Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week to give new businesses exposure to investors _lowres

In the spotlight

When Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week, a celebration of the risk-takers who are starting their own companies, kicks off on Nov. 16, there will be a major change to one of the signature events.

This year, the BREW Pitch Night, a “Shark Tank”-like event that features fledgling businesses making their cases to investors, will be open to as many as 20 businesses. The participants will have one minute to make their case for funding before a panel of judges. Judging will progress through three rounds, with the winner getting $1,000 and a package of services from local businesses. Those include startup consulting provided by Louisiana Tech Park, financial consulting from Horne LLP and legal consulting from Kean Miller. Pitch Night will start at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 19 in the Creative Bloc at 804 Main St. Admission is $10 in advance, $15 at the door. To buy tickets or register to participate, go to brewpitchnight.com.

In the past, there were only a handful of participants at Pitch Night, who did presentations of a few minutes and competed for a cash prize of several thousand dollars. Stephen Loy, executive director of the Tech Park, said the decision was made this year to open the competition to a wider range of startup firms based on the popularity of a lightning round during last year’s Pitch Night. “We did the quick pitches, and people just loved them,” he said. “This provides for voices from the younger companies, and there’s value to that. Baton Rouge is really starting to have a lot more of these younger companies.”

Giving the winning pitch company free professional services is something that may be of more value to a fledgling startup than just cash, Loy said.

“They can sit down with Kean Miller and make sure they have all their ducks in a row,” he said. “This makes sure they are really where they need to be and in a good position to go after bigger funding.”

BREW is being held in conjunction with Global Entrpreneurship Week Nov. 16-22.

Adam Knapp, president and chief executive officer of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, said the event gives risk-takers, innovators and small-business owners a chance to shine.

“The Capital Region has a vibrant startup scene that’s frequently under the radar but not during BREW,” he said.

Although BREW doesn’t officially start until Nov. 16, there are some tie-in events going on this week. A 90-second pitch night for LSU students will be held from 6:15 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. on Wednesday at the school’s Business Education Complex. The event, hosted by the Louisiana Business and Technology Center Student Incubator, LSU’s Stephenson Entrepreneurship Institute and the LSU chapter of the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Institute, gives students with the best, most concise business pitch a chance to win an Apple Watch.

This is the fifth year BREW is being held. Jeanne Bayless, of Innovation Catalyst, a nonprofit that helps fledgling tech companies across the state, said she’s starting to see what happened in previous years pay off.

“We’re seeing a lot more entrepreneurial activity going on,” she said. “We’re hoping to meet new entrepreneurs and see them interact with students. There are a lot of students that probably have good business ideas, but they don’t know how to bring them to fruition. We want to potentially accelerate their goals through our office.”

Three Baton Rouge-area women CEOs will discuss their “journey from passion to purpose to power” from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Nov. 15 at the East Baton Rouge Parish Main Library large conference room at 7711 Goodwood Blvd.

Innovation Catalyst will sponsor a question-and-answer panel on what it takes to start a business at 10 a.m. Friday at the Capitol Park Welcome Center. Participants in the discussion include Robert Guba, chief executive officer of Cellcontrol, a company that uses technology to prevent distracted driving; Kevin Holden, co-founder of Hola Nola Foods, a Geismar company that makes fresh tortillas; and Craig Gehring, the founder of MasteryPrep, a company that helps high school students prepare for standardized tests. MasteryPrep won the 2014 BREW Pitch Night competition. Register at eventbrite.com.

“We want young entrepreneurs to hear from these people and understand what ignited a spark in them, and how they started their business and how to go about raising capital,” Bayless said.

Several events during BREW Week will involve high school and college students.

Students at Scotlandville High School and Northdale Superintendent’s Academy participating in Teen BREW on Nov. 16 and Nov. 20 will exhibit and sell items derived from small-business concepts they developed. They also will participate in entrepreneurship workshops.

A Junior Achievement High School Pitch Event on Nov. 17 will feature four teams of students presenting business ideas in a 30-second commercial video and five-minute live team pitch from 9 a.m. to noon at the Louisiana Association of Business & Industry, 3113 Valley Creek Drive. Students participated in a seven-week, in-class entrepreneur curriculum.

High school students, along with Baton Rouge Community College students and alumni, can participate in a Mini-BREW@BRCC presentation on simple steps to starting a business on Nov. 17 and entrepreneuship roundtable on Nov. 19. The free events will be from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on the BRCC Mid-City Campus in the Louisiana Board Room in the Louisiana Building.