• Article
  • Apr 03 2024

2024 Kentucky Innovator Challenge to focus on materials, health care, circular economy

The inaugural Kentucky Innovator Challenge in 2023 brought together leaders from business, service organizations and higher education to identify Kentucky's challenges and find solutions to them. Photo by Amani Nichae | Honeysage Photo Co.

The University of Kentucky is set to host the second annual Kentucky Innovator Challenge (KIC) on Thursday, April 11 starting at 8:30 a.m. in Ballrooms 212 A&B in the Gatton Student Center.

The one-day summit will bring together leaders from business, service organizations and higher education to identify the most pressing challenges facing Kentucky that are best solved through collaborative research and innovation economic development.

“We are so excited to be hosting another Kentucky Innovator Challenge after receiving so much enthusiasm and support from last year’s inaugural event,” said Landon Borders, senior associate director for innovation economic development and industry partnerships for UK Innovate and executive director of Innovation Connect.

“This event aims to inspire. Bottom line. To inspire our researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs to work together to solve the most pressing problems our Kentucky businesses are facing. To inspire new relationships, collaborations and business engagements. To inspire research and innovation economic development outcomes that will make the biggest impact on Kentucky,” said Borders.

KIC 2024 is free and open to anyone interested in attending. Registration is online and the full agenda for the event can be found here.

This event was developed to forge new relationships and lay the groundwork for innovative solutions addressing the problems of Kentucky by leveraging business and academic partners.

KIC 2024 will have three unique tracks attendees can participate in throughout the day: Materials Enabling the Future of Kentucky, Innovations Advancing a Healthier Kentucky and Creating a Circular Economy in Kentucky.

Industry leaders set to speak on materials include:

  • Anil Yadav, North American Stainless vice president, operations

  • Doug Smith, Fischer Homes senior vice president, operations

  • Ron Gregorsok, Fischer Homes, director, supply chain management

  • Roger England, Valvoline vice president and chief R&D officer, Valvoline Global Operations

“Manufacturing is one of Kentucky’s top industries and advances in materials are crucial for continued success,” said John Balk, Ph.D., director of the Materials Science Research Priority Area. “We are excited to see the Kentucky Innovator Challenge once again recognize the need for materials and dedicate a space to continue the conversation, build partnerships and capitalize on this robust area of expertise here at UK.”  

Summer Goldman, the COO of the Metals Innovation Initiative (MI2) will also introduce funding sources relevant to this track.

Industry leaders focused on health innovations include:

  • Lisa Morsman, UPS health care managing director, health care solutions

  • Gaylene Anderson, Boehringer Ingelheim U.S. director, strategic research relationships

  • Danielle Harmon, Appalachian Regional Healthcare system director, community development

"We are thrilled to have a track focused on research, innovations and partnerships for enabling a healthier Kentucky this year,” said Chelsea Ex-Lubeskie, Innovate Connect manager for the College of Medicine. “These companies and funding agencies will touch on opportunities for collaboration in six of our Research Priority Areas that span our life sciences and health care colleges.”

Stephanie Fertig, director of the National Institutes of Health’s small business program, will provide participants in this track an introduction to funding resources.

Industry leaders to share economic insights include:

  • Joshua Ravenscraft, New Frontier CEO and co-founder

  • Jared Ravenscraft, New Frontier COO and co-founder

  • Fran Lockwood, Solar Energy Solutions president

  • Ana Carolina Félix, Dow business sustainability director, Dow consumer solutions

  • Rob Samuels, Maker’s Mark managing director

“Including a track on circular economy is quite timely and very relevant. Following on our announcement of a new Materials Science Research Priority Area and an NSF Regional Innovation Engine Development Award focused on circular economy manufacturing, UK is building on its strengths of sustainable manufacturing, decarbonization and carbon-based products, and materials recovery and reuse, to tackle an important part of the waste management and emissions problem through circular design and new technologies. We hope that any company and UK researcher focused on advancing sustainability goals will find this track of high interest,” said Ian McClure, associate vice president for research, innovation and economic impact, and executive director of UK Innovate.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Eric Smith, who directs the tech hub program, will give an overview of funding resources in this area.

In addition to keynote addresses and networking opportunities, attendees will also have the opportunity to listen to a panel focused on Achieving Health Equity in Kentucky. Panelists include:

  • Nancy Schoenberg, Center for Health Equity Transformation (CHET) director, associate vice president for research, health disparities

  • Stacey Finster, Healthy founder and CEO

  • Stephanie Davis, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), small business program lead

  • Serenity Wright, Office of Technology Commercialization, associate director, social innovation

  • Robert Bunn, UltraSound AI, founder and CEO