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New Orleans remains a hub for up and coming entrepreneurs

10th April 2017   ·   0 Comments

Photo courtesy of Idea Village

Photo courtesy of Idea Village

By David T. Baker
Contributing Writer

New Orleans-based non-profit The Idea Village, a business development organization that caters to entrepreneurs, hosted its 9th annual New Orleans Entrepreneur Week (NOEW), bringing together young professionals, startups, investors and industry leaders from all over the nation from April 19-24.

During the free six-day conference, attendees participated in a gamut of educational sessions and workshops, six summits, keynote speeches, panel discussions and pitch competitions. The workshops, speeches and panels at this year’s NOEW saw a wide range of topics, all of which were tailored to the needs of emerging business owners – from expert advice on marketing, communications and social media to developing financial projections, building consumer loyalty and business negotiating.

“NOEW has become the premier pitching and showcasing event for more than just our local entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Emily Madero, acting CEO of The Idea Village. Madero recently announced her upcoming departure from Idea Village.

Hosted in conjunction with 51 of its “strategic partners,” along with its presenting sponsor, Iberia Bank, this year’s conference saw its highest attendance rate in its nine year history.

More than 200 speakers participated throughout the week to share their perspectives on community issues and global trends, and how each impacts local communities. An estimated 80 percent of this year’s speakers were pulled from the Greater New Orleans region.

“We have expanded this platform to encompass a wide region of communities who come to New Orleans as the hub of entrepreneurship in the South,” Madero said. “Thanks to the growth and success we have achieved through strategic partnerships, NOEW is where entrepreneurs in Louisiana and across the Southeast come to secure capital investments, seek mentorship, and search for their next customers or business partner.”

This year’s NOEW included such speakers as Lisa Atia, creative brand strategist at Blavity; Lisa Chow, Gimlet Media and host of “StartUp” Podcast; Jim Coulter — Founding Partner at TPG; Suzanne DiBianca, EVP of Corporate Relations and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce; Andy Goldberg, Chief Creative Officer at GE; Kelly Hoey, Investor and Author of Build Your Dream Network; Adrien Lanusse, VP of Global Consumer Insights at Netflix; Patrick Lee, co-founder of Hobo Labs and co-founder of Rotten Tomatoes; Leslie Miley, Executive in Residence at Venture for America and Director of Engineering at Slack; Manny Ruiz, CEO at Hispanicize Media Group; Bevy Smith, host and founder of Dinner with Bevy.

According to figures released by The Idea Village, the week-long business conference played host to 14,266 attendees, including entrepreneurs, investors, professionals, students and thought leaders. The conference saw an estimated 13,000 attendees in 2016 and just over 10,000 in 2015, according NOEW Executive Producer Victoria Adams Phipps. Phipps attributes the growth in attendance to an “organic spread of awareness” and more intentional outreach.

While attendance at the annual event has been strong for years, this year’s conference saw an apparent uptick in its percentage of female entrepreneurs. According to The Idea Village, at least 50 percent of this year’s participating companies were women-owned businesses.

“A lot of the times when people hear diversity and inclusion they instantly think we’re talking about racial diversity, but that’s not the only way to look at that,” Phipps said. “I think it’s important to talk about gender issues. It’s important to talk about the LGBTQ issue and what that means within the workplace. We wanted to makes sure we weren’t looking at through any one facet, that we were being multifaceted and intersectional in approach.”

Phipps said that in calling for content for this year’s NOEW, the group was very intentional about wanting to see more diversity amongst the speakers and having diversity and inclusion as a topic of discussion.

NOEW also saw a change in venue this year from Fulton Street to the Contemporary Arts Center and the Library at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art.

“We made a ton of bets this year. We made a lot of bets and assumptions on how we thought the new campus would work and it’s been so gratifying to see it actually worked,” Phipps said. “To see some of our insights and theories about our audience affirmed. People are staying and hanging and conducting with other attendees in ways they haven’t in previous years, so I could not be happier.”

Throughout these new venues, several business pitch competitions took place during the week with several different winners for each.

At the 7th annual Water Challenge, which kicked off NOEW this year, first place in the pitch competition went to Bluefin Data, who took home $10,000 for VESL, a “hook to database” software platform designed to simplify and consolidate government reporting for the seafood industry.

Also awarded at the Water Challenge were Susannah Burley of Sustaining Our Urban Landscape (SOUL) in the amount of $2,500 for her Ya Dig? project and William Belisle in the amount of $2,500 for pre-revenue ideas and the Audience Favorite Award for his oil spill remediation containment net that can be attached to vessels to collect and restrict oil from spreading through bodies of water.

During the Coulter IDEA pitch, human resources startup Acrew won $100,000 equity investment toward its next round of funding.

On the final day of the event, the spotlight went to mobile healthcare startup Ready Responders, who were the top winners of NOEW’s signature pitch competition The Big Idea. Ready Responders co-founders Benjamin Swig and Justin Dangel, who walked away with $62,000 in funding and in-kind services. Other Big Idea participants left with a combined $26,125 from crowd-funded voting.

Overall, entrepreneurs received $482,975 in cash and in-kind resources.

“I am thrilled with how this year has come together,” said Phipps.

You can follow news and updates from David T. Baker on Twitter at @Tadfly.

This article originally published in the April 10, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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