Sam Ford, executive director, AccelerateKY

Sam Ford, executive director, AccelerateKY

Connect. Inform. Inspire. Those are the words behind the mission of AccelerateKY, a nonprofit that grew out of a series of projects done with MIT starting in 2017. The goal for AccelerateKY is to be the central place where Kentuckians—from entrepreneur, corporate, education, risk capital, government and other economic support communities—can collaborate on initiatives that strengthen the Bluegrass State’s capacity for innovation.

Kentucky to the World is a storytelling partner of AccelerateKY, through their new “Kentucky: Resilience in the Face of Economic Change” initiative. We spoke to Sam Ford, AccelerateKY’s executive director, about his collaboration with Kentucky to the World and how storytelling can help build a new economy for the Commonwealth.

Let’s first talk about AccelerateKY and how that began.

Ford: A few years back, I was working with some labs at MIT. We got into conversations about the future of work. One MIT faculty member, who was heading off to give a talk in Silicon Valley, said it seemed like when people talk about the future, it’s in a negative way about jobs being lost instead of jobs being created.

I said, it’s hard to be excited about the future if you don’t think you’re in it. She asked what I meant and I said, ‘You’re going to Silicon Valley to give this talk. Why not Kentucky where there are all sorts of innovative things happening?’

A team of us ended up going through a program at MIT called the Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program (MIT REAP) and formed AccelerateKY coming out of that. We’re trying to figure out how we in Kentucky go from trying to play catch up from all of the change that’s happened to our economy. We’re working on forward-facing things that are about resilience. At some point, we have to figure out how to quit playing defense and start playing offense.

How did you come to be involved in Kentucky to the World?

Ford: One of the goals at AccelerateKY is to connect people across stakeholder groups across different regions of the state and interested partners outside our state’s borders. In the process of doing that, I met the folks at Kentucky to the World. It’s a nonprofit that’s been around for almost a decade now, with a mission to elevate Kentucky’s intellectual and cultural reputation through sharing stories of Kentuckians who’ve done inspiring things. They saw what we’d been doing with the MIT REAP program and they said they wanted to start telling more stories of inspiring things that Kentuckians are doing in response to economic change.

Then they kicked off the ‘Kentucky: Resilience in the Face of Economic Change’ initiative. I’m working with them to help share these stories.

What impact do you hope Kentucky to the World will have?

Ford: AccelerateKY is not built around an expertise in storytelling. The people involved are in higher ed, entrepreneurship or risk capital, etc. This partnership was win-win for us. If we can take some of what AccelerateKY and Kentucky to the World are doing together, then we can reach a lot of audiences we normally wouldn’t.

Kentucky is a table, but all of our chairs are faced outward. How do we turn our chairs around and start talking across the table to one another? Kentucky to the World has an expertise in telling stories about the Bluegrass state.

Somebody told me once that you can never convince an executive of anything unless it has a dollar sign. That’s true. But if you tell them a story and back it up with some narrative, then you really have their attention. Kentucky culture has baked into it a natural inclination not to brag.

That’s admirable in many ways, but that hurts when people have done something really innovative that others can learn from. They don’t do enough to share what they’ve learned with people in other places. That’s why I’m glad Louisville Future is here as an organization—you provide an outlet for people to tell their stories.

AccelerateKY is hosting the Connect. Inform. Inspire. event in Bowling Green on Friday, October 15, 2021. More information here.

Reader note: we covered AccelerateKY board member Rusty Justice last week in a feature story about developing tech talent.