This week Engine is traveling with Steve Case on the Rise of the Rest road trip to celebrate entrepreneurship, in all its forms, across America. Every day we’ll post dispatches from the cities we’ve seen. For more updates follow #RiseofRest on Twitter.
New Orleans, home of jazz, Mardi Gras - and startups - was the last stop on a whirlwind tour of the Southeast. As the city nears the ten year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this summer and its 300th birthday in 2018, New Orleanians are more optimistic than ever about the city’s future and its continued economic growth. New Orleans has experienced 5 consecutive years of net in-migration, and since 2006 the greater metro area’s GDP has grown 20%.
As Tim Williamson, CEO and Founder of the Idea Village explained, local entrepreneurs aren’t trying to build the “next Silicon Valley”, but rather the “next New Orleans”. To grow new companies and chart the city’s forward-looking economic path, entrepreneurs, business leaders and local policymakers draw from the city’s many cultural assets and industry expertise, as well as the city’s history of perseverance.
New Orleans culture was on full display throughout our visit and peaked during a mini pitch competition aboard a Mardi Gras parade float, led by the “Krewe de Nieux”. As the colorful float rolled through the city’s streets, entrepreneurs shared stories about their growing businesses in food, health and wellness, music and even the shipbuilding industry. The afternoon’s pitch competition, at the brand new home for Jazz music in New Orleans, also featured companies with New Orleans cultural roots: WhereY’art, for instance, is an online community for artists and art-lovers. Other young companies in New Orleans, many of which have strong social missions, are building education and environmental solutions.
We also visited the BioInnovation Center, a technology business incubator where dozens of life sciences startups are creating new life-sustaining technologies. They benefit from biotech talent in the region and work with researchers from major area institutions including Tulane, LSU Health Sciences Center, Xavier and the University of New Orleans.
Another important piece of New Orleans cultural heritage is its diverse population, and local leaders are working to make sure New Orleans’ entrepreneurial future is even more diverse. One of the best examples of these efforts is PowerMoves, a program designed to increase the number of venture-backed minority-founded companies locally and nationally. At its helm is Earl Robinson who told us he hopes PowerMoves can help this country “reimagine the way people value African Americans’ contributions to society,” not only as athletes or musicians, but also as entrepreneurs. The program is clearly doing something right—a Power Moves company, GoToInterview, won the $100,000 pitch competition in New Orleans. CEO and Founder Crystal McDonald has built a software solution for employers in industries with high workforce turnover.
Perhaps the greatest asset New Orleans entrepreneurs have is the city’s sense of community. New Orleans has a history of connecting people through its many festivals and seasons—Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, even Saints season. But continued growth of the startup ecosystem will also hinge on fostering and attracting talent and capital. There’s plenty of money in New Orleans, but very little is committed to funding new ventures. Hopefully, the Rise of the Rest stop helped inspire a little more investment from the many people who care about the future of this great American city.