As the coronavirus continues to take a toll on the nation’s economy, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development is pumping money into a new initiative aimed at supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs.

KY Innovation – the CED’s office for entrepreneurial and small business support – has authorized $2.6 million in funding to six public-private partnerships throughout the state, including one in Bowling Green.

The Central Region Innovation and Commercialization Center, which is housed in Western Kentucky University’s Center for Research and Development on Nashville Road, is one of the six partnerships being funded through the Regional Innovation for Startups and Entrepreneurs program.

The others are in Pikeville, Covington, Paducah, Lexington and Louisville.

A news release from Gov. Andy Beshear said the six regional RISE locations will serve all 120 Kentucky counties and employ a strategy to “unite each area’s most powerful economic drivers.”

Beshear acknowledged the need for supporting entrepreneurship during the economic downturn.

“There is no more important time than now for the state to reinvest in resources that help our entrepreneurs, innovators, small businesses and startups,” he said. “We know these people and their businesses represent a critical part of Kentucky’s economic backbone.”

Jeff Hook, CRICC executive director and director of WKU’s Center for Research and Development and Small Business Accelerator, said the RISE initiative ties in with the work the CRICC has been doing for nearly two decades.

“Our mission when we were established many years ago was to support entrepreneurship throughout the region,” Hook said.

Hook said the CRICC functions as a business development resource that can connect fledgling businesses to funding, technical resources or coaching.

The affiliation with RISE will give his office more resources, Hook said. He plans to add a third member to his staff and also increase outreach to resources available through WKU, the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce and other partners.

Hook has some resources close at hand. The CRICC office is housed in the same building as WKU’s Small Business Accelerator, which can act as a business incubator that provides low-cost office space for business startups.

“Typically, clients of the Small Business Accelerator are clients of CRICC as well,” Hook said. “It’s an asset that can be leveraged by some entrepreneurs in the early stages of their business.

“We try to evaluate the needs of early-stage businesses and some mature businesses and help accelerate the growth of those companies.”

Another close-at-hand resource is the Small Business Development Center, also located in the Center for Research and Development. Dormant since WKU stopped its funding match last year, the SBDC is being resurrected by the Kentucky Small Business Development Center.

Because of its affiliation with the U.S. Small Business Administration, the SBDC can be a resource for helping aspiring entrepreneurs find funding and other SBA resources.

Earlier this year, a coalition of local counties and industrial authorities came up with enough funding to restart the SBDC. Now, Kentucky SBDC Director Kristina Joyce is planning to use some funding from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act to fund the hiring of staff.

In an email message this week, Joyce said she plans to announce the hiring of two business coaches for the Bowling Green SBDC as early as next week.

– More information about KY Innovation and the RISE program can be found at

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