When an entrepreneur walks through the doors of BRF’s Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP) for the first time, the first thing that catches their eye is the blue couch. The notable “blue couch meeting” has been the site of the foundation of many entrepreneurial projects in North Louisiana. During this meeting, the entire EAP team listens and engages as the entrepreneur describes what they want and need to make their idea a success.
Eight years ago, Dr. John F. George Jr., President and CEO of BRF, had the initial idea for an accelerator program to be part of BRF. He looked at other accelerators around the country to try and determine what would work in Northwest Louisiana. It quickly became clear that what everyone else was doing wouldn’t work here.
As a serial entrepreneur and investor, Dr. George realized that many entrepreneurs believed they had to leave North Louisiana to launch a tech company. However, he knew there was capital available in North Louisiana, as well as individuals and organizations willing to help entrepreneurs connect with needed resources. Most importantly, Dr. George knew that talented people with great ideas reside right here in North Louisiana and are seeking opportunities to grow their ideas.
The question became whether a business model could be put together that would show short-term results while building a foundation toward long-term goals. Dr. George wanted the new program to meet entrepreneurs wherever they were in their journey, which required developing an accelerator program unique from others around the country. Instead of being transactional, our accelerator program needed to be relational. Eight years later, it is not just about identifying problems, but rather it is about providing solutions to the problems entrepreneurs are facing.
When BRF developed EAP, they allowed this accelerator program to evolve as the needs of the community changed. Just as the entrepreneurs participating in the accelerator program often must pivot, EAP has also been able to meet the ever-changing needs of the North Louisiana entrepreneurial community. Covid threw an unexpected curveball at all businesses but especially at companies trying to get off the ground. We had to change the way we provided assistance to companies, and while some portfolio companies struggled, we didn’t lose any. It is this ability to pivot that makes us stand out in the sea of accelerators.
Unlike other accelerators, our program does not include an educational component for the entrepreneurs receiving our services. EAP’s leadership quickly realized that there were already other organizations in Northwest Louisiana that were successfully providing educational programs to entrepreneurs. Rather than competing with the existing programs, we decided to partner with these groups to connect entrepreneurs with the educational programs that make sense for where they are in the startup process. Additionally, an added benefit to receiving our services is that EAP can line up Louisiana economic incentives for an entrepreneur. These incentives can provide huge advantages for entrepreneurs, and often entrepreneurs don’t even know about them.
If you were to look at the other major accelerator programs around the country, one thing that might stand out is the fact that there is an end date to their programs when the participant graduates. With EAP’s program, there is no graduation date. We have a group of full-time business and financial analysts that are with you for the distance. However long the journey might be, an EAP participant can always come back and ask for help and guidance from any of our analysts.
Ultimately, our accelerator program is about collaborating and advocating. Entrepreneurs often don’t have a network to turn to when they need help developing their idea. EAP can leverage our entire network for entrepreneurs and connect them with people who have first-hand experience. Utilizing the EAP network saves the entrepreneur time in figuring out who can help them succeed and allows them to focus on the idea itself.
As an entrepreneur, you might be wondering if you are a good fit for EAP. We never know what the next great idea might be, and that is one of the best parts about EAP! Our analysts love to hear new ideas, and they are equipped to help bring your idea to fruition. We typically work with tech-based companies that have intellectual property, a trade secret, or something unique about what they are offering, but we hear all kinds of ideas every day. We have seen everything from pet products to cyber security. If your company is not a good fit for us, we will provide guidance on the best next steps and a path forward. Just remember, the company must be located in North Louisiana. After all, we want to grow our region!