March 16, 2015 12:31 AM
When the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce (now One Acadiana) launched INNOV8 Lafayette in 2012, then-chamber Chairman Jerry Greig described it this way: “This is about bringing talent together with resources and growing our region on a platform of strategic thinking and the exploration of opportunities.” Organizers pulled together an eight-day series of 40+ events representing multiple sectors in the local economy, culminating with Festival International. The goal? By integrating existing and new idea development platforms, INNOV8 was designed to provide a forum for local entrepreneurs to network, spark catalytic collaboration and drive business development in the 21st century. Festival would be a draw for out-of-market talent.

The good news is it gelled spectacularly. Many members of Lafayette’s creative class found themselves in the same room, often for the first time ever. Filmmakers, musicians and artists met geologists, engineers and manufacturing designers. Government, education and non-profit professionals met techies, health care specialists, investors and entrepreneurs. All have literally been at the INNOV8 table since its inception, but last year the sheer scale of the series grew untenable. It became obvious that the format was not sustainable by an all-volunteer team. Successive chairmen had burned out. INNOV8 was in danger of collapsing under its own success just as the Lafayette chamber’s role as incubator was coming to an end. Any good business person knows what that means: time to iterate.

After co-chairing last year, Pete Prados was asked to lead the revamp of INNOV8 and reports substantial progress in recent months. INNOV8 has obtained non-profit status with The Community Foundation of Acadiana as its fiscal agent and has been re-branded regionally as INNOV8 Acadiana. Instead of aggregating events in the week leading up to Festival International, INNOV8 will produce a series of events throughout the year. That series will likely start this fall. A 15-member steering committee has been appointed, with CFA Executive Director Raymond Hebert, One Acadiana CEO Jason El Koubi and LEDA CEO Gregg Gothreaux serving as the executive committee.

LEDA has provided short-term seed funding for a part-time executive director (Prados) and an intern, but long-term funding is key to INNOV8’s sustainability. In addition to fundraising events and donation drives, Prados points to two potential new sources for investment: The Delta Regional Authority and Winrock International. The DRA is a federal-state partnership established by Congress in 2000 to assist eight states in the Delta region in infrastructure and business development. Winrock is a global non-profit formed by former Arkansas Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller to increase economic opportunity, sustain natural resources and protect the environment. Their websites indicate that this would be the first foray into Lafayette Parish for both organizations. It would be an especially good fit for Winrock, a major underwriter for Innovate Arkansas, which reports over 100 start-ups, 2,000+ new jobs and a quarter-billion in revenue.

Prados is amped. “This started with three guys talking after a chamber board meeting,” he says, crediting INNOV8 co-founders George Graham, Gerd Weusteman and Chris Allain, “and after just three short years, we’re looking at something that can be a thriving jewel for entrepreneurship in Acadiana.” You’ll be able to follow the progress soon on its new website: innov8acadiana.org.

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