Celebrating the completion of an intensive 10-week online business training program for local entrepreneurs, 23 students were recognized Wednesday night at Louisiana State University of Alexandria as the initial graduates of the LaunchPad training program. LaunchPad is a joint venture between the City of Alexandria and the LSUA College of Business.
The graduation ceremony, held in the Coughlin Auditorium at LSUA, was the first opportunity for the students and instructors to meet in person. Due to Covid-19 concerns, the 20 90-minute classroom sessions were conducted online. Before they received their certificates, students presented their marketing “elevator pitch” and gave a brief overview of their business plan.
“The program was greatly helpful. I’m much more confident now about starting my own business,” said Kendall Kirsch, CEO and founder of Basically Brilliant, a web design and consulting firm. “The Kaufman FastTrac® program had great information. And I can’t say enough about the instructors from LSUA. They did a wonderful job of filling in the gaps and explaining how it fit my business. I’m really excited about working for myself, and I can’t wait to launch my business.”
Alexandria Mayor Jeff Hall delivered the keynote remarks at the ceremony. “I was so very impressed to meet the students and hear about their business plans,” Hall said. “We talk all the time about attracting new business and industry to central Louisiana, and that is great, but this program is a way to support our local entrepreneurs and develop the talent we already have in our community. Tonight we heard some amazing business ideas. We have students wanting to create – or who have already started – businesses offering website design, package shipping, clothing and apparel, cosmetics, Latin American goods and educational products. We heard from students focused on health and wellness, pet care services, dance classes – the list goes on and on. It is truly amazing the talent we have right here in our community.”
Hall added, “The LaunchPad program offers a tremendous advantage for a start-up business or entrepreneur. We are extremely fortunate to have outstanding resources available to us at the LSUA College of Business and we are grateful to LSUA Chancellor Dr. Paul Coreil and Dr. Randall Dupont for stepping forward to help us serve our local business community. This is a program that will provide tremendous benefit not just to Alexandria, but to all of Central Louisiana.”
“University collaboration with the City of Alexandria is community development at its best,” Coreil said. “This type of project extends and links well with our community outreach goals and objectives for LSUA.”
College of Business Dean Dupont, who coordinated and led the event, commented on the significance of this type of program. “Any time we can provide more education for community entrepreneurs, that is a win for the region as a whole. These participants received in-depth knowledge on how to successfully start and grow a business. The economic effects of this type of programming will be felt all across Central Louisiana.”
The LaunchPad program began March 1 and utilized Kauffman FastTrac® online content. Topics covered include market research, business model design, pricing strategy, legal strategy, distribution and sales, financial management and building the organization. The majority of funding for the program came from a $15,000 grant from the National League of Cities.
The City of Alexandria is designated as a Small and Emerging Business Development Intermediary by Louisiana Economic Development. As such, the City is required to offer economic development-related training and project funding to SEBD certified small and emerging businesses. However, since only a small number of local small businesses that are eligible for SEBD certification have been certified, attendance has been low at local SEBD training events. LaunchPad was created as means to build that local small business base.
“The tremendous success we saw with this class proves we have many people locally who are interested in starting a small business, or who are just starting out,” said Richard Johnson, an economic development specialist with the City of Alexandria. “We are encouraging each of the program graduates to complete their SEBD certification and take advantage of the ongoing training and support resources available.”
Evelyn Jones, business consultant with the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), was on hand at the graduation and pledged her support for the graduates. Jones works for LSUA and her SBDC office is located inside the Central Louisiana Regional Chamber of Commerce building on Third Street in downtown Alexandria.
"Starting a business is challenging and can be complicated, so the more knowledge one can have about the many aspects of entrepreneurship, the better,” Jones said. “The Launchpad program did just that for the participants, and they've got a head start in the process. Additional help and resources are available through the LSUA Small Business Development Center. As a program of the SBA and LED, we're here to provide necessary tools like industry research, business plans and financial projections with one-on-one, no-cost consulting."
LaunchPad student Victoria “Pinky Bob” Byrom, CEO and founder of Envisioned Aromas, said the SBDC support was one of the many benefits of participating in the LaunchPad program. “Ms. Evelyn has been an amazing asset to myself and the development of my company. She has been assisting me in everything from locating cheaper prices on some of my needed inventory to helping me make new connections in my field of business,” she said. “She helps make the extremely daunting and overwhelming task of running your own business seem very easy with the right help. The SBDC is more than just an agency helping small businesses grow, they are amazing individuals who really want to see you succeed in business and in life.”
Graduates in the inaugural class include: Ricardo Brown, Victoria Byrom, Sharon Davidson, Erin Harrison, Miriam Hicks, Brieanna Howell Cowher, Fannietta Johnson, Kendall Kirsch, Sara Lowry, Andrea Martin, Crystal Martinez, Kendrick Moton, Ninette Peek, Yolanda Randle, Courtney Robinson, Pamelaia Sanders, Sarita Sharma, Natasha Shipp, Nieshala Smith, Carrie Spriggins, LuAnn Thomas, Shawanna Thomas and Pam Walls.