#StartupsEverywhere Profile: Stephen Loy, Executive Director of the Louisiana Technology Park
This profile is part of #StartupsEverywhere, an ongoing series highlighting startup leaders in ecosystems across the country and the policy issues relevant to them. This interview has been edited for length, content, and clarity.
A renewed sense of localism has bolstered support for Southern Louisiana's entrepreneurial ecosystem in the "large small town" of Baton Rouge. For this week's #StartupsEverywhere, we talked to Stephen Loy, who cites the city's steady flow of eager, educated university students and a statewide tradable SBIR tax credit program as key inputs.
What’s your role in the Baton Rouge-area startup ecosystem? How did you get involved working with startups in Baton Rouge?
I am the Executive Director of the Louisiana Technology Park, and with that, my official job is to promote and grow the Tech Park. Despite that, I see my role in our startup ecosystem to be broader than just my title. With all the people that my job allows me to meet, I can be the ambassador or evangelist for entrepreneurism for the entire region. Success can't just be one organization advancing. Our community only succeeds if everyone—universities, non-profits, entrepreneurs—succeeds.
I first started working with entrepreneurs when I came to the Tech Park more than 13 years ago as the Public Relations Director. I caught the bug and it has never gone away.
Can you tell us more about the role that the Louisiana Tech Park plays in Baton Rouge?
The Tech Park has changed a lot in the time that I have been there. Over the past 13 years, both technology, as well as the definition of “tech entrepreneur” have evolved significantly. Part of our role in the community during that time has been to identify these changes and make sure that we are supporting entrepreneurs as our industry matured.
I also see us as the front door to the entrepreneur community. We might not be able to help someone who comes to us, but I certainly want us to be able to say, “you should call this person.” Our community has many great programs and we have no problem pointing entrepreneurs to other initiatives.
We tell companies that join the Tech Park that their staff grows by seven when they join, which is the number of staff we have at the Tech Park. With all that the Tech Park staff does, our first priority is to see our members grow and move forward. Our help can come from exploring new verticals or creating customer personas; it can also come with us helping to create a social media plan or tweaking pitch decks. We also help with some of the basics that companies need: we answer phones, greet guests and manage IT needs. We want to be a valuable member of their team, no matter our member’s needs.
What’s the most exciting thing that has happened for Baton Rouge in the past year?
There have been several trends happening in our region this past year, which I think are connected. South Louisiana has always been known for its food, but the past year we’ve seen new local restaurants opening and thriving. There are also newer, “trendier” concepts -- like organic, locally-raised butchers and independent coffee houses -- taking the place of national brands. This “buy local” movement has brought a renewed enthusiasm to be a part of and support our entrepreneurial ecosystem. For example, our PItchBR, a “guppy-tank” pitch experience, is always standing room-only and we just finished our most successful Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week in eight years.
What makes Baton Rouge an ideal place to start a company? What is the biggest challenge you face in Baton Rouge?
I think there is the same answer to both of these questions. Baton Rouge is often described as a “large small town” and both Louisiana State University (LSU) and Southern University call it home. With that, we have thousands of new college-aged residents coming to join our community each fall. Each one of these people is bright-eyed and ready to make their mark on the world, which brings a tremendous amount of energy and vibrancy to our city. On the flip-side though, Baton Rouge also has a “stickiness” to it. Natives and transplants alike don’t want to leave our community once established here. There are those who would argue that the latter isn’t healthy for an ecosystem. While I understand it is important to leave your city walls to gather experiences with new cultures and point of views, I also think there is value in “coming home.” Those who plan to be here for the long-term the are most invested in improving our community and economy, and as a result, supporting local entrepreneurial efforts.
What industries have historically thrived in Baton Rouge? How has this shaped the startup ecosystem there?
Esso and other large petrochemical companies came here in the 1920’s and as a result, oil and gas have fed our economy ever since. While these companies are responsible for building our economy, they have also made us reluctant to seek out new ways to diversify our industry-base. Recently, that mindset has begin to shift and as we have begun to see the value of having an economy that has a wide range of different size companies in multiple industries.
I don’t know if there is one moment that I can point to saying “this is when the change happened.” I know when the Tech Park was conceived in 2000, we were a result of groups tired of Baton Rouge being at the bottom of good list and at the top of bad list. Like most things, we didn’t get to where we are overnight, nor would the fix happen overnight. The push has started and we have momentum. We all wish it would happen quicker, but I believe that slow, organic growth is the only way to grow a vertical and our technology ecosystem is doing just that.
Are there specific public policies or government initiatives that have enabled startup growth in Baton Rouge?
The Baton Rouge-Area Chamber (BRAC) and Louisiana Economic Development (LED) have been at the forefront of pushing for entrepreneur-friendly policy in our region. Thanks to BRAC and LED’s leadership, the state offers aggressive tax credits that incentivize our companies to create on-shore programming jobs. In addition, last year, we were able to strengthen our SBIR incentives, by making the tax credit “transferable.” If the value of a company's credits is higher than its tax liability, it can sell the excess credits to another taxpayer who owes the state taxes, which has provided a entré into federal funding for our early and second-stage companies.
Are there some startups to watch coming out of the Baton Rouge region?
Definitely. There are several:
Health Engagements is a mobile device and software solution platform that allows doctors to remotely monitor patients with chronic conditions;
Mastery Prep is a software development and online marketing company that specializes in professional development and ACT test preparation;
Kinesics uses proprietary software that provides data about the human body. It takes a program that might otherwise be delivered individually and makes it scalable; and
Procedural Reality is a video game technology company focused on researching, developing, and applying advanced algorithms to automatically generate content traditionally created by humans.