LSU Industrial Innovation Center, Baton Rouge’s Research Park Corp receive economic development grants

Nearly $1 million in federal grants have been awarded to the LSU Industrial Innovation Center, Baton Rouge’s Research Park Corp. and New Orleans’ Propeller Social Impact Equity Fund to support their efforts to boost entrepreneurship and business development.

“Innovation and entrepreneurship is crucial. It’s crucial not only to this city, to this state, but to our country as a whole. It’s crucial for our economic prosperity,” said Julie Lenzer, director of the U.S. Economic Development Administration’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs and small business owners account for 65 percent of the net new jobs created, she said. When startups succeed, communities succeed, workers benefit and families become stronger.

The agency awarded LSU’s Industrial Innovation Center $498,624. The grant was one of 27 awarded nationwide to help advance innovation and capacity-building activities.

Research Park Corp. and Propeller each got $250,000. They were among eight organizations to get Seed Fund Support Investments.

Jonathan Shi, head of LSU’s Industrial Innovation Center, said he wants the newly created center to be a technology think tank that finds out industry’s technological needs and matches them with innovators.

Louisiana’s chemical industry is huge, with 200 plants stretching from Baton Rouge to New Orleans to Lake Charles, and will account for 64 percent of industrial growth over the next three to five years, Shi said.

“But if you have seen how these multibillion-dollar facilities are built, maintained and how they are operated, you would feel the time machine has stopped somewhere. You are stuck in the 1960s and the ’70s,” Shi said. “So this is my question: Can’t innovation do something?”

The idea behind the Industrial Innovation Center is to answer that question, he said.

Research Park got $250,000 to fund The Louisiana Deal Flow Accelerator, which will help early-stage companies quickly reach a level to capture seed and angel investor capital. The accelerator also will facilitate “hackathon-based business challenges” for Louisiana’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, increasing the diversity of deals.

Research Park Corp. is the parent company of the Louisiana Technology Park, a tech business incubator on Florida Boulevard, and NexusLA, which helps companies create jobs by increasing regional collaboration, access to capital and workforce diversity.

NexusLA will lead the accelerator. Partners include Southern University, Innovation Catalyst, NO/LA Angel Network and the Opportunity Funding Corp., a division of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

“We created the Louisiana Deal Flow Accelerator to address common challenges faced by early-stage companies seeking capital, especially those that were close but unsuccessful in previous attempts,” said NexusLA Chief Executive Officer Byron Clayton.

Propeller and the New Orleans Startup Fund received funding to create the Propeller Social Impact Equity Fund. It will invest in social entrepreneurs in the greater New Orleans region. Propeller is a nonprofit designed to drive social, environmental and economic impact in New Orleans by supporting early-stage ventures that have the potential to solve New Orleans’ biggest challenges.

The Propeller Social Impact Equity Fund will support New Orleans’s fastest-growing, highest-impact ventures with the capital they need to expand and create greater economic prosperity.

“We are excited about the opportunity to offer additional equity investments to local companies, and we are thrilled to partner with Propeller, which is home to so many ventures that are solving the most pressing challenges in our community,” said Jimmy Roussel, CEO and president of the New Orleans Startup Fund.

Clayton said Louisiana must collaborate in order to compete.

Clayton saw a unique opportunity in partnering with Louisiana’s historically black colleges, realizing they could be a valuable asset in the venture.

Research Park Corp. works with LSU and Propeller all the time, he said. The BREW Innovation and Startup Showcase, a brand new event held at LSU, drew 300 people.

Research Park brought two of Propeller’s programs to Baton Rouge before learning both had won the EDA grants, he said. That’s the type of thing being done here.

The Louisiana Deal Flow Accelerator will focus on increasing “the quantity, quality and diversity of our deal flow pipeline,” Clayton said. “That’s why we’ve partnered with Southern.”

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