Theo Edmonds, I.D.E.A.S. 40203. Spearheaded the "Out Town" grants.
Theo Edmonds, IDEAS 40203. Spearheaded the “Our Town” grants.

“This is a way to bring the two sides together, so that one-plus-one equals three,” says Bob Saunders, chairman of Louisville healthcare startup accelerator XlerateHealth. “The creativity element is important to commercial success.”

What Saunders referred to above is the new $50,000 National Endowment for the Arts “Our Town” grant Louisville received, announced at a press conference today, July 16. The grant will be used to place artists on project teams inside Louisville corporations, with the hope this will make participating businesses more dynamic and profitable. The Louisville initiative is called “The Accelerator.”

The initiative was created through a collaboration between IDEAS 40203, a Louisville-based non-profit that describes itself an an arts chamber of commerce, and its sister organization, Brooklyn, N.Y.-based Residency Unlimited.

Saunders was present at the announcement of this program/press conference because XLerateHealth will host the first artist-in-corporate-residence. Specifically, this artist will work with a startup affiliate of XLerateHealth called Thrive 365, which aims to become a proprietary mobile health platform designed to address the needs of the world’s 385 million diabetics. Saunders described Thrive 365 as a sort of Weight Watchers varient, where diabetics instantly see how many glucose points they’ve accrued.

(Incidentally, Thrive 365 has an interesting story. It was originally created by Kraft Foods, which through 2012 owned brands like Oreos, Cadbury, and other sugary foods that could contribute to the need for a product like Thrive 365. In 2012 Kraft spun off many of these brands to a company called Mondelez International, including Thrive 365. Mondelez then contacted XLerateHealth to see if they could help commercialize Thrive 365, and then spun off most of its ownership stake in the product.)

In a written statement Theo Edmonds, creator of IDEAS 40203, said his non-profit wants to develop a new economic relationship between businesses and artists. “Our goal in this initiative is to help CEOs make organizations more united, more responsive, more creative, more adaptive to change, and more purposeful in their business pursuits.”

Here’s how the “Our Town” grant works. Over a 12-month period starting in the fall of 2014 select artists will be placed within corporations across Louisville’s major industries including: advanced manufacturing, healthcare, food and beverage, and tourism. Artists will be chosen based upon criteria identified by IDEAS 40203, and the participating corporations. These artists will come to Louisville for six-week periods, and the initiative culminates in the fall of 2015 when participants will reflect upon measured outcomes, and lessons learned.

The NEA announced plans to award 66 “Our Town” grants, totaling $5 million, and reaching 38 states. The program is four years old.

Josh Miller, a spokesperson for IDEAS 40203, said the next step is IDEAS 40203 will meet with Louisville corporations to determine what projects they feel would be a good fit for an artist-in-residence. So far no corporations have been named by IDEAS 40203 other than XLerateHealth. After these projects are determined IDEAS 40203 plans to meet with Residency Unlimited in August to put out a call for artists.

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David Serchuk
David Serchuk is a staff writer at Insider Louisville. He is a former editor at Forbes.com, and an ex-reporter at Forbes magazine. He's written for NPR, CNBC.com, New York, Pittsburgh, Louisville and other publications named for places. He enjoys writing about business, music and other things as well.

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