Charlie D’Agostino: A life dedicated to fostering growth and entrepreneurship, a legacy of kindness and optimism

January 19, 2024

Charlie D'Agostino portraitHe didn’t know everyone. It only seemed like he did, and that everyone was his friend. But he made the lives of everyone in the Baton Rouge area, and beyond, better.

Charlie D’Agostino – C Dag because no one called him Charles – passed away on Dec. 29, 2023, after a five-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He served as executive director of LSU Innovation Park for 30 years, from its founding to the technology park’s current incarnation: 200 acres, more than 40 tenants with 475 employees and an annual payroll of $21 million.

“He was a friend to all and always ready to offer his kindness, support and quick wit,” said Andrew Maas, Associate Vice President for Research – LSU Innovation & Ecosystem Development. “He often took rookie research park directors under his wing and was available to lend an ear to help solve a problem with his contagious humor and grace.”

“He was always optimistic. I remember when he found out he had Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. When he came to tell me about it, he said ‘You have to play the hand you are dealt,’” said Kristy Elliott, assistant director of operations for LSU Innovation. “He carried that true optimism and positive attitude throughout his professional and personal life.”

He needed that optimism, and a ton of creativity, to launch LSU Innovation Park. The facility began life in 1988 as the Louisiana Business and Technology Center. The project, jointly funded through LSU and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber, was designed to foster economic growth in Louisiana by providing businesses with the tools necessary to grow and survive in the real world. 

At the time it was unclear whether the center would survive. The state had a $7.5 billion budget but only $6.5 billion in funding. In the early days, Charlie’s creativity and determination kept the center afloat amid financial challenges.

His exceptional people skills and problem-solving abilities helped Charlie forge a powerful network of supporters. But most people, like Bryan Greenwood, state director of the Louisiana Small Business Development Center Network, emphasized Charlie’s caring nature.

“He truly cared about people. He never met a stranger. He had a servant heart,” Greenwood said.

After Hurricane Katrina, Charlie opened the doors of LSU Innovation Park to small businesses. He helped find space for the LSU Dental and Medical Schools.

Vic Johnson, director of Small Business Services – NASA Stennis Louisiana Technology Center, described Charlie as a visionary. In 1999, he told Johnson Louisiana and NASA could form a powerful partnership. Charlie wanted to put a full-time person at Stennis.

Johnson, then Louisiana Economic Development’s director of technology programs, agreed and pledged to do whatever he could to help.

“That’s when Charlie replied, ‘Great. So when can you start?’”

Johnson took on the challenge, and 24 years later describes it as “one of the best, life-changing decisions” he ever made, and one he wouldn’t have made without Charlie’s belief in him.

Charlie’s achievements and awards are too numerous to list. He was a past president of the Association of University Research Parks (2015-2016) and received many of the association’s top awards, including the AURP Career Achievement Award (2018), Emerging Research Park Award (2013), and the inaugural Excalibur Award (2006). The Excalibur Ward was created in recognition of Charlie’s efforts supporting small business development following Hurricane Katrina. He served on the AURP Board of Directors for many years. 

Maas summed up the sentiments of the many whose lives Charlie touched.

“We will miss him as we build on the legacy he built,” Maas said.