Although the less flashy of its sister competitions Film Prize, Music Prize, and Food Prize, the Louisiana Startup Prize has the most lasting impact in terms of revenue and resources. What sets Startup Prize apart from most entrepreneurial competitions is its absolute transparency. The goal is simple—for inventors to be successful and for investors to be successful. “What I designed is not easy, but is has potential to make the most impact,” Gregory Kallenberg explains. Kallenberg has been the driving spirit and architect of the Prize competitions and burgeoning culture. “My background is working with SXSW on the Interactive side. There, I always saw the greatest growth potential. In many of my conversations with investors here, they would tell me that they’ve always been able to find investments outside of Shreveport. I heard what they needed and saw an opportunity to fulfill that need. I want to see our investors’ money stay at home.” To date, 40% of the Startup Prize finalists have received offers for funding. Not bad for a young competition now entering its 5th year.
The process of Startup Prize is fairly straightforward. Step one: register. However, before you throw your hat in the ring, heed these words: take some time to assess your goals and explore your idea or existing startup venture. Step two: attend one of the Qualifying Events. The Qualifying Events consist of round table discussions wherein attendees get feedback on their ideas as well as advice with everything from financial to tax and even legal advice. With a low barrier of entry, attendees have a myriad of interests, from creating medical devices to opening a bakery. This makes Startup Prize unlike most other networking opportunities in the business world.
All attendees are coached to refine their business plans and streamline their trajectory. “There are people that go just for the mentoring and coaching,” says Judy Williams of Williams Creative Group. Williams Creative Group joined Startup as the marketing partners and they hope to continue to cultivate long term success, “Startup Prize lets people know what a creative entrepreneurial society can look like in a town the size of Shreveport. To have this in such a creative setting really reinforces what I hope we’re moving toward as a community.”
Startup Prize has already helped encourage local entrepreneurs in Shreveport as well as encourage regional businesses to relocate here. Shreveport native Erica Falbaum of Pet Education Project (PEP!) plans to launch her new company soon. PEP! is an education and outreach nonprofit that teaches the core responsibilities of pet ownership. They strive to foster humane habits in children and citizens of our community in order to reduce pet overpopulation, abuse, neglect, and euthanasia. Her new company will focus on mainstream educational products for children. She’s currently in the patent process. “I’m thrilled to see how Startup Prize has conditioned local investment groups to consider local businesses.” Falbaum is excited to start an impact driven company in her hometown and hopes to hire solely Louisiana natives.
Since attending last year’s Startup Fest, Wayne Nix has hopes to move from Lafayette to Shreveport soon. He wants to see things continue to improve and to put his knowledge into action. “Everyone at the Startup Prize was too nice,” jokes Wayne Nix with a laugh, “but, really—everyone was nice in a real honest genuine way. What’s great about Gregory Kallenberg is that he’s a true innovator. Greg tells us, ‘Here’s a door that’s open, walk through it.’” Nix has had major success with his connections with The Biomedical Research Foundation (BRF) and its Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP), both partners with Startup Prize.
John Chidlow—the 2015 Startup Prize winner—plans to give back to Shreveport and the Startup Prize. Chidlow had great success with his group Innolyzer Labs who plan to launch a “lab-on-a-chip,” which is a product for hydrogen sulfide detection. “I want Shreveport’s Startup Prize to become a dominant nationally known event,” says Chidlow, “It’s truly an environment about sharing the experience and figuring out to grow.”
The culture of inclusivity unique to the Start Up Prize demonstrates a larger shift and awareness of how the business community at-large can progress. “I go to a lot of events like these all over North America, but I’ve never encountered an environment so unique,” says Ali Jones, who recently attended this year’s Qualifying Events. “At a lot of events like this, the mentors feel almost unreachable. With StartUp, you have the opportunity to get critical feedback from mentors—not just IG reels and proverbial pats on the back.” Jones is a Slidell native and founder of Cyphtr, a one-of-a-kind staffing agency for employers seeking different levels of assistance. With her platform, Jones provides a better representation of potential business relationships through a visual narrative—representing chemistry and connectivity—informed by data from multiple social media and networking sites. This is way to inform employers outside the traditional resume. In short, Cyphtr creates a user-friendly way for companies to quickly make an exceptionally informed decision. Although Jones spent months fine-tuning her business plan, she encountered a predicament the day before business plans were due. At the send-off breakfast that morning, she had a casual conversation with Mark Newberg, director of impact strategies for Womble, Bond, & Dickinson. He expressed excitement about her idea, but really wanted to see how it could help his particular business. “The gears started turning and working together like a clock. His specific problem solving query helped shift Cyphtr in a new direction to reach more people, facilitate quicker development, and change the revenue model from individual-based to company-based,” explains Jones. Because of a chance conversation at the breakfast—outside of the great feedback she already received from the round tables—Jones found a new direction and as a result needed a new business plan. “I emailed Greg [Kallenberg] & Steven [Knight] in a near panic; that idea for a pivot needed new marketplace assessment, more research, more development…what was I supposed to do?” Jones was relieved and a little surprised when she received an incredibly pragmatic, helpful response—just add an addendum to the business plan and execution model to complete this pivot. “Greg [Kallenberg] told me, ‘don’t just worry about trying to “pitch” your idea; that time will come. Right now is the time for you to get the advice you need. We’re all here to grow. We hope you make changes affected by what you learn here.’ So that’s exactly what I did.” Jones story shows how each small chance encounter made at Startup is founded in the hope to help elevate and encourage other people. Entrepreneurship can be a very isolating experience, but Startup Prize works to dismantle this culture of myopic isolation and encourage community—not just superficial networking. “I’ve seen how Startup Prize has affected real change,” says the ever-encouraging founder Kallenberg, “We have the potential to cultivate something that can be transformational to the world.”