Ballad Health, East Tennessee State University Research

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn., April 14, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — A new venture between Ballad Health and East Tennessee State University Research Corporation is intended to strengthen regional efforts to boost economic growth in the Appalachian Highlands while creating a national portal for rural health innovations.

The new Appalachian Highlands Rural Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance will coordinate multiple local and national areas of research and ideation that specifically impact healthcare by overseeing efforts, accelerating early-stage development, converting research results into business opportunities, and identifying scalable investment opportunities, ultimately reshaping the overall economy, health and well-being of the region.

“We bring Appalachian expertise, energy and know-how together with a shared vision and vision around innovation and entrepreneurship,” said David Golden, CEO of ETSU Research Corporation and Allen and Ruth Harris Chair of Excellence in East Tennessee State University College of Business and Technology. “By aligning existing efforts like the STRIVE program and the Rugged Buc Lab with the Ballad Health Innovation Center and ETSU Research Corporation, we can leverage the strengths of the region.”

“When we founded Ballad Health, we made a commitment that this new organization would leverage the regional strength of the Appalachian Mountains and reach out to all of our communities in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to improve opportunity, turn bright ideas into thriving businesses and economic opportunities to convert said Alan Levine, chairman and chief executive officer of Ballad Health. “Not only will this center translate good local ideas into business opportunities for the region, but it will also attract ideas from around the world that support healthcare improvement and innovation, while creating an ecosystem for these transformative ideas to grow and be implemented globally .”

“Ideation development and implementation in companies is important, but not fully possible without capital,” added Levine. “As part of this announcement, we are also establishing a regional investment fund, endowed with $1 million from Ballad Health specifically for rural health, that will be open to other investors and entrepreneurs interested in innovation in the Appalachian Highlands. As the alliance grows, we anticipate that other investors and organizations will seek to build additional capabilities in multiple areas such as digital media, biopharma and data analytics.”

The announcement follows the establishment of several centers at ETSU created through partnerships between the university and Ballad Health, including:

  • The Center for Rural Health and Research at ETSU, which within two years of its founding has received grants and a national designation as a rural health research center – alongside institutions such as the University of North Carolina and the University of Kentucky as leaders in rural health research
  • The Ballad Health Strong BRAIN Institute and Center for Trauma Informed Care
  • The Appalachian Highlands Center for Nursing Advancement
  • More than $30 million annually in partnerships to provide healthcare and services across the region

Examples of opportunities in the innovation space related to rural health are:

  1. Developing an incubator for viable innovation in health services, technologies or programs
  2. The operationalization of concepts, their refinement from idea to reality
  3. Leveraging existing seed funding and venture capital to invest in opportunities that will help businesses grow and provide returns to investors

“East Tennessee Research Corporation and Ballad Health are uniquely positioned to make meaningful advances in rural health,” said Golden. “In fact, this is already happening within the university, through innovation within Ballad Health, and through ideas being developed by people across the region and across the country. This forward-thinking effort creates both a path for turning ideas into action and a mechanism for creating economic growth for our region and regional investment in these incredible ideas. This alliance will help unlock the commitment and involvement of forward-thinking businesses and people to create the momentum that will carry our region into the future.”

“We have had the expertise and vision for this level of innovation for some time,” said Dr. Brian Noland, President of East Tennessee State University. “Now, along with the establishment of the Center for Rural Health and Research and the ETSU Research Corporation, ETSU has implemented the framework for organizing and operationalizing this work. Our university is already home to one of the nation’s foremost health science centers in America, with a nationally recognized rural America medical school, a nationally recognized College of Public Health, Tennessee’s largest public nursing school, an innovative pharmacy school, and other programs that, together with Ballad Health, create the creating the perfect environment to encourage the development of ideas, to nurture and invest in them and to enjoy the prosperity they will bring to the region when they are realised.”

“Ultimately, the Appalachian Highlands Rural Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance will result in an interactive rural cooperative, and as the alliance grows, we expect new businesses to root their operations in the Appalachian Highlands as they use the unique environment to create life and industry-changing equipment, systems and technologies,” said Tony Keck, executive vice president of system transformation at Ballad Health. “The resulting economic benefits will support diverse regional efforts to grow the economy while providing a return on investment for those in the region who believe in investing in the region.”

“We believe in the Appalachians,” Levine said. “That’s why we invest in the ideas, entrepreneurship and people of our region. We certainly believe that with the development of the Appalachian Highlands Regional Investment Fund as part of this initiative, more forward-thinking people and businesses will choose to invest with us to create an attractive source of capital for businesses elsewhere that need the ecosystem, that we create together the capital. It’s a great thesis, and I believe that ETSU Research Corporation, along with the Ballad Health Innovation Center and Ballad Ventures, will show that they can attract investment and increase the value of the fund for those who invest. The end result will be an economic opportunity for the people of our area as jobs will be created, wealth will increase and people from across the nation will come to Appalachian Mountains as a logical place to live and invest as so many have have already done.”

“The reality of our current situation is that regional employers aren’t just competing with each other for top talent — we’re competing with companies across the United States,” said Bo Wilkes, executive director of Ballad Health Innovation Center and president of Ballad Ventures. “We have a rich culture and history, excellent schools and healthcare, and a low cost of living, and now we will have the entrepreneurial alliance that will attract some of the brightest minds in the country. In fact, Appalachian Mountains should be a top travel destination for workers and families.”

The Appalachian Highlands Rural Innovation and Entrepreneurship Alliance is expected to organize throughout 2022 as it builds leadership and invests in its early opportunities.

“This region is home to Tennessee’s oldest city and the birthplace of country music,” added Golden. “World class in a rural setting is our goal, and great things have always started here – that’s the next thing. We want the rest of America to eventually see the opportunities for innovation in Appalachia.”

“We have the potential to become the Silicon Valley of rural healthcare,” added Golden.

For more information on Ballad Health’s commitment to rural health care, research and advancement in the Appalachian Mountains, visit


About Ballad Health

Ballad Health is an integrated community health improvement organization serving 29 Appalachian counties in northeast Tennessee, southwest Virginia, northwest North Carolina and southeast Kentucky. Our system of 21 hospitals, post-acute and behavioral health services, and a large multi-specialty medical practice works closely with an active independent medical community and community stakeholders to improve the health and well-being of nearly one million people. By adopting value-based payments, addressing health-related social needs, funding clinical and health systems research, and committing to long-term investments in strong children and families in our region, Ballad Health strives to become a national model for rural health and healthcare. Learn more at

About ETSU Research Corporation

ETSU Research Corporation was formed to connect, bring together and create world-class research and innovation at the speed of business. We are a beacon for amplifying research, arts, innovation, human development and entrepreneurship, and regional development through collaboration and partnerships. Learn more at


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