Research Park going forward with entrepreneur plan

June 8, 2012

The Advocate


The Research Park Corp. is moving forward with partnering with JumpStart Inc., a Cleveland-based, nationally recognized nonprofit venture development organization, to produce a “regional entrepreneurship action plan.”

The plan is for the Regional Innovation Organization, which is charged with growing entrepreneurial activity in the Capital Region.

Research Park Corp. also is considering an offer by Commercial Properties Realty Trust to buy $4.5 million in debt from Research Park that is related to the Bon Carré Business Center on Florida Boulevard.

JumpStart’s regional entrepreneurship plan is being done in a three-phase process to be completed in about a year. The Baton Rouge Area Chamber has already been awarded a $429,000 U.S. Commerce Department Economic Development Administration Grant for the plan, with a 100 percent match in funding and in-kind services coming from the Research Park Corp. and BRAC.

JumpStart officials anticipate releasing their draft for growing entrepreneurial economic development and a road map for funding in the next several weeks.

Preliminary assessments of the area have revealed insufficient early-stage capital, a lack of women and minority entrepreneurs and a lack of expert assistance, said Stephen F. Berger, a senior adviser at JumpStart America.

“There really aren’t actually any early-stage funds,” Berger told the Research Park board, underscoring the need for funding opportunities for firms not yet off the ground. “There’s a gap.”

The strategic plan being developed by JumpStart will almost surely include ways for minorities and others to become more engaged. The lack of women and minorities involved in entrepreneurial growth in Baton Rouge came up repeatedly in Berger’s presentation.

“We’ve noticed a lack of existing services north of Florida (Boulevard),” Berger noted.

“We also think the business plan will have a compelling plan about inclusion,” he added.

As for the debt proposal from Commercial Properties, the Research Park’s board agreed to hire a financial adviser to evaluate the idea.

Commercial Properties would pay Research Park about $400,000 annually over 15 years, Eddie Ashworth, a member of the Research Park Corp. board of directors, told the board Thursday.

Mukul Verma, spokesman for Commercial Properties, which owns a 51 percent stake in the business center through a foundation it controls, said Commercial Properties can refinance the debt and reduce overall expenses.

“What they would like to do is buy us out of the preferred interest,” Ashworth said. “That’s our $3 million preferred interest, plus the accumulated payments that have been made.”

Research Park Corp. bought control of the once-idle business center in 2003 from a consortium of lenders for $9 million. It sold off a $6 million interest to six private investors, all of whom formed Bon Carré Business Center. One of those investors was the foundation that’s associated with Commercial Properties Realty Trust, which became the manager of the business center.

Research Park also sold the building Cox Communications now uses as its Baton Rouge headquarters to Cox for $2 million.

Overall, Research Park put up $2 million for its own stake and loaned the ownership group $3 million to complete renovations to the Bon Carré Business Center.

Research Park operates a business incubator at Bon Carré, the Louisiana Technology Park, to help grow technology companies.

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