A new Lafayette conference aimed at drawing innovative new businesses and entrepreneurs to Acadiana kicks off Nov. 13, and leaders are hopeful the event sets the stage for businesses to move to the region.
The conference, called Innovate South, will be at the Acadiana Center for the Arts and runs Nov. 13-15, during National Entrepreneur Month. Registration for the event is open at https://www.innovatesouth.org/.
The event is being marketed to startups and innovators nationwide and is billed as a cross-industry conference to learn, celebrate and share marketing best practices.
"This is technically the first time we're holding it as 'Innovate South,'" said Opportunity Machine Director Destin Ortego. "There's three major components of it. Each of those components are pieces that have been put on before. We're just now putting them together to make it a collaborative, joint effort."
The three components are the Get Started Medical Pitch Competition, Digital Marketing Day, and Startup and Small Business Day.
The Get Started Medical Pitch Competition has already had some success in bringing businesses to Lafayette. Two companies that pitched — and later enrolled in a subsequent program — ended up relocating to Lafayette.
The Get Started Medical Pitch Competition allows medical startups to pitch to judges in a competition offering $20,000. Eight companies — including Digital Twin Studios of Lafayette — were chosen from 40 applicants to compete. The judges are from companies like the Ochsner Health System, Lafayette General Health, and Acadian Companies.
The prize money, supplied by Cox Business, is substantially higher than last year's prize of $2,500.
"Clearly they see the value of recruiting these companies here through pitch competitions and giving them access to capital," Ortego said. "They understand that in order for Lafayette to grow its medical industry and its overall startup industry, our ecosystem, we really need some other, private companies to come in and support that growth."
These startups are also eligible to be involved with Accelerate South early next year, which provides assistance to new medical companies. Ortego said two of the companies that were involved with pitch competition Accelerate South in the past ended up relocating to Lafayette.
"We don't necessarily anticipate any of the medical companies that are coming here from outside of the state relocating here directly after pitching here," Ortego said. "But they do have the opportunity to go into the accelerated program next year, which is really what pushed these companies to say, 'Hey, we have all of these assets and all of this mentorship and help provided here in Lafayette.'"
The Opportunity Machine has held an innovation conference for the last three years, but it was on a smaller scale and is now the Startup and Small Business Day portion of the Innovate South conference. As of last week, registration was just under 400 with the goal of 500.
The past, smaller conferences have attracted about 200 participants, Ortego said.
"It's a higher quality event," he said.
Innovate South is the result of a partnership between the Lafayette Economic Development Authority, the Opportunity Machine, Rally Marketing, and Cox Business.
The conference's schedule includes sessions such as "Always Be the Chameleon: Three Ways to Keep Your Business Relevant Through Innovation," and "The Craft of Relationship Building in the Digital Age." The full schedule can be found on the conference's website.
Several Lafayette figures will be running workshops for the conference, such as Ortego, Jaci Russo of brandRUSSO, and LEDA Chief Information Officer William Ness.
Keynote speakers include Sarah Sharif of Experimental Civics and Frankie Russo of Russo Capital.
"By bringing in entrepreneurs, innovators, investors, and community leaders from across the Gulf Coast, Innovate South will create a melting pot of ideas and peer-to-peer learning, which will establish an educational and social platform that supports the growth of the innovative and entrepreneurial culture in the Gulf Coast," Ortego said in a press release.