After a brief Mardi Gras hiatus, I am back in full force to report on all the New Orleans Entrepreneur Week 2012 excitement and introduce you to more of the geniuses behind many New Orleans based businesses. Please, try to contain your excitement as I ease us all back into this routine.
OK, so I will stop being dramatic and admit that it has only been a week since my column has graced your computer screens. However, I can’t help but feel that it seems longer, as this ever-evolving and growing community of ambitious individuals continues to make strides in our city, even in the midst of all the recent Mardi Gras mayhem. Disclaimer: Contrary to popular belief, life outside New Orleans doesn’t stop during Mardi Gras, so the festivities did not keep busy entrepreneurs from getting their work done, as the rest of us were getting our pre-Lenten partying done.
As I was coming down from the Mardi Gras hangover and catching up on all the business happenings, I started thinking about how entrepreneurship has become a vital part of New Orleans culture. Having never before been considered a business mecca, New Orleans has rather been a city known for its vibrant and unique culture. So, how is it that the two seemingly opposite ideas of business and culture have become an all-inclusive concept here?
There isn’t one simple answer. It has come from years of hard work from many of our city’s leaders in business and economic development. New Orleans also has seen a progression from business obscurity to being a model city for innovation and entrepreneurship, industry leader, and now a destination for emerging businesses as well as established Fortune 500 companies.
Chew on this concept for just a moment: In New Orleans, we’ve always done things a little differently – some might say backward; some might say five years behind the rest of the country. But there is now an opportunity there, in the way we think and operate in New Orleans, to turn what was once a negative perception of our city into the reason that we have grown so much.
True to New Orleans form, this entrepreneurial movement started a little differently — maybe even backward, in a way. However, the repercussions have turned the movement into more of a renaissance and put New Orleans on the map as a city that offers more than Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street.
Rather than encouraging business through economic development standards (which we didn’t have to offer at the time), such as a good education system, strong infrastructure, and large industries, it has been the growth of new, small businesses that has encouraged economic development in the city. From incentives in film and digital media to low cost of living, New Orleans has attracted a group of young entrepreneurs from around the country, and also encouraged local residents to become entrepreneurs by leveraging the characteristics that are alluring to emerging business owners.
As a result, digital media and film have become some of the biggest industries in New Orleans, bringing in production crews throughout the year and the addition of state-of-the-art sound stages and studios. Education entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs have both taken an interest in starting socially conscious and education-centric companies that have helped strengthen our school system and turned blighted buildings into useful properties. Even the federal government has taken notice by making New Orleans the inaugural city for its Federal Entrepreneur-in-Residence program, confirming that it has become a model city for entrepreneurship and innovation for the rest of the country.
As young, professional talent continues to migrate to the city and economic development is revived, New Orleans has also lured established companies that promise to provide hundreds of new jobs for local residents, as well as give Louisiana more credibility as a destination for business. Over the past year, French software company Gameloft and Fortune 500 company General Electric have both announced that they would be opening large offices in New Orleans.
So, as a new means of attracting attention to our city, encouraging economic development, and becoming a way of life, entrepreneurship has now become part of the New Orleans culture – fully sustainable and also confirming that this growth is not merely a fad or a movement. It is now paving the way for New Orleans to become a destination for business activity both large and small.
And, like any other aspect of New Orleans culture, it is celebrated with a festival — New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. In its fourth year, NOEW kicks off on March 10 with a week of competitions, seminars, workshops, and social events that celebrate the local entrepreneurial eco-system. The event, hosted by The Idea Village, brings in both nationally and locally renowned business leaders, policy leaders, angel investors, venture capitalists, and MBAs from some of the country’s best business schools to participate and acknowledge the strong community.
With the start of festival season just around the corner, let’s not forget to celebrate all aspects of our city’s culture as only we know how to…in true New Orleans style.
To learn more about the sessions being offered at NOEW 2012, please visit Idea Village’s website and stay tuned for all the exciting updates in just a few weeks.
Adriana Lopez writes about the entrepreneurial community for NolaVie and Silicon Bayou News. She also showcases local start-ups through her non-profit organization GenNOLA. For more information on NolaVie, go to nolavie.com.