Idea Village chief Tim Williamson discusses the impact of entrepreneurship in New Orleans

The Idea Village formalized in 2002 as an independent non-profit organization with a mission to identify, support and retain entrepreneurial talent in New Orleans by providing business resources to high-impact ventures. The Idea Village continues to be active in New Orleans through the Idea Village Entrepreneur Challenge (IVEC), New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW), and the IDEAinstitute education program.

Tim Williamson, CEO of Idea Village, has their slogan, "Trust your crazy ideas" written on his hand.

Tim Williamson is the co-founder and CEO of the Idea Village and an entrepreneur in his own right. Peter Ricchiuti is the Assistant Dean and Director of Research of the Burkenroad Reports at Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business and formerly taught Tim Williamson at Tulane. Last week at Commander’s Palace, Ricchiuti sat down with Williamson after 25 years to discuss progress in the City of New Orleans on a regular podcast called, “Out to Lunch.”

Topics covered included Occupy Wall Street (and the local version, #OccupyNOLA), the founding of the Idea Village, job creation, and the future of entrepreneurship in New Orleans. Williamson first discussed how he was part of a group that grew up in New Orleans but left in the mid-80’s during the brain drain. He sat down with a few friends in the late 90’s after returning to the city to discuss how the trend could be reversed. “If we could create a cluster of entrepreneurs, you would create new jobs and new wealth. And then those folks would take on the problems. They would solve education, they would solve economic development, they’d solve community development because they were innovative. We just needed new thinking.”

The group sat down with a local community leader looking for help getting started. The leader turned them down, stating bluntly, “What if it fails?” Williamson said they took that as somewhat of a challenge, sending out a message to the city that said, “Never ever in this city should the leadership tell young entrepreneurs ‘What if it fails?’ This is the problem.”

Ricchuiti asked Williamson why New Orleans is a good place for entrepreneurs. Williamson responded with a quick run through of the great start-up “ecosystem” here in the city and stated, “Right now we have one of the most interconnected, vibrant networks supporting entrepreneurs.”

Williamson has a rosy view of the future for entrepreneurship in New Orleans. After discussing success stories including the Receivables Exchange and Naked Pizza, “…we’re part of a start-up city. We’re now observing the new leaders emerging … and you’re going to have a whole new generation of millionaires in here that all they are going to do is start new companies.”

The two also covered how Katrina turned business upside down in New Orleans and how entrepreneurs are a big part of the recovery. “We believed that entrepreneurs could create change. Everyone basically was an entrepreneur after Katrina. Everyone was starting over… the spirit of an entrepreneur was released after Katrina.” Williamson also touched on people who specifically moved here after the storm to get involved. “There’s something about the people who are attracted here, [they] think they can change the world. And the reality is we can. If you actually solve a problem here in New Orleans you can solve it all around the world.”

The importance of failure in a start-up culture was also discussed in depth, with Williamson noting, “What we have a chance to do is make entrepreneurship part of what we do, part of our culture… part of how our kids should grow up. It’s okay to take a shot. It’s okay to fail. And I don’t think we had that in the last 50 years. We were afraid to fail.”

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