The Big Idea on Friday was my first New Orleans Entrepreneur Week event. I am not an entrepreneur and though I work in marketing, I have never studied business. But I have always been drawn to the energy that comes with a good idea.
Despite the rain, I enjoyed hearing all the startup pitches. In all, The Big Idea attendees cast 1,348 votes and $33,700 were spread across the 13 new businesses that participated. Each vote was worth $25 which attendees gave to participants in the form of voting “chips.” When I voted, I was actually donating to the startup of my choice.
If you have been following Entrepreneur Week and The Big Idea, you probably know that Whereyart.net, Cajun Fire Brewing, and KREWE du optic received the most audience votes. Each then had the opportunity to pitch their idea to a panel of judges. At the end of the evening, Cajun Fire Brewing won the grand prize of $50,000.
When Jon Renthrope of Cajun Fire Brewing spoke about reviving New Orleans’s tradition of craft brewing, I found myself nodding vigorously. There is no reason for our city to be behind the curve in the beer scene at a time when the market for craft beer is growing, especially given this city’s previously abundant number of local breweries. I tasted their honey ale in the tent, but I also heard rumors of a praline beer. Perhaps Cajun Fire can inspire other local brewers to step up to the plate as well.
When I saw the pitch for Whereyart.net, I was reminded of Pelican Bomb, a local arts publication whose website also features a page where collectors can buy from local artists. Whereyart.net is focused on selling art while Pelican Bomb relies more on editorial. Browsing Whereyart.net Friday evening after the event, I discovered some great jewelry by artist Naomi Celestin in the “Discover Artists” random selection area. The site excels at giving artists exposure to consumers they may never have connected with. As it grows, and the ability to search for specific artists improves, I believe Whereyart.net will excel.
As a marketing professional, I can’t help but admire KREWE du optic. Despite the fact that I had never tried on their glasses until The Big Idea (they are super stylish, by the way,) I have been following them on Instagram and “liking” their photos for months, wowed by their use of imagery to sell frames. Whoever runs their instagram account should win an award. KREWE’s product and marketing materials have the aesthetic to be the international eyewear company they aspire to be. The name “KREWE du optic” is very “New Orleans,” which could be seen as risk for a company hoping to achieve widespread brand recognition. But the name choice also shows great faith in the city’s brand. As the New Orleans brand strengthens, so does KREWE du optic’s. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership.
I did not vote for any of the top three. But I think they all very much deserved to be chosen, and I cannot wait to follow their progress. As a true sucker for crazy ideas that just might work, I voted for BitBike.
New Orleans is the perfect candidate for a bike-share program in any form. The city is flat, with generally nice weather and parking is a growing inconvenience in many areas.
Instead of relying on hubs like most bike share programs, BitBike allows users to find and unlock bikes using their smartphones. Riders can park bikes wherever their journey ends, instead of having to look for a hub. When someone else is ready to use the bike, they just locate it using their smartphone and use a patented bluetooth bike lock to unlock the bike.
I think this idea and technology are really exciting and could be the answer to difficulties that many bike-share programs currently experience, but BitBike faced two challenges garnering votes at The Big Idea that the top three choices did not face.
1. New Orleans does not currently have a bike share program, so it may have been difficult for voters to envision ways to improve a system that they do not use. If the option is available, many locals prefer to drive cars rather than bike or take public transit. The need for the technology may not have been evident for many The Big Idea attendees.
2. Despite the fact that opening a brewery and building glasses frames certainly are not cheap, both Cajun Fire and KREWE du optic were still able to produce many examples of their products for consumers to try at The Big Idea. Whereyart.net has very little overhead other than maintaining the website, and was able to allow attendees to browse the site on a big screen. For BitBike to really demonstrate their technology, they will need to build a substantial fleet of bikes for an entire community and build a bluetooth-activated bike lock into each of them. I imagine that is pricey. Despite the large upfront cost, they plan to beta test on LSU’s campus, and I look forward to seeing how it goes.
After The Big Idea
As I walked away from The Big Idea, I felt energized and proud of my city for creating an environment where start-ups can prosper. My parents remember a time when all these businesses would have faced a true uphill battle.
But my great-grandparents remembered a New Orleans that was ripe for entrepreneurs. They lived in one of the most cosmopolitan and open-minded cities in the United States. New Orleans thrived because we welcomed all types of influences and ideas, whether they be French, Spanish, African, Caribbean, English, Italian, Irish, German, Latin American, or Native American. The Big Idea made me believe we are on our way to a 21st century take on that version of New Orleans.