YPEK celebrates entrepreneurs, offers help

Ralph B. Davis rdavis@civitasmedia.com

November 22, 2013

PIKEVILLE — During a event to celebrate entrepreneurship in the region, Young Professionals of East Kentucky announced plans Wednesday to create a resource to help prepare the next generation’s entrepreneurs for the challenges they will face.

YPEK invited young and established business leaders from all over Eastern Kentucky to the Pike County Courthouse for the event, which was held in honor of Global Entrepreneurship Week. But in addition to recognizing some of the region’s up-and-coming entrepreneurs alongside some of its most successful, Director Johnathan Gay announced YPEK will join with Morehead State University, the Kentucky Innovation Network and Alice Lloyd College to establish an “Entrepreneur Academy.”

Plans call for the academy to begin offering classes in March on the campus of Alice Lloyd College. Gay said he hopes to attract younger entrepreneurs who are just setting out on their journey to grow their businesses. But he said the academy will also consider applications from those are not yet established, as long as they have a concrete idea for their business.

Gay said the goal of the academy is to offer lessons that are a marriage of theory and practice.

“We’ll have entrepreneurs come in over a period of months,” Gay said. “They’re going to learn about capital. They’re going to learn about financing their business. They’re going to learn about growing their business. And they’re also going to hear some war stories. We’re not just going to provide them with the academic education. We’re going to try to bring in the real-life lessons from real-life entrepreneurs in the region.”

Gay has long advocated that promoting entrepreneurship is one key to helping lift Eastern Kentucky out of its historic economic problems.

During Wednesday’s event, others agreed.

T.J. Litafik, with Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford’s office, said entrepreneurship is important for development, especially because other old ways of thinking have proved disappointing.

“We kind of had a ‘Field of Dreams’ mentality that we could open up a bunch of industrial parks and people would come in and fill them up,” Litafik said. “Certainly, that’s not been the case, and we are much more aware now that we have to have the total development picture, and fostering entrepreneurs is a big part of that.”

Gregory Copley, program coordinator with the University of Kentucky’s Center for Applied Energy Research, said entrepreneurship is one way of helping the region through some of the coal industry’s current struggles. Furthermore, he said innovation could provide a path toward revitalizing the coal industry.

“We’re looking for ways of keeping that fuel viable in the economic development arena,” Copley said. “We may not be able to use it as we currently use it, but there could be opportunities for it to come in effect in other ways. Also, we have other innovative ideas, as far as new opportunities for reclaimed mine land that could be used to generate electricity or to generate fuel for power.”

Roger Ford, of Patriot Bioenergy, said organizations such as YPEK and initiatives such as the Entrepreneur Academy are tools that are critical for Eastern Kentucky’s growth.

“It’s good to have that support network,” Ford said. “That’s one thing that southeast Kentucky has lacked.”