It’s been a good year for Louisville’s entrepreneurial community when it comes to startup funding, innovation and talent attraction.
That’s the message Lisa Bajorinas — executive director of EnterpriseCorp, the entrepreneurial arm of Greater Louisville Inc. — delivered during a “State of Entrepreneurship” address at the chamber’s Evening of Entrepreneurship event on Thursday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. More than 350 entrepreneurs, business leaders and venture capitalists attended the event, which featured a keynote speech by AOL founder Steve Case.
Bajorinas, who was appointed executive director in March, said she was having an “absolute blast every day working with startups.” She thanked her predecessors for the groundwork they laid for the organization.
Bajorinas celebrated some “big wins” from the past 12 months. This year has already surpassed 2015 when it comes to the money being raised by local companies, thanks to Apellis, which raised $47 million — some of it local — earlier this year. She said investment already is attracting global talent to the region. The biotech company focuses on developing treatments and therapeutic compounds for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.
So far, 15 local companies have raised $58.6 million — including Apellis’s huge raise — in 2016.
Bajorinas praised FirstBuild for their launch of the Opal nugget ice maker, which is the ninth highest fundraiser in Indiegogo history.
More than 500 children have been through the Junior Achievement entrepreneurship program over the past 12 months, and Bajorinas thanked local volunteer mentors for making the program happen.
Throughout the year, EnterpriseCorp has visited other cities with strong startup cultures.
“Without an actual innovation center or district, we’ve done pretty well,” said Bajorinas.
EnterpriseCorp currently is mapping startups and startup services around the city, and it is becoming clear that Louisville has what she calls a “Louisville Innovation Trolley Hop” — four hubs of entrepreneurship that aren’t too far away from each other: Shelby Park, NuLu, Old Louisville and Portland.
EnterpriseCorp has taken a more active role in cultivating the StartupLouisville.com website and has revamped the EnterpriseCorp.com website to make them more user friendly and provide more information. Bajorinas also announced that EnterpriseCorp is working on a new online portal to match startup mentors to entrepreneurs. MentorLouisville.com will be released in pilot next month with a full launch by the fourth quarter of this year.
Bajorinas stressed the need for “next generation” investors. She suggested the base of that community would probably come from serial entrepreneurs.”Entrepreneurship,” she said, “is a team sport.”
At the event, Entrepreneur-in-Residence and University of Louisville professor Suzanne Bergmeister was presented with the EnterpriseCorp Award. EnterpriseCorp’s Britten Skinner said Bergmeister has consistently gone “above and beyond” and is “involved in just about everything” related to startups in the region.
Bergmeister cited Steve Jobs in her acceptance speech. “Do what you believe is great work,” she said. When she sees her students succeed, she takes great pride; and after they’re successful, when they still seek out her advice, she feels great.