Funds aimed at fledgling BR-area businesses

Seven local supporters have committed $1.8 million to a new fund aimed at helping fledgling Baton Rouge companies.

Terrell Brown, chairman of the Research Park Corp., said Thursday he has raised the money by calling a number of local business leaders.

“Our goal is to get commitments from 20 people for $5 million (total),” Brown said during a meeting of the Research Park Corp. board of directors.

The money will go to Step One Ventures, which aims to help startup businesses after they exhaust their initial financial backing.

Step One would provide small amounts of capital, between $50,000 and $250,000.

In April, Step One plans to go before the Louisiana Economic Development Corp., the financial arm of the state economic development department, to ask for $1 million in matching funds.

The plan is to use the $6 million for three separate funds, Brown said: a “for-profit” fund that would go to businesses that are profitable or near profitable; a “nonprofit” fund, backed by foundations, that would help entrepreneurs make their dreams for a business a reality; and a fund that would coordinate the activities of local angel investors.

Step One came out of a partnership between RPC and JumpStart Inc., of Cleveland, a nationally recognized nonprofit venture development organization.

Brown said Step One will “fly the flag” for startup companies, with an emphasis on helping minority- and woman-owned companies.

Although Step One sprang out of the RPC, startup businesses from across the Capital Region would be able to tap into funding, not just companies in the organization’s Louisiana Technology Park.

Step One will replace the Baton Rouge Area Chamber’s Regional Innovation Organization. RIO has been without a director since May, when Terry Jones, its former director and sole employee, resigned because of a communications dispute with the RPC board.

Brown said a search is under way to find a CEO for Step One. JumpStart is involved in the process, helping to review applicants.