Opportunity Machine, a new business accelerator spearheaded by LEDA and LITE, hopes to enable the next generation of technology-inspired entrepreneurs. By Nathan Stubbs
Opportunity Machine Executive Director Bob Miller and steering committee chairman Tom Cox
When Tom Cox started Golfballs.com, one of the first e-commerce businesses in the state, in 1995, the Le Triomphe club manager was thrust into a whole new world of business management; finding the right marketing strategy and raising capital for a young Internet startup required a whole new education. “I didn’t know anything about raising money from investors,” Cox recalls, “so I had to learn about it. [Knowing that] may have saved me years on the learning curve.”
Fifteen years later, Cox and a band of like-minded city business leaders are hoping to share their know how and connections with the next generation of local technology-inspired entrepreneurs. The Lafayette Economic Development Authority is set to announce the launch of Opportunity Machine, an organization set up to serve as both an incubator and resource clearing house for growing tech-oriented businesses in the community. Cox, the immediate past chairman at LEDA, credits his predecessors on the board — like fellow tech entrepreneur Max Hoyt — with sharing in the vision for Opportunity Machine. Much of the discussion focused on how other tech business accelerators, such as TechBA in Austin and the Houston Technology Center, are at the forefront of business growth in other leading communities.
“There was a confluence of conversation,” says LEDA President Gregg Gothreaux, “about small business development, incubation and acceleration, and so we decided that we ought to launch something like [Opportunity Machine] during Tom’s year as chairman.”
Technically, the project did get under way last year, unofficially called The Accelerator. Cox outlined the concept at a One Web Day conference in September 2009. Shortly thereafter, the city announced that California special effects firm Pixel Magic would become the first tenant in the new tech business accelerator housed at Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprise. “We weren’t quite ready [to launch],” Gothreaux says, “but there was an opportunity [with Pixel Magic], so we needed to make it happen.” Opportunity Machine is designed to incubate and grow existing small businesses as well as help lure new tech companies to the area.
Pixel Magic, whose lease will be up for renewal at the end of the year, is seen as an anchor tenant. In addition, Opportunity Machine has since added four other resident members to the approximately 6,000 square feet of office space it leases at LITE. They include Henry Safety Technologies LLC, a medical telemetry company; virtualization and software service firm Rader Solutions; medical information exchange software company Global eSolutions Group; and Fiber Corps, a fiber broadband advocacy nonprofit. All members receive free rent, telecommunications including 100 megabyte Internet service, part time interns and assistance with renting LITE’s theater or other venues for special projects or events. Gothreaux says Opportunity Machine has room for several more resident members at LITE. However, he contends the project is not necessarily limited by space. “First of all, as space may become available in LITE, we’d be interested in it, and we think it’s a great use because we’re interested in [Opportunity Machine tenants] using LITE’s service and LITE’s venues. And then, we’re not going to limit our location to just the LITE. We have the whole community.”
LEDA has ponied up the seed money for the initiative, which Gothreaux says totals approximately $250,000. Gothreaux stresses that Opportunity Machine does not plan to duplicate any services already being offered in Lafayette from other business organizations, many of whom have signed on as partners in the new incubator. UL Dean of Business Joby John and Small Business Development Center Director Mark Galyean are both members of Opportunity Machine’s steering committee, as are Gothreaux and Cox. Schumacher Group Chief Information Officer Doug Menefee, local attorney and technology enthusiast Clay Allen and an unfilled appointee from LITE (likely to be filled by LITE’s next CEO) round out the board.
Both John and Galyean plan to be actively involved in helping recruit businesses into Opportunity Machine from the university. The UL Small Business Development Center will also work with Opportunity Machine applicants in helping them refine their business plans and presentations. Galyean is planning two startup business “bootcamps” beginning in February, which will partly serve to filter the most promising businesses into Opportunity Machine.
Gothreaux sees the partnership reaping fruits outside of just the incubator program. “The ultimate goal is set up a pipeline that is so rich that you end up attracting people from all over and filling up every office space in every building with entrepreneurs,” he says.
Opportunity Machine itself is being headed up by Executive Director Bob Miller. A veteran of three tech startups who recently moved back to Louisiana from Silicon Valley, Miller says he was immediately impressed by how much buy-in Opportunity Machine had garnered from across the community. “The reason I took this job is because everybody was at the table saying the same things,” he says. “And it was all these organizations. You get that many people focused on getting something done and they’re all shaking their head yes at the same time, it’s actually a possibility. In fact it’s a probability.”
Miller, whose office is at LEDA, will triage incoming applicants for the program, offering advice or referrals to help them refine their presentation. When they’re ready, businesses will make a presentation to the Opportunity Machine steering committee for acceptance into the program. Miller says that before becoming a resident member, all businesses must show themselves to be self-sufficient for one year. Once in, Opportunity Machine plans to help connect all its members — both resident and nonresident — with investors and other partners who can help them grow. “The key for us is creating an environment where people can share ideas,” Miller says. “Right now, we’re just fanning the flames. Eventually, it’ll just take on a life of its own.”
JUNE 19 Former Saint Steve Gleason, who is paralyzed by ALS, released a statement Tuesday in response to the Atlanta radio station's skit making fun of him and the disease, this Picayune post reports. What did he say? He said he'd accepted the apology of the DJs who did it, notes that at least the incident has got people talking about ALS, and asks anyone who is burning to take action about it to do so -- by helping him fight ALS.
JUNE 19 Blogger Ian McGibboney takes a look at the Gleason incident in this post. He makes a good argument about the difference between having free speech and being free from consequences for your speech (which none of us is). He also admits that many of us got upset before we listened to the skit -- but lets us know that the reality is far worse than we can imagine. It was the incredibly bad judgment, even more than the actual speech, that probably got those DJs fired, he opines.
JUNE 19 Washington Post blogger Aaron Blake writes about Sen. Guillory's switch to the GOP in this post. He writes what most political watchers in Louisiana know: Guillory was a Republican before he decided to run for the senate seat in a mostly-D St. Landry district, and has switched back now that he plans to run for Lt. Gov. in a mostly-R state. But how come Blake missed Guillory's appearance on a TLC pageant show? Now that is a video we'd like to see. (Again).
JUNE 19 Here's another Washington Post blog post about a Louisiana politician, and it's just plain scathing. Ezra Klein says Jindal's Politico post was "insulting" to the intelligence of voters, and adds that Jindal is personifying the "stupid" he's railed against, by being an "elite" who convinces GOP activists of "things that aren't true." Me-ow.
JUNE 19 Here's Gov. Jindal's post in Politico, in which he asks the GOP to get over losing to Obama (again) and stop "the bedwetting." (Uh, what?) He gives his Republican buddies what is probably a nerd's idea of a coach's motivational talk, which starts with a list of accomplishments that they can't seem to exploit and ending with an absurd description of liberals that sounds like a character treatment for a Fox "News" movie scripted by Gordon Liddy. Sure, he's preaching to the choir, but even the choir's not this gullible.
JUNE 19 Lamar Parmentel read Gov. Jindal's post on Politico, but thinks it was so dumb it probably was published in the wrong paper. This post by Lamar on the Daily Kingfish opines that possibly Jindal's post was destined for the Onion -- because the governor couldn't possibly be serious here. If you listen closely, you can hear the staff of the Kingfish giggling.
JUNE 19 Blogger Robert Mann posts from Turkey, a country he has visited several times in the past few years. Mann gives an interesting overview of the current political and societal climate of the country, which -- if you're living under a rock and don't know -- is experiencing protests and turmoil these days. Mann promises to post as much as he can during his trip, which should be fascinating reading.
JUNE 19 Blogger CB Forgotston says the legislature is keeping the vicious cycle going with its funding of new buildings for the community college/technical college system. Universities across the state need maintenance and improvement on existing buildings, and the solution is to build new buildings at other schools? By the time the bonds are paid off, those buildings will be falling down, too, CB says.
Frank’s Casing Crew, now doing business as Frank’s International, will make its final appearance on ABiz’s list of the Top 50 Privately Held Companies in Acadiana this year, and once again it will likely be at the top with more than $1 billion in annual revenues. The 75-year-old company specializing in tubular fabrication and installation services to the oil and gas industry plans to offer shares of its stock to the public for the first time.
The defeat, or rather highjacking of House Bill 420 in the final days of this year's Legislative Session, say Reps. Vincent Pierre and Terry Landry, is the result of the propaganda spread by one unidentified local media outlet and an unnamed former state Representative, but nothing to do with the original legislation's lack of checks, balances or details.
He’s a singer. A songwriter. A piano man. A family man. He’s even got his own Wikipedia entry. He’s David Egan. And he knows ancient secrets about the monolithic stones of Stonehenge that he’s not willing to share.