Innov8 Acadiana plans another ‘gr8’ technology, entrepreneurial summit this week in Lafayette _lowres

Advocate staff file photo by BRYAN TUCK -- John Patterson, left, and Edward Conrad write computer code during a session of Innov8 in 2014. Innov8 is an annual festival showcasing thought leaders and content experts through dozens of lectures, workshops and networking events in downtown Lafayette and the nearby University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

The Lafayette-born festival that celebrates and encourages the region’s entrepreneurial class kicks off Thursday and runs through Saturday.

Innov8 Acadiana is keeping the features that have been a hit in the years since the inaugural 2012 Innov8 Lafayette, but it now has a more-focused mission and it’s gathered partners that give Innov8 a direction it lacked in its infancy.

Officially titled the Technology and Entrepreneurial Summit, Innov8 Acadiana kicks off Thursday with a luncheon and awards presentations at the Cajundome Convention Center, and ends Saturday evening after a bevy of seminars and competitions.

Entertainment and cuisine, too, are to be celebrated, with downtown Lafayette restaurants putting up their best dishes for “Innov8 the Plate.” On Saturday, comic Brooks Wheelan, of “Saturday Night Live,” will perform at Nite Town.

One of the festival’s originators, Lafayette technology entrepreneur Pete Prados, said Innov8 has evolved since 2012.

“The focus now is more accelerating entrepreneurship. That is really our thrust,” Prados said. “We want to help anybody, whether they have a kernel of an idea or if they’re a healthy business ready to grow. … We can connect them to investors and mentors.”

Lafayette news organization The Independent, which is sponsoring the luncheon on Thursday, will present its Entrepreneur of the Year award to Taylors International Services CEO G.T. “Butch” Darce, and the first Jillian Johnson Award for Entrepreneurship in the Creative Economy to Cathi Pavy, a partner and creative director for BBR creative.

On Friday, Innov8 will host the Technology Career Fair in the lobby of the LITE Center; admission is free.

Innov8 has kept two of its most popular events and added partners. For instance, 14 budding or established entrepreneurs will compete in the Delta Regional Authority Pitch Event, in which they’ll have three minutes each to persuade the judges. That will be followed by a three-minute question-and-answer session for each competitor.

In the audience will be well-heeled investors who could take an interest in one or more of the pitches and invest. Also, Delta Regional Authority will sponsor the top three Innov8 pitchers at the New Orleans Entrepreneurial Week in March, Prados said.

Also back this year is the Cajun Code Fest, but with changes. In 2014, computer coders had just over a day to write a health care-related program. This year, after contestants start writing code Saturday that could eventually help diabetes patients, they’ll have about six months to finish.

“Instead of having one night to come up with something … they get until April to come up with great solutions,” he said.

Innov8 Acadiana is part of the Community Foundation of Acadiana, and it has the support, including financial support, of a multistate group of organizations.

Those include the Delta Regional Authority, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, J.P. Morgan Chase, Winrock International and One Acadiana, the nine-parish economic development organization that was formerly the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce.

Smaller partners, which provide in-kind services, include marketing firms Potenza Creative and Foster Marketing.