A brief rundown of this year’s festivities
For entrepreneurs, the Idea Village’s Entrepreneur Week is right up there with Jazz Fest and Mardi Gras — full of information, opportunities, networking, vendors and even a few parties.
NOEW 2016 was no exception, with an endless array of topics, panels, contests and seminars. The Idea Village has made a point of expanding the scope of Entrepreneur Week every year, more recently with a focus on enlarging the concept of entrepreneurism.
“There are many, many forms of entrepreneurial activity,” pointed out Alex Lebow, director of strategic partnerships for the city of New Orleans, which this year co-hosted the Civic Innovation Summit.
Related to this is the increased emphasis on making Entrepreneur Week something for all New Orleanians, regardless of their ties to entrepreneurship. “One of the great things about New Orleans is our sense of community and collaboration,” observed Rob Lalka of longtime NOEW partner Propeller. “In New Orleans, we are in community all of the time, and we want the community to feel like they are part of this.”
The Civic Innovation Summit was a perfect demonstrator of both these principles. Following up on the city’s Resilience Strategy, released last fall, the Summit centered around how government, business, nonprofits and community can come together to address many of the social issues that relate to resiliency.
Beginning with a panel of top city officials, moderated by chief resiliency officer Jeff Hebert, the summit looked at current innovations in city government and how they propel New Orleans toward being more resilient. In addition, the panel explored how the challenges of resiliency also create new opportunities in business, technology and cross-sector partnerships.
As one example of these innovations, the city’s Lebow cited the increased use of analytics to maximize the effectiveness of city services. Lebow added that as a result of the Summit, the city “hopes to learn more about how to engage entrepreneurs, especially going beyond technology.”
Lalka, from Propeller, noted that “Entrepreneurship is problem-solving. We’re looking to find new ways to solve social problems in New Orleans.”
In this spirit, the extensive period after the panel discussion afforded blossoming entrepreneurs and everyday residents the opportunity to talk with key city policymakers about their ideas for solving a wide variety of issues facing the city. Both Lebow and Lalka emphasized that the Civic Innovation Summit is something that will be repeated and enlarged in future Entrepreneur Weeks.
Also new on the program this year was Collision, a collaboration and contest with and among seven other midsize cities around the United States. Spurred by the fact that 75 percent of all venture capital is currently being invested in just California, New York and Massachusetts alone, the organizers have created a showcase for the rise of entrepreneurship around the rest of the country.
“Up-and-coming entrepreneurs are recognizing that they have to play outside of their immediate geography in order to succeed,” said Billy Schrero, managing director of Launch Pad, which is partnering with the Idea Village on Collision. “Bringing these cities together in this setting enables them to be relevant together. While New Orleans only has a certain number of venture capital-ready ideas, getting the best ideas from a number of cities together on the same stage creates a whole different level of impact.”
The Collision contest will feature entrepreneurs from each locale pitching their ideas; ultimately, four companies will advance to the next level, where they will present their ideas to an audience of global investors. However, Schrero did anticipate that “we will see some new investment at the conference itself.”
Like the Civic Innovation Summit, Collision is expected to be a regular and growing component of future Entrepreneur Weeks.
This weeklong whirlwind of activity truly is the apex of entrepreneurism in New Orleans. So many brilliant ideas, fascinating presentations, spectacular networking opportunities, and yes, new ventures being funded make NOEW a delightful blur. Can’t wait for the next one!
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.