Why Louisiana Entrepreneurs Should Consider the Ignition Accelerator


Startup founders can choose from more than 3,000 accelerator programs worldwide, including over 1,000 in the U.S. alone. Some of these educational programs can be harder to get into than Harvard. The competition is understandable because accelerators can provide a crucial boost as a business takes off. They’ve helped entrepreneurs build billion-dollar tech companies like Airbnb, Coinbase and Instacart.

People from the Pelican State curious about accelerator programs have a superb option right in their own backyard. Nexus Louisiana and LSU partnered to create the Ignition accelerator, which helps entrepreneurs across the state discover whether their idea has the potential to be the next big thing.

“We want entrepreneurs, dreamers, risk-takers and anyone who has a business idea to participate in Ignition,” says Nexus Louisiana President and CEO Genevieve Silverman. “Building a better future for entrepreneurs in Louisiana starts with helping them find the right ideas and grow them into sustainable businesses.”

Ignition participants will receive the same training LSU professors do when they want to turn their research into viable businesses. “I’ve started a business and it’s tough,” says Andrew Maas, the LSU Office of Innovation and Technology Commercialization director. Maas will lead the technical training and provide startup expertise during the weekly sessions. He understands that companies, like children, often benefit when people are supportive but straightforward: “Going through a process where someone will be a champion for you, but also be as critical as possible to challenge the assumptions you’ve made, is very helpful to entrepreneurs.”

How the Ignition Accelerator Works

Much of the Ignition accelerator coursework is focused on “The Startup Owner’s Manual” by serial entrepreneur Steve Blank.

“We essentially take a company’s business hypothesis and test it to see whether we can validate it in the market,” Maas says. “We iterate until we find a kernel of truth that can be proven by the testing.”

Ignition will kick off with a program orientation on Wednesday, April 28 and meet once a week until they conclude on Wednesday, June 30. Classes normally start at 5 p.m. “We have the classes in the evening so individuals with day jobs can participate and determine whether their ideas and their technologies create something that’s worthwhile for the market.”

In addition to the weekly sessions, participants are expected to invest approximately 5 hours each week shaping their business ideas outside of class. “The program is centered around three activities: learn, do and network,” Maas says.

Sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana and Rotary Club of Baton Rouge, Ignition culminates with a “Demo Day” on June 16 that allows the participants to showcase their innovations to the community, including what they learned throughout the process.

Why You Should Join Ignition (Even If You’re Idea Is Not Ready)

The Ignition accelerator wants to work with entrepreneurs, ideally before they even formally start their companies.

“A big company, like IBM, is executing on a business plan whereas a startup is searching for a scalable and repeatable process,” says Maas. “A startup isn’t trying to execute on a business plan, it is trying to find a business plan.”

Ignition wants its students to build a base of knowledge that allows them not only to find that business plan with a proven market, but to do so as fast as possible. “The great thing about this program is that you can do it pre-company or as you’re founding your company.”

As students test their plans, the program offers financial support. Accelerator students can access up to $3,000 in reimbursable funds through a grant at LSU to help cover the cost of their customer discovery efforts. If approved, these funds can be used for travel, to attend conferences and test their hypothesis about how their ideas fit a market need.

Ignition Helps You Learn If Your Idea Is a Winner

The Ignition methodology has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs develop their ideas into full-fledged businesses. Maas offers two examples:

  • Louisiana Multi-Functional-Materials Group received $746,325 from the National Science Foundation to develop an affordable sealant for sealing joints in transportation infrastructure, such as cracks in asphalt pavement and concrete pavement: “LAMG went through our program four years ago and started the company after our program.”

  • Chosen Diagnostics, a spinout of LSU health science center in New Orleans, works to develop innovative diagnostic platforms for gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases in babies and children. “That’s a woman-founded, minority-founded company that went through our program that we’re really excited about.”

Many accelerator programs help entrepreneurs validate their technology. Ignition helps entrepreneurs ensure their technology will find a receptive market, so they don’t wind up developing something no one actually wants. As Maas explains, “Ignition can really help the startup founders identify the true market opportunity for the new technologies and what the value proposition is that they need to create for people to be truly interested in the technology.”

Participation is limited to 15 entrepreneurs. Preference will be given to candidates demonstrating the aptitude and attitude to complete the program and launch a scalable, tech-enabled business. The cost is $200; needs-based scholarships are available upon request. The deadline to apply is Monday, April 19. Learn more at www.nexusla.org/ignition.

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