Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Orleans attracts entrepreneurs

New Orleans above national average for entrepreneurial activity

Allison Good, The Times Picayune 
Entrepreneurial activity in New Orleans is 40 percent above the national average, Idea Village co-founder and CEO Tim Williamson said during a speech in New Orleans on Tuesday.
"Most cities can't build an entrepreneurial ecosystem because it takes time and patince," he explained to members of the Association for Corporate Growth's Louisiana chapter. "The reason why New Orleans is getting all this traction in 2011 is because there's a connective tissue that ties together the universities, the government, the business community, the finance industry, and other sectors."
According to Converse Digital founder Tom Martin, the Idea Village, a nonprofit start-up incubator that supports promising entrepreneurs, has been crucial to the city's amplified entrepreneurial profile.
"It's probably the single biggest catalyst for entrepreneurship in New Orleans," he said.
Williamson co-founded the Idea Village in 2000, but he initially conceived it as a business plan contest.
"In the late 1990s when I moved back to New Orleans, the entrepreneurial consisted of myself and a few who had created local Internet websites," he said. "We identified the problem of the brain drain, which had resulted in a declining city.
"We felt we needed new thinking and new people to solve the problems here, but back in 1999 we did not have a network to retain them. Our goal is to find entrepreneurs and connect them to these resources."
Since 2005, the Idea Village has assisted 1,101 startups, invested $2.7 million in them and generated $82 million in revenue. They key, emphasized Williamson, is to mentor entrepreneurs whose ventures are in their infancy.
"We come in at the beginning when they're just formulating the idea, and we exit when it starts to work, when they start to make money," he said. "If we in the community start to engage in the early part of that cycle, it's going to be hard for companies to leave because they will already have this village."
Williamson also noted that the city ranked eigth on the Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Acivity for 2011, and that Inc. Magazine recently rated New Orleans the coolest start-up city in America.
"Nationally, there's a recognition of something going on that's special," he said. "We knew that if we could keep entrepreneurs in New Orleans, they would attract capital, talent and new people to create a new generation of wealth."
Sal LaMartina, co-founder and CEO of Kenner-based company Cordina MarGoRita, which manufactures and sells frozen blended alcoholic drinks in individual to-go pouches, says his success is a testament to the Idea Village's mission.
"Tim and the Idea Village mentored us, they helped us get to our next level," said LaMartina, an Idea Village graduate and winner of the 2010 IdeaPitch. "We've transformed this one little pouch into an extremely fast-growing company."
Williamson adds that this is a spirit he wants to continue to foster in the local entrepreneurial community.
"This is exactly what we're hoping to continue," he said.
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