UofL has been generating a lot of attention of late for its future-minded initiatives. In fact, two recent UofL efforts were recently featured in the Flyover Future Innovators podcast, sponsored by the Louisville Future of Work Initiative.
Flyover Future examines some of the work being done in cities and communities in the heartland – work that is aggressively developing and growing innovation ecosystems. UofL squarely fits within this theme, as Ben Reno-Weber, director of the Future of Work Initiative, explains: “I think it’s a really exciting moment at UofL where you’re really seeing a regional university come into its own. Across the university you’re seeing great work being done and I think even more importantly being brought to the market in different ways. It’s a really exciting time to be in the city of Louisville with this anchor institution really starting to build up steam.”
There are a number of ways UofL is “starting to build up steam.” For starters, 2020 marked a record-setting year for research being done at the institution. UofL is a collaborator on the FutureLou initiative, recently launched a Center for Digital Transformation, became part of a new Artificial Intelligence Innovation Consortium, partnered with IBM for the creation of the IBM Skills Academy and more.
In episode 6 of the Flyover Future Innovators podcast, titled “Data Inclusion,” Sharon Kerrick, UofL’s executive-in-residence and department chair of Educational Leadership, Evaluation, and Organizational Development in the College of Education and Human Development, discussed the new Center for Digital Transformation. The center, first announced last year, is focused on enabling technology knowledge throughout UofL and the Louisville community.
“With this new initiative, everyone gets a badge. Everyone – faculty, staff, students, every organization. The people I see as leaders, we empower them in that leadership so they can perpetuate delivering this information, so everyone gets a badge,” Kerrick said during the podcast. “I’m excited about this disruption in education, excited about how we can turn it upside down.”
She said technology hasn’t been this widely accessible since personal computers first hit the market in the 1980s and that such access will benefit entire communities and, especially, the businesses within them.
“Behind technology there’s a mystery of margin, between knowing and learning. Can we engage that curiosity?” Kerrick said. “We’re inviting people in … We are now addressing access for all. It’s not there yet, but we are addressing it and … I’m excited we’re being very intentional with it.
“Right now, everyone can play. So even though I have 30 years of tech experience, it doesn’t matter. We’re at this stage where everyone can jump in. The playing field is equalized right now.”
On the subsequent episode, “Data, Kidney Donors, Puppies and Logistics,” Drs. Monica Gentili and Lihui Bai, co-directors of UofL’s Logistics and Distribution Institute, discussed the work they’re doing with both students and industry partners.
This work is critical as data becomes more pervasive and as digital ecosystems expand. As Reno-Weber explains, “Logistics and distribution might seem boring, but for Louisville, which is within 500 miles or half day’s drive of 50% of the U.S. population and one day’s drive of 2/3 of the U.S. population, logistics is a huge part of our economy and a real competitive advantage with the rest of the country.”
Gentili explained some of the work LoDI does, for example, with kidney transplantation. She said the median wait time is about four years for a transplant; a wait time that yields nearly 5,000 deaths. There is a “huge gap” between supply and demand and LoDI is mining data to learn the motivations behind those who choose to donate in an effort to increase the donor pool.
“There is a lot of research going on to understand how to fill this gap. There is a huge amount of data and we are mining that data and trying to apply machine learning algorithms to achieve this goal,” she said.
Quite simply, the main objective of LoDI is to improve logistics, whether in regards to kidney transplants, oil delivery, electric charging stations, homeless animal adoption, name it.
“We do this from a research and an education standpoint,” Gentili said. “We have PhD and master’s students working to study more efficient solutions to existing problems, but also solutions for emerging problems as new technologies come into play.”
Louisville Future also recently featured UofL’s Innovation MBA program, facilitated by the Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship and facilitated by Suzanne Bergmeister. The program was rebranded from the Entrepreneurship MBA and shortened to 13 months, a move that reflected that “students don’t just learn theoretically about entrepreneurship and innovation; we offer them hands-on experience,” Bergmeister said.
The goal, she added, is education, but “businesses being created is a frequent byproduct.” The program features hands-on innovation courses, like opportunity discovery, venture launch, venture accelerator, social entrepreneurship and venture finance.
“Those who graduate from our program are very good at doing presentation and pitches,” Bergmeister said. The program has yielded successful businesses, like Inscope Medical Solutions, Meta Construction Technologies and Cuddle Clones.