I arrived to meet with Tim Williamson, Co-Founder and CEO of The Idea Village, armed with my laptop and a slew of questions for this article. Instead, we ended up discussing me.
The Rhythm of Ritual
My mom is from New Orleans, but I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in a small city called Staunton. It was a beautiful place to grow up and I’m still very fond of it. But after spending a lot of vacation time in the Crescent City as a child, I knew that New Orleans was where I wanted to be.
“But why New Orleans?” Tim asked me.
“Because New Orleans just has this special feeling,” I said. “The people who live here love their home in way most Americans can’t understand.”
“But why do you think that is?” Tim pressed me. I was stumped. I had never really thought it through past that point.
“The food and music are so rich and so authentic so the city?” I guessed. By the look on Tim’s face, I could tell I was on the right tack, but hadn’t quite reached the crux of it.
“New Orleanians organize and connect like no other city in the world,” said Tim. “I think that people are attracted to New Orleans because of the rhythm of rituals. Food and music are part of those rituals, but family and human connection are even bigger parts.”
I thought of Mardi Gras day. It’s the culmination of carnival season, which does not last more than a few weeks. Despite it’s short duration, New Orleanians always have carnival season on the brain, with preparations going on behind the scenes all year long.
The parades and celebrations on Mardi Gras day, which could easily devolve into chaos, are made possible because of the New Orleans community’s desire to take part in a collective, seasonal ritual. The city is like one huge family
“The rhythm of ritual: that’s what New Orleans does well,” Tim said. “And we wanted to create that same rhythm of ritual with an ‘Entrepreneur Season,’ which culminates with New Orleans Entrepreneur Week and The Big Idea.”
The Birth of The Idea Village
Tim moved away from New Orleans in the 80’s to pursue a career in entrepreneurial start-ups. His journey took him from New York to Boston to Atlanta to Pittsburgh, as he explored how cities could promote themselves using video and the internet.
Eventually, he could no longer stay away from New Orleans, and moved back to the Crescent City to build insideneworleans.com. When he wasn’t working, Tim met up with a group of emerging New Orleans business leaders who were working together to reverse the decline the city faced in the 90’s.
“We wanted to attract smart people to the city,” Tim said. “But at that time, the jobs just didn’t exist.” Tim and the other co-founders knew that a community friendly to entrepreneurial start-ups would also attract bright minds. The Idea Village was born.
In order to avoid simply copying other cities’ start-up incubation models, the founders of The Idea Village decided to capitalize on what makes New Orleans unique: it’s rhythm of ritual and seasonal celebrations.
A typical entrepreneurial season begins in July; when entrepreneurs with business ideas are encouraged to utilize The Idea Village’s various support networks, seminars, and training programs; and it culminates in March with New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.
Entrepreneur Week, Past and Present
The first Entrepreneur Week was called “The IDEAcorps Challenge” and took place in 2009. In 2010, the celebration of local and national talent was rebranded New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.
Entrepreneurs and anyone interested in start-ups can participate in this year’s New Orleans Entrepreneur Week by registering at noew.org. The majority of the events and seminars are free and open to the public on a first come, first serve basis.
I asked Tim about his vision for future entrepreneur weeks. “It’s going to be the Jazz Fest or Mardi Gras of start-ups,” he said. “I have this vision that there will be different tents; one for education, one for green technology, one for the arts. And U2 will be playing.”
This year, Tim is most excited for the exploration of 3D printing happening at Isidore Newman School, Monday’s “Water Challenge,” and of course, The Big Idea.
The Idea Village is planning for 1,500 people to participate in New Orleans Entrepreneur Week 2014 programs, with 5,000 present for The Big Idea.
Eighty-one percent of the businesses that have participate in The Idea Village’s programs and presented at past Entrepreneur Weeks are still in business and 85% are still based in New Orleans. Many of these successful entrepreneurs now mentor new start-ups through The Idea Village.
It’s all part of the rhythm of ritual.