Step One Ventures
The Research Park Corporation, with help from JumpStart of Cleveland and local stakeholders, has given birth to a new project called Step One Ventures.
What is it? An entity that seeks to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Baton Rouge and throughout the state. The nonprofit would attempt to better coordinate the region's various assets, and seek to invest up to $250,000 in promising early-stage companies, with a possible follow-on investment up to that same amount. Target firms would be past the point of tapping friends, family and fools for startup cash, but not yet attractive to professional venture capitalists; good ideas often perish in the “valley of death” between those two stages.
How did we get here? By a long, winding, bumpy path. The basic concept has been discussed for years. Originally, BRAC's Regional Innovation Organization was working on the plan with JumpStart, but the board of the RPC, which was the primary local funder, was dissatisfied with the progress. They fired RIO's director [and only employee] Terry Jones, and took a more active role. The RPC board approved the basic plan Dec. 5.
What will it cost? The draft plan calls for an $8 million budget over the first three years, but that appears to be wildly optimistic. Officials hope to obtain $1 million from the Louisiana Economic Development Corporation, which BRAC would combine with $1.5 million in private donations to create the initial investment fund. The RPC plans to spend about $1.3 million over three years to fund Step One's operations, including a salary for a CEO who would be expected to raise more money, and utilize in-kind services whenever possible.
Will it duplicate what we already have? Organizers say it won't. Brown says the Tech Park, BRAC and other existing entities will provide some of the services for the portfolio companies that JumpStart performed in-house in Cleveland.
Will it only help Tech Park companies? Organizers say no, it will be an independent, 501[c] nonprofit. However, the RPC obviously will have a lot to say about how it is set up. As envisioned, it would be able to help firms from throughout the state, not just the Baton Rouge region.
Will it work? To quote Brown: “I don't have a clue.”
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