Faculty Research Program

The IC2 Institute has a longstanding mission of investing in research and knowledge creation that can be translated into real-world applications through innovation, stakeholder engagement, and the entrepreneurial mindset. Over the years, our research and collaborations have been used by public and private sector stakeholders, policy makers, and start-up ecosystems in several countries. A key component of our work is engaging with and supporting UT Austin faculty research projects related to the Institute’s focus on advancing well-being equity across social, economic, and health systems. Through our research collaborations, we mobilize our assets to generate insights and test solutions that impact People, Place, and Prosperity in order to mitigate the downstream impacts of well-being disparities. 

Explore our current and previously funded research below.

Addressing Structural Inequalities in Disaster-induced Power Grid Outages

Project Summary:

Based on and building from prior interdisciplinary work on resiliency, they are developing statistical and optimization models to enable policy makers to reduce structural inequalities that are exacerbated by extreme weather events. These new models will quantify the disparate impacts of flooding and grid failures on different communities and incorporate them into policy-development models, with targeted community-specific investment in grid and healthcare infrastructures, flood mitigation and community-based resilience, all to reduce structural inequalities. Deliverables are expected to be papers and conference presentations. 

Understanding and identifying structural barriers to kidney transplantation in central Texas

Project Summary:

This team is conducting a parallel mixed-methods study concurrent with the evolution of a new kidney transplant center at the University of Texas at Austin. Kidney transplantation is the most cost-effective treatment of end-stage kidney disease, enabling patients to stop dialysis and live longer healthier lives. There are two phases of this project. The first phase is to administer standardized assessments of social determinants of health.  The second phase is to conduct interviews with kidney transplant candidates and their primary caregivers to better understand the health, social, and cultural disparities in accessing kidney transplantation in central Texas.

The findings will be used to develop an innovative, patient-centered messaging campaign to increase access to transplantation services, create systemic solutions to counteract disparities, and identify and disseminate best practices.

Assessing Black Social Well-Being in Rural Texas

Danielle Wright

Associate Director Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis (IUPRA)College of Liberal ArtsCollege of Education, Dept of Educational Leadership and Policy

Ricardo Lowe

Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis (IUPRA)College of Liberal Arts

Steven Pedigo

LBJ School of Public AffairsDirector of LBJ Urban Lab

Project Summary:

This study will empirically assess indicators of social well-being, economic opportunity, and quality of life among rural Black Texans. Most rural studies tend to center the experiences of White and Hispanic communities, who collectively comprise about 92 percent of the state’s rural population. Black rural communities on the other hand receive less empirical attention. For one, the state’s Black rural population is almost exclusively clustered in East Texas and is relatively small compared to the aforementioned groups. Second, most of the state’s Black population is concentrated in central cities or metropolitan areas, which might also explain the lack of prioritization of Black rural communities. This in turn has led to a limited understanding of the lived experiences and social well-being of Black rural Texans.

The study will examine the economic recovery of Black rural Texans from COVID-19 while at the same time informing a larger body of research regarding the long-term economic, health and social trajectories of this population. It will rely on both quantitative and qualitative methods to address gaps in the literature, inform public policy, and develop specific economic development strategies for observed communities.

Disaster Continuity for Businesses and Communities in Rural Texas: Investigating Infrastructure, Communication, and Planning Needs

Keri Stephens

Moody College of Communication, Dept of Communication Studies

Kasey Faust

Cockrell School of Engineering, Dept of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering

Sharon Strover

Moody College of Communication, School of Journalism and Media Dept of Radio-Television-Film

Project Summary:

Disasters, including floods, fires, weather events, and hurricanes, are frequent in Texas. They affect both large and small businesses and highlight the vulnerabilities of infrastructural systems such as power, water, and broadband connectivity. While some disaster-recovery resources are available for businesses and communities in Texas (e.g., Government Land Office, FEMA, SBA), small, rural communities often lack the resources to plan for and respond to disasters.

This project focuses on the Gulf Coast region of Texas and uses an interdisciplinary approach to understand the social and technical aspects of disaster-resilience efforts needed to help small businesses and communities in Texas.


Building Rural Journalism: Leadership & Training

Kathleen McElroy

Moody College of Communication, Director of School of Journalism

Project Summary:

The focus of this proposal is a program to supply rural Texas with a much-needed pipeline of newsroom and publishing leadership –trained not just in newsroom practices but also in business innovation within the context of their specific communities. This proposal is crucial to the health of rural Texas because it addresses issues central to IC2’s mission: entrepreneurship and innovation in rural journalism; small business development, especially at the mom-and-pop newspaper owner level; and workforce retention and development, through a much-needed succession plan for rural papers, which in many cases have been the social and cultural heartbeat of small Texas communities for more than a century.

Boosting rural journalism leadership boosts rural economic recovery and resilience.

Building Equitable Healthcare in Rural Texas

Joshua Barbour

Associate Professor, Department of Communication Studies

Kara Takasaki

Researcher, Bureau of Business Research, IC2 Institute

Sharmila Rudruppa

Director, South Asia Institute

Deborah Parra-Medina

Professor of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies

S. Craig Watkins

Executive Director of the IC2 Institute and Professor, School of Journalism and Media Department of Radio-Television-Film

Matt Kammer-Kerwick

Senior Research Scientist, Bureau of Business Research, IC2 Institute

Project Summary:

This study focuses on mental health care delivery and the management of chronic co-morbidities to evaluate healthcare accessibility and efficacy in rural Texas. The patterns of telemedicine adoption, implementation, and adaption across Texas spurred by the pandemic are not well understood. The work will focus on mental health care delivery and the management of chronic co-morbidities, specifically diabetes, to understand the potential and challenges in using remote delivery strategies to manage long-term diseases in rural populations and marginalized communities through a mixed-methods approach. This project brings together an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Communications, Sociology, Latino Population Health, and Decision Science. It allows us for building new research on the shared focus of understanding. mental health crisis and systemic inequities with an eye toward building resilience among healthcare workers and community members, to the overall effective delivery of healthcare in rural Texas.

Big data strategies to map social networks in co-working spaces

Project Summary:

This project explores the social networks centering on small city co-working spaces and incubator. It considers the influence these have on migration to smaller and more rural communities.


Project Reports and Publications

Digital media and venture creation in selected rural communities in Texas


Project Summary:

This research, titled “Bloom or Gloom in the Media Wilderness” focuses on the decline of legacy media outlets in small Texas towns, and what that means for rural communities. The study was led by Dr. Wenhong Chen, Associate Professor of Media and Sociology and the founding co-director of the Media and Entertainment Industries Program; Dr. Joseph Straubhaar, Amon G. Carter Centennial Professor of Communication; and Melissa Santillana, Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Radio, Television and Film, all at the University of Texas at Austin.


Project Reports and Publications

Blog: Zumba, Facebook and TikTok:Creative ways rural Texas entrepreneurs make up for lack of local media

Video of Research Highlights

Social learning in small farm settings using western Kenya as a model

Project Summary

This project studies whether barriers in agricultural information seeking or sharing harm learning among smallholder maize farmers in rural Kenya.


Project Reports and Publications

Final Project Report Learning Barriers to information diffusion in rural Kenya

Developing an online system to evaluate the rural entrepreneurship environment in Texas


Project Summary

The main objectives of this research are as follows:

-Develop meaningful measures of entrepreneurship at the county/tract level within Texas.

-Use the entrepreneurship measures to provide a ranking (annually) of counties/tracts within Texas.

-Use statistical (regression) analysis to identify the important determinants of the entrepreneurship measures. The possible determinants include sociodemographic variables, infrastructure variables, macroeconomic conditions, etc.

-Develop an on-line platform for users to access the entrepreneurship measures/rankings for geographic areas within Texas (county level and possibly Census tract level), including the ability to examine the changes in these measures/rankings over time as well as the determinants affecting the entrepreneurship measures/rankings


Project Reports and Publications


Rural Innovation Incubator model relative to energy workers in transition


Project Summary

This research looked at new solutions and strategies for entrepreneurs in the energy industry in the Permian Basin in West Texas. The results led to the development of a series of courses for high schools (2 courses) and community colleges (4 courses) that explores the entrepreneurial aspects of mining, refining, and distributing crude oil and natural gases.


Project Reports and Publications

Return to rural regions after urban migration in China


Project Summary

This project studies how social networks, traditional social values and structure, self-governing organizations, and government interplay in revitalizing rural China. The study is divided into three phases: the first phase examine why senior associations, a type of important self-governing organizations, exist in some rural areas; the second phase studies the institutional logics of nonprofits and local government; the third phase examines the partnership between social organizations and government in rural development.


Project Reports and Publications

Innovation and entrepreneurism ecosystem blueprint for selected rural regions


Project Summary

This project examines how data-driven economic development strategies and policies can offer a blueprint to support innovative and creative ecosystems in rural Texas communities. Multiple rural communities are investigated, and the research offers an approach for how these strategies can be implemented. Finally, a catalog of lessons learned is provided for application to other rural Texas areas.


Project Reports and Publications

Final Project Report SFA University an Anchor Institution in Deep East Texas 2022

Final Project Report UTPB Pathways to Energizing the Basin 2022

Final Project Report Boerne, Kendall County EDE Economic Development Strategy Plan 2020

Economic booms, entrepreneurial activity, and economic resilience of rural Texas

Project Summary

A data-driven look at the relationships among energy booms, entrepreneurship and economic resilience in Texas; and a qualitative, case study-based examination of the role that political leaders play in shaping communities’ response to economic booms.


Project Reports and Publications

Broadband access and entrepreneurial outcomes in rural regions

Project Summary

Our research goal is to characterize and quantify the relationship between adequate broadband services and rural entrepreneurial endeavors, and to assess which policies -whether governmental, private, trade association-based or philanthropically supported – might improve the local entrepreneurship ecosystem.


Project Reports and Publications

Co-working spaces and innovative enterprises in rural and urban centers

Project Summary

This project looks at emergent themes and offers insight regarding the post-COVID future of co-working. Research will also be used to provide ways coworking spaces can play in the economic development plans of small and rural towns.


Project Reports and Publications

Tackling Pandemics:Afro-Brazilian Entrepreneurs and COVID-19

Project Summary

How did COVID-19 adversely affect Afro-Brazilian entrepreneurs? This study investigated two aspects of their experience: their access to business credit, and whether they were able to work remotely during the first months of the pandemic in 2020.


Project Reports and Publications

Project Final Report

Economic Development in Rural Texas:  A study of heritage, assets, barriers, and stakeholders in six rural communities

Project Summary

Drs. Clay Spinuzzi and Greg Pogue led a team of graduate student researchers from The University of Texas at Austin to study the status of communities in Texas. Three dimensions of community growth were considered, pairing two communities in comparative studies.


Project Reports and Publications

Final Project Report 

A Machine Learning Approach: Socio-economic Analysis to Support and Identify Resilient Analog Communities in Texas


Project Summary

This project present a systematic and unbiased measure, group similarity score (GCS) and similarity scoring metric (SSM) to support the predictive search of missing properties for target communities and identification of analogous cities based on available socioeconomic data and modeling. The purpose of the research is to develop a workflow that can be used to identify analog resources or items to support planning and development of Texan communities.  Knowing that each Texan community can be characterized by its associated properties, the workflow combines both spatial and multivariate statistics in a novel manner to determine the GCS & SSM whilst visualizing the associated uncertainty space.


Project Reports and Publications

Project Final Report