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Small-Business Roundtables Help Emerging Tech Companies Share Ideas


Leaders from emerging Baton Rouge technology companies are teaming up for a yearlong series of roundtable discussions to exchange ideas and experiences that can help them succeed in the competitive high-tech marketplace.

Coordinated by Louisiana Economic Development, the Small and Emerging Business Development Roundtables will take place in eight cities across the state over the next year. The Louisiana Technology Park is hosting the Baton Rouge series, with leaders from a dozen area tech companies.

Each roundtable brings together 10 to 15 owners of small and emerging businesses for a dialogue to share challenges and learn from the experiences of their peers. The business leaders will meet 10 times to share critical answers to pressing issues within a safe and supportive environment in which business challenges are processed with peers who have similar experiences.

“Everybody has some advice for you, but it’s very rare to find someone who’s walked in your shoes who can give you that advice,” says participant Courtney Sparkman, CEO of Baton Rouge-based OfficerReports.com, which helps security guard companies manage their remote employees.

Supporting Better Decisions

Built off the success of LED’s CEO Roundtables program, the latest discussion series is designed to help small-business owners reach better decisions and develop action plans. It also will help them gauge whether they’re headed in the right direction and address areas in which they could improve. LED can provide assistance through its SEBD Program for any specific issues that arise during the events.

“I’m looking to see what more we can do to establish more rapid growth within the company, and also to get a sense of ‘am I on the right track,’ ” says participant Allen Hancock, CEO of Baton Rouge-based Watchman Monitoring, maker of a computer-monitoring software suite.

Hancock says other business events can lump together tech and nontech companies, but the roundtable hosted at the Tech Park will focus on emerging technology companies. “The business owners here are other technical people,” he says. “In the past I’ve been in groups of varying backgrounds, so this makes it easier to leverage new technologies as they come out.”

The business participants were selected from Louisiana companies that have been certified by LED’s SEBD Program, which provides managerial and technical assistance to help sustain and grow small businesses.

In addition to Baton Rouge, sessions for the peer-to-peer learning program began this summer in Alexandria, Covington, Gonzales, Lafayette, Lake Charles, New Orleans and Shreveport.

“This is a great example of a collaborative effort to nurture Louisiana’s small-business community,” LED Secretary Don Pierson said. “Through the SEBD Roundtables, participants learn that they are not alone and can help one another by sharing experiences and solutions. Peer-to-peer views can be very helpful in improving their businesses. It is vital that we provide support for these businesses so that they can provide sustainable growth and employment well into the future.”

A Source of Practical Advice

The structured peer-to-peer learning program is also designed to help participants develop trusted relationships and share business and personal issues that can affect a company’s trajectory.

“The program has been great,” says Marie Powell, president and creative director of Baton Rouge branding and advertising agency Brew. She says the experience-based structure encourages business owners to use examples of situations they’ve faced. “This keeps things real and attainable, knowing that others have gone through the experiences we're sharing. It's also turned out to be a little bit of a therapy session, as we get to share personal struggles that, as business owners, don't always get exposed in the workplace.”

Sparkman says there is no replacement for advice from others who have navigated the unique challenges of launching and growing a startup business.

“I think CEOs and founders need to talk to other CEOs and founders because they can offer advice more practical than theoretical,” he says. “You can sit down with a business coach and they can tell you about things they’ve heard or read and seen. But unless they’ve lived that life it’s really hard to relate.”

Stephen Loy