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Sprocket leadership hopes Next 50K startup competition can spur economic growth in region

The nonprofit innovation hub Sprocket is launching a new startup pitch competition called Next 50K (N50K), which aims to attract startups and build economic growth in far western Kentucky.

Since 2016, Sprocket has been a regional economic development agency and facilitator for entrepreneurship, bringing donors and ideas together, as well as providing assistance for startups seeking to locate in western Kentucky.

Monica Bilak, Sprocket’s executive director, said the competition is a public-private partnership that aims to bring talented workers into the area.

“SPeople pitch to come live in Paducah. We give them $50,000. They come in, they live for one year, and these are companies that we believe will have a very good success or chance of success to grow in our community base,” Bilak said. “The only thing we ask is that [winners] stay here for one year, and what we find is [they] probably will stay here for many more.”

Bilak said that, with two hospital systems in the area, Paducah is a medical business hub that could attract medical startups focusing on innovation and technology. But, she expects the competition to attract startups from a variety of industries.

“We had a freelancer network platform that was here last year, an in-app game wagering platform, a fashion platform that actually cuts the cost of manufacturing clothing,” she said. “We're open to everything, but we will definitely have a healthcare focus.”

Bilak hopes Sprocket can help people become engaged with Paducah and the region through N50K, leading corporations to locate in the area and stimulate economic growth on a large scale.

“At the end of the day, in 10 years we want people to look at Paducah and western Kentucky and say, ‘There's amazing tech talent over there. We should look into putting our company there. We should look into finding talent there,’” Bilak said.

The N50K startup competition is currently open for applications.

Hurt is a Livingston County native and has been a political consultant for a little over a decade. He currently hosts a local talk show “River City Presents”, produced by Paducah2, which features live musical performances, academic discussion, and community spotlights.