Home » Suspenders of Disbelief joins Bowling Green’s emerging tech & storytelling sector

Suspenders of Disbelief joins Bowling Green’s emerging tech & storytelling sector

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Suspenders of Disbelief, a new storytelling and engagement consultancy, announced its founding and establishment of headquarters in Bowling Green, Ky., in the Collaborative SmartSpace of the Western Kentucky University Innovation Campus HQ.

The announcement came today from Suspenders of Disbelief’s three co-founders: Dr. Henry Jenkins, author and/or editor of twenty books on media and popular culture and one of the world’s most cited experts on transmedia storytelling, fandom, and participatory culture; Dr. Sangita Shresthova, an author, researcher, and project producer whose work has centered on cross-cultural experiences, media and popular culture, and civic imagination; and Bowling Green-based consultant Sam Ford, who works with organizations on innovation approaches, audience engagement, cultural intelligence, and storytelling strategies and who will act as managing partner for the organization.

According to Ford, “Suspenders of Disbelief’s work originated from the research and development the three of us have carried out together in various forms over the past 20 years. Of late, we have begun working on multiple projects exploring how these models can apply outside the academic world: in the business realm, in economic development, in educational systems, in civic infrastructure, and beyond. Suspenders of Disbelief provides the platform for our collective applied work and consulting.”

Jenkins, Shresthova, and Ford have collaborated in various ways since the mid-2000s and in various combinations–co-authoring books like Spreadable Media and Popular Culture and Civic Imagination; launching and running research initiatives including the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium and the USC Civic Imagination Project; co-producing conferences like the MIT Futures of Entertainment and USC/UCLA’s Transforming Hollywood; and hosting featured talks at venues like SXSW. The founding of Suspenders of Disbelief is a formalization of that work.

Dr. Jenkins expressed his excitement to establish this new company: “Brace yourself! Suspenders of Disbelief will enable us to provide greater support to potential partners who want to apply what we’ve learned about participatory culture, media convergence, transmedia storytelling, digital innovation, civic imagination, and so much more through our academic research. I have been fortunate to have many opportunities to engage with many inspiring people outside the academic world, applying aspects of our work in various fields, and I have long been eager to find ways to see that impact through with organizations who want to apply our concepts. Now, we can.”

The company’s location at the WKU Innovation Campus is a natural extension of multiple research projects the Suspenders of Disbelief founders have conducted in the state in the past several years, including a 2017 statewide workshop on the Future of Work in the Kentucky in 2040 that helped give rise to the eventual formation of the nonprofit AccelerateKY (more at MacArthur Foundation), the 2022 launch of a Civic Imagination Incubator for storytellers throughout Kentucky (and beyond) in partnership with AccelerateKY and WKU (more at Bowling Green Daily News), a related September 2023 conference on Civic Imagination & Worldbuilding at the WKU Innovation Campus HQ in partnership with AccelerateKY and WKU (videos here), and an emerging Future of Bowling Green & Warren County initiative with the Warren County government.

Notes Dr. Shresthova, “Our partners in Bowling Green, around Kentucky, and throughout the larger region have been working with concepts that incorporate our work and that have, in return, inspired us. It’s exciting to see our work take on a life of its own. With Bowling Green’s rich cultural diversity and the area’s focus on growing its emerging technology and storytelling sector, it’s become home to our applied work outside academia. And the WKU Innovation Campus’ Collaborative SmartSpace provides an ideal setting for our collaborative work.”

Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ron Bunch expressed his enthusiasm for Suspenders of Disbelief’s decision to form their headquarters in Bowling Green and at the WKU Innovation Campus, stating, “We are excited to have world-scale experts in storytelling, participatory culture, and emerging technologies like the Suspenders in Disbelief team working here in South Central Kentucky. Dr. Jenkins has been one of the leading thinkers of the last three decades on understanding digital culture, and we know that this team’s engagement here in our region will continue to elevate our work on building an immersive experiences focus north of Nashville.”

The company’s focus matches the vision WKU Innovation Campus CEO Henry “Buddy” Steen has for the Innovation Campus. “Dr. Jenkins and Dr. Shresthova have inspired many aspects of what we are building here at the Innovation Campus, and Mr. Ford is an Innovation & Culture Fellow here. The formation of Suspenders of Disbelief and its establishment of a headquarters in our Collaborative SmartSpace exemplifies our desire to create an environment for co-creation that attracts creative, artistic professionals and technologists from throughout our north Nashville region and around the world.”

Warren County Judge-Executive Doug Gorman expressed his excitement for Suspenders of Disbelief’s decision to base their company in Bowling Green. “In 2023, Warren County had the pleasure of working with the Suspenders of Disbelief founders on a workshop as we think about the future of our community. I’m excited to see this new company make its home here, and I look forward to having these world-scale thinkers and their networks engaged with the amazing opportunities we have before us here.”

Bowling Green Mayor Todd Alcott echoed these sentiments. “Bowling Green is growing rapidly and becoming a crucial technology hub for Kentucky and for the greater Nashville area. The addition of this company founded by globally known subject matter experts on storytelling, engagement, and immersive experiences makes that even clearer.”

Suspenders of Disbelief’s decision to base their company in Bowling Green at the WKU Innovation Campus signals the continued momentum of the emerging tech and storytelling sector in Bowling Green and South Central Kentucky, with global-scale companies and talent fueling the vision of the region.

Year to date, the Bowling Green Area Chamber of Commerce has announced 1 economic development project in South Central Kentucky, totaling $9.7 million in capital investment and creating 75 new jobs in the region. Bowling Green has also been recognized as one of the Top 6 Tier 2 Metros in the United States for its tenth consecutive year by Site Selection Magazine. The Chamber is a three-time Mac Conway Award winner, recognizing the Chamber as a Top 20 Economic Development Organization in the Country.

—By South Central Kentucky Economic Development

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