The Best and Worst of 2018
New ventures and successes abound as we still struggle to mature.
Keith Twitchell spent 16 years running his own business before becoming president of the Committee for a Better New Orleans. He has observed, supported and participated in entrepreneurial ventures at the street, neighborhood, nonprofit, micro- and macro-business levels.
Illustrations by Tony Healey
Some of the New Orleans buzz about New Orleans’ place in the start-up world seems to have faded. For example, Wallet Hub recently knocked the city all the way down to No. 54 on its list of best and worst places to start a business. While this seems a bit harsh, perhaps it’s best viewed as an indicator of a maturing local scene. At some point, business growth and expansion need to become focal points, while simply launching new enterprises is less of a priority.
As is true every year, the biggest local entrepreneurship event was the Idea Village’s New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. In the interest of becoming more of a community event, NOEW went through substantial changes this year. While the results were mixed, the NOEW team deserves a lot of credit for taking the risks, especially in the name of becoming more inclusive. With longtime NOEW executive producer Victoria Adams Phipps moving on to serve as vice president of programs for the New Orleans Business Alliance and executive director of 504ward, more changes are likely to be in store in 2019.
Animals (and their people) were big local entrepreneurial winners this year. To cite just two examples, a company called Pet Krewe offers costumes for dogs and cats, donating 10 percent of each sale to animal shelters. And Dig, “The Dog Person’s Dating App,” helps dog lovers connect, which has to make both person and pet happy.
A few other interesting new local ventures:
• RentCheck is an app for both tenants and landlords, designed to standardize the move-in and move-out process as a way to protect both sides from issues relating to damage, security deposits and so on.
• DigCargo takes one of the city’s oldest industries, shipping, and applies digital technologies to make the complex logistics of freight management easier and more efficient.
• Winner of the inaugural New Orleans Health Innovators Challenge, Altergy is a start-up that is developing a wearable, noninvasive, real-time blood glucose-monitoring and alert system that works with a smartphone application.
• Two new dining markets opened their doors in the CBD. The Auction House Market is a former auction house gallery with a lively bar surrounded by a variety of food vendors. More recently, the renovated Pythian building features apartments on the upper floors and food, retail and gathering space at the street level.
While there were dozens of other interesting launches this year, these few examples illustrate the extraordinary diversity of fields where entrepreneurship is thriving in New Orleans. And speaking of diversity, 2018 was a breakthrough year in terms of the increase in new businesses launched by women and people of color.
Thinking larger scale, a couple of exciting developments were the arrival of the Austin-based tech company Accruent. In addition to its plan to hire some 350 well-paid employees, by selecting New Orleans for its expansion, the firm definitely helped boost the status of the metro area as a tech hub. On the other end of the business spectrum, Dixie Beer — now owned by the Benson family — announced that it would again be brewing locally, and even opening up a brew pub in New Orleans East.
Nationally, it was not such a great year for some well-known entrepreneurs. The Securities and Exchange Commission came down hard on Elon Musk for some ill-advised tweets. The latest Facebook hack reportedly managed to compromise Mark Zuckerberg’s own account. And John Schnatter, founder of Papa John’s Pizza, had to resign as the company’s chairman after allegedly making racist remarks. On top of these individual snafus, the uncertainty around global trade posed challenges for many businesses. In Louisiana, industries from soybeans to shipping could suffer if trade issues are not resolved satisfactorily.
As we enter the holiday season — which has become highly entrepreneurial itself — it’s time to reflect on successes, failures and lessons learned, and to consider new opportunities in the year ahead. Health, happiness and prosperity to all!