Giving students — and entrepreneurs — the tools they need to succeed

Otis Tucker

Otis Tucker, founder and CEO of T.I. Contracting, which was named to Inc. magazine’s list of the nation’s fastest growing private companies. Tucker recently worked with students in Kevin Pollard’s New Venture Planning course to explore options to grow the company.

When Otis Tucker, founder and CEO of New Orleans trucking and logistics firm T.I. Contracting, was featured in this year’s Inc. 5000, the magazine’s annual list of America’s fastest-growing privately held companies, one person may have been even prouder than Tucker.

Kevin Pollard, an adjunct lecturer in management at the Freeman School, recruited Turner to work with his students in New Venture Planning, a course he teaches that helps local high-growth-potential companies become investment ready.

“The first thing I did was call him and tell him how proud I was,” Pollard recalls with a laugh. “The second thing I did was
send an email out to all the students in the class.”

For the past five years, Pollard has used the class to help New Orleans-based startups reach the next stage in their development while giving students a first-hand look at the mechanics of entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur and investor himself, Pollard recruits companies with high growth potential and then matches them with student teams tasked with preparing them to seek investment.

“The key thing is it’s not just funding startups,” Pollard says. “It’s funding investible startups, which means they have to have
a certain level of high growth to attract capital. Most businesses — even most successful startups — are not investible. There has to be growth and a return on the angel investor’s money to accommodate for the risk.”

Pollard starts with an analysis of the company’s business model and then works through everything from market and industry analysis to leadership, motivation and execution capabilities. The class culminates with a pitch competition in which the companies — coached by their student partners — pitch themselves to a panel of real angel investors.

“The students like it because it’s real world and there’s a lot ofout-of-the-classroom, non-lecture stuff,” Pollard says. “The entrepreneurs like it because if there’s a flaw in their business model, they want to find out about it, and the students give them a lot of help in a very short period of time.

“And I like it,” Pollard adds, “because I want to make sure that whatever I teach has some impact that’s useful to somebody.”

Since he began teaching the class, Pollard says the companies the class has worked with have gone on to receive funding at a rate of three and a half times the average for startups and early-stage ventures.

“We’re obviously adding some value,” he says.

Among the startups that received funding after working with the class are RentCheck, AxoSim and Bhoomi Cane Water.

After starting out as a driver, Tucker bought a used truck and began building what would eventually become a full-service trucking, logistics and government contracting firm with $3.5 million in revenues, but he sought additional help to continue growing the business. After meeting Pollard through InvestNOLA, a New Orleans Business Alliance program for minority businesses that the Freeman School provided business education and management training for, Tucker accepted his invitation to participate in the class.

“I think he understood the need for a better organization for his business and the need to work at being less opportunistic and more strategic,” Pollard says. “That’s always a tough one.”

Tucker says one of his biggest takeaways from working with Pollard’s class was the importance of exploring opportunities he hadn’t previously considered, such as offering additional services to existing customers.

“We realized our customers were importing equipment from outside the state, so we engaged them and started offering those types of services,” Tucker says. “That was easy to do, and we were able to get that new business with our current capacity. We had never focused on things like that until COVID.”

While the course is expressly designed to teach students what it takes to ensure that companies are ready for investment, in the case of T.I. Contracting, the students recommended that Tucker focus on leveraging those existing opportunities rather than seeking outside funding.

“I think he found out that he probably did not need to go raise capital right now,” Pollard says, “which is really important, because if you don’t need to sell part of your business, don’t do it.”

For the time being, Tucker says he’s happy to use recommendations from Pollard’s class to help the company get through the pandemic.

“We’re doing more business from existing customers than we’d ever done before, and that’s outside of our core business,” Tucker says. “That’s a direct result of Kevin’s class, so I’m absolutely happy I had the chance to participate.”

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