The Regional Innovation Organization, a division of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, has been awarded a $429,000 federal grant to develop a strategic and business plan for the entrepreneurial and startup support organization.
RIO was formed earlier this year and is intended to work as a liaison among the region’s numerous business incubators as well as offer support for Baton Rouge’s growing entrepreneurial community.
The grant from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration will be used by RIO — as the Regional Innovation Organization is most commonly known — to develop a business plan, “and specifically, looking to the areas that our stakeholders have said need to be addressed,” said Terry Jones, executive director of RIO.
“This EDA grant will identify gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem and create an operational plan to connect entrepreneurs to resource providers, mentors, investors and others who can help them succeed in creating high-value companies with higher-skilled, higher-wage jobs,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development John Fernandez, said in a statement.
To develop its plan, RIO will partner with JumpStart Inc., a Cleveland-based nationally recognized nonprofit venture development organization. JumpStart will share its own “best practices and programs,” Jones said. JumpStart is part of a nationwide initiative known as JumpStart America, a nonprofit that uses public and private funds to build innovation and entrepreneurial programs in all 50 states.
JumpStart officials have already surveyed the region and determined it to be ready for the kind of expertise the organization can provide.
“We gave them a complete view of what things looked like here in Baton Rouge and they walked away blown away, totally impressed by what they had seen,” Jones recalled. “They have to make a determination about where a region is. Is it right? Is it appropriate? And how much work will it take? And when they left, they were like, ‘Wow.’ Literally, they were like, ‘You guys are shining and you stand out in the region, ready for this type of an organization.’”
In the coming months RIO will partner with JumpStart to conduct a range of strategy-building sessions to develop a “regional entrepreneurship action plan” for RIO.
“There will be focus groups. There will be numerous meetings that occur to go along with the development of the business plan,” Jones explained. “The good news is that compared to some other regions that JumpStart has looked at, the process will be greatly accelerated here, because there’s already such unity.”
“The last thing this or any community needs is an unrealized, broad-sweeping economic development plan that just sits on a shelf when it’s done,” Mike Mozenter, president of JumpStart’s team of community advisers, said in a statement.
To help ensure that the regional entrepreneurship action plan becomes a funded and operating venture development organization, JumpStart will help the region raise necessary capital from public, private, and philanthropic sources outside the region, according to Baton Rouge Area Chamber officials.
After the strategic plan phase, RIO intends to pursue additional grant or foundation money to be applied toward operational expenses as well as seed capital for emerging start-ups.
“RIO is already out there and doing a lot and having an impact on the region,” Jones said. “And obviously, we want to scale up and we want to have a much more substantial impact. And these dollars allow us to scale up in all aspects of our operation.”
Developing entrepreneurial organizations is part of the White House’s plan for job creation, say Commerce Department officials.
“Creating local jobs is President Obama’s top priority and he has taken significant steps to support entrepreneurs and small businesses, which are the backbone of our economy and the cornerstone of our communities,” said Fernandez, of the Commerce Department.
RIO has dual parentage by being funded by the Research Park Corp. — the oversight body for the Louisiana Technology Park on Florida Boulevard — and managed by the chamber.
RIO is funded with $1.28 million from the Research Park Corp., to cover the next five years. That money was applied as matching funds for the EDA grant, Jones noted.
“That was instrumental in this EDA grant, because we were able to show that as a match against what we asked for and received,” Jones said.