University of Kentucky’s iNET encouraging commercialization of university research

logo_ukinetEarly on Saturday’s Entrepreneur Immersion Field Trip to Lexington, Mayor Jim Gray said Lexington is “way behind other university cities when it comes to startups,” a trend the city as a whole needs to focus on reversing.

The University of Kentucky is doing just that. A panel from UK’s new iNET program told the field trip audience that by not making a strong effort in the past to commercialize research, the university was leaving a boatload of money on the table.

In 2011, Dan O’Hair, dean of the University of Kentucky’s College of Communication and Information, published a report on nourishing innovation and entrepreneurship at the university level and the commercialization of research.

In this 203-page report, he claimed that “America’s research universities are squandering resources, talent and economic opportunities by succumbing to the ‘valley of death,’ or the inability to transform research into meaningful products and services.”

In order to increase the commercialization of university research, you need to create a culture of entrepreneurial thinking.


Dean Dan O’Hair

Following the publication of the report, O’Hair created the Innovation Network for Entrepreneurial Thinking, better known as iNET, a multi-pronged undergraduate program in leadership and entrepreneurship at UK.

This program was so popular that nine academic deans wrote letters in support.

A panel from iNET spoke to the Entrepreneurs Immersion Field Trip group in Lexington on Saturday: Dean O’Hair; Dr. Derek Lane, iNet Academic Director; and Warren Nash who said he’s the “Tendai (Charasika) in Lexington.” Nash’s position of director at the Lexington Office of the Kentucky Innovation Network is partially funded by the university.

Awesome Inc.’s Brian Raney is the program’s first Entrepreneur in Residence, but he was unable to attend the program.

The iNET program is focused on fostering the entrepreneurial spirit early on and embraces the multidisciplinary opportunities for innovation.

It can start even before college. Some students entering UK are less prepared than their counterparts. For these students, the university offers a Summer Bridge Program, a three or four week class. Dr. Lane said it just made sense to add an entrepreneurial component to these background classes, which they will do starting next summer.

Freshmen with entrepreneurial spirits can get in on the educational opportunities right away. The university’s 25-year-old Living Learning Program, a program that creates themed dorms and brings some of the students’ classes directly to the dorms, added an iNET freshman dorm this year. Twenty freshmen from 16 majors and six colleges (including one international student) and an upperclassman peer mentor are housed in Patterson Hall and moving to Champions Court I next year.

“As part of the community, students learn how to use the Business Model Canvas and the customer discovery process. Learning to develop ideas and potential customers, innovate those ideas, and pivot when necessary, are all important components of becoming an effective entrepreneurial thinker,” Lane said.

iNET now offers an Undergraduate Certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurial Thinking for students from all majors who want to develop their entrepreneurial talents from a multidisciplinary perspective. The program is a 12-hour, four-course curriculum. The Capstone course helps prepare students for the UK Venture Challenge, a startup pitch competition.

At Venture Challenge, undergraduate and graduate teams develop their ideas into potential startup ventures, prepare a written proposal, and pitch their venture to judges from the local entrepreneurial community. The top winning teams — two undergraduate teams and two graduate teams — receive scholarships, and advance to the state competition, Idea State U.

This year’s Venture Challenge competition will be held on March 14.

There was a lot of give and take between the University of Louisville MBA in Entrepreneurship students and the UK contingent. As this program is so new, the panel asked for suggestions from the audience, most of whom are in their second year.

U of L MBA student teams told the UK panel that each team is assigned a third-year law student who handles much of their basic legal work. Many of the U of L students gushed about how helpful this partnership is. The law students get credit for this work; the MBA students save a lot of money.

The UK team took note and a third-year UK Law student who was in the audience agreed to help make a bridge between the two schools.

The of U of L MBA students on the field trip represented the commercialization of university research very strongly. Several members of the Therabracelet team were at the field trip; Therabracelet has licensed U of L medical school innovation to create a device that heightens touch sensation, movement and general motor skills in the hands. Another team had licensed technology from the dental school to commercialize a dental varnish that helps stave off gingivitis.