Baton Rouge's Research Park Corp.'s board voted to seek more participation from Southern University — not just LSU — following criticism from two board members.
In a report commissioned in 2018 to study the state of the Baton Rouge area technology industry, Southern University was mentioned in name but not so much in substance, suggested board members research Park board members Isaac Thomas, president of the Economic Freedom Movement Association, who is a graduate of Southern University, and Jerry Jones Jr., executive director of the Baton Rouge North Economic Development District.
"We cannot talk about an ecosystem which includes the entire system if we're leaving them out; it's like a tale of two cities," Jones said. "I just hope this is the last time we do a study that does not include Southern University … it sounds good to talk about inclusivity … but you cut off half of the city's ecosystem. I just want us to be a little more intentional."
Jones suggested that representatives from the college on the north side of the city were brought in "at the last minute" and were not part of the collaboration effort.
"Was Southern not included or did Southern not participate?" queried Edmund Giering, general counsel of the Baton Rouge Area Foundation and a Research Park Corp. board member.
Jones responded: "From the beginning this was a conversation between Research Park and LSU."
In part, some board members suggested, that may have stemmed from the study being paid for in part by LSU — it cost about $50,000.
Research Park Corp. board members plan to form a joint venture between the Louisiana Emerging Technology Center, LSU's Innovation Park and Research Park Corp. — expected to now include Southern University, which started its own Innovation Center in September 2017.
The Southern University Innovation Center is also the home of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center, which was started with a $1.2 million federal grant from the Economic Development Administration in 2012.
Southern University does have a representative on Research Park's board of directors, Michael Stubblefield, who is vice chancellor for research and strategic initiatives.
The goal is to create a master plan where all organizations can leverage limited funds more strategically rather than compete with each other for funding. That could include streamlining staff, often the largest expense. Then the organizations would seek to establish an angel investor network once again for Baton Rouge over the next year to reboot the technology startup ecosystem.
Stacia Haynie, executive vice president and provost of LSU, who is new to the board of directors, agreed to loop in Southern University more going forward.
Fostering new entrepreneurs in Baton Rouge is a pressing issue for all the economic development organizations. Despite efforts to fuel the business community, the volume of startup companies are shrinking. In 2010, there were 2,951 new businesses started in Baton Rouge, according to the report created by Emergent Method, a local consulting business. That number had dwindled to 2,231 in 2018.