Spotlight Louisiana: Honoring LED’s Growth Network

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Before the reception, I had the opportunity to visit with Governor Edwards. Left to right: Chris Cassagne, Stephanie Hartman, Colleen Killen-Roberts, Dan Wyant, Gov. John Bel Edwards, Paul Bateson and John Matthews.

Last week I had an opportunity to be the keynote speaker at “Spotlight Louisiana.” This was an inaugural event to honor second-stage businesses that have participated in Louisiana Economic Development’s (LED) Economic Gardening initiative and CEO roundtables and graduated into LED’s Growth Network. It was a terrific evening, and with the support of Governor Edwards, Louisiana has become a leader in second-stage support.

When we began hosting the National Center for Economic Gardening, Louisiana was one of the first states to come on board. And over the years it’s become one of our strongest partners. At the reception, I discussed 10 reasons why the Edward Lowe Foundation considers Louisiana to be a rockstar of entrepreneurial support:

  1. Innovation — In addition to being an early adopter of Economic Gardening, LED has been proactive about other programs to help second-stage companies. John Matthews, LED’s senior director of small business services, has challenged our thinking and even pushed us to be even more innovative — something we really appreciate, because continuous improvement is also part of the foundation’s DNA.
  2. Continuity — LED programs have continuity. When it comes to helping second-stage companies, Louisiana doesn’t just talk about it, they dedicate serious resources to making that happen. Perhaps even more important, funding is structured to ensure these programs don’t become a political football. As a result, under Don Pierson and Mandi Mitchell’s watch, Economic Gardening has been going strong in Louisiana since 2011.
  3. Quality control — Economic Gardening is not an easy program to administer. There are a lot of moving pieces, and LED has outstanding operational bench strength. In particular, I want to recognize Chris Cassagne, Stephanie Hartman and Cory Morgan. What’s more, LED is very careful about which companies are accepted into the program, making sure each one is a good fit. This leads to better outcomes for both the state and the entrepreneurs involved. LED commits resources wisely, and they don’t waste their program participants’ time.
  4. Forward thinking — Next on the list is forward thinking. For example, LED has offered roundtables to second-stage CEOs since 2014. To grow the program, they’re using one of our peer-learning services: roundtables for early-stage companies, which helps promising companies move into second stage faster.
  5. Savvy — LED’s staff has gone through extensive training to understand the nuts and bolts of Economic Gardening. They’re able to explain the program’s frameworks clearly to stakeholders, partner organizations and — most important — participants. Let’s face it, second-stage entrepreneurs are extremely busy. They’re also pretty skeptical of people saying “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” Yet LED’s staff has conversations that are meaningful and resonate with entrepreneurs.
  6. Aftercare — Another hallmark of LED is what we call “aftercare.” LED doesn’t see Economic Gardening as a stand-alone program, but rather as an entry point into an entrepreneurial ecosystem. After an Economic Gardening engagement has closed, LED’s staff continues to stay in touch with those growth companies. They learn what new challenges the companies have encountered and find out how they can either point them to additional services — or develop new ones. They’re not looking to fill quotas, but to have real impact.
  7. Collaboration — LED works closely with regional organizations to bring programs that can help their constituents. And they go beyond that. Case in point, last year we provided training on our roundtable protocol, and LED asked us not only to train facilitators but also the organizations that host those roundtables.
  8. Metrics matter — LED is relentless about collecting data so it can make decisions based on evidence, not just anecdotes. They’re like the Moneyball of economic development.
  9. Communications — Our ninth reason for recognizing Louisiana is communications. LED is good at storytelling, and I mean that in a sincere way. They share compelling stories that interest the media and the public. They also tell program participants what to expect from the get-go. Bottom-line, LED is a straight-shooter. Becoming a trusted source for entrepreneurs isn’t easy when you’re a nonprofit; it’s even harder when you’re a government agency. Not so with Louisiana. They’ve broken the mold for how entrepreneurs look at state government.
  10. Passion — Yet being straight-forward doesn’t mean there’s a lack of enthusiasm. In fact, passion is the final reason we salute Louisiana — and why LED is so successful. The level of engagement we have with administrators and staff is extremely high. John Matthews has not only blazed a trail of innovation when it comes to serving entrepreneurs, he has also recruited a team of talented, accomplished individuals who are extremely committed. These people are not content to sit on their laurels. They press on to achieve even better results.
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Dan Wyant
President of Edward Lowe Foundation
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“To me, leadership is about building a team, trying to get the best out of others, and helping them be successful,” says Dan Wyant, president and chief operating officer of the Edward Lowe Foundation.

“If done right, the impact should be lasting.” In this series of articles, Wyant shares insights about leadership gleaned from more than three decades of managing entrepreneurial and conservation organizations in the private, public and nonprofit sectors.