LSU and Nexus LA to Offer Support for Louisiana Entrepreneurs

This summer, aspiring Louisiana entrepreneurs will be able to consult industry experts and business mentors thanks to a partnership between Nexus Louisiana and LSU’s Office of Innovation and Technology Commercialization according to a press release from the school.

The program is called Ignition, and it’s been designed as an accelerated entrepreneurial program in which aspiring businessmen and women can assess the practicality, viability, and overall effectiveness of their ideas. The Ignition initiative, which is set to last eight weeks throughout the end of spring, will also offer to its participants a panel of local business leaders and innovators who will guide aspiring entrepreneurs through the building, maintaining, and satisfying of a reliable client base.

In addition to the wealth of knowledge that can only be gained from experiences, Louisiana entrepreneurs and participants will also have reimbursable capital available to them through a grant from Louisiana State University. Candidates will have access to up to $3,000 in reimbursable funds, which they can apply toward what Ignition is calling “customer discovery efforts.” Such efforts may include, but won’t be limited to social media marketing campaigns, registration and attendance costs for a conference or expo, or even admission into product competitions.

The experts offering their two-cents to Ignition participants want to help connect customers with a great idea because often those aspiring inventors and innovators are expertly crafty in the creation of their product or service, but they might lack the business acumen or networking savvy to get their idea in the hands of customers. Thankfully, that’s literally the types of aspiring Louisiana entrepreneurs that Nexus Louisiana had in mind in creating the Ignition program.

Stephen Loy, the Executive Director of Nexus Louisiana Technology Park said of the initiative, “Ignition is ideal for entrepreneurs, dreamers, risk-takers, and anyone who has a business idea seeking to prove or disprove their product or service viability. Our goal is to help entrepreneurs keep from investing significant resources into an idea that might not be viable. We would rather someone decide whether their business idea will work early in the process than find out after they have mortgaged their home.”

The program commences on Wednesday, April 28th with an official program orientation and is set to last until Wednesday, June 30th with participants taking part in weekly innovation sessions. Towards the end of the program, Ignition will host a virtual “Demo Day,” sponsored by the Rotary Club of Baton Rouge as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana. On the “Demo Day,” participants will be able to properly showcase and present their business ideas to a larger community.

The total Ignition initiative expects its participants to commit to actively shaping their overall business idea, strategy, and viability outside of class, with approximately five hours a week devoted to this effort. The program is limited to fifteen total Ignition participants with preferences being given to those candidates who submit an application and subsequent business proposal that shows the entrepreneurial promise, aptitude, and mindset required to not only complete the program but successfully launch a scalable, technology-enabled business of their own. While the program doesn’t guarantee success, the moment of the culminating launching of the business at the end of June requires a little bit of risk, just like any promising business venture.

All in-person sessions for the program will be held at the Louisiana Technology Park located in the Mid City area of Baton Rouge. Andrew Maas, the director for the LSU Office of Innovation and Technology Commercialization, said of the venture, “We are excited to be part of Ignition. We know from our experience that you really need to ask some tough questions before you even start a business. You need customers to be successful and customer discovery is the most logical place to start. We hope to give participants the tools and resources to be successful.”

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LSBDC Office Opens at LSU to Aid Small Businesses

Louisiana small business owners will soon have a new resource in their arsenal thanks to the federal CARES ACT and a collaboration between LSBDC and LSU, according to a press release from the school.

The collaboration is being referred to as the LSBDC at LSU, and it will essentially be a business satellite service center on LSU’s campus that will be focused on providing technology and innovation services to existing business owners and entrepreneurs across the state. The project comes from the Louisiana Small Business Development Center and Louisiana State University, and with it comes three professional business consultants that will be housed at the LSBDC at LSU.

Technology consultants will offer high-quality technical assistance to any start-up or existing businesses in Louisiana, and the assistance will come at no cost to clients impacted by COVID-19. Similarly, the business consultants will assist in developing and reviewing strategic plans, gaining access to capital, and connecting clients to any and all resources that could help their start-up or existing business.

The interim executive director of the LSU Innovation Park, David Winwood, said of the importance, “small businesses and technology-based entrepreneurs can play a key role in revitalizing our economy. Our collaboration with the LSBDC will help catalyze that revitalization.”

The LSBDC at LSU will specifically specialize in the transfer, commercialization, and utilization of technology as well as the development of new products to improve the efficiency and competitiveness of businesses. The mission of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center at Louisiana State University will be to work with businesses and entrepreneurs to commercialize inventions that benefit the public and enhance the economy.

Beyond LSU’s campus, the Louisiana Small Business Development Center continually offers high-quality technical assistance to existing and start-up businesses as well as entrepreneurs at no cost to the client. The LSBDC is a part of the larger network, the Small Business Development Center, which is the single-largest provider of management and technical assistance for businesses in the United States.

The LSBDC is funded partially through a cooperative agreement with the United States Small Business Administration, Louisiana Economic Development, and other participating institutions of higher education, such as Louisiana State University. LSBDC was established in 1983 and is strategically located to service all of Louisiana’s 64 parishes and their businesses.

LSBDC State Director Carla Holland remarked on the necessity of such a service in times such as these by saying, “the opening of this SBDC satellite office is extremely important for business owners, especially during the pandemic. I look forward to working with LSU and this collaboration becoming the spark of a great economic development push-in technology. When the CARES ACT funding was available, we knew we would need to bring in partners who specialized in technology as we saw less in-person business taking place and more virtual interaction.”

The LSBDC at LSU office is located at LSU Innovation Park, 8000 Innovation Park Dr., Baton Rouge, LA, 70508. LSU Innovation Park is a substantial, 200-acre resource that stimulates the economic growth in Louisiana through the various incubators it operates. The Park offers specialized business assistance to help companies formulate their ideas and further them to the best of their ability. Outside of the LSBDC at LSU, the LSU Innovation Park also houses the Louisiana Business & Technology Center, Protostripes Prototyping Center, the Louisiana Technology Transfer Office, and additional available office and lab space for other companies.

The LSBDC and LSU announced their partnership via a Facebook Live event as a part of the LSU Innovation Pak Facebook Page in early March. The office is welcoming the public business owners of Louisiana to call and schedule a consultation.

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Two LSU Professors Recently Selected by NAI

Recently, the National Academy of Inventors, or NAI, elected 175 fellows including two LSU professors, as learned by a press release from Louisiana State University.

Among the 175 newly elected fellows are LSU School of Veterinary Medicine’s Pathobiological Sciences Professor and Virologist Konstantin “Gus” Kousoulas, as well as, LSU College of the Coast and Environment’s Department of Environmental Science Professor Emeritus and Ecotoxicologist Ralph Porter. Both Porter and Kousoulas have been elected as an NAI Fellow, and thus they have been bestowed the professional distinction accorded solely to academic investors.

To date, NAI fellows hold more than 42,700 issued United States patents, which have generated over 13,000 licensed technologies, companies, and the creation of more than 36 million jobs. In addition to this, revenue totaling over $2.2 trillion has been generated based on discoveries made by NAI fellows.

The Director of Louisiana State University’s Office of Innovation and Technology Commercialization, Andrew Maas,said of the incredible honor bestowed on the school’s faculty, “in the midst of the pandemic, we are watching in real-time how scientific discovery works—whether its rapidly improving tests or developing a vaccine that will save millions of lives—it’s clear how crucial innovation is to our society. Therefore, it’s an honor to recognize these experts, who are also innovators and pioneers.”

Of the NAI Fellows, Professor Konstantin Kousoulas’s research team at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine is currently working on vaccines to combat COVID-19 and other influenza viruses. Kousoulas holds 18 patents that span innovations in gene delivery, vaccines for viruses in humans and animals, and bacteria and immunotherapies for the treatment of cancer.

Professor Kousoulas previously worked on SARS-COV in 2003 as well as other coronaviruses that infect and cause substantial disease in animals, and specifically, he led USDA-funded projects that describe acute pneumonia in cattle caused by bovine coronavirus, which is a similar disease to the current COVID-19.

Also elected as an NAI fellow, Environmental Toxicologist and Professor Emeritus Ralph Porter holds eight patents himself, and they are related to the bioremediation of contaminated sediment and soil using custom microbial habitats,or bioreactors. As of now, 265 sites across the United States and 12 international sites have been remediated usingLSU biomedical patents and intellectual property developed by Porter.

Before his nearly 40-year career at LSU, Porter also notably helped shape policies and processes for the Environmental Protection Agency, but in his time at LSU, he has developed a vast library of bioremediation microbes. Such microbes have helped private companies as well as local, state, and federal agencies mitigate a variety of environmental hazards in the United States and in the international world, where they can be used to break down dangerous chemicals and pollutants such as herbicides, plastics, fuels, and pesticides.

Porter  remarked on the necessity for such work by saying, “our ability to design biofilms specifically to target certain types of hazardous waste is probably the most important of the patents developed here at LSU. We have designed reactor systems which have been used successfully in almost every state in the union and in a dozen or so countries overseas.”

In addition to the honor that is being elected as an NAI fellow, Porter is also a recipient of the George W. Goethals Medal, which is the highest technical merit award that is awarded to an engineer or scientist. The Medal is named in memory of the builder of the Panama Canal. Porter is a Louisiana native as well as an alumnus of LSU, where he received his PHD in Oceanography and Coastal Sciences in 1982 before joining the faculty at LSU in 1984.

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LSU Professors Designing Construction Exoskeletons

Two Louisiana State University professors are partnering with Rutgers University to develop wearable exoskeletons to be used by the construction industry in an effort to decrease work site injuries, an LSU press release reported.

The professors teaming up with Rutgers University to create this integrated, multidisciplinary approach to workplace safety and efficiency are LSU Bert S. Turner Department of Construction Management Assistant Professor and Graduate Coordinator Chao Wang and LSU Professor of Industrial Engineering Fereydoun Aghazadeh. Along with Rutgers, Wang and Aghazadeh recently received a $150,000 planning grant from the National Science Foundation, giving them a year to create a team of researchers ready to compete for a $3 million research grant in March.

This planning grant was awarded to the LSU professors as a part of the NSF’s 10 Big Ideas- Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier (FW-HTF) program to develop exoskeletons, and as of now LSU’s team is in good standing to be awarded the spring research grant, as there are few construction companies that have actually adopted any type of exoskeleton technology.

The FW-HTF project’s three goals are to “develop lightweight, flexible, high-performance, personalized wearable exoskeletons for construction workers; develop machine learning-based human skill modeling and training in construction; and initiate new cross-disciplinary collaboration and foster engagement with industry partners and stakeholders.”

Wang, who is serving as this project’s principal investigator has found that there are a few exoskeleton products currently available on the market, but they mainly target manufacturing and industrial settings, commenting that because of a construction site’s dynamic and complicated setting, the concept of introducing an exoskeleton is quite new.

Though, the concept is seen as heavily-needed by many wanting to mitigate work site accidents. According to OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, one in 10 construction site workers are injured each year and 21%of worker fatalities are in construction. Aghazadeh attributes construction injuries to three primary reasons: “Number one, they are tired. Number two, the task is beyond their capacity. Number three, they are not properly trained. If they don’t have the capacity to do the physical work, how can we enhance their physical capability? We can give them more power. This project is all about that.”

The LSU professors, Wang and Aghazadeh will study the individual tasks performed by each crew member on a construction project in order to develop and train a single exoskeleton to perform different construction tasks. They will also determine how much power should be given to the exoskeleton and whether to focus its support on the upper or lower area of the body.

The fact that the utilization of exoskeletons in a construction environment is a near-foreign concept is attributed to the quantity of tasks performed by your average construction worker, such as climbing stairs, walking, squatting, and reaching. These foundational tasks are a lot to teach an exoskeleton when compared to an exoskeleton used in a manufacturing facility that completes one task, albeit 1000 in a day.

Therefore, the challenge for Wang and Aghazadeh will be to design an exoskeleton intelligent enough to recognize what tasks its construction worker is engaged in, adjust its power level accordingly, and alter its control strategy to most-effectively assist with the work.

It’s not just the efficiency or safety of the work that will be benefited by the addition of construction exoskeletons but the longevity of the worker as well. The team’s motivation for their project originated from the workforce shortage in the United States, where there are an abundance of construction jobs but not enough workers with many retiring due to injury.

Wang expresses the project’s hopes- saying, “With the help of robotics, these older workers can still perform. That way, when younger workers come in, they can learn from the older, more experienced workers who have more knowledge that can be passed on. The idea down the line is that anyone can buy this in a Home Depot or Lowe’s, and they’ll come in different sizes. We want one product that can be smart enough to fit anyone with different tasks.”

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BRAC & Local Universities Band Together to Retain Graduates to the Region

Louisiana State University, Southern University, and The Baton Rouge Area Chamber have combined efforts to retain graduates in the region by leveraging and utilising an existing talent recruitment platform, as reported by the LSU Media Center earlier this month.

The trio of educational and city-wide institutions will focus on connecting students to career opportunities through their participation in professional internships, thus setting students up for successful, extensive careers by giving them personally-tailored, hand-on experience by way of the Handshake platform.

Handshake is a university-based online, career resource that brings students and alumni together to offer personalized career recommendations to students. Recommendations made are based on individuals’ interests and network, allowing applicants to explore potential career pathways and build a new career by discovering new opportunities, employees, on-campus events through the Handshake platform.

Both LSU and Southern have invested in the Handshake platform in 2018, and as of today roughly half of the student population of both universities have active profiles visible to the 489 active employer profiles in the region. The platform itself allows employers of all sizes to create a profile at no cost to potentially recruit talent and graduates from LSU and Southern, as well as the over 900 other universities on the platform. Once having created a profile, employers can post job opportunities, filter candidates, and schedule interviews from a single log-in, thus saving more time for business-owners to find the right match for their company.

The president and CEO of BRAC, The Baton Rouge Area Chamber, Adam Knapp remarked to LSU journalists that this collaboration is a “ historic joint commitment of our region’s traditional four-year institutions to be intentional about connecting students to local internship and job opportunities. Now more than ever, talent drives economic development, and our college students are one of our greatest assets.”

The collaboration from LSU, SU, and BRAC holds all three institutions accountable for expanding the number of active student (graduates) and employer profiles in the system. They’ve implemented a system with a larger goal to increase the awareness of the Baton Rouge region as a vibrant, prosperous community in which recent, rising, and former graduates should consider launching a career. They do this by implementing strategic data tracking to measure applicant progress, advocating confidently for paid internships as both a critical, necessary part of the curriculum and of talent pipeline management strategies.

Hoping to get new users registered and matched with an employer, BRAC will be hosting workshops with each university’s career services centers to help employers set up Handshake profiles, learn how to most effectively engage with the Handshake platform and access the multitude of additional resources available through the career service centers.

Businesses located in the Baton Rouge region are encouraged to take the following steps in the next six months in order to both support and participate in this effort:

  • Activate an “employer” account on Handshake
  • Attend one of the Handshake 101 workshops offered by BRAC
  • Create a ‘paid internship program’ and recruit for it through Handshake
  • Recruit candidates for entry-level positions through Handshake

While initially beginning with Louisiana State University and Southern University, the BRAC will be pursuing similar agreements with the other postsecondary institutions in the area, namely, Baton Rouge Community College, FranU, and River Parishes Community College in order to retain even more graduates to the area.

Handshake’s Vice President of Higher Education and Student Services, Christine Cruzvergara commented by stating, “Access is the most direct path to opportunity, and we’re excited to partner with BRAC to help students connect with local businesses. This initiative demonstrates the strength of Handshake’s platform to help more students easily discover opportunities and help employers recruit young talent in an efficient and cost-effective way.”

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NFL Draft Picks out of Louisiana Colleges

The last Saturday of the 2020 NFL draft, Saturday April 25th, was another big day for players from universities in Louisiana.  In total, ten players from universities of The Pelican State were drafted into NFL teams, of which four were from LSU, two from Tulane, two from Louisiana Tech and two from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.  Two more LSU players went in the fourth round, which gave LSU a record-tying total of 14 players in the three-day draft.  The record is now shared with Ohio State, who produced 14 draftees in 2004.

Although the following recaps those Louisiana ten athletes that were selected on the last Saturday of the draft, it should be highlighted that the first NFL draft pick was that of LSU’s quarterback Joe Burrow, who led the team to a national championship after a 15-0 season.  Burrow was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals.

Among Louisiana’s big Saturday draftees were LSU’s offensive tackle Saahdiq Charles, who was the second overall pick in the round, chosen by the Washington Redskins.  He started nine games in LSU’s national championship season of 2019.

The 12th LSU player drafted was Rashard Lawrence of LSU.  Touted as being good at the point of attack and holding his ground well against the run, he is remarkably seasoned, having started 34 of 44 games he played while at LSU.  Lawrence was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals.

A solid and accomplished blocker, guard Kevin Dotson of UL-Lafayette, the second Ragin’ Cajun offensive lineman drafted (after Robert Hunt), was picked up by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Louisiana Tech saw two of its stars drafted back-to-back in the fourth round when defensive back L’Jarius Sneed was chosen by the Kansas City Chiefs (2020 Superbowl champions) and corner back Amik Robertson was snagged by the Las Vegas Raiders.  Sneed is known for being a spectacular leaper and returning three interceptions for touchdowns at Louisiana Tech.  Roberston is described as an “electric talent” who plays with attitude and fears nothing.

Tulane star wide receiver Darnell Mooney was picked up by the Chicago Bears at pick 173.  He is remarkably fast and a consistent deep threat who scores nearly every time he touches the ball.

Long Snapper Blake Ferguson of LSU went to the Miami Dolphins.  Ferguson is an elite talent and was notably the only exclusive long snapper chosen in the draft.

At pick No. 237, Tulane cornerback Thakarius Keyes was picked up by the Kansas City Chiefs.  Keyes, also known as “Bopete” was a two-year starter for the Green Wave of Tulane and started in all but one of the 24 games he competed in.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted University of Louisiana (Lafayette) running back Raymond Calais in the seventh round.  Calais is small, but is a fast and effective gunner which could increase his chances of starting for the Bucs.

Finally, LSU tied the record in the NFL Draft with a 14th selection as their tight end Stephen Sullivan was picked up by the Seattle Seahawks. Sullivan, a converted wide receiver, has a huge catch radius. He is big, but excels as a receiver as opposed to a blocker.  Although he was often lost in the crowd at LSU with so many great wide receivers, he was still picked up due to his intriguing talent on the field.

In sum, the coming years should be a great time for pro football enthusiasts in Louisiana as we go on to watch some of our favorite college ball athletes show off their talents on the NFL gridirons.

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