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A bureau within the U.S. Department of Commerce


Blog Post

Regional Innovation Strategies provides grant for inclusion in startup communities

White House Demo Day, hosted August 4 by President Obama, was not the typical startup accelerator demo day. Instead of pitching to investors, start-ups came to the White House to showcase diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Supporting the idea that ‘ideas can come from anywhere,’ the President announced a list of commitments by private and public partners to help drive inclusion in the industry. The high-energy event emphasized the value and imperative to our country for getting ‘all hands on deck.’ One of these elements is the Regional Innovation Strategies Program competition, which includes ten million dollars to support two grant opportunities.

The first of those is the i6 Challenge, a national competition for projects that support the commercialization of innovative ideas with special consideration for projects that provide services to rural areas and create specific outreach plans to underrepresented communities in innovation.

The second, Seed Fund Support, provides operational funding to support feasibility, planning, formation, or launch of cluster-based seed capital funds that are offered to innovation-based, growth-oriented start-up companies in exchange for equity. Projects that reach out to underrepresented communities and populations and measure the effectiveness of that outreach will receive special consideration.

In order to get word out to communities around the country, the Director of the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the US Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration Julie Lenzer recently hosted a twitter chat featuring thought leaders including Brad Feld, the author of Start-up Communities and Steve Case, CEO of Revolution and co-founder of AOL. Revolution began ten years ago as an attempt to address changing technology and public policy that made start-ups viable in cities outside of Silicon Valley, Boston or New York City.

The Economic Development Administration’s chat helped amplify the importance of local communities to start-ups as well, building on a theme Kirk has stressed in presentations she’s given around the country - that it takes a community of support for entrepreneurs to be successful. “It’s so imperative for our country in general that we continue to amp up and support entrepreneurship and innovation,” says Kirk.

The Nashville Entrepreneur Center recently hosted the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Startup Global Seminar, encouraging startups to ‘go global’ and move into the international market and showcasing local and federal government resources available that can clarify and expedite the export process. Access to the relationships and connections from those offices is a huge help for entrepreneurs.

As a former entrepreneur herself, Kirk recognizes the need for public and private partnership and sees promise in the innovation and diversity of thought occurring in the federal government. She sees the resources, such as the Regional Innovation Strategies grant, as a catalyst for job creation, but is careful to add, “at the end of the day, we don’t create jobs. We create and support the environment around which jobs can be created, but it’s really up to the private sector to jump in and do that.” All the same, Julie wishes resources that are available now had been there when she was building her company. “Maybe it wouldn’t have been so lonely,” she speculates.

The relationship between the public and private sector is a conversation Nashville’s Entrepreneur Center has facilitated at several recent conferences and events, including Launch Tennessee's 36|86 event, which brought together southern startups, investors, and business leaders. Also most recently the Nashville EC participated as a community partner to Jumpstart Foundry’s Healthcare Innovation Conference.

Those building diverse and innovative entrepreneurial communities can apply to the Regional Innovation Strategies grant on the Economic Development Administration’s website, eda.gov/oie/ris but act fast - the deadline is October 5th. Stay informed with the EDA and associated funding opportunities on the website, subscribe to the newsletter, or follow @us_eda on Twitter.

This interview was done in collaboration with The Nashville Entrepreneurship Story show. Interview conducted by Clark Buckner.