Entrepreneurs need a fusion of factors to help their business ideas succeed, including mentoring, investment capital and a pro-business locale with advantageous incentives and supportive public policy. The Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program, or EAP, in Shreveport offers entrepreneurs exactly that and more. The program works with companies in and outside of Louisiana that are committed to establishing ventures in 21 parishes in the northern part of the state.
“When we first started, we looked around the country at all the top business accelerators and what really worked in helping launch high growth companies,” says EAP Executive Director David Smith. “And we brought those things into what we‘re doing here in Shreveport.”
Operating like a regional Shark Tank, EAP vets entrepreneurs with business ideas from diverse sectors and in various stages of development. The program accepts ideas with the highest potential for success and mentors entrepreneurs through a step-by-step process. But what makes the program really stand out is that it connects entrepreneurs directly to possible investment capital.
“When we formed our accelerator, we knew that for businesses to succeed they needed to be able to pitch their ideas to investors before being booted out of the accelerator,” says Smith. “We set up the New Louisiana Angel Fund, which is made up of more than 50 investors who evaluate start-up pitches once a month.”
Since its inception in 2014, EAP has reviewed more than 700 companies and enrolled 60 in the program. Those portfolio companies have started 130 new jobs in north Louisiana with an average salary of $55,000. They have raised more than $65 million in capital.
EAP is an initiative of BRF, formerly the Biomedical Research Foundation, a comprehensive economic development strategy for the Shreveport-Bossier City metropolitan area. EAP was launched to help new business ventures with high growth potential get off the ground and remain in the area.
“We had seen a lot of entrepreneurs with great ideas feel like they had to leave north Louisiana for Dallas, Austin, Houston or one of the coasts,” says Smith. “We wanted to keep those great ideas and new businesses here.”
Not only has the program provided entrepreneurs with intense start-up support and capital investment, it has also shown the advantages of doing business in Louisiana. The state‘s Digital Interactive Media and Software Development tax incentive is the most generous of its kind in the country and is just one of many programs that can help new businesses launch and grow. Moreover, taxes and cost of living are lower in Louisiana, and the state’s impressive tech sector growth over the last decade means there is a growing talent pool emerging from institutions of higher education.
Many of EAP‘s portfolio companies dovetail with northeast Louisiana’s hot sector growth, including cyber security. The region has become a hub for cyber advancement and is home to the National Cyber Research Park, the Cyber Innovation Center and Barksdale Air Force Base. And, a short distance away at Louisiana Tech University is the country‘s first four-year cyber engineering degree program.
This environment was perfect for CyberReef Solutions, a company that provides both security and cost-saving services to companies for their mobile network platforms, including employee tablets and mobile hotspots. Founder and CEO Hilton Nicholson, a Louisiana Tech alumnus, has worked in the telecommunications industry for more than 30 years. He recently relocated to Shreveport from Fairhope, Alabama to take advantage of EAP‘s services. CyberReef received funding from the New Louisiana Angel Fund and has seen steady growth since it launched.
EAP‘s portfolio companies have access not only to the New Louisiana Angel Fund, but also to other angel funds functioning throughout the state, says Smith. It‘s been a way for companies to leverage additional funds and develop deeper relationships within the state.
EAP is part of a network of other programs in Shreveport that offer services to entrepreneurs. Cohab is a popular shared workspace for budding entrepreneurs in downtown Shreveport. New Product Design and Development Services offers inventors product design, idea development and prototyping services. Southern University‘s Milam Street Kitchen Incubator helps culinary entrepreneurs launch new food products. Within that entrepreneurial ecosystem, EAP fills the role of providing intense support for high-growth ideas ready for capital investment.
“One of the things I love about this is that I never know what‘s going to walk through the door,” says Smith. “It could be the next great pet product, or an app or a new form of technology. Our goal is to make sure our companies succeed.”
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