Budding entrepreneurs looking to become the next Steve Jobs or local fitness center magnate Red Lerille might want to consider the Opportunity Machine.
The Lafayette Economic Development Authority is offering technical assistance through its Opportunity Machine initiative to help local entrepreneurs take their businesses to the next level.
The Opportunity Machine has been working behind the scenes since 2009 to help entrepreneurs by providing mentorships and peer relationships, sales and marketing training, community connectivity and funding.
Whether it’s a fledgling startup or a business that’s been around for years but needs a boost, Opportunity Machine Executive Director Zachary Barker said the Opportunity Machine can help.
“We have classes that are developed for people who need a more intense type of acceleration, but we also offer one-off support groups and meet-ups,” Barker said. “It’s really a program that is dictated by your needs.”
Local personal trainer Brian Broussard, 36, worked with Barker to get his studio, Lafayette Fit Life, off the ground. Broussard became involved with Opportunity Machine group discussions and activities in April or May, he said.
With the program’s help, Broussard said he fine-tuned Fit Life’s business model and personal training programs.
“With all these people coming together, we can solve problems very easily,” Broussard said. “You have to get connected to other people. If you don’t get connected to other people, there’s no possible way for you to grow or succeed.”
The Opportunity Machine instructed Broussard on core entrepreneurship values, including hiring employees with diverse talents, addressing space needs, expanding new markets and learning other aspects of starting a business.
“There’s a huge learning curve with being an entrepreneur,” he said. “When you’re able to get connected with people who can make it easier, you can grow much faster.”
After spending eight years at City Club in River Ranch, Broussard opened Fit Life a little more than a year ago. Now, he uses his expertise to help his clients procure the “fit life.” In five years, Broussard said, he hopes to open two or three new locations and expand his corporate wellness program, which sends trainers to local businesses to get their employees out of their cubicles and into a more active lifestyle, to 30 to 40 more businesses.
Broussard said he also hopes to reach out to hospitals to offer preventative exercise to patients at risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and other illnesses.
Rader Solutions, a local IT firm that helps businesses manage their technology needs, was accepted into the program in fall 2011.
“They had our company set goals every quarter and checked back with us to see if we’d met those goals,” Rader Solutions CEO Chris Rader said. “It was a real mentorship program.”
Rader worked with the Opportunity Machine for about two years, hammering out business strategies, streamlining his products and discussing ideas for the business with Barker and other entrepreneurs working in the program.
“They talked me out of one idea I had, and I’m glad they did because it would have had a negative impact on my business,” he said. “I can say the Opportunity Machine saved my company.”
Since the company’s contact with the program, Rader said, he’s seen his business grow from 30 clients to 150 clients. The company was founded in 1998 and grew from five employees before joining forces with the Opportunity Machine to 18 after. Rader Solutions’ overall revenue also has grown by 50 percent, he said.
“I attribute a lot of our success to them pushing us and opening doors for us,” Rader said.
Another local entrepreneur, Ryan Conway, runs collegead.com, a college sports administration online trade magazine. He reached out to the Opportunity Machine to fine-tune his business model.
“His group has accelerated greatly with the program,” Barker said. “He’s probably one of the biggest success stories we’ve had recently.”
Conway was unavailable for comment last week.
Coming in with a revenue model based on Web advertisements, Barker worked with him to acquire sponsors and even a partnership with another industry news site. Conway also developed a jobs page for sports information workers looking for new gigs.
“He’s transitioned from being just a cool website to a real business solution,” Barker said. “The market has really absorbed it.”
Signing up for the program can be done through Opportunity Machine’s website. There are no fees for applying or for technical support. All Barker asks for when someone comes in, he said, is to be willing to put in the effort.
“If they’re willing to do the work, I can push them in the right direction and connect them with the right people,” Barker said. “But they have to be willing to do the work. That is the most critical part of the program.”