In the mid-1980s, Louisiana State University — like most other U.S. colleges and universities — didn’t consider economic development a vital part of the school’s mission. But that changed under the guidance of one visionary LSU chancellor who recognized the importance of bringing together the business and academic communities and another who encouraged faculty members and others to take research to the marketplace.
Following their lead, LSU partnered with the Chamber of Greater Baton Rouge and the Louisiana Public Facilities Authority in 1988 to open the Louisiana Business & Technology Center on a trial basis. Sixteen years and more than 100 graduates later, the program is still going strong.
Today, LBTC is a department of LSU’s E.J. Ourso College of Business. In 2004, the incubator’s 25 client companies employed 75 full-time and 35 part-time or student workers, had a combined payroll of more than $2 million, and boasted combined sales of $6.6 million. And that’s just part of the story. In addition to operating 45,000 square feet of incubator space in four buildings on LSU’s campus, LBTC manages LSU’s Small Business Development Center and the Louisiana Technology Transfer Office.
Through these activities, LBTC plays a lead role in the state’s economic development efforts. Since 1988, LBTC-assisted businesses have created nearly 9,000 jobs in Louisiana. LBTC Executive Director Charles D’Agostino, who has been with the program since its inception, attributes much of its success to its high-quality services and the support of the university, state and local governments, and business leaders. "It helps to become a valuable resource to the community," he says. "Thanks to a good number of success stories, we’ve been able to establish LBTC as the ’go-to’ guy for business assistance in the community and the state."
This reputation helps the program maintain high-level support within the university. Two LSU vice chancellors and five deans serve on LBTC’s board, which makes connecting LBTC clients to university resources a snap, D’Agostino says. "The experts are just a phone call away," he says. "When our clients need expertise not available at the university, we can call on one of the more than 50 local business assistance providers on our resource team."
And the assistance doesn’t end when a business graduates from LBTC’s incubation program. LBTC staff contact incubator graduates quarterly to ensure they have the support and resources they need to continue their growth. "Business incubation isn’t a one-time act," D’Agostino says. "Our job isn’t over with the graduation ceremony. Sometimes, graduates aren’t equipped to be totally on their own the minute they leave the incubator. We can be a no-cost sounding board or devil’s advocate for these companies, so they can continue the momentum they started while in the incubator."
LBTC doesn’t just provide business assistance to its clients and graduates, however. Each year, LSU’s SBDC counsels approximately 350 outreach clients from nine parishes in the Baton Rouge area. In 2004, these businesses created more than 200 jobs and had sales of $16 million.
Under a contract with the Louisiana Department of Economic Development, LBTC operates the Louisiana Technology Transfer Office to foster business relationships between Louisiana businesses and federal laboratories. As part of its services, LBTC helps Louisiana technology businesses prepare grant applications for the SBIR program. "We provide very hands-on services," D’Agostino says. "We roll up our sleeves and sit down with these businesses. We help match clients with solicitations, help them learn how to prepare their proposals and make sure their proposals comply with the rules."
This process seems to be working. Over the last three years, LBTC clients have received more than $17 million in SBIR awards. International Mezzo Technology, an LBTC incubator client, is one company that has benefited from LBTC’s guidance. Since 2000, the technology firm has won 13 SBIR awards totaling nearly $3 million.
LBTC now is sharing its SBIR expertise with other entrepreneurs and incubators throughout Louisiana. LBTC conducts SBIR seminars statewide and operates SBIR Resource Centers at the Metro/Regional Business Incubator in Shreveport, La.; the Central Louisiana Business Incubator in Alexandria, La.; and the University of New Orleans Innovation Center. In coming months, LBTC hopes to take its show on the road — literally. A medical technology company run by an LSU graduate has donated an 18-wheeler (valued at $300,000) to LBTC. LBTC is securing matching funds to operate the unit as a mobile business/training facility, which it will use to bring entrepreneurial and SBIR training to rural areas.
"LBTC is very aggressive about going after new programs like this," D’Agostino says. That could be why LBTC has been able to operate without subsidies for the last 16 years. LBTC supports its operations through several revenue sources, including client rents and services (30 percent); seminars, workshops and training events (10 percent); and service and management consulting contracts (60 percent). These contracts enhance client services and add to the long-term financial success of the program, D’Agostino says. "Having a self-sustainable program is very important," he says. "That way, the staff can focus on helping companies grow rather than having to spend time raising money to keep their paychecks coming."
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