A Worldwide Network of New Orleanian Business

How about a business network designed for former New Orleanians living far from home?

New Orleans entrepreneurism certainly does not end at the city limits, or even the southeast Louisiana region. All over the country, in places like Atlanta, Houston, New York and many more, ex-pat New Orleanians have set up shop and are doing well.

Most of them have successfully integrated into their local economies, from customers to supply chains. But virtually all of them would welcome more contact with home, or at least with fellow former New Orleanians. Surely many would jump at the chance to network and even conduct business with each other.

What if there was a nationwide network of businesses owned by former New Orleans residents, supporting everything from social ties to business opportunities?

Reaching about as far across the planet as possible, a fascinating and successful model for this exists in New Zealand’s Samoa Business Network. According to co-founder Laura Keil-Hall, “Samoa Business Network’s vision is to enable a successful worldwide network of Samoan businesses, entrepreneurs and professionals, with a mission to provide a platform for them to network, collaborate and also make a positive difference in the community.”

Back in 2012, Keil-Hall was working as a business manager for the Bank of New Zealand. Part of her role was organizing monthly business networking events for the bank’s clients and business people in the local area. In that capacity she came to realize that there were no events targeted specifically to the country’s Samoan business community.

“The concept was already there, I already run networking events; I had the resources and facility through the BNZ and all I had to do was to cater it to the Samoa business community,” she recalled. “So in September 2012, I decided to launch the very first networking event that catered only to Samoans.”

By April 2013, Keil-Hall had produced several very successful events of this nature and recognized both the need and the interest for something more permanent, with a greater number of services. At that point, the Samoa Business Network was launched.

Nearly five years later, the network is now also established in Samoa itself, with plans to expand to Australia in 2018. First and foremost, it exists to connect Samoan-owned businesses to a network of mutual support. It provides strategic advice, guidance and support in the form of formal workshops and trainings, along with informal networking evenings. Members serve as mentors to other members and collectively exchange ideas, information, experience and expertise. They also seek opportunities for collaboration on everything from business opportunities to working for the betterment of their communities.

According to Keil-Hall, communications technologies are key to the network’s success.

“With the advancement of technology, easy access to the internet and online platforms, it has allowed the network to connect with many Samoan businesses and entrepreneurs around the globe. We are very active on social media and we use this to promote the network and the work it does.”

The Samoa Business Network has grown to where it is now connected to more than 500 individuals, members and partners. Keil-Hall, who now works for New Zealand’s Ministry for Pacific Peoples, is one of a team of four volunteers who keep the network going. Even as she works to spur growth for the Samoa Business Network, she already has an eye to replicating the concept for other Pacific peoples.

Just as Samoans, Fijians and others maintain cultural ties and identities within larger populations, New Orleanians always seem to keep a little bit of home with them wherever they are, from hosting crawfish boils for bemused neighbors to hanging Mardi Gras beads on their rear-view mirrors. A New Orleans Business Network could potentially leverage this connectedness to help far-flung New Orleans entrepreneurs be even more successful.

How would this kind of a network of ex-pat New Orleans business owners get started? Hmmm … sounds like a possible entrepreneurial opportunity!

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.