LIGHTS program supports Appalachian entrepreneurs during first year of operations

Friday, February 2, 2018
The Leveraging Innovation Gateways and Hubs Toward Sustainability (LIGHTS) program helped dozens of new and existing businesses, launched entrepreneurship programs and developed a network of economic development partnerships in Appalachia during its first year of operations, the program reports.
Celebrating its one-year anniversary, LIGHTS, established by Ohio University in 2016 with a $2 million grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission’s Partnerships for Opportunities and Workforce and Economic Revitalization (POWER) program, serves a 28-county region in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky. The university’s Innovation Center in Athens and Spark 560 (formerly the Muskingum County Business Incubator) in Zanesville are the program hubs.
LIGHTS and its regional partners assisted 57 startup and existing business clients with 133 employees during its first year. Those companies have revenues of more than $33 million, with total annualized wages of $1.57 million. The program also hosted 70 entrepreneurship and making events with 1,688 participants.
“The LIGHTS program is an example of our commitment to economic and quality of life change for Appalachia, which is one of my strategic priorities for OHIO,” said University President M. Duane Nellis. “By working to strengthen our connection with the communities we serve, we lead the way for innovation and other strategic support.”
Accomplishments during year one of the program include:
  • LIGHTS and the Ross Foundation formed Mid-Ohio Valley Innovates, a network of local development districts, civic organizations, K-12 and higher education entities, library systems, philanthropic groups and other community members interested in advancing innovation in the neighboring counties of Washington County, Ohio, and Wood County, W. Va.
  • In partnership with another Appalachian Regional Commission funded program, LIGHTS helped launch the Building Bridges to Careers Epicenter, which is now open with four clients in Marietta. The Epicenter is designed to connect high school and college students with entrepreneurs-in-residence. LIGHTS assisted with grant writing, site selection and the implementation of best practices. The Epicenter hopes to expand its facility and feature a makerspace in future phases of the project.
  • Construction of a new makerspace in the Athens community is under way, projected to open in early 2018. In addition, the Athens-based Innovation Center is expanding its 3D printing and training capabilities this fall.
  • LIGHTS assisted the Somerset Innovation Gateway, Lawrence County and the Shawnee State Business Accelerator with grant writing, feasibility study plans, legal and business consulting services to help develop and advance economic development programs in these locations.
  • Spark 560 and the IDEA Lab, a makerspace at Zane State College, implemented a joint partnership program, which allowed them to serve more Zanesville-area entrepreneurs. Zanesville hosted its first Startup Weekend, an event designed to help entrepreneurs work through business concepts and study market feasibility. Twelve business ideas were pitched, four teams were formed and at least two are developing their project further, including by getting a product into local stores.
Idea-Lab-Image“LIGHTS has been a critical part of the experience here,” said Shmuel Roth, director of Spark 560.
LIGHTS has provided funding, operational support, consulting services and expertise to clients on manufacturing and product design issues, Roth said. In addition, the Zanesville incubator has benefited from being part of a regional network of entrepreneurship programs that have provided new ideas and support for its efforts.
“Having a shared vision of the region is much more powerful,” Roth said.
LIGHTS has worked with a diverse group of entrepreneurs and businesses in the 28-county region, including a number of machine or fabrication shops and startups seeking to prototype and test new products, said Jennifer Simon, executive director of regional innovation for the LIGHTS program. The LIGHTS staff helps entrepreneurs understand and identify the correct market for their product ideas and connect them to the necessary resources and funding to move forward. The program not only works with new startups, but existing businesses seeking to expand into new markets and reach different consumers, Simon noted.
“Across the region, people want to have a diversified economy,” Simon said. “They see the extractive industries as one part of the economic reality, but they see that without diversification, they will be continuously mired in low economic success. I see a lot of excitement over doing something new.”
For more information about LIGHTS, visit https://www.lightsregionalinnovation.com/.
 
Contact: Andrea Gibson, (740) 597-2166, gibsona@ohio.edu.