Monday, June 17, 2024

North La. business incubators: How to take a business from paper to profit

by BIZ Magazine

Dave Smith | Special to BIZ. Magazine

When looking to start a business, many entrepreneurs are unsure of the process and require a level of assistance that depends on the maturity of their business concept. 

For those in the early stages of business development, one of the most challenging aspects of starting a business is simply knowing where to start and what to do. Fortunately for entrepreneurs in North Louisiana, there are several organizations that specialize in assisting businesses with organizing their ideas and performing needs assessments to outline the next steps. 

Whether you are a food truck operator in need of early menu design, a podcast creator looking to curate digital content or an entrepreneur in need of a convenient location to work on your product launch, there are business incubators across North Louisiana that can help elevate your business from an idea to a full-scale business.

When an entrepreneur reaches out to Launch Network needing assistance with their business idea, they are first asked where they are in the process and what progress they have made with their product or idea. In many cases, the entrepreneurs have not created a prototype, do not know their target customer or have yet to determine their product’s cost structure, sales channels or production channels. Entrepreneurs this early in development are not quite ready for a business accelerator like BRF’s Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP), but that doesn’t mean there are not resources available. Business incubators are great starting points for many early-stage entrepreneurs in our community to begin developing their business ideas while focusing on training and education. Launch Network works to ensure entrepreneurs are referred to the right resource and receive the appropriate assistance they need based on their stage of development.

In North Louisiana, we are fortunate to have three excellent incubators – Louisiana Catalyst, Milam Street Kitchen Incubator & Community (MS KICK) and Cohab. MS KICK grew out of the 2012 Shreveport Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan. Located in the Allendale/Ledbetter Heights community, MS KICK functions as a kitchen incubator/workforce development hybrid to encourage culinary and workforce training opportunities. 

Through a partnership with Southern University in Shreveport, MS KICK works with entrepreneurs looking to start restaurants, food trucks, catering services and more to develop important aspects of their business, such as menu pricing, ServSafe food safety certification programs and other networking and training opportunities. 

Louisiana Catalyst is a collaborative workspace in Monroe that provides resources and guidance for entrepreneurs in Northeast Louisiana. Louisiana Catalyst works to develop early-stage startups in a variety of industries. 

Its wide range of assistance includes writing business plans, development of marketing strategies, help with financial services and advice for navigating local and state legal requirements and registrations. Louisiana Catalyst will soon be relocating to the Harvey Benoit Recreation Center, where they will be able to expand their existing podcasting and digital recording studio and co-working space services. 

Cohab has spent seven years in their current location under the Texas Street Bridge in Shreveport. A former restaurant provided the blank canvas for transforming the area into a multi-functional space. Inside is a large, open-concept co-working space with many conference rooms and private workspaces available for members to use. 

One of the most exciting spaces is the digital studio which is set up for podcasting and digital recording. Members record in this space almost weekly, enjoying the capability to livestream from the four-camera setup. This digital studio is also available for members of the Shreveport-Bossier community who are looking to use the studio. 

Tucked into what one might think is a large closet is the mini maker space. In this space, an entrepreneur can use the 3-D printer and the snap machine for laser cutting and prototyping. The technology and machinery in this space is often prohibitively expensive for many entrepreneurs who are just starting out with their idea, but they can use all these tools at Cohab with their low-cost membership fee. 

Many entrepreneurs who begin in the mini maker room are working to scale an occasional hobby into a full-time occupation, and it is the community support of Cohab that makes it possible for these entrepreneurs to be successful. 

Cohab also has a commissary kitchen that provides the necessary kitchen requirements for food truck tenants as well as kitchen space for culinary businesses that don’t have a permanent kitchen space to use for storage or food preparation. Cohab works very closely with the Milam Street Kitchen Incubator to help ensure that entrepreneurs launching in the food services industry have the assistance they need from both organizations. It is this collaborative approach that has allowed such great success in our culinary community. 

In addition, Cohab offers unique and invaluable educational programs, including the world-renowned Kauffman Foundation programs. The Kauffman Foundation’s purpose is to help individuals attain economic independence by advancing educational achievement and entrepreneurial success. 

This lines up perfectly with the economic development goals of North Louisiana. An example of one of these programs is Cohab’s Business Planning Academy, which is a weekly program designed to assist entrepreneurs in developing their business using Kauffman Foundation’s FastTrac courses. These educational programs provide members with the skillsets necessary for successfully starting a business and maintaining that success.

To help our region thrive, we need a successful entrepreneurial community. As I’ve often said, “we must get better at operating in unknown space.” It is in this unknown space, operating with too much risk or unanswered questions, where entrepreneurs often find their downfall. Incubators are the safest places to fail, providing opportunity to make mistakes before real dollars are invested. Incubators also provide the opportunity to manage the risk of the unknown space. By testing out their business in an incubator, entrepreneurs may become more successful. 

It is critical that entrepreneurs know what questions to ask when considering participating in an incubator. 

1. What are the educational programs offered?

2. How many ideas like mine have you assisted? Were they product companies or service companies?

3. Is there someone that has been through the incubator program like me to talk with?

4. How does this incubator network help me?

5. How is your incubator funded?

The answers to these questions will allow an entrepreneur to make a well-informed decision as to whether an incubator is the right fit for them.

For those thinking about launching an idea, North Louisiana has the help available to enable entrepreneurs to find success. These incubators empower entrepreneurs to take on the unknown and provide the education and resources to do so successfully. If you are looking for assistance in starting your business, contact Launch Network by visiting launchnetworkla.com, or calling 1-877-352-0157 to get started!

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