NSU, EAP team up to prepare students to be entrepreneurs in Louisiana

Hot ideas just won students some cool cash in this year’s Inferno Pitch Business Model Competition. The competition was presented by Northwestern State University’s School of Business, College of Business and Technology and BRF’s Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP), which provides services to innovative startups and works to stimulate entrepreneurship opportunities in North Louisiana.

NSU and EAP have partnered for a fourth year to continue their work to help prepare students for entrepreneurship.

Four finalist teams competed for $4,500 in cash and additional prizes during an online business pitch event held by NSU and EAP. To prepare for the final event, student competitors first participated in a speed consulting and business development workshop online last month. They then submitted pitch presentations for evaluation to determine the finalists who would be eligible to compete for prize money.

The top cash prize of $3,000 was awarded to Kylie Morgan, Zoie Gillespie, Savannah Hall and Rebecca Santos. Their winning idea is for a device called “Expitemp,” which is intended to help busy families track food in their fridge, cut down on food waste and save time at the grocery store.

“I feel like this competition is a great way to push yourself, be independent and better our society with new ideas in a way that you never would have thought or tried before,” said Gillespie, a junior business administration major.

“This also helps students boost their confidence – it definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone,” said Morgan, a senior business administration major.

Jackson McCann, Alex Trotter, Kirstin Sonnier and Tabitha Schmidt won second place and a cash prize of $1,000 for their business idea, “Float Your Boat,” which would provide boat preparation and other services for boat owners to allow more time for relaxation and recreation on the water. Derek Fields, Shana LaCroix, Allie Soudelier and Carmen Varnell placed third for their business idea, “Cane River Coffee” — a coffee truck utilizing local Louisiana coffee and cane sugar straws.

All four finalist teams also won professional services from EAP for six months and will receive scholarships to the 2022 Louisiana Startup Prize to compete with other entrepreneurs for a $25,000 grand prize.

“Learning to think critically is the main benefit to students,” said Dr. Carmella Parker, associate professor and coordinator of outreach and special projects at NSU’s School of Business, College of Business and Technology. “They have to critically think about every aspect of this competition, and that is going to help them become more agile. We want them to be confident so they can navigate any professional business landscape.”

NSU faculty and community business professionals who served as judges during the online final pitch competition were Dave Smith, executive director of the Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program; Dr. Darlene Williams, vice president for Technology, Innovation and Economic Development at NSU, and Joanna Washington, branch administrator at City Bank & Trust.

“When I’m asked why these student business pitch competitions are so important, I say that more than 50 percent of businesses in Louisiana are small or family-owned businesses,” Smith said. “We need to help train our students to think like business owners and leaders because chances are they will be one, so they’d better be ready.”

BRF’s Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program serves as the region’s startup accelerator and small business resource, analyzing the viability of ideas and products, matching entrepreneurs with informed investors and other funding opportunities and nurturing them through the critical steps toward market. EAP provides a suite of services to build sustainable and profitable companies in North Louisiana.

According to an economic impact study by Dr. Loren Scott and Associates, in 2019 the firms supported by EAP generated in the Shreveport-Bossier MSA over 353 new jobs, $21 million in new business sales, $15 million in new household earnings and nearly $1 million in new tax and fee collections for local governments.