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The Daily Advertiser: Lafayette to host 'festival of ideas' - Monday, March 26, 2012
Lafayette has a lot of cool people doing a lot of cool things. We help save the Louisiana coastline, make movies, play music, start businesses and figure out new ways to use technology.

To showcase these people, projects and the facilities where all of this is happening, Lafayette will host Innov8 for the first time from April 22 to 29. The eight-day "festival of ideas" will lead up to and overlap with Festival International for what organizers are hoping will be a showcase of innovation and a springboard for even more ideas and projects.

The idea for the festival came late last year, when members of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce's innovation division talked about what that word means and how they could spur even more of it. Innov8 Co-Chair George Graham said that talk shifted to aligning the city's resources and combining events with the Festival International enthusiasm to create a smaller version of Austin, Texas' wildly successful South by Southwest.

"We began to light up with enthusiasm and see how we could showcase innovation along with arts, musicand food," Graham said. "We all believe that there are very good things happening and the stars are aligned for Lafayette."

Innov8 will include more than 40 events all across the city. Because the first day, April 22, also happens to be Earth Day, activities that day will focus on coastal protection, UL's BeauSoleil House and the Evangeline Area Council's Boy Scouts of America's Adventure Base project in the Atchafalaya Basin.

Other events throughout the week will focus on using fiber technology in education; engineering training; using technology in creative fields and local filmmaking.

"Each of these events stands on its own," Graham said. "Innov8 is really the umbrella to bring all of them together. We have so many venues that people don't know about. This is a great opportunity to open them up and let people see what's going on here."

One key event will be the Cajun Code Fest, a two-day competition where participants will try to turn data into health care solutions in a "throwdown" environment. The winning team will receive $25,000 and entry into the national competition in Washington, D.C., in June.

Other events will focus on entrepreneurship. During "The Vault Idea Pitch Competition," participants will have a chance to talk about their business ideas in front of people with the funding ability to make them happen, similar to the set-up on ABC's TV show "Shark Tank."

"The hope is that there will be many of these ideas that will be worthy of investment and funding, and this will be an opportunity for them to get them to the next stage," Graham said.

On April 23, Tom Cox, CEO of, will discuss the obstacles and challenges of starting up a business and how to overcome them, and on April 25, students from LSU who have started Big Fish Presentations Inc. will talk about presentation techniques that work for pitching business plans.

Innov8 Co-Chair Gerd Wuestemann said the festival will be able to show what he calls Lafayette's "grassroots on steroids" approach to tackling problems.

"We live in a community where innovation and entrepreneurship are part of our way of life. We see it every day," he said. "I think we realize that innovation is a necessity, especially as we continue to grow. Innov8 gives those projects a focus and shows what makes us special and unique."

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