INNOV8 helped me understand how Lafayette is poised for meaningful diversification in its economic base. By Cherry Fisher May

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Launched last year by The Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, INNOV8 is becoming a recognizable brand, albeit difficult to succinctly explain. I made a stab at it in writing a column about its debut last April: “By packaging an eight-day series of more than 40 events from seemingly disparate disciplines, the goal is to spark a catalytic collaboration that will drive business development in the 21st century.”

Dr. Farzad Mostashari, speaking about Lafayette's innovation on
Politico.com

Perhaps that’s more mission statement than elevator speech. Maybe it’s easier to explain INNOV8 as our own version of the Aspen Idea Festival or Austin’s SXSW. Either way, there were some world-class thinkers invited to this town during the eight days of INNOV8 last month, and many of them would welcome a return engagement. Imagination engineer Doug Hall. Serial entrepreneur/investor Morris Miller. From the upper echelons of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, we hosted Dr. Farzad Mostashari, national coordinator for health information technology, and Bryan Sivak, the department’s chief technology officer. And that’s just to name a few.

There are multiple benefits to luring such great minds here. Of course they inspire and challenge us, but they also often leave as apostles for our community. U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park touted Lafayette in a couple of tweets upon his departure last spring, including: “Silicon Bayou — aka Lafayette, Louisiana — is the best kept secret reservoir of innovation mojo in America.” This year it was Mostashari who gave Lafayette a shout out soon after returning to Washington on Politico.com during a live forum about health information technology: “CajunCodeFest. I was actually just in Lafayette, Louisiana. It’s a really great place. Great food. Great music. And great innovation there.”

For most of us, CajunCodeFest is the most esoteric among the many INNOV8 events. Mostashari described it as a bunch of coders in a room for 27 hours competing to solve a specific health information technology challenge (a $25,000 prize goes to the winning team). As the programmers pound away, there are also related presentations open to the public, all under the direction of UL’s interim VP for Research Ramesh Kolluru, who hosted an invitation-only breakfast on the closing day for the event’s VIPs and a handful of local business, civic and health technology leaders. The take-away from that roundtable discussion: Lafayette is solidly positioned to become a national leader in the development of health information technology.
And it could be big.

During the breakfast discussion, the dots were connected by local tech pioneer and current Schumacher VP/CIO Doug Menefee and LGMC board chairman Clay Allen: Lafayette offers the capital, customers, talent, infrastructure, entrepreneurs, innovators and vision to exploit the huge potential of this emerging market. “We need to stick our flag in the ground and claim this,” said Menefee. “No one else has.” His point wasn’t lost on Sivak: “For anyone working on health and health-care related initiatives, I think Lafayette would be a great place to test-market them because of what's going on here.”

That’s a stout endorsement by any measure, but the potential for our city to diversify its business base even further into health care doesn’t stop at IT development. Schumacher and the Acadian Companies are working strategically with others to develop Lafayette as the national go-to destination for emergency tech training. Overlay that with LGMC’s plans to become a training hospital and the opportunity matrix expands exponentially.   

Sivak brought another phrase to Lafayette, which has been often quoted in the wake of INNOV8. In his own keynote presentation, he talked about how important it is to live and work in a place where “serendipitous collisions” occur. INNOV8 is expediting that in Lafayette, not just in health care but across multiple disciplines, and that may be the best explanation for INNOV8 of all.

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