Since I’ve started following some of the NOLAbound participants on Twitter, my feed has been overwhelmed with a stream of photos and excitement over the arrival of their NOLAbound care packages — each fully equipped with welcome materials, credentials, a NOLAbound luggage tag, and a Dirty Coast t-shirt. Their excitement got me excited. Like, unnaturally excited.
The group of 27 participants was chosen from an impressive pool of more than 200 candidates, who vied for a unique trip to New Orleans to experience the entrepreneurial movement from an insider’s perspective. Representing 11 states and two countries, the participants touch a combined 60,000 unique followers online, and will report their experiences and insights back to their networks throughout the journey. While this might not be considered a traditional trip, the program proves that the raging bachelor party trips are no longer the only reason to visit the city (although definitely still encouraged, gentlemen).
From Wednesday, March 14, to March 18, the esteemed group of travelers will get an unprecedented opportunity to meet the leaders, innovators, and businesses that have shaped New Orleans into a model city for innovation and entrepreneurship. And in addition to an itinerary that includes dinners, tours, panel discussions, and social events, each delegate will have the opportunity to meet with some of the city’s top business leaders from within their industry sectors – sustainability, arts-business, bioscience, and digital media.
Just a glance at the program’s schedule proves how engaged the city’s business leaders are in the entrepreneurial movement. From a basketball game with economic development leaders Michael Hecht (GNO,Inc.), Kurt Weigle (DDD), Tim Williamson (Idea Village) and New Orleans Hornets president Hugh Weber to dinner with those at the forefront of entrepreneurship such as Andrea Chen (SENO), Robbie Vitrano (Naked Pizza), and Craig Cordes (Big Easy Blends), it offers merely a taste of what the NOLAbound members have to look forward to in the upcoming days.
The program is a collaboration of The Idea Village, GNO, Inc, and The Downtown Development District as an effort to further endorse and promote the entrepreneurial movement and progressive thinking in New Orleans. However, each member of the inaugural NOLAbound class has his or her own objective as well. Regardless of motives or even familiarity with the city, they are enthusiastically traveling with the responsibility of becoming a New Orleans ambassador, and equally excited to be involved in the movement that has become a vital part of New Orleans.
“What I am hoping to gain from the NOLAbound program is a definitive answer to the question of whether or not there is a market in New Orleans for a mobile app development studio to come in and develop apps for local businesses and entrepreneurs,” says Houston resident Chris Boyd. The Baton Rouge native admits that, although moving to New Orleans has always been his intention, he has not done so yet because of the lack of jobs that were available in his career path after he graduated from college.
While I was yearning to answer his questions with one simple word, I will let the trip speak for itself.
Along the same path is Stan Gill, a television and film producer from Los Angeles who had not yet moved back to his home town because of his profess, which required him to stay in California. Now, with the growth of the film industry in Louisiana, Gill hopes that NOLAbound will give him better insight into the local industry as well as the opportunity to create new connections with potential business partners to open a new studio in New Orleans.
He adds, “The key to success for NOLABound is not in just the exposure alone, but rather in the launch of a start-up anchor motion picture and television studio for creative businesses to thrive within a cutting-edge entertainment community.”
Arts-business based participant Arabella Proffer arrives with a different perspective. The first-time New Orleans visitor comes here with several opposing perceptions of the city. While she has heard many negative things regarding the city’s economic development, infrastructure, and crime, she is drawn to the art-based institutions and culture. Her goal for NOLAbound is to dismiss the negative perceptions, as she looks into making New Orleans a potential home.
Whether the trip symbolizes 60,000 changed perceptions about New Orleans or three new residents and business owners joining in the city’s renaissance, what can already be measured is the impact the city has made both locally and nationally.
Further demonstrating that New Orleans is seen as a model city throughout the country, Bioscience professional Charlie d’Estries is joining NOLAbound to learn more about the progression New Orleans has made within the life science industry, and plans on implementing the same tactics in Buffalo, New York.
“I also hope to gain an appreciation of what a city like New Orleans must do to survive after a catastrophe. That insight will be useful to share with people in my hometown of Buffalo, NY, who need an inspirational message to hit home. They need to know greatness is once again possible,” he says.
Their arrival into New Orleans right in the middle of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week represents months of preparation, sleepless nights, and panic attacks on the part of planners. However, that single tweet with a photo of newly received Dirty Coast t-shirts and welcome packages makes it all worthwhile.
To learn more about the 27 participants, visit benolabound.com.
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.