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Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023

Pitching Great Ideas


2023 Entrepreneurship Pelican Cup first-place winners Rise & Rotate pose with their trophies. The team from Northwestern State University took home the top prize of $25,000. (Pictured L-R): ULM President Dr. Ronald Berry, advisor Elizabeth Prejean, Entrepreneurship Pelican Cup Founder Dhu Thompson, team member Alexander Brown, ULM Dean of the College of Business and Social Sciences Dr. Michelle McEacharn, team member Hayden Stanley.

Competitions inspire entrepreneurs

The Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program at BRF and North Louisiana’s colleges and universities are looking to change the way students draw their roadmap to success.

Since 2017, EAP and its regional higher education partners have sponsored more than 30 pitch competitions in north Louisiana and Lafayette to encourage students to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams. This year, the competition went up another notch with the Pelican Cup, a regional pitch competition where students competed for more than $60,000 in cash prizes. The University of Louisiana Monroe hosted the event.

Rise and Rotate, a team from Northwestern State University, won the inaugural Pelican Cup. The team has been building a new business around a unique medical device created to solve a realworld problem to help patients at risk of falling. It is now patented, FDA-approved and ready for commercialization.

“We had the opportunity to compete in the Inferno Pitch at NSU, which prepared us to compete at the largest pitch competition in the state, the Pelican Cup,” Matthew Gamble, leader of the Rise and Rotate team, said in a news release. “These competitions, along with the faculty at NSU providing leadership and support, enabled us to bring a product into the industry that we believe the world needs and pushed us to succeed as entrepreneurs.”

And that’s how EAP’s Executive Director Dave Smith likes it.

“There is a critical need in Louisiana for people to be entrepreneurs,” Smith said. “Every day in our portfolio, we have great people with great ideas. They’ve invented great technology.

But they have a fulltime job, and they are doing this. They can’t take an effort and create a startup and run a startup and make it a business.”

BRF started pitch competitions at area four-year colleges to foster that entrepreneurial spirit among students. The competitions grew, and the momentum built. As BRF was considering a larger state competition, ULM “went and did it,” Smith said.

“Which is fine and great. I am OK with that,” he said. “I will continue to support north Louisiana academic institutions in student pitch competitions, so they can continue to funnel up to the Pelican Cup so they can compete for even more money.”

Smith said north Louisiana is beginning to see the benefit of these pitch competitions pay off.

“We don’t have enough people staying in Louisiana who want to run their own business and run small business,” he said.

EAP helps the winners and other budding entrepreneurs develop their products and their business plans with the intent to get in front of investors who can help make their plans a reality. But Smith said the pitch competitions do something EAP cannot do.

“We cannot clone enough entrepreneurs to take over all the ideas that we see,” he said. “If there’s not somebody to do it, we lose. It doesn’t happen, or it goes away.”

Smith said that the pitch competitions and more classes in entrepreneurship are opening students’ eyes to a new path to success.

“If you go get your degree, they are preparing you to go to work for the big (company) in Dallas or Houston or New Orleans,” Smith said. “They are not preparing you to stay in Shreveport and form your own business and be passionate about what you are doing. We ourselves will never solve this problem. It takes a lot of work.”

Smith’s goal would be to see an entrepreneurial center at every academic institution in the area that can take a startup plan from ideation to prototype.

As part of the curriculum, if you’re in biomedical engineering, make something,” he said. “There’s everything you need right there: all the hardware, all the software. There you go. Go do it.

“Then the Pelican Cup gets to the point where you’re not even going to be competitive unless you show up with a working prototype.”

From there, Smith believes the competition will grow with students from a variety of disciplines competing. He compares it to what has happened with the Louisiana Startup Prize, which the Prize Foundation puts on. He even envisions student competitors moving on to the Startup Prize competition.

“This is a natural flow into the Startup Prize,” he said. “Gregory (Kallenberg) is doing a great job. I’m not going to put on a Prize Fest. Let him do that. But eventually, our student teams, they start competing. If you want to be a technology-based economy, that’s where you have to go.”

Smith said that entrepreneurial spirit already exists in the region and that such efforts are drawing it out.

“Entrepreneurship and innovation are really in our DNA,” he said. “If you go all the way back to Capt. Shreve and the snag machine he invented and patented to clear the river. That’s how we got our start. Then with the first over-the-water oil well on Caddo Lake.

“What makes us unique is we have a functioning ecosystem between your economic development agencies, your Prize Fest and your academic institutions, to where if we all have this same goal, every business that we launch in Louisiana that’s homegrown generates entrepreneurial wealth and investor wealth. Once you do that … how do you think Austin got built? How do you think San Francisco got built? They had an ecosystem and made it available for people to go out and do. There’s no reason we can’t do that.”


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