Communities Changing Lives

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership) at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute has been using its Community Research Grant program to help Georgia communities with innovative technology-based projects that improve the lives of residents and visitors since 2020. In Warner Robins, crime has been reduced thanks to a digital twin project. In Columbus, the Chattahoochee River is safer for swimmers and boaters because of another digital twin application. In Valdosta, first responders now make it across town much more quickly, saving lives and property.

The Community Research program is a competitive grant process that supports teams of university researchers and local governments by providing funding, expert advice, program management, access to the Partnership’s Summer Internship Program, and a network of peers, on year-long pilot projects. Alumni cities and counties have successfully implemented projects and garnered additional funding and technical assistance to continue serving residents and meet community goals. Projects have also achieved national and international recognition and served as models for communities addressing similar problems.

This year’s Community Research projects, which are at the halfway point, have the potential to positively impact lives in equally important ways for Georgians in Atlanta, Brunswick, Milledgeville, and Statesboro. Recently, project leaders presented information on progress, challenges, and lessons learned to date.

Atlanta: Active Transportation

Sensors on the back of bikes help researchers in Atlanta

Across the city of Atlanta scooter drivers, pedestrians, and wheelchair users take their lives into their own hands — or into the hands of distracted drivers — every day. Atlanta’s project seeks to make roads safer for all users by studying transportation issues in four neighborhoods: Grove Park and Cascade II, on the westside, and South Boulevard and East Atlanta, in the city’s southeastern quadrant.

The goals of the Atlanta project — a collaborative effort that includes the City of Atlanta Department of Transportation (DOT), MARTA, Propel ATL, Georgia State University’s Micromobility Lab, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s College of Engineering — are to develop policies and initiatives that incorporate smart transportation technology and contribute to a cleaner, safer, and a more connected Atlanta.

Fei Li, of Georgia State University’s Urban Institute, is the project lead and presented at the event. To achieve the project goals, Li laid out the objectives of the group’s research: to understand the barriers to active transportation — which she defined as “human powered. So that may include walking, biking, or rolling, like scooters.”

Using a multi-pronged approach to get at the information needed, the research team will do neighborhood surveys; assess the current physical infrastructure, including sidewalks, bike racks, and more; track activity; and monitor air pollution in the project neighborhoods.

To date, data has been collected from light detection and ranging (LiDAR) equipment mounted to cars to map the neighborhoods; 25 students have canvassed 24 blocks to recruit participants and administer surveys; and 3 Fitbits and 2 Airbeams have been deployed to track individual residents’ physical activities and exposure to air pollution.

Working with DOT, the project has identified low-hanging fruit that can help improve mobility and safety. Locations for micromobility (bikes, scooters) device parking corrals have been scouted, which will not only keep parked devices off sidewalks and streets, but will also make the streets safer for pedestrians.

“We’re calling these quick builds,” said Ashley Finch, the Atlanta DOT’s shared micromobility coordinator, “because it’s things that we’re able to do in house, with our in-house maintenance crews and materials that we keep in our warehouses.”

Going forward, the team will continue to build community support for the project and seek additional funding to expand the project and implement the findings that will create safer neighborhoods for all.

Brunswick: Safe Water Together

Citizen scientists learn to test water

Brunswick and Glynn County on the coast of Georgia are home to beautiful marsh lands, historic sites, and popular beaches. The region is also home to four U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund sites — areas of toxic, hazardous waste that can leach into the ground and the water – that are being cleaned by federal Superfund dollars with the goal of returning them to productive use.

The Safe Water Together project focuses on addressing these and other environmental health and justice issues in a region with socio-economic disparities.

“Toxic waste pollution is significantly impacting human health on our coastline,” said Asli Aslan, project lead, associate professor of environmental health sciences, and director of the Institute for Water and Health at Georgia Southern University. “One in every six Americans lives within a mile of a toxic waste site, and nearly 30% of those are minorities. Brunswick is specifically important in that sense because they have four of those [Superfund sites] and other hazardous waste sites as well.”

The polluted areas threaten rivers, ecosystems, water supplies, air quality, food supplies, and, ultimately, the health of residents.

A collaboration with Rebuilding Together Glynn County, the local school system, Georgia Southern University, and Georgia Tech, the project aims to develop solutions based on community experiences and scientific data. By utilizing advanced water quality detection technology, the initiative targets microbial and chemical contamination exacerbated by sea-level rise.

Working with 12 pastors in the Black and Brown communities of Brunswick, researchers have assembled a group of citizen scientists that will help measure the chemicals in water and determine community needs.

“One of the objectives for this grant is to build the foundations of a community-led citizen science group,” Aslan said. “Working with community leaders is extremely important for us because those are the liaisons that will be spreading the word, creating more awareness, and increasing perceptions and knowledge in the area about what these toxic chemicals may do for health for the communities. The other objective is to identify and disseminate [information about] existing water and health hazards by looking at the data. It’s not like a research presentation, but really taking this to the communities and working with them to see what that data means for them and how they can use it.”

To meet these objectives, the research team is setting up a water quality lab in Brunswick that will be owned by the citizens. The team will train the citizen science group to collect field samples, assess them, and develop protocols for ensuring the data is collected properly. The team will also work with citizens on creating outreach and education materials.

The project team has been approached by other universities and local governments for information about how to set up a community approach to improving water quality.

Ultimately, this endeavor seeks to improve water quality, address environmental disparities, and contribute to long-term solutions for a more sustainable and just community in Brunswick and Glynn County.

Milledgeville: Workforce Development Study in Solar Technology and Eco-entrepreneurship

A solar class meets

As technology changes, so do the skills needed to deploy those technologies. Nowhere is this more evident that in the shift around the world to green energy. Often the people left behind by these technology shifts are those who can’t afford or don’t have access to the training they need to work in a new sector.

To help combat the lack of trained solar technicians in Middle Georgia, the city of Milledgeville is working with researchers from Georgia College & State University’s (GCSU) Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, College of Arts and Sciences, and the College of Education, as well as Presbyterian College in Clinton, South Carolina. That consortium of researchers aims to launch a no-cost certificate program in solar power systems combined with business education for aspiring entrepreneurs in the green energy sector. The program is making a special effort at recruiting disadvantaged and underserved individuals. The program aims to address the lack of accessible certification options in the middle and south regions of Georgia.

Hasitha Mahabaduge, associate professor of physics at GCSU, presented the project for the team.

“We, like most of rural Georgia, have seen our share of economic hardship,” Mahabaduge said. “We at Georgia College came together and discussed that we could use some of our expertise to help the city of Milledgeville to reverse the trend of this economic hardship. It would be a win-win situation for all of us.”

In addition to teaching people how to install solar panels, they are taking the training a step further, teaching participants how to create and manage their own business in the solar energy industry.

The certification course in solar energy and eco-entrepreneurship is free to all participants. The team has scheduled four cohorts of 10 students each for the classes, with people coming from as far as three hours away for the training.

In addition to training people for a new industry, researchers are looking at the economic impact of the program on the community and measuring attitude changes related to green energy by the participants. At the end of the four cohorts, students will be certified by the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners, the established certification organization in the field of renewable energy. Finally, all the students from all cohorts will come together to install a solar project for the city of Milledgeville.

“We are teaching the basic physics engineering aspects of working in the solar field,” Mahabaduge said. “On top of that, we are providing them with the tools to not only work for someone else, but to start their own business.”

The project has received media coverage in Middle Georgia, which has resulted in a waiting list of more than 150 potential students. By providing hands-on experience and relevant skills, the project strives to build a sustainable, eco-conscious workforce and economy.

Statesboro: Improving Indoor Air Quality

Measuring air quality

Live, green plants do more than brighten a drab office. They can also help to improve air quality, making spaces healthier and more comfortable for the people who work in them. But how much can plants help with odors and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in older, government-owned buildings? That’s the question a pilot project in Statesboro is working to answer.

“We are spending most of our time indoors, but unfortunately, the current national regulatory standards are not protecting indoor environments,” said Atin Adhikari, associate professor of environmental health sciences at Georgia Southern University.

In an office building there may be many indoor air pollution sources, including housekeeping practices, dirty ventilation systems, and water damage, which can create health problems for office workers.

“Unlike in our home environments, office workers may not have adequate resources for changing their indoor air quality,” Adhikari said. “In this project we are focusing on the application of indoor plants, which can be used for absorbing different types of gases. It’s not a new concept. NASA and some other laboratories already did laboratory experiments. But nobody applied the simple, green, and cost-effective approach in office environments.”

The project measured VOC levels in 16 public buildings in Bullock County, from office buildings to city hall to a fire station. For the study, six buildings were selected. Three are control buildings and three buildings had plants added. Students collect data at the buildings and care for the plants, which include bamboo, rubber plants, and areca palms, plants that have been shown to absorb toxins from the air.

An initial round of data was collected before the plants were added. After reviewing that data and measuring both data and perception of employees following the plant installation, the pilot project will wrap up.

“We will conduct statistical testing to determine the impact of the implant intervention on indoor air quality and parse it into the air quality,” Adhikari said.

The City of Statesboro is partnering with a multidisciplinary research team from Georgia Southern University and Fayetteville State University, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to look at  both objective sensor data and subjective perceptions of employees on air quality before and after intervention.

The study involves active engagement with stakeholders, including students, administrators, and city employees and aims to improve indoor air quality for city employees and the larger local population, offering scalability potential, and serving as a reference for similar areas on indoor air quality evaluation and intervention.

Enterprise Innovation Institute Programs Part of Vice-presidential Tour

Vice President Kamala Harris Kicked Off Her Economic Opportunity Tour in Atlanta

Representatives from Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing (Georgia AIM), Georgia Minority Business Development Agency Business Center (Georgia MBC), and Southeast Business Hub, programs of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, were on hand as Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off her Economic Opportunity Tour in Atlanta at the end of April. The multi-state tour is designed to showcase ways the Biden-Harris administration has built economic opportunity, supported communities, and is investing in traditionally underserved areas.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to a packed house in Atlanta

“This event was a great opportunity to introduce the vice president to the work of Georgia AIM,” said Donna Ennis, co-director of Georgia AIM, which works to drive adoption of AI in U.S. manufacturing. “We were founded as part of the federal government’s Build Back Better plan. It’s important for her to see how we are putting the grant to work to deliver equity in artificial intelligence for manufacturing in Georgia.”

The event took place at the Georgia International Convention Center, near Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Prior to the arrival of Vice President Harris, attendees could visit tables set up in the entry hall and learn about a number of organizations, from banks to nonprofits to governmental agencies, that are working to level the playing field for underserved Georgians. Attendees included representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency, Rise, and Brunswick Job Corps Center.

The Georgia AIM table, staffed by Ryan Scott, the community engagement manager, and Kyle Saleeby, research engineer with Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute (GTMI), was a popular stop, thanks to the tabletop robot showing how robotics can be used in manufacturing and the array of 3-D printed industrial materials.

From left, Kyle Saleeby, research engineer with the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute, and Ryan Scott, Georgia AIM community engagement manager, staff the table demonstrating how AI in manufacturing can work

The program featured a conversation with Harris and financial literacy and business advice podcasters Rashad Bilal and Troy Millings, from Earn Your Leisure. The podcast has an audience of about 2 million people, a majority of whom are Black. Harris spoke to the crowd of approximately 400 people about the administration’s focus on access to capital for minority small businesses and entrepreneurs.

“One of the compelling reasons for me to start this tour now,” Harris said, “is to ask all the leaders here for help in getting the word out about what is available to entrepreneurs and small businesses. Because we are in the process of putting a lot of money in the streets of America.”

Some of those funds have gone to Enterprise Innovation Institute programs, including $65 million for Georgia AIM.

Georgia senators Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock and Rep. Nikema Williams also spoke at the event. Prior to the event, they joined Harris at the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs.

“It was exciting to hear first-hand about the administration’s commitment to equity in small businesses and entrepreneurship,” Ennis said. “It dovetails perfectly with the commitment of the programs of the Enterprise Innovation Institute.”

Jenny Houlroyd Earns Doctor of Public Health Degree


Jenny Houlroyd, CIH, MSPH, DrPH

Jenny Houlroyd, an occupational health group manager for the Safety, Health, and Environmental Services (SHES) Program, successfully defended her dissertation in March 2024 to complete a doctorate in public health (DrPH) from the University of Georgia. Her degree is from the College of Public Health in public health policy and management. Graduation is scheduled for May 10. The SHES program is part of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute.

Prior to joining Georgia Tech in 2005, Houlroyd earned a dual master of science in public health (MSPH) from Emory University, focusing on epidemiology and environmental and occupational health. As a certified industrial hygienist with the OSHA 21(d) Consultation Program, she helps small Georgia businesses ensure that workplaces are hazard-free and workers are protected from potential health threats.

She also serves as faculty for the OSHA Training Institute Education Center (OTIEC) at Georgia Tech and for the professional master’s in Occupational Safety and Health program for the School of Building Construction within the College of Design.

“My dissertation was on respiratory protection,” said Houlroyd. “In health and safety, we follow a hierarchy of controls, and the last layer of defense is personal protective equipment (PPE).”

Respiratory safety ranks consistently among the top ten concerns of OSHA, and Houlroyd conducted a qualitative study focusing on the manufacturing sector. Through the process of exploring elements that might contribute to a worker’s reluctance to wear PPE, she developed what she calls the FACT model, which tracks fit, acceptance of risk, comfort, and type of respirator.

Houlroyd views her doctor of public health degree as an achievement that not only enhances her own skill set but also benefits colleagues and contributes to the greater good. “I’m really hoping that it helps my entire team open doors, to apply for more competitive grants and make connections with other research groups,” she said. “I really see it as essential for our team to have this kind of expertise in-house.”

Those doors are already opening. On May 16, Houlroyd is attending the conference Preventing Silicosis – An Ancient Disease in Modern Times: Silicosis Caused by Artificial Stone in the U.S., hosted by the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health at University of California, Los Angeles, where she has been invited to speak on exposure and control technologies. “My doctoral program includes leadership training, and it gave me the confidence to speak up about issues that are important to me,” she said.

“At the Enterprise Innovation Institute, we are committed to making workplaces healthier and safer,” Houlroyd added. “We want people to go home from work to their families in the same or better shape than when they left. My dad got sick with brain cancer from exposure on the job; he died two years ago. I really do see it as a personal mission. We are saving lives.”

David Bridges Receives Fulbright Specialist Award to Slovak Republic at Digital Coalition

David Bridges.

The U.S. Department of State and the Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board are pleased to announce that David Bridges, vice president of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, has received a Fulbright Specialist Program award.

Bridges, who was named Fulbright Specialist in February of 2024,  will complete a project at Digital Coalition in Slovak Republic that aims to exchange knowledge and establish partnerships benefiting participants, institutions, and communities both in the U.S. and overseas through a variety of educational and training activities within Public Administration.

Bridges is one of over 400 U.S. citizens who share expertise with host institutions abroad through the Fulbright Specialist Program each year. Recipients of Fulbright Specialist awards are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, demonstrated leadership in their field, and their potential to foster long-term cooperation between institutions in the U.S. and abroad.

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build lasting connections between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The Fulbright Program is funded through an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State. Participating governments and host institutions, corporations, and foundations around the world also provide direct and indirect support to the Program, which operates in over 160 countries worldwide.

Since its establishment in 1946, the Fulbright Program has given more than 400,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, and scientists the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Fulbrighters address critical global issues in all disciplines, while building relationships, knowledge, and leadership in support of the long-term interests of the United States. Fulbright alumni have achieved distinction in many fields, including 60 who have been awarded the Nobel Prize, 88 who have received Pulitzer Prizes, and 39 who have served as a head of state or government.

For further information about the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State, please visit or contact the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Press Office by telephone 202.632.6452 or e-mail

Savannah Congressman Tours Georgia Tech’s Advanced Manufacturing Pilot Facility

Visit includes overview of Georgia AIM project

When U.S. Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter from Georgia’s 1st District visited Atlanta recently, one of his top priorities was meeting with the experts at Georgia Tech’s 20,000-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Pilot Facility (AMPF).

Carter was recently named the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s chair of the Environment, Manufacturing, and Critical Materials Subcommittee, a group that concerns itself primarily with contamination of soil, air, noise, and water, as well as emergency environmental response, whether physical or cybersecurity.

Because AMPF’s focus dovetails with subcommittee interests, the facility was a fitting stop for Carter, who was welcomed for an afternoon tour and series of live demonstrations. Programs within Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute — specifically the Georgia Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing (Georgia AIM) and Georgia Manufacturing Extension Partnership (GaMEP) — were well represented.

“Innovation is extremely important,” Carter said during his April 1 visit. “In order to handle some of our problems, we’ve got to have adaptation, mitigation, and innovation. I’ve always said that the greatest innovators, the greatest scientists in the world, are right here in the United States. I’m so proud of Georgia Tech and what they do for our state and for our nation.”

Three people in a room
Michael Barker (right), GaMEP project manager for cybersecurity, strategy, and leadership development, speaks as U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter (left) and Andrew Krejci (center), another GaMEP project manager, listen. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

Carter’s AMPF visit began with an introduction by Tom Kurfess, executive director of the Georgia Tech Manufacturing Institute; Steven Ferguson, principal research scientist and managing director at Georgia AIM; research engineer Kyle Saleeby; and Donna Ennis, the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s director of community engagement and program development, and co-director of Georgia AIM.

Ennis provided an overview of Georgia AIM, while Ferguson spoke on the Manufacturing 4.0 Consortium and Kurfess detailed the AMPF origin story, before introducing four live demonstrations.

The first of these featured Chuck Easley, Professor of the Practice in the Scheller College of Business, who elaborated on supply chain issues. Afterward Alan Burl of EPICS: Enhanced Preparation for Intelligent Cybermanufacturing Systems and mechanical engineer Melissa Foley led a brief information session on hybrid turbine blade repair.

Finally, GaMEP project manager Michael Barker expounded on GaMEP’s cybersecurity services, and Deryk Stoops of Central Georgia Technical College detailed the Georgia AIM-sponsored AI robotics training program at the Georgia Veterans Education Career Transition Resource (VECTR) Center, which offers training and assistance to those making the transition from military to civilian life.

The topic of artificial intelligence, in all its subtlety and nuance, was of particular interest to Carter.

“AI is the buzz in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “Whether it be healthcare, energy [or] science, we on the Energy and Commerce Committee look at it from a sense [that there’s] a very delicate balance, and we understand the responsibility. But we want to try to benefit from this as much as we can.”

He continued: “I heard something today I haven’t heard before, and that is instead of calling it artificial intelligence, we refer to it as ‘augmented intelligence.’ I think that’s a great term, and certainly something I’m going to take back to Washington with me.”

Said Ennis, “It was a pleasure to host Rep. Carter for a firsthand look at AMPF, which is uniquely positioned to offer businesses the opportunity to collaborate with Georgia Tech researchers and students and to hear about Georgia AIM.”

She added, “At Georgia AIM, we’re committed to making the state a leader in artificial intelligence-assisted manufacturing, and we’re grateful for Congressman Carter’s interest and support of our efforts.”

EI2 Global Wraps up Soft Landing Spring 2024 Cohort

Expanding a foreign business into the U.S. isn’t always a straightforward process. Companies are tasked not only with navigating national regulations and standard practices but also with grasping the nuances of American culture.

That’s where the Enterprise Innovation Institute comes in. The organization is authorized by the International Business Innovation Association (InBIA) to provide instruction on those topics and others through the seven-week, hybrid  Soft Landing program, administered by EI2 Global.

The most recent cohort began February 14 and wrapped up April 17. During that period, participants were exposed to more than 40 hours of workshops, as well as one-on-one meetings and intensive training.

According to program director Alberto Ponce, Soft Landing “is the best investment companies can make to prepare for internationalization. It accelerates their work and provides them with networks, guidance, and hard research to enter the market. It’s an invaluable resource to make their goals a reality.”

People at a conference table speaking.
Juli Golemi (left), director of EI2 Global, listens as Juan Cuellar, senior international trade manager with the Georgia Department of Economic Development addresses Soft Landing Immersion Week attendees. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

Since its launch in 2018, the Georgia Tech Soft Landing program has worked with 22 companies in five countries from two continents that were interested in expanding into the U.S. market. Of those participants, 15 of them have expanded into the U.S.

The first of Soft Landing’s three components is instructional. Conducted virtually and extending throughout the length of the course, it assists businesses in building their internal capacity for expansion.

“We advocate for Georgia in this part of the program,” said Ponce. “This is the fastest growing region in the United States, and the Atlanta metropolitan area has a great quality of life. But we are fortunate that, as a university-based endeavor, the Soft Landing program is not tied to any particular service-providers or government-based programs. So, there’s no expectation or requirement that businesses relocate here. They have their own networks; they’re not tied to this area.”

People talking at a conference table
Bayron Quinteros, CEO of IData, a 2023 Soft Landing participant, explains how the program helped him in his decision to establish his U.S. presence in Atlanta. (PHOTO: Chris Ruggiero)

Soft Landing’s other two components are designed to connect participants face to face with experts who can help put theory into practice, offering guidance on everything from relocating company managers to navigating aspects of hiring, immigration, and accounting.

It’s during Immersion Week — undoubtedly the program’s highlight — that these personal connections are facilitated. From March 18 to 22, EI2 Global hosted four companies from Colombia looking to expand their business into the U.S. They were introduced to upwards of 15 people in the Soft Landing network, including service providers, powerhouse networkers, government officials, and Chamber of Commerce members. They also attended networking events that put them in contact with hundreds of Latin American businesses, increasing their chances of finding partners, providers, and clients.

Nicolás Ochoa, director of the Medellín creative agency Studio 1642, saw Immersion Week as a structured way to approach people, saying, “the magic of this program is to really use those connections and those mentors.”

According to participant Andrés Domínguez, whose app Beunik connects users to salons and barbershops, one of the main benefits of the program is the way it fosters “unexpected collisions.”

He added, “You can meet anyone from your industry, and [they] can help you. I’ve heard that creating a startup is a lonely process. It [doesn’t have] to be. Allies like Soft Landing can help you to reduce a lot of uncertainty. When you reduce your uncertainty, you are going to make informed decisions, and this is the perfect program to make informed decisions to enter the U.S. market.”

From Ponce’s point of view, many program outcomes can be considered positive. While some Soft Landing participants determine that Georgia is the optimal location for their business, others may choose a different state — or decide it’s not yet the right time to move into the U.S. market. Regardless of which actions they ultimately take, participants gain a solid understanding of the strategies that will best serve their goals.

For Jorge Gutiérrez, whose business Grupo Y provides elastic polymers to a range of market sectors, the program provided a deeper insight into American culture, which he characterized as “very important, because [it gives] us the opportunity to understand how we can arrive in an [appropriate] way in the U.S.”

Even when Soft Landing concludes, the program is far from over. Participants are given ongoing assistance and follow-up mentorship. Scheduled check-ins at six months and a year are built into the curriculum, but there is plenty of flexibility, too.

“We have an open-door policy,” Ponce explained. “They can reach out to us requesting connections for mentoring or consulting, and we are always open to meeting with them to work through their problems. Expanding into a new country takes a lot of commitment and investment. Most of the companies don’t do it within the year.”

Periodically, participants are asked to reflect on how the Soft Landing program helped them and impacted their decision-making. Because success is subjective and highly variable, tracking it is necessarily an open-ended, long-term endeavor.

Said Juan José Acero, of health supplement company Brightfull, “As soon as you finish [the program], you have a lot of questions, but you know how to answer those questions. You know how to structure the project. You are not going to have a clear idea about the next couple of years, but you will be [able to] understand what you need.”

To set up a video call for more information, contact Soft Landing program director Alberto Ponce:, 404.894.7083.

NIH awards $2.9M grant to Annoviant for heart disease technology advancement

Annoviant co-founders Ajay Houde and Naren Vyavahare, CEO and chief technology officer, respectively.

ATLANTA — Annoviant Inc. a health technology company and member startup in the Enterprise Innovation Institute‘s Center for MedTech Excellence, is receiving a $2.99 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to further scale the development and commercialization of its TxGuardTM pulmonary-valved conduit for pediatric heart disease.

The award follows two Phase I NIH grants the company received, the most recent being in 2021.

Annoviant’s patented TxGuard™ stands at the forefront of technological innovation in conduit replacements for treating congenital heart disease (CHD), the most prevalent birth defect globally and a leading cause of birth-related mortality, the company said.

CHD encompasses a broad range of abnormalities that disrupt blood flow to and from the heart. It affects approximately 40,000 newborns annually — or 1% of births in the U.S. — and 1.35 million worldwide. With an estimated 2.9 million CHD patients in the U.S. alone, the need for advanced solutions is paramount.

“This marks a significant milestone for Annoviant as we accelerate our pursuit of impactful innovation to save lives,” said Annoviant CEO and co-founder Ajay Houde, Ph.D. “It validates our hypothesis and shows the NIH’s confidence in our ability to make good progress. Because we are a small startup, it gives private investors the confidence to invest with us and more companies working with us across the broader ecosystem.”

Addressing critical shortcomings observed in current commercial devices, TxGuard™ offers clinical advantages, notably its resistance to calcification, thrombosis, infection, and the host cell integration. This cutting-edge technology marks a new era in pediatric cardiac interventions, providing durable pulmonary valved grafts that adapt and regenerate alongside patients, minimizing the need for multiple re-operations over their lifetimes.

“Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the U.S. and is the most common birth defect in our newborns,” said Center for MedTech Excellence Director Nakia Melecio, who worked with Annoviant to help it scale and reviewed its federal funding submissions.

The Center for MedTech Excellence, which launched in 2022, works with early-stage life sciences startups that have specific obstacles that young tech companies in other sectors don’t face.

“This is a critical milestone for the company, and validates its research and work, thus far,” Melicio said. “Annoviant’s technology is tackling several challenges that the market currently faces and elevating the possibility for better patient outcomes in management of congestive heart failure.”

Pediatric patients with CHD often undergo multiple cardiovascular surgeries throughout their lives, with associated costs totaling billions for the U.S. healthcare industry. TxGuard™ offers a transformative solution to this ongoing challenge, promising extended durability and reduced healthcare burden for patients and providers alike.

He credited the company’s work with the Center for MedTech Excellence and being a health tech startup in the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC), the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s startup incubator, as being pivotal in Annoviant’s growth.

ATDC SBIR/STTR Catalyst Connie Casteel, who works with the incubator’s portfolio companies to help the prepare for these federal, non-dilutive funding grants, had worked with Annoviant on its federal funding approach and strategy.

“We went through the 16-week program with the MedTech Center and it really helped us think through the various aspects of the commercialization process and operational challenges we would face,” Houde said. “Greg Jungles at ATDC was also instrumental in helping us.  I’m really thankful for Nakia and his work with the MedTech Center and Greg and the team at ATDC.”

EI2 Global hosts Argentinian startups on business development tour

Alberto Ponce, who manages EI2 Global’s Soft Landing program, explains how it helps foreign companies exploring U.S. expansion navigate that complex market. (PHOTO: Péralte C. Paul)

EI2 Global,  the international outreach economic development program at Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, recently hosted a delegation of startup founders and investors from Argentina who were in Atlanta on a three-day fact finding mission about the region’s startup ecosystem.

The delegation, led by Argentina’s Atlanta-based Consul General Alana Patricia Lomonaco Busto, wanted to learn about the business opportunities in the region. Attendees also wanted to see how Enterprise Innovation Institute programs such as EI2 Global’s Soft Landing program helps foreign companies determine if entering the U.S. market makes sense and how to do so to strategically to maximize success, said Albert Ponce, who manages the Soft Landing initiative.

The visitors also toured the Enterprise Innovation Institute’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) to learn how the incubator helps startups scale and connect with investors, customers, and talent.

Robert Daniel, ATDC FinTech catalyst, explains how the incubator supports Georgia’s startup ecosystem. (PHOTO: Péralte C. Paul)

While in Atlanta, the delegates will also meet with officials from the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Technology Association of Georgia, and Atlanta City Hall.

The visit to Georgia Tech is one of several from Argentina in the last few years, as well as from other parts of Latin America, Europe, and Africa.

They are part of EI2 Global’s longstanding mission of serving as the nexus for helping businesses and economic development organizations around the world foster their own  innovation-focused, economic development ecosystems.

Partnership for Inclusive Innovation director speaks at Congressional AI-Transportation roundtable

Debra Lam, (front row on the right, second from right) addresses the full U.S. House Committee Bipartisan Roundtable on AI in Infrastructure and Transportation. (PHOTO: Robert Knotts)

The Partnership for Inclusive Innovation (Partnership), a program of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute, focuses its work on improving access and opportunities for all Georgians. Its goal since its founding in 2020 is to drive innovation and create opportunities for all to thrive together as part of the innovation ecosystem., regardless of geographic, racial, gender and socio-economic status.

The U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a roundtable on artificial intelligence (AI) in infrastructure and transportation on April 16, 2024 where Partnership Executive Director Debra Lam was invited to speak and share how the organization is leveraging AI as a tool to bring innovative solutions in the transit space.

Lam also sat down with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, the committee’s ranking member, for Q&A session on how AI can help drive innovation in transportation forward.


Below are Lam’s prepared remarks for the hearing:

Good morning, Chairman Graves, Ranking Member Larsen and distinguished members of the House Transportation Committee. It’s an honor to be here today to discuss the transformative potential of AI in Transportation.

My name is Debra Lam and I lead the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation based out of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Our mission is to catalyze and invest in innovative solutions that drive shared economic prosperity through public-private collaborations. Since 2020, the Partnership’s work has deployed millions in financial and social capital and catalyzed hundreds of projects with local governments, corporates, universities, startups, and nonprofits. The projects have created new businesses, increased jobs, and deployed hundreds of technologies and innovations.

In the realm of AI and transportation, we are guided by three core principles:

  • Community-centered problem solving: We believe in starting with the challenges faced by communities themselves, who best understand their needs. However, complex issues like transportation and infrastructure require a collective approach. This is why we form robust public-private partnerships, combining the expertise of multidisciplinary research teams to find the most effective tech-based solutions tailored to community goals. Whether it is AI or other future, unknown technology, it should be seen as one of many tools that is centered on solving community problems.
  • Innovation for all: We stand by the idea that every community, regardless of its size or location, can be a hub of innovation. Our objective is to democratize access to technology and foster an understanding of innovations like AI. This empowers communities to not just utilize technology but to refine and advance it.
  • A holistic view of transportation: Transportation is the lifeline connecting housing and employment. We are dedicated to ensuring that accessible and affordable transportation, especially with the integration of AI and other advanced technologies, is not a hurdle but a support system for securing employment and accessing homes.

Now, let me illustrate how these principles come alive in one of our projects:

Through a U.S. Dept. of Transportation SMART grant, the Chatham Area Transit Authority, with Georgia Tech researchers, is improving transit services in historically underserved neighborhoods. Piloting an On-Demand Multi-model Transit System (ODMTS) powered by AI, riders, including paratransit riders can use a mobile application to summon prompt and efficient transit service.

The AI-driven algorithm behind the service not only learns and evolves from increased usage but also guides the existing, professional drivers along the safest and most expedient routes. The project utilizes union operators and trains early career professionals as operators and maintenance personnel from the local colleges. Additionally, we are improving algorithms to optimize electric vehicle charging to increase operational efficiency and energy conservation.

This project stands as a testament to our approach, showcasing AI as a powerful ally in elevating and integrating transportation services to meet the needs of all communities.

I look forward to delving into these topics with you today.

Thank you for your attention and for supporting this vital work.

Partnership for Inclusive Innovation Smart Cities Projects Receive International Recognitions

Warner Robins, Woodstock, and Columbus, Georgia, recognized with smart community awards

Within hours in early March, projects from three Georgia communities that are part of the Partnership for Inclusive Innovation’s (Partnership) Community Research Grant program were honored with international smart cities awards.

Winners of the Intelligent Community Forum’s Smart21 Community Awards at the 2024 Taipei Smart City Summit and Expo

Warner Robins’ Citizen Safety Digital Twin for Community Resilience and Woodstock’s Smart Master Plan and Smart Corridor Study were recognized at the 2024 Taipei Smart City Summit and Expo with the Intelligent Community Forum’s Smart21 Community Award.

At the same time, Columbus was named a Smart 20 award winner by Smart Cities Connect for the Digital Twin River Safety Project. That award will be presented in May.

“These accolades are a testament to the Partnership’s pivotal role in developing, nurturing, steering, and funding these projects from conception to triumphant completion,” said Debra Lam, the Partnership’s director.

The Warner Robins project to develop and test a Citizen Safety Digital Twin for Community Resilience integrated a dynamic license plate reader solution with police department investigation practices to help lower crime rates in the community. Working with researchers from Georgia Tech and Middle Georgia State University, the Warner Robins Police Department used historical crime data to determine the optimal location and direction to place license plate reader cameras. During the six-month pilot phase of the project, the data helped recover 27 stolen vehicles and solve three major crimes — a shooting and two homicides.

“It’s one of the best investments I think we can make as a city because it brings the peace of mind of safe streets, safe communities, safe shopping experience. The fact that we have our flock cameras in different areas in our city with the smart technology to expand the footprint of our police department helps us solve crime and also helps deter crime, which is even more beneficial.” Warner Robins Mayor LaRhonda Patrick said.

The Woodstock project dates back to 2020, when the city worked with the Partnership on a master plan and smart corridor study to help alleviate the traffic and lack of parking in the city, following a doubling of the population since 2010.

In that first part of the project, the city collected data from GridSmart installations, which document minute-by-minute traffic and turning movements. In the second phase, interns from the Partnership examined the data to find ways to integrate it with previously collected traffic volume flows to show historical patterns. The goal is to determine the best way to amalgamate the data for use in making smart decisions about new transportation projects.

“Woodstock is honored to be among this diverse list of communities, and we are proud to represent the state of Georgia with fellow honoree Warner Robins,” said Mayor Michael Caldwell. “The city of Woodstock is committed to improving its citizens’ quality of life through smart technology programs. From transportation systems to innovative infrastructure technology, the city has been boldly pursuing the initiatives of its Smart Master Plan since 2020.”

The Columbus project’s goal is to make the world’s longest manmade urban whitewater course safer for swimmers and boaters. Scheduled and unscheduled dam releases have caused flooding, limited time for evacuations, and drownings. A digital twin created for the river allowed Georgia Tech and Columbus State University researchers to collaborate and develop technology that can predict changing water levels, detect humans in the water, and alert authorities.

“I think to win the award is awesome, but the impetus was to promote river safety and provide real-time SMART solutions that save lives,” said Dr. James Forrest Toelle, information technology director for Columbus consolidated government, and the project manager for the digital twin project. “None of it would have been possible without the tremendous partnership with Georgia Tech, the Partnership, and our local fire department.”

“It was an incredibly valuable opportunity for us to develop public safety Digital Twins together with collaborators in Columbus and Warner Robins,” said John Taylor, Frederick Law Olmsted Professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, “and it is particularly rewarding to see the research being implemented to help save lives and reduce crimes in real communities. These smart community awards are important recognition of the forward thinking vision and dedication to public safety of these communities.”

These three international wins follow the selection of Valdosta as a finalist in the 2021 World Smart Cities Awards in the Mobility Category for its Traffic Monitoring and Communication System to Improved Safety, Connectivity, and Efficiency project that has reduced the time it takes for first responders to travel the city.

“These projects exemplify the transformative power of technology and community engagement in creating safer, more enjoyable, and more resilient communities,” Lam said. “This remarkable success rate is a clear indicator of our role in nurturing a vibrant ecosystem for innovations—placing Georgia firmly on the map for smart cities.”