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Acadiana’s Newfound Cred in the Entrepreneurial Realm INNOV8 Acadiana will leverage a hefty U.S. Economic Development Administration grant to boost our region’s status as a business incubation hub.

by Cherry Fisher May

[CORRECTION: This column mistakenly listed the value of the grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the value of the two investments. The story has been edited to reflect the accurate amounts of $700,000 and $400,000, respectively.]

Winrock International has been sniffing around Acadiana for over four years. Founded in the mid 20th century by the scions of Standard Oil founder John D. Rockefeller, the non-profit is based in Little Rock and focused on economic development with an eye toward entrepreneurial innovation. Now with more than 120 projects in 46 countries all over the world, this respected global player will soon add Acadiana to its roster. The goal: to launch a business accelerator program that finds and invests in companies that will launch, grow and create high-paying jobs that stay in Acadiana.

The local program will mirror Winrock’s successful Innovate Arkansas, which has helped more than 140 clients add more than 600 jobs to the Arkansas economy while raising $265 million in investment and generating $226 million in revenue since 2008. After attending multiple INNOV8 Acadiana events, Innovate Arkansas Director Tom Dalton deemed Acadiana a great region for the potential replication of that success based on several key factors: a similar population size and geographic footprint, a strong collaborative spirit and a healthy university environment.

Accelerate Acadiana took almost 10 months to finalize and is made possible by a $700,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration matched by equal in-kind or cash investments from the Community Foundation of Acadiana, UL Lafayette and LEDA. Other strategic sponsors include LEDA’s Opportunity Machine, where the accelerator will be hosted, the Acadiana Economic Development Council and JP Morgan Chase.

Critical to the program’s success is the formation of two $400,000 investment funds that will operate as an LLC to invest up to $50,000 for a small (typically 6 percent) stake in companies chosen for acceleration. “This private investment is a unique feature of this program and part of why it’s so successful,” says INNOV8 Director Pete Prados. Individual investors will be able to participate for a minimal investment of $25,000.

More than 70 companies are expected to compete for the 16 slots in Accelerate Acadiana and go through the program in two flights, beginning in early 2017. Each will receive about three months of intense acceleration and emerge ready to grow. Emphasis will be placed on those relevant to local industry clusters, including health care, oil and gas, technology, aviation and manufacturing.

Prados also points to the success of Acadiana Angel Investors, who have already funded four projects since they began meeting monthly in April and are poised to invest in two more. “Accelerate Acadiana will spotlight our region as a nationally recognized entrepreneurship hub, further showcasing Acadiana as a great place for innovative new companies to grow and thrive,” Prados says.