fund, a portion of which is provided by the City and County and is allocated specifically towards supporting women-owned and minority-owned startups. Funding is used to subsidize participation in the Park’s ‘Virtual Tenant Program’ which includes access to shared workspaces, mentorship and counsel, grant assistance, general business administrative support, and technical support through the Park’s student business analyst program.

“We recognize the important role that our enterprise plays in ensuring equitable access to business planning and development services for early-stage startups and entrepreneurs,” says Epp. “Success in innovation inherently requires a diversity of thought, which demands a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds.” 

Currently, approximately 40% of the companies in the KU Innovation Park system were founded or are owned by women and people of color. 

Competitors were required to submit a presentation deck and a 90-second video to describe their overall plan for an award, including their work with targeted entrepreneur groups, experience with STEM/R&D, and implementation plans for the prize funds. Applications were judged by panels of experts from the private and public sectors with experience in early-stage investment, entrepreneurship, academia, startups, and economic development.  

KU Innovation Park has recently transitioned from the Bioscience & Technology Business Center. While the organization’s core mission has remained the same, its broadened long-term vision will result in an even greater impact on the Northeast Kansas regional economy. The Park, located on KU’s West Campus, along with its West Lawrence Expansion Facility, and University of Kansas Med Center Incubator in Kansas City is home to 60 companies that directly employ 455 individuals in high-paying STEM jobs.