Baton Rouge’s tech sector sees expansion

Business Report

From app makers to software developers, more tech companies are applying to join the Louisiana Technology Park than ever before.

In the second half of 2015, four tech companies applied for and were accepted into Tech Park U, a pre-incubator program in which companies flesh out business plans before heading into the market, says Stephen Loy, the Tech Park’s executive director.

Loy says the number of interested companies has risen to seven—ranging from one that makes a photography app for smartphones to another that creates data-driven software for human resources professionals—in the first four months of 2016.

As interest in the park rises, those working in the technology field also have noticed a growth within the local tech sector.

Baton Rouge Area Chamber spokeswoman Ansley Zehnder says BRAC has seen an increase in the number of tech companies forming and expanding in the Capital Region. One reason, she says, is that advanced placement computer science classes were recently added to the TOPS core curriculum list for high schools, meaning more students will be entering the workforce with technical skills than before. That, she says, is “indicative of the tech sector’s proactive approach to enhancing workforce capacity.”

Zehnder says BRAC is working with three companies to gather resources to expand, though she declined to go into specifics.

Byron Clayton, president and CEO of NexusLA, which oversees the Tech Park, attributes the rise in tech companies to an increased awareness of entrepreneurship.

“There’s a lot of efforts that are gaining more and more momentum,” Clayton says. “People as they see that, they say, ‘I can do this. I can start my own business.’”

Multiple factors are playing into that increased awareness, he says, such as participation in Entrepreneurship Week events in Baton Rouge and New Orleans, the high visibility of the TV show Shark Tank, the increased availability of new technologies like drones and 3-D printers, and a focus on digital technologies through companies like IBM.

Mo Vij, founder of General Informatics, says the latter is very important because of the enticing image the IBM project created for Baton Rouge.

“There has been a positive buzz and that it could be something that’s influencing the companies’ decisions,” Vij says.

Besides IBM, three major tech companies have come to Baton Rouge since 2014—Stixis, EDGear, Qualytics.

Vij has already noticed the renewed interest in tech companies as a record number of candidates applied for internships at his IT company.

But with all the interest in tech, Vij says there is a dearth of experienced technical managers and executives to lead the new generation. Entrepreneurs can learn about programing and other fields through the Internet, but the lack of experienced leadership to guide them could be harmful for the community.

Back at the Tech Park, Loy says they have the space for the companies coming in right now because many consist of one or two people. But when those companies grow, space at the Tech Park could be hard to come by.

To alleviate that problem, Loy and his administrators have started what he calls a virtual incubator where the company works outside the Tech Park, but meets with administrators during growth sessions and has access to conference rooms.

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