A strong tech community needs people skilled in the ways of venture capital. These experiences are often hard to come by without the right connections.
Nexus Louisiana wants to make the tech community more inclusive and give future entrepreneurs the skills they need to thrive. It’s why Nexus Louisiana partnered with LSU, Innovation Catalyst, and the Red Stick Angel Network to form the Venture Capital Apprentice Program that helps business students gain real-world experience at local startups. VCAP aims to inspire, educate, and develop students interested in investing in private companies or becoming entrepreneurs.
This spring, a group of 21 students in the LSU E.J. Ourso College of Business completed VCAP. The program represents the second cohort of students enrolled in the LSU Department of Finance’s venture capital course taught by Mike Kirby, a retired co-founder of the private equity firm Stonehenge Capital.
“The program gives students a window that shows them another part of the finance world that they probably haven’t had exposure to,” Kirby says. “More importantly, it gives them an opportunity to work with successful local companies in a professional environment.”
The students worked with Innovation Catalyst and local companies, including MasteryPrep, Everso, Louisiana Funds, Omnidek, Kinesics, and Directed Analytics, to exercise their finance and modeling-related skills providing financial and market research support for use in their business planning. This mutually beneficial arrangement fostered an environment of close collaboration between the company CEOs and the student groups.
Finding Opportunities for Growth
Directed Analytics Founders Jody Mitchell and Brenton Moss make products to help businesses track and achieve their goals. They developed proprietary technology, 4SightGPS, to create actionable and measurable roadmaps that can be followed to optimize performance.
For example, Directed Analytics applied 4SightGPS to help adults with cognitive learning disorders set and meet their goals to develop employment skills. From there, the founders tested their product in healthcare services and state and local contracts.
Mitchell and Moss have focused on digital marketing and workforce optimization as good candidates for refining their goal attainment framework and software. Both industries deal with a lot of variables that could impact their ability to reach goals.
Building Skills for the Future
Directed Analytics, a Nexus Louisiana Technology Park member, decided to have the VCAP teamwork on a probability of win (PWin) calculator. The PWin calculator is a necessary analysis tool in government contracting that helps companies determine if they should dedicate resources to pursue requests for proposals (RFPs).
Mitchell and Moss typically did the PWin calculations in their heads, because they knew how their offerings, qualifications, and strengths measure against RFP evaluation criteria. However, to scale rapidly, they need to be able to share that knowledge throughout the company.
“We wanted an actual calculator that anyone could use as they search for opportunities and apply the calculator to see if the opportunity is worth going after,” Moss says. The calculator would rank and prioritize opportunities Directed Analytics had the best chance of winning.
A PWin calculator is a vital tool to help Directed Analytics continue growing and competing with other data analytics companies. “I wanted to make sure the students were actually contributing to our company, and they were actually learning something of value,” Moss says.
Directed Analytics executives presented the project requirements to the students, set up the milestones and deliverables for them. “We are a big believer in training people to do things themselves. We wanted to give them a real experience,” Moss says. “They really took it from there and ran with it.”
In two weeks, the team of LSU students took the criteria Mitchell and Moss had given them and built the PWin calculator. The team researched government contracts in Maryland, Virginia, and Louisiana, states where Directed Analytics wanted to grow. They uncovered nearly a dozen opportunities that were a good fit with the company’s capabilities and gave each contract a score based on the company’s likelihood of winning new business.
“The students did a great job of putting everything together into a predictable form where anybody could use it,” Moss says.
Delivering Real-World Results
After investigating numerous public databases at local and state governments and creating an algorithm to rank the opportunities, students’ hard work helped Directed Analytics identify a multi-vendor contract in Virginia the company won.
“We were not tracking this opportunity, so it was great, because, through their work, we were made aware of it,” Mitchell says. “We were able to assemble our team and develop our proposal over a couple of weeks and were selected as one of the vendors on the contract.”
Directed Analytics will provide Cybersecurity Certification Maturity Model Level 1, 2, and 3 gap analysis and remediation services for companies looking to work with the Department of Defense. Mitchell estimates that more than 300,000 companies require these certifications. This contract gives Directed Analytics a foothold in a market that could be worth $700 million annually over the next five years.
“From the students’ perspective, they got practical experience looking at opportunities and figuring out where to dedicate business development resources to maximize return on investment. If I put this much in, I want to have a high probability that I’m going to win,” Mitchell says. “So, from a business development perspective, from a government perspective, they got hands-on experience on how that works.”
Preparing for What’s Next
Directed Analytics has only been a Tech Park member since November, but it plans to continue to work with the VCAP students and participate in the community.
“Tech Entrepreneurs have an opportunity to come and take advantage of the different resources and incentives that Louisiana has,” Mitchell says. “That’s a big opportunity because these resources are more readily available and accessible in comparison to other areas.”
LSU’s Kirby wants to build relationships with entrepreneurial companies in the state and work with them to provide more learning opportunities for his students. “As long as [Tech Park] has companies with projects and they perceive that they’re getting value, we’ll continue the VCAP program,” he says. “It’s a win-win for the local companies and students. It’s a huge positive for students as they begin searching for full-time jobs to have that experience on their résumé.”