Baton Rouge’s startup landscape is in the midst of a major shakeup, with leadership changes and financial constraints setting off a possible reorganization of two of Baton Rouge's business incubator groups.
The Research Park Corp. and LSU Innovation Park are the subject of a study by consulting group Emergent Method, which will evaluate the two groups and make recommendations on potential consolidations, resource-shifting and collaboration.
It is unclear how much of a consolidation is on the table, or whether a full-scale merger is possible. Officials with the RPC, which voted to fund half of the $50,000 study Thursday, said the genesis of the study is the group’s mission of aiding LSU and Southern University. Officials said they would wait to see what recommendations come from the consultant.
“(The study) really should be done, needs to be done, should have been done a long time ago,” said Charlie D’Agostino, the outgoing head of the Innovation Park and the Louisiana and Technology and Business Center.
D’Agostino said the review could beget a formal cooperative endeavor agreement or joint venture between the two organizations. He said he discussed having the RPC construct a building at his Innovation Park site in recent years, but the project never materialized.
He also said the RPC’s charter tasks it with assisting research parks in the region, and noted “Bon Carré is not a research park.” That's where the RPC and its Louisiana Technology Park are based.
State financial problems and leadership changes also pushed leaders toward looking broadly at the purpose and operation of the two organizations. D’Agostino plans to step down in January, and the RPC board voted Thursday to hire Genevieve Silverman as the new president and CEO of the RPC, replacing Byron Clayton, who left at the end of the year.
“You have this fiscal crisis that has us all very mindful of how we’re spending our dollars,” said Edmund Giering, chairman of the RPC board of directors. “And overarching for RPC is we have a mission to support LSU and to support Southern University.”
Emergent Method will make recommendations for “increased collaboration, greater efficiency and utilization of available resources, and improved outcomes,” according to a draft outline of the study. The study is scheduled to conclude in August.
Kalliat Valsaraj, who serves on the RPC’s board as LSU’s designee, said RPC’s charter calls on the group to improve economic development initiatives at the area’s universities.
“That has been happening in fits and starts,” he said, “but not as an entire ecosystem approach.”
The Research Park Corp. oversees three main initiatives: The Louisiana Tech Park, which serves as a tech incubator at the Bon Carré Business Center on Florida Boulevard; Innovation Catalyst, a nonprofit venture capital group that invests in startups; and NexusLA, an online portal connecting early-stage businesses with capital and other resources.
The nonprofit RPC was formed in the early 1990s by the Louisiana Legislature to accelerate the region’s tech economy. In 2001, it became involved with the redevelopment of the abandoned Bon Marche Mall, which turned into the Bon Carré Business Center. The real estate arm of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, which took out a $41.5 million loan for the business center in 2007, defaulted late last year and is being foreclosed on.
The RPC shares many of the same goals as LSU’s Innovation Park and Louisiana Technology and Business Center, which serves as an incubator for fledgling businesses and has graduated 174 tenants since 1989.
D’Agostino has served as the head of the LBTC since its inception at LSU in 1988, and helped develop the LSU Innovation Park on a wide expanse of land south of LSU, which the school acquired from Albermarle Corp.
David Winwood, assistant executive director of LSU Innovation Park, is poised to take over as the organization's leader when D'Agostino steps down in January.