By Stacey Tinsley, firstname.lastname@example.org
A program aimed at giving entrepreneurs the tools to realize their own business dreams has announced its intentions to expand outside Shreveport-Bossier.
A $1.2 million effort has seen the creation of NorLEAP, expanding the current Entrepreneur Accelerator Program (EAP) from northwest Louisiana to 21 parishes in north Louisiana.
U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (R-La.) and Congressman Mike Johnson (LA-04) joined local officials from Bossier and Caddo Parishes Friday morning to announce a $600,000 grant to EAP at the Bossier Parish School for Technology and Innovative Learning.
The Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF), which operates the EAP, will match the grant to complete funding for the expansion.
The grant will result in the creation of the North Louisiana Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (NorLEAP) to provide hands-on, industry-specific guidance for entrepreneurs in growing and building their businesses.
According to BRF, their efforts will save or create more than 200 jobs and generate $15 million in revenue in the first 15 months.
“We discussed how we can innovate and take this (EAP) model and expand it to take on north Louisiana,” said Dave Smith, director of the EAP.
Congressman Mike Johnson (LA-04) said efforts to improve the national economy are helping initiatives like this one take root.
“We talk a lot about economic policy and drive that conversation the goal of improving economic mobility — people who have the ability to reach the American Dream. The latest job and economic stats show now is the perfect time to invest to create jobs and economic opportunity,” Johnson said. “We want our kids to stay here. And to do that, we’ve got to inspire job creation.”
The beginning of the grant grew out of a 2017 roundtable hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Sen. Cassidy at the Cyber Innovation Center that focused on how to highlight innovation and put north Louisiana on the map.
Sen. Cassidy said NorLEAP is about giving the young workforce an opportunity to reach their goals with next generation jobs inside the state of Louisiana.
“How do we give them a reason to stay here? These parishes (of north Louisiana) will do well in 50 years or not with the people who vote with their feet to stay or leave,” said Sen. Cassidy.
He added that the difference in the ability to change in north Louisiana has been the commitment of local leadership.
“It’s like rain. Without the local leadership, it just washes away,” Sen. Cassidy said. “This is a proof of concept because if we have federal partners and local leadership, we can put this together.”
The announcement was the kick off of the Innovation North Louisiana events scheduled for Nov. 13-15. The events are aimed at highlighting innovative efforts among Shreveport-Bossier’s economic agencies, entrepreneurial incubators, and chambers of commerce to showcase developments in north Louisiana.
As Coordinating and Development Corporation Director and Bossier Parish Police Juror, Jack “Bump” Skaggs is invested in local business growth. He sees Innovation North and NorLEAP as an extension of the parish’s efforts to cultivate a new economic driver in the technology industry.
“Barksdale Air Force Base supports all of our economic legs other than oil and gas, which fluctuates too much to depend on. This was our opportunity to create something new that could sustain itself as a third leg of our local economy,” said Skaggs.
He added that while the parish will support efforts with capital assets, it is up to the agencies involved with Innovation North to provide manpower that will make economic development possible.
“We’re not going to handle any overhead or intangibles. If we can participate with matches from property or things like that, that’s where I think the jury really plays a role in that,” said Skaggs. “We’ve just kind of made the field and it’s an opportunity for someone to come play on it now.”
Rocky Rockett, director of the Greater Bossier Economic Development Foundation, called the effort a great opportunity to spur entrepreneurialism.
“This is a great opportunity to encourage those guys that have two and three employees with a great product to move to that next step,” Rockett said. “That’s always kind of been the missing link between the creative culture having a beta product and opportunity get to production. This is where those guys step in and help that out.”