The Next Step

It’s clear we can build successful startups, but our work is far from over.

Eight friends walk into a bar….

Sounds like the clichéd start to an old joke. But when it came to New Orleans’ future, the result of eight friends getting together in a CBD bar 20 years ago was anything but.

On that night, a desire to create a bright economic future for New Orleans yielded a commitment to entrepreneurship. The friends, worried about the lack of good jobs, homegrown companies and exposure to a technology boom that could pass New Orleans by, decided to launch a business plan contest. The winner would receive $10,000.

Four weeks later, more than 70 entrepreneurs had dropped off their business plans in a front porch cardboard box. The Idea Village was born.

Since then, we’ve accelerated 286 startups and helped almost 15,0000 entrepreneurs. In 2021, seven companies connected to The Idea Village were acquired for more than $2 billion, bringing outside investment, publicly traded companies and the potential for more well-paying professional jobs to New Orleans.

So how did it happen? How did an idea for a business plan contest seed the vibrant entrepreneurial community that now exists in New Orleans?

1 | Civic Support of the Vision

City Hall was one of the first believers in entrepreneurship and The Idea Village. The Mayor’s Office of Economic Development prioritized entrepreneurship and funded programs to specifically identify and develop homegrown companies.

2 | Buy-In of the Business Community

Established businesses answered the call to pledge services and financial support to entrepreneurs.

3 | Birth of a Vibrant Ecosystem

New Orleans has fostered a vibrant ecosystem that supports entrepreneurs with different goals at different stages of development. Unique support combined with unparalleled connectivity has created an environment in which risk taking is now embraced and entrepreneurs can thrive.

4 | Unique Connectivity

New Orleans Entrepreneur Week was founded in 2010 as a way to connect and elevate our entrepreneurial ecosystem. The weeklong event brings together business leaders, journalists and leading innovators to share ideas, network and inspire local startups.

5 | Culture that Celebrates Wins

When a local startup is acquired, or sold, to a larger company, it indicates good things are coming to New Orleans. These “exits” mean global players see value in what New Orleans is building, represent wealth created in our community, and signal more jobs, investment and new startups. Each successful startup means more confidence in New Orleans as a hub of innovation.

These outcomes represent the combined efforts of our community and a sustained, deliberate, investment over 20-plus years.  Today we are working to define what the next 20 years will look like.

So, where are we headed? Repeatability.

If the goal is to make New Orleans more successful, our economy more resilient and our community more inclusive, we must repeat the processes that created our recent successes.

We have proven we can build highly innovative, repeatable and scalable new companies with the potential to become new industry leaders. What makes New Orleans exceptional is our ability to do this over and over again without losing our authenticity, diversity or what makes us unique.

In the past year, we have seen the power of “startup” businesses to create transformational change. Growing startups create hundreds of jobs per year, generate wealth, and lead to a more dynamic and resilient economy. Companies that experience acquisitions, or “exits,” bring global leaders, stability and more jobs. The model works and now we need to scale it.

Building the entrepreneurial ecosystem was step one. Startups thrive as part of a system that both feeds and feeds off of increasing quantities of talent, capital, new ideas and customers. The next step is to build a world-class startup community at the heart of that ecosystem.

Organizations like The Idea Village help anchor, perpetuate and mobilize the resources that ultimately provide the building blocks of a startup community. We work to grow the number of companies entering the ecosystem, improve the odds of success for each individual company, and democratize access to resources that help make the overall system more equitable and repeatable.

Together, we are working to define the culture and brand of startups that will give New Orleans an identity within innovation and to link our startup community to our existing economic assets.

What we do next matters. Let’s leverage this one hard-earned turn of the flywheel into the moment when New Orleans gained momentum.

Only in New Orleans can eight friends walk into a bar and alter the trajectory of one of America’s great cities.