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2019 Regional Innovation Strategies Competition Seed Fund Support Grantees Announced

On Tuesday, July 23, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross announced the grantees under EDA’s 2019 Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program competition.

This year, 18 Seed Fund Support grantees were funded along with 26 i6 Challenge recipients.

The RIS portfolio represents a catalytic, nationwide program designed to fuel high-growth entrepreneurship and increase access to capital for communities across America.

The Seed Fund Support provides funding for technical assistance to support the creation, launch, or expansion of equity-based, cluster-focused seed funds that invest regionally-managed risk capital in regionally-based startups with a potential for high growth.

The 2019 RIS Notice of Funding Opportunity generated 40 Seed Fund Support applications to the program. The 18 selected award recipients represent a geographically diverse cohort spanning 16 states and two territories, from Alaska to Puerto Rico. This cohort also includes one community college and two seed funds working in Opportunity Zones. In total, the 2019 cohort generated $5.9 million in matching funds from a variety of private and public sector stakeholders, with approximately $5 million in EDA funds to support the programmatic efforts of the projects.

There is growing momentum to catalyze investment in Federally designated Opportunity Zones to bring capital and opportunity to communities bypassed by recent economic growth. In Alabama, the Bronze Valley Corporation is preparing to launch the Empower Alabama Fund, with plans to be a qualified Opportunity Fund with a mission to deploy $5 million in seed stage capital in the greater Birmingham area. The Empower Alabama Fund will prioritize funding for entrepreneurs who have historically been underfunded. Their focus on locally-driven investment in high-growth, technology companies is expected to result in high-quality jobs and greater prosperity for Alabama communities.

The 2019 cohort brought forward compelling proposals to solve the gap in early stage funding for rural entrepreneurs who are increasingly seeing opportunities to connect with global marketplaces and revive their local economy. In West Virginia, the Country Roads Angel Network will address the gap in access to capital by convening seasoned investors to provide flexible start-up capital for entrepreneurs in rural and underserved communities in southern West Virginia. Across the nation in nine communities, the Center on Rural Innovation is creating a Rural Opportunity Fund to deploy capital and stimulate new economy revitalization through their network of rural innovation hubs.

Seed stage capital plays a critical role in developing clean energy technology from concept to commercialization. In Oregon, VertueLab Impact Fund focuses on clean technology innovation that will speed the transition to a sustainable and low-carbon economy in the face of population growth, rapid urbanization, and climate change in the Northwest region. In New York, the Turbo Charge Fund is leading the way in providing capital to develop innovative clean technologies across the state to accelerate clean and renewable energy sources, increase the integration of advanced materials and digital systems, and create smart grid solutions to increase resilience of communities in the face of climate change. Puerto Rico Science, Technology, and Research Trust is empowering Puerto Ricans to create technologies to address natural disaster resilience in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Much of the demand for early stage capital is stemming from their increased pipeline of start-ups nurtured through a previous i6 Challenge award.

Channeling investments toward groundbreaking biomedical companies, the Cincinnati Children’s Impact Investment Fund will look to fund early-stage healthcare and bioscience businesses that improve the health of children. In El Paso, Texas, the Medical Center for the American Foundation will launch the MCA Innovation Fund to invest in biomedical and life sciences technology with the overall goal of improving health care for residents and transforming the region’s economy.

Lastly, the state of Alaska will receive its first SFS grant with support going to the University of Alaska Fairbanks to launch the Alaska Seed Fund which will invest in their arctic cluster of innovation-based, growth-oriented businesses.

The diverse approaches to increasing access to regional risk capital in both urban and rural communities makes this an inspiring cohort to follow. We remain excited to see the impact of these catalytic investments on regional economies across America.

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