Michael Aikens, Ph.D.
Founding Director, Center for Rural Innovation; Chair, Rural Reimagined Grand Challenge, Office of Research and Economic Development at Tennessee Technological University

Michael Aikens, Ph.D., founding director of the Tennessee Center for Rural Innovation (TCRI) and chair of the Rural Reimagined Grand Challenge at Tennessee Tech University, spearheads rural transformation across Tennessee through science, technology, innovation, and economic development. Collaborating with local leaders, chambers of commerce, and state departments, he has overseen the implementation of 900+ rural projects statewide, provided no-cost technical assistance to 600+ businesses, saving/retaining 700+ jobs, and strategically analyzed impacts of $2B+ public investments. With over 18 years in research and economic development at TN Tech, Aikens has secured $30M+ in funding for sponsored programs from agencies such as ARC, NSF, EDA, USDA, and more. He directs the Eagle Works program, fostering student innovation and entrepreneurship. Aikens hosts the PBS series "It’s Your Business," reaching 1.3M+ viewers, and serves on various boards, showcasing his dedication to community advancement.

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