“We are at the Idea Village. In case you don’t know what that is, they are the future of New Orleans,” echoed Garland Robinette’s monotone, mature voice in The Idea Village lobby as he recorded his radio show on WWL live from the excitement of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.
I listened while I sat in the lobby writing this long-overdue update of the week’s events, as economic development leaders, entrepreneurs, and supporters look turns speaking to the radio host. They spoke about their adventures, their involvement and their journeys. Whether they were CEOs or budding entrepreneurs, there was one common denominator: their passion. Specifically, for New Orleans.
With social events throughout the weekend and a full day of sessions and pitch challenges on Monday and Tuesday under its belt, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is now in full force, and will stay that way until it all culminates Friday with The Big Idea Challenge.
On Saturday, the weeklong festivities kicked off with a celebration at the home of James Carville and Mary Matalin, with more than 250 entrepreneurs, CEOs, professionals, MBAs, and supporters. Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Bill Hines, Tim Williamson and James Carville himself set the tone for the evening and the week with some inspiring words.
Of course, some hilarity ensued as well. No Carville words of wisdom would be complete without a joke or two in the mix, and Saturday night was no exception. However, Carville’s admission of the evening came when he confessed that he “loves this event more than Mardi Gras.”
The fun continued Sunday when Treme actor Wendell Pierce joined the IDEAcorps teams for lunch at Parkway Bakery & Tavern and then led them in a second line, proving to the visiting MBAs that entrepreneurship and culture are all the same in New Orleans. The afternoon included a tour of New Orleans, as well as the facilities of local entrepreneurial success NOLA Brewing – an inspiring start to a busy week of work with budding New Orleans successes.
On Monday, the sessions and pitch challenges began with the success and inspiration of the 2012 Water Challenge. In its second year, the event drew more than 100 attendees to the New Orleans BioInnovation Center for the daylong event dedicated to utilizing Louisiana’s water assets to create viable businesses and industry. Highlights included a keynote from Senator Mary Landrieu, presentations from influential business leaders, and a $50,000 investment pitch competition.
Senator Landrieu touched on the importance of how water and the industry affects southeast Louisiana, as well as the new RESTORE Act that was recently passed by the Senate. On another note, Elisa Esperanza spoke on a global level about solutions to water-related health problems and the importance of making drinking water accessible in remote areas with her organization Water for People. Both points conveyed the potential importance and impact of water entrepreneurs. The event concluded when Tierra Resources founder Dr. Sarah Mack was awarded $50,000 from The Greater New Orleans Foundation for her winning pitch.
The day included other competition winners as well. Whetstone Education won an annual subscription to Salesforce’s premium services for its online educational data management tool, and began meeting with the Salesforce team on Tuesday to learn how to best implement the services. And, in an unexpected surprise, entrepreneurs Bissap Breese and Colmax Construction were each awarded the Power of the People Award and a $5,000 check each from Entergy during Matt Flannery’s keynote delivery.
Tuesday included another busy day of over-capacity sessions, panels, and keynotes. In addition, the National Agency on Entrepreneurship and Innovation conducted its quarterly in the morning from Gallier Hall, and later led a young professionals public panel, which was hosted by both the Idea Village and 504ward. More than 250 people attended to discuss suggestions to the federal council and learn more about upcoming initiatives for entrepreneurs. The White House’s participation demonstrates that New Orleans is indeed a model city for entrepreneurship and innovation.
The last three days are jam packed with more sessions, challenges, and events, at which some major announcements as well as large investments will be made. Stay tuned for the updates and stories, and join me at The Big Idea on Friday at Manning’s Restaurant to engage with the entrepreneurs, learn about their business, and vote for your favorite crazy idea. As Tim Williamson so eloquently corrected Garland Gillan this morning, “This is not New Orleans’ future; this is the present.”
For more information on the sessions, or to purchase tickets to The Big Idea, please visit www.ideavillage.org.
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.