Cool Coworking Space Spotlight

How Opportunity Machine nurtures entrepreneurs in Cajun country

In Louisiana’s heartland, big dreams are brewing. Aspiring founders across Acadiana bayou country are hatching ideas for software apps, medical devices, festival products, and more. They’re driven to build businesses, create jobs, and make an impact right in their own backyard.

To turn these dreams into reality, Opportunity Machine (OM) serves as an incubator and accelerator focused specifically on nurturing homegrown startups. OM Executive Director Destin Ortego explained how this non-profit supports people on their entrepreneurial journey.  

Hatching ideas

destin ortegoLaunched in 2009, OM provides workshops, coaching, and networking for over 300 existing and aspiring entrepreneurs annually. Signature programming like Innovate South and Mix & Mingle events allow founders to practice their pitches and get stakeholder feedback. Ortego emphasized that for in-person gatherings, “the goal is to ensure the events maximize the benefits derived from in-person gatherings and cut out all the extra.” Sometimes this means saving all one-sided communication, presentations, and educational material for virtual sessions..”

By focusing hyper-locally versus trying to attract startups nationally, OM is tailored to cultivate ventures from right within Acadiana. “There are easier ways to create a pipeline of scalable startups, but if you do that, then you give up something else,” Ortego said. The tradeoff means developing businesses intrinsically tied to the region.

From campus to startups 

Another key driver of new founders is OM’s extensive university engagement. Workshops introduce innovation principles and entrepreneurship basics to students every semester. For those actively working on business ideas, OM brokers connections with computer science and engineering students to collaborate on building minimum viable products. More advanced startups can tap specialized expert mentors.

Ortego highlighted that these student-founder partnerships have shown great success. However, it requires commitment from the startup, students, and the expert mentor to realize the vision and guide the technical build. It’s an exemplary model of town and gown collaboration. Ortego further added “By pairing technically skilled students and mentors with non-technical founders, you provide students with real-world startup experience, allow non-technical founders to get their tech startup off the ground, and increase the impact a mentor can make from coaching a single startup.”

Growing companies

Beyond sparking ideas and tinkering with prototypes, OM provides a roadmap to maturing startups via tailored programming at each stage of growth. Whether ready to formally launch, needing to adapt business models, or preparing to fundraise, OM guides companies step-by-step. 

The current OM facility houses over 80 active startups and businesses, and the organization uses Coworks space management software to help members book rooms and resources. Ortego noted a handful of emerging stars that have gone through their pipeline of informal and formal programming are now delivering results and earning funding… while other startups are already attracting investor interest and showing continued momentum. 

By creating a complete support system, OM is realizing its mission to accelerate wealth creation rooted right in Acadiana. The startups rising through the program will shape the future of Cajun Country’s economy and communities. Guided by Ortego and his team’s stewardship, homegrown entrepreneurs are manifesting aspirations into reality.

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