By Deborah Dixon.
Of the many events that take place in the Crescent City, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week occupies the most unique position. It isn’t quite a conference, although in some respects it began as one; although it is modeled after its hometown’s startup scene, it has something to interest anyone with the slightest interest in business, whether as a professional or an executive. With its varied calendar, featuring everything from seminars to keynotes to networking happy hours, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week – or “NOEW,” as it is affectionately called – is more akin to a festival, living fully up to the moniker “Mardi Gras of entrepreneurship,” as given by USA Today; or better yet, as “legitimately an event, a happening,” as an infectious CityBusiness quote describes it.
The enthusiasm around the festival is equally impressive. Both Victoria Adams Phipps, the executive producer of NOEW, and Ambur Fusilier, the program manager for NOEW, approach the upcoming event – scheduled for March 19-24 this year – with bountiful energy. Both women speak lovingly about NOEW, The Idea Village, and New Orleans as a whole; hearing either of them speak is easily capable of convincing someone to move to New Orleans, let alone attend NOEW.
Victoria attended Loyola University as part of the “Katrina class” and earned a degree in Music Industry. In 2011, she worked a contract gig for NOEW, which grew into her current role at The Idea Village, a career going on seven years. Ambur is a recent transplant, having moved with her husband to Gentilly in early 2016. A graduate of LSU, her background is in marketing; NOEW 2017 concludes her first full season with the festival. Both women express appreciation for New Orleans culture as a whole, beyond the startup community; this awareness is evident in the calendar of events for NOEW 2017 and in how they describe it. “Something in New Orleans just gets in your blood,” as Victoria said, an expression that nearly everyone who knows the city can agree with.
These two women lead a team at The Idea Village that is specifically assigned to producing New Orleans Entrepreneur Week, which is a year-round job. When one NOEW ends, the team analyzes the data from that year and uses it to guide their setup for the upcoming year; mere weeks later, the cycle begins again.
This year’s calendar features several types of events across six days. There are summits on particular focus areas, including women in business and nonprofit ventures; there are pitch competitions and showcases; there are interactive sessions and “Ask Me Anything” styled chats (including the Silicon Bayou News session on the 22nd); there are social events scheduled late for anyone who can’t make the day events but would like to mingle and network. Keynote speakers from many industries appear on the roster, including Kelly Hoey, the author of Build Your Dream Network; Leslie Miley, formerly of Slack and now of Venture for America; Adrien Lanusse of Netflix; and Miki Agrawal of THINX. These are among many others slated to appear. It is a testament to The Idea Village team’s skill at persuasion and love for New Orleans that this variety of industry experts agree to contribute their time to speak at the festival and enjoy the city.
NOEW has made a name for itself nationally as a business-focused festival, but notably, The Idea Village did not set out with the intention of creating one. In 2005, the organization fielded requests from MBAs across the country who wanted to help with rebuilding New Orleans; it became unfeasible to host small groups of volunteers at random times across the year, so The Idea Village established The IDEAcorps Challenge as a collective event everyone could attend. That event grew rapidly. The 2011 NOEW had 1,200 attendees; in 2016, that number was nearly 13,000.
This year’s festival will take place primarily at the Contemporary Arts Center and the Ogden Museum. Its calendar, which is available online, boasts topics from networking to social media branding and beyond; from showcasing your business to picking up tips on how to manage a career, the content is designed not strictly for business owners but for, as Ambur put it, “the hustler in us all.” Registration includes additional perks, and the entire festival is provided free of charge to general attendees, with the goal of making it accessible to anyone who wants to take part in it.
New Orleans prides itself on being a diverse and welcoming city. It’s only right that New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is the same.
Disclosure: Deborah is a co-founder of a startup that will be included in this year’s Startup Catalyst Showcase and has worked with The Idea Village in the past.