On a cold Monday night in early December, the National World War II Museum was host to three events, only one of which I was actually expected to attend. I strategically planned my evening of multiple engagements so that I could make it to the museum by 8 p.m., when awards would be presented to the winners of an entrepreneurial pitch competition. At 7:55, I found a VIP parking spot on the corner of Magazine and Andrew Higgins, only half a block away from the entrance – an impressive feat on a drizzling night in downtown New Orleans.
Except, I realized it wasn’t remarkable as I walked into an extravagant soiree with a band, dancing, and multiple food stations, and no awards or scholarships in sight. After perusing the territory for a few moments, I fled the scene quickly and tried option No. 2 – John Besh’s Stage Door Canteen. The pharmacy convention embraced me as well as the first fancy event had; however, I panicked over the thought of missing the culmination of the pitch competition.
I eventually made it to my intended stop, 15 minutes late, and the audience inside the museum’s auditorium was still talking among themselves. For an instant, I feared that I had missed the entire event, but then realized that the panel of judges, including Saints quarterback Drew Brees, was still deliberating over the winners of The Trust Your Crazy Ideas Challenge. I would only assume that the decision was a difficult one to make. In fact, Drew Brees himself said so.
The Trust Your Crazy Ideas Challenge, the result of a prominent partnership between The Idea Village and The Brees Dream Foundation, is an intensive after-school program that turns students from New Orleans area high schools into entrepreneurs. The program challenges teams of students to work with a local entrepreneur to create a new business venture, ensuring that they are responsible for every decision from concept to marketing strategy.
“The entrepreneurial movement in New Orleans is real. Our partnership with The Idea Village extends this momentum into local high schools, equipping students with an entrepreneurial skill set that will help pave the way for a bright future,” said Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints and co-founder of the Brees Dream Foundation.
This year, teams of nine students from Edna Karr Secondary School, Lusher Charter School, Walter L. Cohen Sr. High School and Warren Easton Senior High School were given the opportunity to work with Fleurty Girl founder Lauren Thom to develop a t-shirt design that would serve as a pilot for her new youth line. In September, each team delivered its first round of pitches to a panel of members from the Brees Dream Foundation as well as the Idea Village in order to receive a $1,000 grant. The grants served as capital to cover the costs and supplies needed in order to turn their ideas into business opportunities.
The second annual program culminated last Monday night at IDEAbowl II at the national World War II Museum (apparently the most happening place to be), where each team pitched its design and launch strategy to a panel of judges that included Drew and Brittany Brees. Based on several factors, including teamwork, proof of concept, attendance, and the “crazy idea quotient,” the panel awarded Karr first place for the design “#NOLALOVE.”
The winning team will have the opportunity to execute its business plan and sell t-shirts at Fleurty Girl’s boutiques starting in January. Karr’s student team will also receive a $10,000 grant from the Brees Dream Foundation to allocate to a school project of its choice, as well as a $1,000 scholarship from Google, Inc. for each of the team members in order to support their higher education.
Karr has also been offered the opportunity to pitch this business alongside MBA and corporate member teams during New Orleans Entrepreneur week in March.
In a compelling and heartwarming moment during the awards ceremony, Drew awarded $2,500 grants to Lusher, Warren Easton, and Coehn, whose team members had learned only a few weeks earlier that their school would be disbanded at the end of the year. The Saints quarterback was so inspired by the Cohen team’s courage and tenacity through the end of the competition, that he offered the team continued support to execute their particular grant.
“Each year, The Idea Village executes an Entrepreneur Season that identifies and supports local entrepreneurial talent. By partnering with the Brees Dream Foundation in the Trust Your Crazy Idea Challenge, we are extending our reach into local high schools and identifying New Orleans’ next crop of leaders,” says Tim Williamson, co-founder and CEO of The Idea Village.
With the rise of the entrepreneurial movement in New Orleans, we can be assured that the growth will continue through efforts such as this one, as it has been an integral part of our city’s economic development and business success over the past few years. Fostering and cultivating such innovation at an early age not only motivates the city’s youth, but is also another step toward more success for our entrepreneurial community, and our city’s prosperity.