This is an open letter to anyone in Louisiana who is interested in “entrepreneurship” (whatever that actually means). More specifically, this is intended for those of you who are keeping an eye on the Startup Bus competition and are vying for either of the two Louisiana cities to win.
My name is Martin Roth and I am from New Orleans. For the last four years, however, I lived in Baton Rouge. This distinction should not be very important, but for some reason people in this state care, which is precisely why I am writing this letter.
I was first introduced to entrepreneurship while working for a New Orleans-based startup called Feelgoodz. I was 19 years old at the time, I had no idea what business was all about, but I was eager to get into it. Feelgoodz was an Idea Village member, we had an office in the IP building, we were entrenched in everything that New Orleans entrepreneurship had to offer and I loved it.
At the time, however, I was still in school at LSU and I was living in Baton Rouge. Fortunately for me, when I was in Baton Rouge I was able to swing right into the vibrant entrepreneurial scene that Baton Rouge has to offer. SeNSE Pitch Nights, Startup-Lunches, the scene was just getting its legs but it was fun and the people were phenomenal.
Baton Rouge helped me find my business partner, it is where we founded our current company, we even raised investment funds from Baton Rouge investors. For two years, I lived with a foot in both New Orleans and Baton Rouge, constantly absorbing what each startup scene had to offer. So in every way, both New Orleans and Baton Rouge have been very good to me.
Just last year, I was invited to attend a party for the Miami Startup Bus that was passing through Baton Rouge. Needless to say, it was interesting to meet the many different “buspreneurs” and hear about their experiences up to that point in the trip. In retrospect, I realize that the Startup Bus did not make an appearance in New Orleans. I am not sure if this was intentional, but it just doesn’t make sense to me why this could be.
You have two growing entrepreneurial ecosystems that sit just 80 miles from each other, and they aren’t communicating. Meanwhile, two Shreveport-based entrepreneurs Ken and Keith Hanson from Twin Engine Labs rode the Silicon Valley Startup Bus to SXSW (WTF?!). In fact, out of 38 apps from a total of six different busses, the Hansen brothers were part of the team that won the entire competition with their WALKin app!
To give you another example, allow me fast forward to the present. Earlier this month, a good friend of mine wrote an article about why New Orleans wants a Startup Bus ticket (it is a great article and all of you should read it). I believe this article misses the mark, although only slightly, because the real conversation is about why Louisiana needs Startup Bus ticket.
At the time of this letter, New Orleans has 321 shares (votes) and Baton Rouge has 346 shares (votes). The two cities are in fourth and fifth place, respectively. Now let’s combine the two, that’s 667 shares (votes)! This put’s the two cities collectively in third place behind Tampa Bay and Cincinatti. Now let’s throw in support from Lafayette and Shreveport, and we have this Startup Bus ticket in the bag!
Truthfully, I am using this Startup Bus contest as a metaphor for a much larger idea. There are some amazing things happening in Louisiana right now, there is no mistaking it. Startup companies, co-working spaces, incubators, angel funds, tax credits, pitch competitions, the list goes on and the energy is undeniable. The question on many people’s minds: Who gets the credit for it? Who has the best scene? Who is the real entrepreneurial hub in Louisiana? My answer: Who cares?
For too long, there has existed an animosity amongst the cities in this state. New Orleans or Baton Rouge? Baton Rouge or New Orleans? This animosity lives in a never-ending debate over who is bigger, better, more important, and more relevant. Let’s be honest with each other here: we are all participating in a futile dispute while the rest of the country is soaring over our heads.
If New Orleans, or Baton Rouge, or Lafayette, or Shreveport are ever to become relevant individually, then they must all become relevant collectively under one flag: Louisiana. The entire state has a population just over 4.5 million people. Comparatively, the San Francisco Bay area has a population over 7 million. It is strictly a numbers game.
We have to maximize the talent that we have. We will never be able to compete on a national level if we remain tied up in an argument that is impossible to win, because the argument doesn’t even matter. New Orleans will never be Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge will never be New Orleans, and it’s OK. Each city has so many great things to offer, and they could gain so much by working together.
So let’s scrap the New Orleans Startup Bus. Let’s scrap the Baton Rouge Startup Bus, too. Let’s start the Louisiana Startup Bus. If you are worried about where it starts, try to think about where it stops. Let’s work together to bring the best Louisiana talent to SXSW and to bring home another win.
Editor’s note/ Update: StartupBus founder, Elias Bizannes, will be speaking in Baton Rouge on Thursday, February 9th, 2012. Click here for details.