KU News: STARTUP Central project will educate and support biomedical researchers turning innovations into new companies

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STARTUP Central project will educate and support biomedical researchers turning innovations into new companies
LAWRENCE — Bringing an idea from a lab to patients and consumers can be a complicated and intimidating process involving patents, governmental regulations, product development, business structuring, hiring issues and many more complex considerations. Now, a federally funded $3 million initiative based at the University of Kansas will empower biomedical researchers in public universities and colleges across several Plains states to carry their innovations to the marketplace.

‘Unequal Sisters’ book provides revolutionary perspective on US women’s history
LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas professor is the co-editor of “Unequal Sisters: A Revolutionary Reader in U.S. Women’s History.” The fifth edition of this volume first published in 1990 — and the first to include “revolutionary” in its title — builds on its goal of emphasizing feminist perspectives on race, ethnicity and sexuality while also highlighting queerness, transgender identity, disability, the rise of the carceral state and the militarization of migration.

Study shows little improvement in mandated disaster plans, despite required updates
LAWRENCE — Hurricanes, floods, heat waves and other disasters are striking the United States with increased severity and frequency, and since 2000 the Federal Disaster Mitigation Act has required states and local jurisdictions to have plans in place to reduce damages from such events. A new study from the University of Kansas has found little improvement over time to these plans in spite of regularly required updates.

Full stories below.

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Contact: Brendan Lynch, KU News Service, 785-864-8855, [email protected], @BrendanMLynch
STARTUP Central project will educate and support biomedical researchers turning innovations into new companies
LAWRENCE — Bringing an idea from a lab to patients and consumers can be a complicated and intimidating process involving patents, governmental regulations, product development, business structuring, hiring issues and many more complex considerations.
Now, a $3 million initiative based at the University of Kansas will empower biomedical researchers in public universities and colleges across several Plains states to carry their innovations to the marketplace.
The effort involves both a private firm based at KU Innovation Park, Continuum Educational Technologies PBC, and KU researchers working under a new $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s IDeA Regional Entrepreneurship Development (I-RED) program.
The three-year project is called Smart Tools to Accelerate Research Translation by Uplifting Participants for the Central IDeA State Region, or STARTUP Central. Currently, the STARTUP Central team is developing an online educational curriculum to train academic researchers on how to commercialize their innovations.
“The core idea of the product is to adapt existing educational resources currently delivered through traditional methods, such as courses and in-person events, into a smart online educational product,” said Lisa Friis, professor and chair of mechanical engineering at KU, who is leading work on the university side of the grant as principal investigator. “We’re collaborating with experts in educational psychology, including individuals from KU, to better understand how adult learners acquire knowledge. This will inform the development of the product, ensuring that faculty, staff and students can engage with the material at their own pace on their own time while maintaining high levels of engagement and comprehension.”
The launch of the smart educational training product, called InspireU2 iTi (iTi stands for “innovation, translation, impact”), will take place with two pilot programs based at public higher education intuitions in North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma.
STARTUP Central will soon solicit proposals from faculty, staff and student researchers in those states for biomedical innovations with commercial promise.
“The proposals could be on pharmaceuticals, medical devices or diagnostics — any medical product that could go forward and eventually help patients,” Friis said. “We’ll focus on assisting faculty, staff and students in learning how to transform their ideas into commercial ventures and startup companies, as smaller enterprises are often the stepping stones to larger corporations. In our region, not many people go down this pathway, which can make it challenging to forge ahead with the inherent high risks associated with startups. We aim to inspire academics and increase their probability of success in this process to make a positive impact on the world, despite these challenges.”
The self-paced lessons are tailored to fit into the busy lives of research professionals and students. Some lessons are inspirational, such as case studies of academic entrepreneurship, while others are purely practical, such as instruction on how to set up a company and apply for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs.
“Each lesson is typically between five and 20 minutes, with each module consisting of five to nine lessons,” Friis said. “This concise format is designed to maintain engagement and provide value without overwhelming busy professionals, who often work on the lessons during evenings or weekends. It’s also flexible enough to fit into short breaks during the day. Furthermore, each lesson offers the option for a deeper dive through external resources, allowing individuals to customize their learning experience to their desired level of depth.”
Remote conferencing will enable STARTUP Central to connect participants in the first two pilot programs to experts, potential CEOs, funding sources and supportive peers, as well as offer one-on-one guidance as supplements to the online education.
“The STARTUP Central program will help bridge the gap between groundbreaking discoveries and real-world solutions,” said Adam Courtney, co-principal investigator of the initiative and interim CEO of KU Innovation Park, as well as president of Continuum Educational Technologies. “It’s a catalyst for innovation. By providing tools to faculty and research staff, the program can foster both health advancements and transformative economic opportunities.”
Indeed, biomedical startups can have economic benefits to nearby public institutions and regions. According to the NIH, the U.S. biomedical industry contributed over $69 billion to the nation’s gross domestic product last year.
“This project has the potential to be a game-changer for universities and their surrounding communities, including KU,” said Tricia Bergman, associate vice chancellor for economic development at KU, who is serving as assistant director of STARTUP Central. “By empowering our biomedical researchers and facilitating their journey from lab to market, we’re not only fostering innovation but also driving economic growth and improving health care outcomes. We look forward to the positive impact it will bring.”
During the pilot programs, feedback on and assessment of InspireU2 iTi will be used to further refine the modules. Afterward, the product will be rolled out more broadly to biomedical researchers who hope to bring their advances to patients in the marketplace. InspireU2 iTi is designed to be adaptable to other technology sectors, thus helping with the translation of research into products in other areas in the future.
“It’s very exciting to be able to do this,” Friis said. “This has been a passion of mine — and I know it’s a passion for Adam and Tricia as well — to really help people understand how to go forward and take the research results and ideas you have and make a difference in the world through translation.”
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Contact: Jon Niccum, KU News Service, 785-864-7633, [email protected]
‘Unequal Sisters’ book provides revolutionary perspective on US women’s history
LAWRENCE — When the first “Unequal Sisters” volume came out in 1990, its multicultural feminist essays focused on establishing that women of color were important to acknowledge and understand as key figures in U.S. history.
“I won’t say that’s a fact we take for granted. But now we can spend our time focusing on the nuances about people’s experiences,” said Kim Warren, associate professor of history at the University of Kansas.
“We can also expand our scope and our reach — temporally and geographically — and challenge previous notions about gender identity. We have the privilege of spending our scholarly efforts on digging into a much richer, multivocal past.”
Warren is one of the editors on the new fifth edition titled “Unequal Sisters: A Revolutionary Reader in U.S. Women’s History.” Building on its goal of emphasizing feminist perspectives on race, ethnicity and sexuality, this edition also highlights queerness, transgender identity, disability, the rise of the carceral state and the militarization of migration. It’s published by Routledge.
Co-edited with Stephanie Narrow, Judy Tzu-Chun Wu and Vicki Ruiz, this edition is the first to feature the word “revolutionary” in its subtitle.
“With this edition, we wanted to interrogate the initial concept of what it meant to bring together scholarship from the various fields in U.S. women’s history,” she said. “By revolutionary, we’re trying to say that this field has exponentially grown. It is entirely different, entirely larger and more inclusive than it was 30 years ago.”
Warren, who is also associate dean of academic affairs for KU’s Edwards Campus/School of Professional Studies, said despite the book’s revolutionary designation, its editors were intent on honoring all those who pioneered the field and made it possible for scholars like her to do the work that she does. As a way to connect with the original volume, inaugural co-editor Ruiz was invited to join the three new editors.
“What we’re attempting to do is model feminist scholarship as multigenerational work that is building on the work done by previous generations,” she said.
The 36 chapters include pieces on Indigenous women, Mexican farmworkers, boarding schools, the racialization of sexual violence and U.S. colonialism in Puerto Rico. One of the more provocative chapters is titled “Transgender: A Useful Category?: Or, How the Historical Study of ‘Transsexual’ and ‘Transvestite’ Can Help Us Rethink ‘Transgender’ as a Category,” written by Marta Vicente, KU professor of history.
“Dr. Vicente’s work on transgender scholarship is groundbreaking. It is not only influencing the way we think about categories of gender, but it’s also changing the way we teach in WGSS (women, gender, and sexuality studies) programs,” Warren said.
Warren said that Vicente’s work is also notable for being transnational.
She said, “Marta takes a global approach to identities that aren’t rooted in or limited by geography. Her work also reaches back into much earlier periods than a lot of the work of other contemporary scholars.”
A KU faculty member since 2004, Warren is a scholar of gender and race in African American and Native American studies, history of education and U.S. history. Her previous books include “The Quest for Citizenship: African American and Native American Education in Kansas, 1880-1935” (University of North Carolina Press, 2010) and “Transforming the University of Kansas: A History, 1965-2015” (University Press of Kansas, 2015).
“The revolutionary goal with a project like ‘Unequal Sisters’ is helping readers understand that this is history — this is not a subcategory of the historical past,” Warren said. “The voices and lives that are highlighted in a book like this are central to our understanding of human history.”

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Contact: Mike Krings, KU News Service, 785-864-8860, [email protected], @MikeKrings
Study shows little improvement in mandated disaster plans, despite required updates
LAWRENCE — Hurricanes, floods, heat waves and other disasters are striking the United States with increased severity and frequency, and since 2000 the Federal Disaster Mitigation Act has required states and local jurisdictions to have plans in place to reduce damages from such events. A new study from the University of Kansas has found little improvement over time to these plans, in spite of regularly required updates.
Plans to mitigate risk from natural hazards hold the potential to help states and local communities proactively steer development into safer areas and reduce exposure of existing housing, businesses, roads and other vital assets. But an analysis of two waves of plans from 84 jurisdictions found a mediocre overall quality of plans and little overall improvement from the first wave adopted in the late 2000s to the second wave adopted in the mid-2010s.
“It’s like a homework assignment that could be great for helping students learn, but sadly most just aim for the minimum standard to get by,” said Ward Lyles, associate professor of public affairs & administration at KU and lead author of the study. “Nationally, the evidence shows a tremendous increase in the amount of hazard planning since passage of the Disaster Mitigation Act 20 years ago. But we wondered if the plans get better over time, and the results unfortunately show us not really.”
Lyles and colleagues analyzed disaster mitigation plans from jurisdictions in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. The states share similar hazard exposures and recent disaster experiences, while state policy frameworks that shape local planning vary, the authors wrote. The plans were coded on four criteria: public engagement, plan integration, land use policies and property protection policies.
The study, written with co-authors Yiwen Wu and Kelly Overstreet, doctoral students in public affairs & administration; and Elaina Sutley, associate professor of civil, environmental & architectural engineering, all of KU, was published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research.
For public engagement, scores showed improvement. Involving the public in forming plans and communicating them to communities was the one area in which scores improved notably. Plan integration, or making mitigation plans work together with other types of plans like land use and transportation plans, showed only modest improvement.
“One of the most concerning findings is that too often planning for disasters occurs in a silo separate from other types of planning that shape our future risk,” Lyles said. “As we see time and again, whether with hurricanes in the southeast, fires out west or in Hawaii, and even with heat waves, communities make short-term choices to promote development in places that are known to be at high risk from devastating events.”
In terms of land use and property protection, scores showed no marked improvement. The former is difficult to legislate as it is strongly influenced by local political will, he said.
“It may be easy to say ‘don’t build in a flood plain,’ but the growth machine industry, which profits by developing and selling real estate, have been historically very influential on local governments,” Lyles said. “It is in their interest to maintain maximum flexibility and prevent or reduce land-use controls. And, as we’ve seen tragically time and again, even the best warning systems and engineered protections like levees and dams have failure points.”
The DMA requires disaster mitigation plans but leaves enforcement up to state and local governments, so requirements vary.
“It’s less about knowledge and more about political will,” Lyles said. “Floods do their worst damage in low-lying areas and fires in areas prone to burning. We are not compelled to allow development in high-risk areas that are cheap, scenic or otherwise desirable but ill-advised. But the Federal Emergency Management Agency – and the entire approach to disaster management in the United States – fails to require the type of land-use planning needed in the 21st century.”
The authors cite research that has found reducing risks due to natural disasters like floods and heat waves, especially through land use, can save $1 for every $6 invested and that higher plan quality is linked to lower hazard losses.
The findings help improve understanding of how top-down planning mandates influence local planning and suggest that plans cluster just above the minimum for jurisdictions to remain eligible for federal funding. They also provide insight into how state and federal officials can update the DMA of 2000 to meet increasingly complex demands of long-term risk reduction, especially in the face of climate change, the authors wrote.
“With proactive, pre-event hazard planning, the idea is to talk through hard decisions when you are not in crisis, commit to those decisions and then hold firm to those decisions when a disaster occurs,” Lyles said. “Otherwise, the urgency to get back to normal as soon as possible after a disaster means repeating the same mistakes that created the disaster conditions in the first place.”
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