Why New Orleans Entrepreneurs are Creating the Next New Orleans -- Not the Next Silicon Valley

04/29/2015 09:47 am ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

It was a late evening in 1999 at the stylish Loa bar in downtown New Orleans. Five local entrepreneurs, myself included, were having a conversation about how to reverse the last 40 years of fundamental economic and social decline. New Orleans was in a downward spiral and we wanted to stay in the city, grow businesses, and raise families. We believed the core problem was the lack of forward thinking amongst the existing leadership, as there were few individuals committed to thinking differently to redirect the economy and develop innovative solutions to address social issues such as crime, education, and housing. The statistics validated our instincts: from 1990-2000, the State of Louisiana has a net loss of over 41,000 23-35 year olds. This brain drain of the best and brightest from our community created a vacuum of innovation, entrepreneurship, and new thinking

Our collective solution to this problem was to attract and retain entrepreneurial talent to start new ventures, create quality jobs and new wealth. As a result, we thought this new vanguard group would focus their efforts and resources on creating innovative solutions for New Orleans' social challenges. They would be the next generation civic leaders.

Our crazy idea needed a spark. So in August 2000, we launched a $10,000 contest calling for the best entrepreneurial ideas in New Orleans. A movement was ignited.

Fast forward to 15 years since that evening in the Loa bar and New Orleans is 56 percent above the national average in the number of startups-per-capita (The Data Center). We have been called America's #1 Biggest Brain Magnet (Forbes), the #2 Best City for Women in Technology (SmartAsset.com), 1 of the 20 Hottest Startup Hubs in America (The Kauffman Foundation), and 1of the Top 10 Most Inspiring Cities in the World (GOOD Magazine). New Orleans has also been called the "Coolest Startup City in America" (Inc.com). Of course we are.

What is our competitive advantage? New Orleans is a city of rhythms and rituals, all organized around a unique cultural calendar. Simply, we connect our diverse community better than anyone else in the world. For hundreds of years, we have connected around festivals, food, music, and sports. Now, entrepreneurship connects us and has assumed its place on the New Orleans calendar. The "big three" annual cultural events are now the "big four," marked by Mardi Gras in February, New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW) in March, Jazz Fest April-May, and finally, Saints Season is our passion August-January. Mardi Gras, NOEW, Jazz Fest, Saints. Repeat.

On Friday, May 8th, we will welcome Steve Case and the "Rise of the Rest" tour to New Orleans, where they will witness first-hand what has become our new reality:

  1. New Orleans has developed an authentic and collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem, led by people who care deeply about the future of the city.

  • New Orleans is a laboratory of innovation and entrepreneurship, encouraging individuals to take on critical social issues in education, healthcare, water, and crime. Diversity and inclusion have become strengths and are being leveraged in innovative ways.
  • New Orleans has developed a vibrant startup community, attracting great entrepreneurs that are creating high-growth companies, activating a local angel community, and attracting national investors. The results are the creation of quality jobs, and many of these companies are starting to scale.
  • The successful entrepreneurs in New Orleans are driving a strong pay-it-forward attitude as they are committed to mentoring and investing in new startups. The best resource in the world for emerging New Orleans-based startups is the folks who have done it...here.
  • Entrepreneurs have emerged as civic leaders, and these individuals are sitting at the table with business and political leaders, engaged in envisioning the future of New Orleans.
  • New Orleans will be on a global stage for entrepreneurship in March 2018 during the City's tri-centennial celebration. Save the date.
  • We will welcome Case and his partners in true New Orleans style with an entrepreneur event that he won't see anywhere in the world. We like to do things our own way here.

    Some might say New Orleans is the most unlikely place for a city that is becoming a national hub of entrepreneurship, but this entrepreneurial movement is at a tipping point. As we look to New Orleans' tri-centennial in 2018, we are eager to sustain the movement and instill the fundamentals of entrepreneurship -- passion, resiliency and persistence -- as a permanent fixture in the community.

    The New Orleans story is special. And while we hope it can inspire other communities, our goal is not to be the next Silicon Valley, or next New York, or the next Boston.

    We are creating the NEXT New Orleans.