With our eighth anniversary approaching, BRF’s Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP) has much to celebrate. EAP is the only technology accelerator in Caddo Parish, and its unique model has allowed us to expand beyond our original goals and metrics conceived eight years ago.
When we first started in 2014, our objective was to launch homegrown startups, but it is clear today that EAP has accomplished more. This success is not just EAP’s, however, as we are only able to do what we do thanks to the support of BRF.
Since EAP’s inception, our team of analysts has vetted over 1,400 total ideas, 67 of which were funded through angel investors, grants or banks. Ideas are the foundation of the program and of each company that is able to launch or grow with EAP’s assistance. There have been over 350 new jobs created and a total annual payroll of $19 million from ideas that turned into fully operating businesses in North Louisiana.
One important aspect of EAP’s mission is educating the community about entrepreneurship. From October 2021 to July 2022, EAP conducted 45 education programs. We have also established a presence on local college campuses by instituting student business model pitch competitions. These competitions have taken place at Northwestern State University, Louisiana State University Shreveport, Grambling State University and Centenary College. Through these competitions, EAP has worked with 163 student participants, of which 90 were female and 72 were minorities.
We have realized that entrepreneurial education can and should begin even earlier than college. Though we are unable to reach every high school student in the region, we have been able to work with those students participating in the Junior Achievement (JA) program. As volunteers in the JA program, EAP’s analysts have coached eight students in the Junior Achievement Trust Your Crazy Idea Challenge workshops to prepare them to compete in the regional competition, and hopefully the state competition. Julie Milam, our Senior Financial Analyst, coached the winner of the 2021 state competition. This student received $12,500 in higher education scholarships and money for their high school.
Over the last eight years, we have developed a relationship with Air Force Global Strike Command (AFGSC) at Barksdale Air Force Base. This relationship is a perfect example of EAP looking for the strengths of our community and finding a way to build upon them. EAP was able to assist in the launch of the Small Business Consulting Corporation and The Bridge. These organizations are finding, connecting and transitioning the best technologies for our nation’s most critical missions, including those of AFGSC.
We have been a part of many success stories over the last eight years, but there have also been obstacles to overcome. Needless to say, a global pandemic was definitely not a barrier that any of us anticipated. Even with the difficulties presented by Covid-19, EAP has continued to make a positive impact in our area.
Over the years, we have learned that we cannot be everything for everyone. There are several other organizations in the community that provide support to entrepreneurs, and rather than try to compete with those groups, EAP realized we could collaborate and find even greater success. Ultimately, we realized we had to pick where EAP could have the most impact in the community and focus on that area. This experience led EAP to develop the Launch Network, a free online tool that helps entrepreneurs find the best regional business resource for their needs. The success of Launch Network really comes from entrepreneurs being able to find the support they need regardless of where they are in the process of bringing an idea to life. It is this type of collaborative community effort that has contributed to our program’s success and to building the supportive network that has been established for entrepreneurs in North Louisiana.
In looking forward to what is to come for EAP and our partners, I hope we continue to collaborate and advance programs like EAP to help keep entrepreneurs, their ideas and their companies here in North Louisiana. With a total estimated investment from ideas of $139 million over the past eight years, we are encouraged about the future and look forward to growing companies, entrepreneurial support and investment in North Louisiana.
Dave Smith, EAP Director