Innov8 puts ‘Silicone Bayou’ in the spotlight

BY BILLY GUNN

Acadiana bureau

It’s billed as “Eight Days of Infinite Possibilities,” and backers believe this year’s Innov8 Lafayette will build upon the inaugural event last year.

“Silicone Bayou — aka Lafayette, Louisiana — is the best kept secret reservoir of innovation mojo in America,” U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park said last year after attending and participating, according to Innov8’s website.

The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, the umbrella organizer, meets weekly with sponsors on the April 19-26 batch of events that are to be spread across Lafayette. Carly St. Marie, the chamber’s communications director, said the 40 events are expected to draw thousands. (For a schedule, go to http://innov8lafayette.com.)

St. Marie said Innov8 was modeled after SXSW, or South by Southwest, a festival in Austin, Texas, that for 10 days marries music and technology.

Innov8’s theme, of course, is innovation. And not just in technology, though there is plenty of that. Cajun Code Fest, for example, will pit computer code-writing teams against each other to solve a health care problem.

“It has some depth,” said Jenny Kreuger, executive director of the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra. “It gives us a launch pad to show off a lot of what we’ve got here.”

Kreuger and the symphony will unveil at Innov8 an arts curriculum that will, if the money can be found, be piloted in the early grades in Lafayette Parish School System classrooms.

Like the festival in Austin, Innov8 will have its share of live music at venues across the city, many of them in downtown Lafayette. And the music will continue as Innov8 rolls into Festival International de Louisiane.

The timing’s no accident. The aim is to have the intellectual-wealth creators who do not hail from Acadiana stick around for Festival International, which highlights the music of French-speaking countries and is in its 27th year.

“Man, this is the coolest place in the world to live,” said Pete Prados, one of two “chief idea officers” for InventureWorks, a Lafayette company he founded.

“We’ve got innovation mojo in Acadiana,” Prados said. “No doubt about it.”

Prados surrounds himself with the ├╝ber-cool language of innovation. A call placed to his business prompts a soothing voice that gives a choice few could turn down: “Press 1 to speak to an idea officer.”

He has pulled together for the second Innov8 a session called The Vault, during which inventors try to persuade investors to back their products. Last year, spectators were not allowed to witness the dialogue between inventors and investors. This year will be different, he said, and he expects a full house from 6:30 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. April 25 at the Acadiana Center for the Arts auditorium.

William Ferguson, a University of Louisiana at Lafayette economics professor, believes Innov8 Lafayette could launch businesses that would broaden the economic base of Acadiana, which has traditionally been focused on the oil and gas service industry.

“Right now, we’re still fundamentally in the oil patch,” Ferguson said. “Anything we can do to broaden the economic base is a good thing, for everybody.”

The oil and gas sector is going gangbusters now, but it’s a cyclical industry. And even with the success brought about by new drilling techniques, the possibility of a downturn always lurks.

New economies, fueled by innovation and intellect, could be brought about in Acadiana.

“Silicone Bayou? Why not?” Ferguson said.

Billy Gunn, a staff writer at The Advocate’s Acadiana bureau, can be reached at bgunn@theadvocate.com.