Acadiana Business

Building a Community of Entrepreneurs

by Patrick Flanagan

Collaboration and relationships give you the help you want - and the help you need.

Collaboration and relationships give you the help you want - and the help you need.

Opportunity Machine
By Zachary Barker

Entrepreneurism is alive and well in Acadiana. With the influx of new businesses and new residents into our community, we're also beginning to see an increase in start-ups and early-stage successes.

Lafayette has a long history of successful entrepreneurs. For many, the rewards of taking a risk on self are great. When the term "entrepreneur" is used, we often think of well-dressed, articulate and intelligent business people, unwavering in their confidence that they can get the job done. Which leads us to the question, what makes a great entrepreneur?

"Self-belief," says Brian Bille, co-founder of Acadiana Entrepreneur Group. "Entrepreneurs are typically very calculating and intelligent about how they approach opportunity. Rarely do they take a risk because they cannot do something else. Rather, they see opportunity, deeply believe they can take advantage more effectively than someone else and pounce on it."

Bille has been involved in Acadiana Entrepreneur Group, or AEG (www.acadianaeg.com), since it was launched more than three years ago with co-founders Aaron Hebert, Erick Knezek and me.

"The goal has always been to help entrepreneurs find peer-to-peer relationships, solve common needs through a crowd-sourced approach and accelerate one another through partnerships and knowledge share," Bille continues.

He notes there are many groups fueling the movement of entrepreneurism in Lafayette along with AEG, such as the705 Young Professionals and the Acadiana Open Source Group, as well as industry-driven groups like PR Think Tank and the AcA's recently-announced ArtSpark program.

What does it take to create a quality entrepreneurial community?

"Shared common values," says Skyra Rideaux, founder of PR Think Tank. "Everyone must share a similar belief in where we are going. For entrepreneurs - those actively pursuing the dream and those that are building toward it - having others that share your struggles, victories, concerns and fears is invaluable."

With the region experiencing an explosion in new businesses and publicity - from being named the Happiest City in the U.S. to the recruitment of three new technology companies (CGI, Perficient and Enquero) to our community - in which direction should we direct our efforts?

"With great opportunities come the greatest opportunity to become distracted," says Bille. "All humans are faulty of chasing the shiny object rather than just staying laser focused and locked in on our top five goals and initiatives. Having a community of people that can help hold you professionally accountable is crucial, as the most common land mine I see with entrepreneurs is their inability to step back' and assess what is most important."

What additional elements are needed in the community to further accelerate the success of entrepreneurs and their start-ups?

"The lazy answer is money, but the real answer is connectivity," says Blake Lemoine, founder of Intellegat, a big data analytics start-up in Lafayette. "Once we have a greater number of mentors in the community, building their legacy by sharing their knowledge with the next generation of business leaders, then the trailing components will begin to align. We will see the funding come and the partnerships grow."

Lemoine also notes that he has begun working with the Lafayette General Innovation Fund, which allows medical start-ups the opportunity to pitch to the fund leadership. If accepted, the program allows for the opportunity to actively work in partnership with the Lafayette General Health system, as well as have the opportunity for direct funding and partnership with Lafayette General.

"Funding is always a focus; however, until you have a quality product or service and know how to present it in a way that demonstrates the value to the investor, you are better served developing those skills, rather than seeking the funding unicorn.'"

Where do we go from here?

"Collaboration and relationships," says Lemoine. "If we know each other, then we can help each other. AEG and the OM can help you to get past whatever prior expectations you had about starting a business. Even better than giving you the help that you want, they give you the help that you need."

Thanks Blake. We think that is a good idea, too.

Zachary Barker is executive director of the Opportunity Machine, a LEDA-backed initiative that focuses on cultivating Lafayette's entrepreneurial and technology-based industries. Barker is also president and owner of Acadiana Sports Leagues and past president of the705, a local young leaders group. Contact him at [email protected]