Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014
It takes a while to get your head around what INNOV8 Lafayette is and could be. When it was launched in April 2012 by the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, Chairman Jerry Greig described it this way: “This is about bringing talent together with resources and growing our region on a platform of strategic thinking and the exploration of opportunities.”
More specifically, INNOV8 weaves together dozens of events produced by a variety of community partners over eight days to allow local thought leaders from disparate disciplines to share information and ideas. The goal is to spark catalytic collaborations that will drive local business development relevant in a 21st century creative economy.
The good news is that it’s working in tangible ways. This year members of the Acadiana film community gathered in the largest numbers ever, spawning a new collaboration committed to develop the assets fundamental to the growth of their industry. The goal: to have what they need to create content worthy of global distribution here at home. LAGCOE’s after-hours showcase of homegrown innovative energy technologies was new to INNOV8 this year and a smashing success. LAGCOE officials are all in, looking to expand participation next year. The Makers and Manufacturers Launch Hour and Showcase was a standout addition in 2014, providing a first time face-to-face dialogue for some of the region’s top producers in that space. The result? An opportunity to create an alliance to identify and overcome common obstacles to their continued growth. (They also produced a first-rate Steampunk Ball!)
These are just the relationships that were spawned this year, over and above INNOV8’s two-year baseline of success. There is real value in such conversations and collaborations among peers in the local business community. It is the foundation for the platform of possibilities, the environment for strategic thinking that INNOV8 was created to provide. But INNOV8 is more than a networking opportunity on steroids. It also provides a forum to bring in national and global thought leaders who can enlighten, inform and inspire us on a variety of topics, like sustainable living, executive training, health care, innovation essentials and more. This year’s sell-out INNOV8 Awards with keynote speaker Steven Berlin Johnson is a great example of the value that can add to our community.
INNOV8 is also a beast to manage. The chamber provides substantial staff and infrastructure support, but volunteers handle the truly infinite number of details involved in programming, producing and promoting INNOV8. They re-up in impressive numbers, but the burnout rate among event chairmen is high.
The future of INNOV8 is under review within the chamber’s Entrepreneurship and Small Business division, co-chaired by Erick Knezek and Drake Potier, with substantial input from chamber staff and INNOV8 volunteers. As the process moves forward, there is general agreement that INNOV8 should survive, that an all-volunteer model is not sustainable, and that some level of staffing is necessary. What form that will take and how it evolves become key questions once that decision is made. Will INNOV8 become a separate nonprofit? How will it be funded under any scenario? Should all existing programming partnerships continue? Does Cajun Code Fest take wing? Is the overlap with Festival International important? Should INNOV8 events be spread out over the calendar year?
The chamber has incubated many vital community institutions, including the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, the Lafayette Economic Development Authority and the Lafayette Airport Commission. INNOV8 Lafayette has the potential to be the first of that ilk in this century. Stay tuned.