Austin, Texas, a vibrant community of established corporations like Dell and Whole Foods, is also a beehive and incubator of entrepreneurship and new business creation. TeVido, Square Root and Novati are only some of the business ventures born and grown via the lifeblood of an entrepreneurship community or “ecosystem” of ideas, resources and funding. Some folks in our area, which we will call the I-20 Corridor from Shreveport/Bossier to Monroe, think we can be the next Austin, Texas. Do you agree?
Northwest Arkansas is also establishing a vibrant entrepreneurship environment, but they do not have an I-49 or I-20 or a port. We do not have an international airport yet, but neither does Austin. While we do not have just one major comprehensive research university, Louisiana Tech, Centenary and LSU Shreveport have begun to informally work together.
So why do some folks think then we, the I-20 Corridor, can become the next Austin? It is mainly because we have had over the last seven years a convergence of key organizations and energetic leaders who have and are forming, on their own, the foundation for entrepreneurship in our region. The base is already here. The question is what do we as a region now want to do? A disclaimer: I have been honored to join the board of directors of CoHab. Run by John Grindley and his team, this is one of the organizations that has formed to help the growing foundation here. So I will try to be objective.
A set of key questions and answers awaits us: Do we want added employment growth, increases in disposable spending and a vibrant feeling of newness and innovation? Do we want a more diverse workforce in terms of industries, skills and mindsets? The answer is not simple because we could also add to traffic congestion, an increased cost of living and other “fallout” from growth. Research shows the probability of a given region forming an ecosystem that works is about 20%- so why even discuss this?
Let’s turn to a classic allegorical question and answer to help our thinking: when is the best time to plant an oak tree? Answer: twenty years ago. I, as many do, think it is time now to plant our oak tree. The benefits to our region five, fifteen and twenty years out (and more) are, in my view, much greater than the burden to get those benefits. And again the nucleus with great leadership is already here.
Below describes this nucleus that is here and already reaping benefits. This is my rendition of this nucleus based on public sources and not an official description. It is offered to stimulate understanding, discussion and inclusion. Let’s discuss the key current players I know about briefly (not listed in any order of priority):
|CoHab||to my knowledge the only organization that is working 24/7, almost 365 days a year to develop our region’s entrepreneurship capability through a variety of means|
|Louisiana Start Up Prize||is Gregory Kallenberg’s offering that brings entrepreneurs together over two weekends and awards a $50,000 prize to the start-up with the most potential. It started just this past summer, 2014, to rave reviews and will be bigger and better in 2015|
|Bio Medical Research Foundation and the Entrepreneurship Acceleration Program||David Smith’s team has raised $1.5 million dollars to fund investments in the bio-med space and provide an incubator for the new ventures|
|Local Investors||north Louisiana has a known and visible group of venture capital and private equity investors who invest in targeted industries|
|Cyber Innovation Center||Craig Spohn’s team is a hub of innovation with many tentacles and business relationships. They were instrumental in bringing Computer Sciences Corporation to Bossier with 900 expected new jobs|
|North Louisiana Economic Partnership||lead by Scott Martinez, this organization already covers the I-20 Corridor for new economic development for the region|
|Louisiana Economic Development||Stephen Moret’s efforts at the state level are crucial|
|Four Year Universities and the Medical School||provide the basic and applied research capabilities for new technologies that can be commercialized via licensing and other means|
|BPCC and Technical Schools||provide the new training and development for specific in-demand skills for industry|
|Local Banks||provide bank loans for businesses further along in their life cycle|
I also think the mayors and chambers of commerce of the I-20 Corridor cities have an opportunity to be key players, if we want a vibrant new business impetus to accompany our great established firms here.
But here is a key caveat. For new ventures the key resource needed is money. Investment will flow to its highest expected returns adjusted for risk. Why would we expect our homegrown entrepreneurs to be better than entrepreneurs in other parts of the world who might offer higher expected returns adjusted for risk for investors? An answer awaits the next article.
So for now all of this is here and in front of us. What do we want to do about it?
Bill Bigler is Director of MBA Programs and associate professor of strategy at LSU Shreveport. He spent twenty-five years in the strategy consulting industry before returning to academia full time at LSUS. He is involved with several global professional strategy organizations and can be reached at email@example.com and www.strategybest.com