Attendees of the annual “Taste of New Orleans” conference, hosted by The Louisiana Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG Louisiana) were able to hear key local players, including business leaders and startup founders and experts, discuss the entrepreneurship explosion in Louisiana.
Moderator Carol Hance, Managing Director at LongueVue Capital, joined panelists Tim Williamson, Co-Founder and CEO at The Idea Village, Aaron Miscenich, President of the New Orleans BioInnovation Center, Jen Medbery, Founder and CEO at Kickboard, Lorenzo Castillo, CEO at Education Everytime and John Clarke, associate dean of Tulane University’s A.B. Freeman School of Business.
Williamson began explaining the business climate in the early 2000s. He said a group of change-makers formed a new network to challenge the existing closed business network in New Orleans. While working with local businesses, government, and universities, the group started a movement in the city and Katrina scaled that movement, according to Williamson.
Many have been able to see the silver lining after the storm. “Why is New Orleans growing?” Williamson repeated Hance’s question. Put simply, the people who believed in New Orleans choose to stay here, and more talent is continually relocating as well. The community builds on relationships and creates a sense of place that makes others want to invest in the city, entrepreneurs and non-entrepreneurs alike.
“Everyone is here for a reason bigger than themselves,” said Medbery. Whether solving the city’s most pressing education issues, like Medbery does with her academic and culture data management platform, or being a part of other creative startup and technology sectors, the entrepreneurial community expands beyond the individuals.
Williamson explained the way New Orleanians, native or not, know how to connect through rhythm and ritual. “This is the best place to be an entrepreneur…the best place to live, work and play.”
Medbery explained that when local startups succeed, it helps the New Orleans business community succeed. “We realized we’re all in this together,” but there is still room for more collaboration. “An ecosystem has sprung up to support the entrepreneurs, but how do we sustain it?” asked Medbery.
Miscenich agreed that retaining startups, talent and people who believe in New Orleans is key for the community. He also mentioned that adding value and assets is an important factor in the booming entrepreneurial activity in Louisiana.
Part of why New Orleans is so attractive is because there is a common theme of feeling supported, according to Castillo. “You feel more supported, rather than having to fight for it. This dream that’s in your mind, not only can you realize it, you can be supported.”
“Entrepreneurship is a catalyst for community change,” said Williamson. The panel of seasoned entrepreneurs and leaders made it clear the business climate has changed drastically in the last ten years alone and for the better. In the last few years, New Orleans was named one of the hottest startup hubs, the fastest growing city since the recession, the second most aspirational city and Louisiana has been recognized for its appealing tax credits.
While the city has witnessesed many successes, “What we can’t do is actually think we’ve won,” Williamson said. “This is young. We’re not there yet. We’re building something.”