Newly minted Chairman of the Board Anita Tillman has big plans for Nexus Louisiana—starting with overcoming technology barriers to spur Louisiana’s economic growth.
Tillman has always been invested in understanding and programming the latest technology. She earned her Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering from Southern University and then moved to Indiana to apply her engineering expertise in the automotive industry. But she soon felt called back to Louisiana, and upon returning, she pursued more business operations roles.
Today, Tillman is no stranger to Nexus Louisiana’s value to local founders. Having served on the board for several years, she’s excited to take on greater responsibilities and leadership for the growing organization.
And making history with her appointment as the first woman to chair the board, Tillman looks forward to writing a new chapter and leaving her mark on the tech community in Louisiana.
Bringing Louisiana’s Potential to Life
Growing into adulthood in Baton Rouge fostered Tillman’s lifelong love for the city. But there wasn’t a lot of room for young business people to grow at the time. Tillman felt she had to make a tough choice between leaving Louisiana for greener financial pastures or staying to be a part of the solution.
Organizations like Nexus Louisiana gave her hope for a brighter future for the state.
“Like so many young entrepreneurs and business people, you’re faced with that moment of making a decision,” Tillman says. “I could’ve stayed away and made a lot of money or stayed in BR and worked to make the city and the state better.”
Tillman chose to stay to help bring to life the potential she saw in the city and state.
A lot has changed for the better in Louisiana since then. Tillman feels confident that up-and-coming business owners can find all the resources and tools to forge ahead and build their dreams right here in Louisiana.
In her role as chairman, Tillman ensures that local founders know those resources exist. During her tenure as chair, she aims to make Nexus Louisiana a household name among up-and-coming founders, existing tech companies in the state and Louisiana’s entrepreneur community.
Communicating Nexus Louisiana’s Value
By the end of her term as Chairman of the Board, Tillman would love to be able to hand over the reins to her successor, knowing she raised Nexus Louisiana’s profile so more people understand what the organization does. She wants to leverage the nonprofit’s recent rebrand to communicate that Nexus can become the hub of technology in Louisiana.
Communicating the value of Nexus Louisiana’s programs and resources has been a priority for the board since before the pandemic, and it’s even more critical now. That prompted the board to initiate a soft rebranding from the Research Park Corporation to Nexus Louisiana.
“The name change to Nexus Louisiana as a brand name is more recognizable,” Tillman says.
Nexus Louisiana has become a hub and haven for emerging tech-enabled companies, but it still has more to do to get the word out there to business owners. Tillman especially wants to communicate Nexus Louisiana’s resources and programming to women- and minority-owned businesses.
Founders of local startups and new businesses typically know about the process of filing with the Secretary of State’s Office and leveraging state resources to support their journeys. But many founders don’t understand what Nexus Louisiana has to offer at every stage of that journey.
“We want tech-enabled companies to know that they can come to Nexus and find resources to walk you through the process of scaling your company or finding and securing seed capital,” Tillman says.
Nexus Louisiana supports founders by providing coaching, capital and connections at every stage of the process. Whatever the growth stage of new startups, Nexus Louisiana can help them move to the next level.
Capitalizing on Digital Acceleration
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated technological changes that were already on the horizon. That gave the member companies at the Louisiana Tech Park—Nexus Louisiana’s incubator—an opportunity to capitalize on disruption. Pre-pandemic, many companies and individuals were still committed to old ways of doing things. But the shift to remote work and virtual life has loosened those reservations.
“The acceleration into virtual reality has had a tremendous boost on Nexus,” Tillman says. “It has forced people to move in a direction that we were tip-toeing into.” Because of the work that the Nexus team does daily, companies in the incubator were already ready to jump in and fill growing needs during the pandemic.
Pass It Down, a digital storytelling platform for museums and cultural institutions, won the High-Stakes Pitch Competition at BREW 2019 because investors saw potential in the brand’s software—and it paid off. Most museums shut down almost overnight during the pandemic, but the Pass It Down platform allowed those organizations to continue driving engagement in a virtual format.
Another Tech Park member company, King Crow Studios, specializes in virtual reality training and video game development. In the past year, it signed a $6.5 million federal contract to support U.S. Air Force training—the first of its kind for Louisiana. Because it was ahead of the game in virtual reality training, King Crow Studios could leverage disruption to bring economic stimulus and prestige to the state.
Thanks to these successes, there’s been a more significant push for more of these types of innovations. As the hub for technology startups in the state, Nexus Louisiana offers attractive resources for scaling tech companies quickly where the needs are greatest.
“When you’re prepared, and that door of opportunity opens, you can capitalize on it—and that’s what Nexus is doing,” Tillman says.
Now that more people are paying attention to technology, Nexus Louisiana has a window to capitalize on showcasing what its member companies do—and how the organization has been at the forefront of innovation all along.
Removing Innovation and Technology Barriers
As much as Nexus Louisiana does for founders, Tillman wants to raise awareness of what the organization does to help the community, too. As a young engineer, one of Tillman’s first roles was programming robots in the automotive industry, and she’s seen that technology progress over the years. The way we work has quickly changed, and Nexus Louisiana is already leading efforts to help local businesses and professionals overcome technology barriers.
“Automation is happening whether we like it or not,” Tillman says. To meet these changes, Nexus Louisiana innovates and supports the growth of a workforce around technology. Through Apprenti, for example, Nexus works with tech employers to match qualified candidates with mid-tier jobs at their companies. The program helps candidates move into the tech sector, regardless of their education or work experience.
Similarly, the BizTech Challenge creates startup opportunities and a tech workforce among students attending Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The program supports ongoing student learning by inviting them to explore technology and software development—preparing them for roles in a tech-enabled workforce.
“We’re not going back to more manual labor,” Tillman says. “Everything we do now is tech-enabled.”
Nexus Louisiana helps the local workforce prepare to enter an increasingly tech-driven economy.
Nexus Louisiana helps the community overcome technology barriers in other ways, too: The organization teamed up with Code Ninjas to produce the PG: Parental Guidance event series to help parents take a more active role in their children’s gaming lives. Although she’s up to date on the latest robotics and labor technology, Tillman admits to having gaps in her knowledge of popular online and multi-user games that appeal to youth like Roblox and Fortnite. The PG program fills those gaps by helping parents understand what their kids do online.
Nexus Louisiana provides a solid foundation to help the community navigate change and understand how change opens opportunities. With all of the resources Nexus Louisiana provides, Tillman looks forward to seeing local founders capitalize on those opportunities.
Empowering Businesses to Thrive in Louisiana
Nexus Louisiana’s programs bring to life the potential Tillman has always seen in Baton Rouge and the state. “We are growing, fertilizing, scaling tech-forward and tech-enabled organizations that are doing great work in the state—and around the world,” Tillman says.
During her time as chair, Tillman feels most excited about sharing Nexus Louisiana with young founders. She wants the next generation to see what they can achieve without ever feeling that they have to leave the state.
“I’m looking forward to Louisiana being the place I dreamed it could be when I was in my 20s,” Tillman says. “It has to become a place where college graduates and early career professionals don’t have to choose between a living wage and a great lifestyle, or choosing to stay in Baton Rouge to make a difference.”
From the coaching and guidance Nexus Louisiana offers to its resources for capital and financing, Tillman feels confident about the programs and services it provides. Now her goal is to grow awareness in the community, so young founders don’t have to face the same choice she did.
“Louisiana can rise up to the challenge of using tech and innovation in a way that allows small businesses to stay and thrive,” Tillman says.
And under her guidance, Nexus Louisiana will continue to overcome technology barriers to create a supportive ecosystem for local founders.